Plight of the Local Congregation
HARVEY C. BREAM, JR.
THE WRITER: Harvey C. Bream, at the time of writing, was Director of Evangelism in the Christian Restoration Association and able to write concerning the Local Congregation from both study and experience. His association with R. E. Elmore, then president of the Assocaiation and editor of its paper, The Restoration Herald, made accessible information pertinent to the Corey Controversy.
Volume I -- Number 1In Chapter 9, "The Logical Outcome," Mr. Corey launches this most misreprosentative endeavors. The author begins by charging the preachers from conservative Bible-training schools with being guilty of "disrupting our long-established churches and turning them away from what they term 'sect' or 'denomination' of the Disciples.1Ignored is the fact that a host of preachers as well as churches repudiated the misrepresentative claims and programs of the "cooperative" institutions before the ''independent" schools, the Cincinnati Bible Seminary specifically mentioned, came into existence.2The terms "sect" and "denomination" were not originated by these conservative preachers with regard to the Disciples as is stated3but were corned by their own officials. E. E. Jouett, while president of the Disciples national convention, addressing the Kentucky convention in Louisville said:
All Rights Reserved
The Cincinnati Bible College & SeminaryWe are a sect, and have wisely accepted the position of a denomination in the religious world. We have accepted the term 'The Disciples' as the name of the denomination.4This is but one of numerous similar statements made by "official" representatives of the ''cooperative institutions."
Mr. Corey continues by making a "factual" presentation of the court suits in the local churches, again blaming these preachers from the conservative schools who entered "our pulpits."5 The author states:These are cases where members of the churches have rebelled against the attempt to reverse the long-held teaching and practices and take over the organization and property dedicated for years to the principles and practices of cooperative Disciples of Christ.6The fact is not stated that them "rebellions" have been guided by the secretaries of the State Missionary Society. One of many cases in point that was too fatal to Mr. Corey's assertions to be cited was the case at Harrisonburg, Virginia. On June 13, 1946, Mr. John Tate, Secretary of the Virginia Christian Missionary Society, accompanied by another official of the State Society, with sixteen local citizens arrived at the church building ahead of the minister. Of these sixteen, eight had not been present for a service for over a month and the other eight had not attended the church services for years and had never heard the minister. In the attempt to ursurp this regularly scheduled prayer meeting service and declare the pulpit vacant, this group had appointed as chairman a Mr. Dewey who had been teaching a class in the United Brethren church for twenty-three years.7What caused this obviously disinterested group to "rebel?" An investigation of case after case will show similar circumstances.
We also wonder at Mr. Corey's statement with reference to the attempt on the part of these conservative preachers to reverse the long-held teachings and practices of the churches. There is duplicity in the persistent use of the phrase that would equate "teachings" or ''doctrine" or ''belief" with "practices," ''customs," etc. The facts with reference to the reversal of "longheld teachings" show that the shoe fits the other foot, especially in the light of the Disciples practice or sanction of ''open membership," comity agreements with the denominations and liberal theology which denies the virgin birth, bodily resurrection and other supernatural elements in the gospel. Mr. Corey infers that support of the "cooperative institutions" is to be equated with the teachings, beliefs, principles, etc. of the church. There is ample testimony in every court suit verifying the attempt of the Disciples plaintiffs to allege that the support of said institutions is a doctrine of the church. Thus they nullify any claim that they believe inlocal autonomy.
The author and other Disciples' leaders loudly affirm the autonomy of the local church and maintain that they do not approve of any control over them, but are guilty of a strange contradiction as noted by the facts.
George D. West in 1948, as state secretary of Tennessee, said:After two years of service it is my conviction that the state secretary does not have power to tell anybody what to do. All the power the state secretary has is advisory. He is powerless to tell a local church that it must adopt this or that program, hire or fire this or that preacher... Whenever a pulpit committe is about to recommend a conceited isolationist minister who habitually knocks other religious bodies, refuses to work with our brotherhood, and makes a mockery of our plea of Christian unity, this state secretary would like to go into action with an old fashioned football body block and send him to the sidelines.8So this state secretary is dissatisfied with conditions as they are and wishes they were otherwise. A veteran in this capacity minces no words on his feelings in the matter. For more than two decades John A. Tate served in the capacity of Secretary of the Virginia Christian Missionary Society and as editor of the Chesapeake Christian. We read:The record of the year shows only 195 churches of the State having part in the worldwide missionary and educational program . . We are determined that more of our groups shall be churches of Christ... Suggested missionary quotas have been sent to each church in the state. The first step in making the church a church of Christ will be to mail back immediately the acceptance blank, stating that the church will endeavor to raise the amount before June 30. We shall change mere churches to real churches of Christ during the year.9It is significant in the light of these facts to note that John Tate was elected President of the International Convention of the Disciples of Christ at the Centennial Convention which met in Cincinnati Ohio, October, 1949.15
The State Office has been a clearing house for all the churches and the Brotherhood agencies.10
Every church is urged to change its unchanged members -- to constrain to compel that 47% of spiritless members from the debit side to the credit side of the Kingdom of God.11
The Virginia Disciples are conducting a big enterprise, with more than 300 branch offices and a property investment of about $2,000,000.12 (Branch offices refers to the local churches in the state.)
The State Missionary Societies have general oversight of the churches.13
None denies the divine imperative -- God's order to go forward, but there are indications of fear and rebellion in our State fellowship. On March 1 the support of the gospel showed a decline of more than $1,000.00 in comparison with the same period of the previous year. The causes in Unified Promotion, with a large and more costly responsibility, are forsaken by some churches some deserting churches... Who are the betrayers that sell their Lord again for material gain? . . To the Cross, Virginia Disciples of Christ! Supply that $4,000.00.14
In keeping with the foregoing are these statements that come from The Brotherhood Action Committee, Des Moines Iowa, and addressed to the "Members in the Christian Church"You are also, as one of more than 80,000 members of the church in Iowa, a part ot the State organization. This body, known, as the Iowa Christian Missionary Society, is the official representative of the total Christian Church in Iowa... it is in fact a big church made up of all the local churches in the State of Iowa.16
Your church hasthe right of participation in work and fellowship with other Christian Churches. Whether it has done so is one of the tests of whether it is a Christian Church.17
Your church has a right to participate in giving with the total Christian Church. Whether it has done so is another test of whether it is a Christian Church.18And so we hear it stated that support of the state and national organizations become a test of whether a church is a Christian Church (or church of Christ). What is affirmed to be a locally autonomous church is denied the right to choose what it shall support. And the support of specified organizations is made a doctrine of the church.
The first court case cited in Mr. Corey's book is in reference to Eldora, Iowa. It is stated that the minister attempted to take over the church property?19 This is a conclusion of the author. It is not based in fact and was not substantiated by evidence in court. It is to be noted that this action was brought by only twelve plaintiffs.20
In his "factual" and "impartial" presentation, Mr. Corey goes to the trouble of giving all of one and one half pages to the printing of the finding of the judge in the lower court and merely states that the Supreme Court partly affirmed and partly reversed the action of the lower court21and even then attributes to the Supreme Court a false statement that is his (Corey's) personal conclusion. Why? Does Mr. Corey not believe his readers mentally competent to ascertain the facts?This statement of the District Court is incorporated:
. . . That the Eldora Church did take part in the sectional, state and national activities and ... these... became by custom a very part of the church at Eldora and a part of the denominational beliefs of the church. A departure from this custom . can have no other result than to take this church into a new and different denomination.. the defendents would become a part of a movement headed by the Christian Benevolent Association..22
Mr. Corey is careful to include this one which the court bad no right to affirm:
The defendents know or should know... that no church can live alone . . and that it is absolutely necessary if the denomination is going to carry out the very teaching of the church -- and to run the material business of the church must be affiliated together as a group and must be a state and nationial organization.23
Then this conclusion of the court is cited:Mr. Corey thus rests his case on these findings. Now read the finding of facts by the State Supreme Court which repudiates such claims and see why the author did not permit the reader to view it:
That the court does hereby establish and enforce an ecclesiastical trust in and to all of the property . . in these plaintiffs and those members who have been true to the original teachings and practices of the Church of Christ at Eldora, Iowa.24The parties agree completely that the defendent church is autonomous or self-governing -- of the congregational type as distinguished from the Episcopal and Presbyterian systems; that the local church is not subject to any control by a higher ecclesiastical organization; and that it is an independent entity, related to other local churches only by voluntary association and by common beliefs and practices.
Defendents claim the right, "representing the majority - -to control in all matters with one exception only, that being that they cannot divert the property to another denomination or to the support of doctrines fundamentaly opposed to the characteristic doctrines of the Church of Christ in Eldora."Plantiffs say: "In religious societies that are autonomous or self-governing, a majority may not divert the property from uses of the fundamental faith, immemorial custom, usages and practices.
We have emphasized the parts of these two statements we consider practically synonomous. "Doctrines" and "faith" are undoubtedly used with the same meaning. Whether plaintiffs intend something more by the added words "immemorial customs," etc., is not entirely clear. At another place in their brief they simply state: "Subject to the principle that local churches may not change to another faith, they are autonomous or self-governing." This is a practical paraphrase of defendants statement. Do plaintiffs claim "immemorial customs, usages and practices" are per se matters of faith? Or are they referring only to such ancient customs as are inherently related and necessary to the maintenance and propagation of their common religious faith?25
It brings out the question involved, viz., affiliation with other organizations of the same denomination. We do not agree that cooperation with other Churches of Christ . . through any particular organization, such as "Iowa Christian Convention," "Iowa Christian Missionary Society," "United Christian Missionary Society" or "International Convention of Disciples of Christ, Inc." may be or become a matter of fundamental faith from which the majority of an individual autonomous church is held in trust for the purpose of promulgating or perpetuating any particular manner of cooperation.
The various organizations enumerated above are not so much organizations of individual churches as of individual members. It is true their purpose is to support missionary effort and probably other church activities of the denomination. But we find no evidence that their support is compulsory upon the individual church or members. The very independent and autonomous character of the individual church precludes the possibility of any doctrine of complsory support of such institutions, however worthy and even necessary they may appear to be.
Plaintiffs argued there is here a distinct and separate group (referred to as Independents) trying to take over various properties of the brotherhood known as the "Disciples of Christ." But as we have pointed out the so-called "Independents" here have not diverted the property to a different faith.
Defendants here reject the term "Disciples" because it has come to signify some particular system of collaboration or affliation among individual churches. Plaintiffs accept the definition and assume it denotes a difference in doctrine, in fundemental faith. But we do not think the Records bears out that contention.26
In the light of the record Mr. Corey has the audacity to state in this connection:When a church is congregationally governed, the Supreme Court affirmed, it is not subject to historic beliefs and practices.27In fact the Supreme Court affirmed that a congregation is subject to historic beliefs but that the support of said organizations was not a historic belief or a fundamental doctrifle.28 Half truths and falsification of facts do not help Mr. Corey's case.
He continues making flagrant misstatements as he dismisses the Eldora case saying (perhaps in the belief that if a thing is repeated often enough the reader will believe it):The Supreme Court refused the rehearing and thus reaffirmed its unprecedented ruling that the many changes in the historic beliefs and practices of the Eldora church were of little consequence because the congregation is governed by local autonomy.29In this he went a little farther to include another false hood (this may have been unintentional but nevertheless inexcusable since the court record was available and the fact could be ascertained) about this finding being an unprecedented ruling. The Supreme Court in its finding cited another similar ruling that had been handed down January 8, 1952,30 as well as citing numerous authorities from other jurisdictions.31 The Court also cited the principle in law upon which the case was decided.32
Again, after Mr. Corey went to great lengths to incorporate the District Court's statement that the inclusion of belif in the Virgin Birth in the By-laws was an "interpretation of the creed with additions that have never been accepted by the church and which are directly against the teaching of the church since its organization,"33 he is completely silent when the Supreme Court slaps his wrist and exposes his "liberal" theology. It states:One contention is that defendents have added to the fundamental tenet, "No creed but Christ." This claim is based on the fact that By-law I . . provides for admission to membership of "persons found to be qualified as believing in the Virgin birth of Christ." . . But is this doctrine of the Virgin Birth so fundamentally different from belief "in the fatherhood of God," that "Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour," and "that the Bible is the Word of God?" Is it basically a violation of the dictum or tenet "no creed but Christ, no rule of faith and conduct but the Bible?" There may be some theological distinction but there is none to the ordinary lay person. To most people trinitarian belief imputes divine origin to Jesus, stemming from the New Testament account of his birth.34The principles of the Restoration Movement cited by Mr. Corey as "private judgment" or "intellectual freedom" certainly never intended a repudiation of Bible teaching for that would be intellectual dishonesty. But questions concerning the virgin birth and similar matters would be classed as an infringement on the freedom of men's thoughts by Mr. Corey. And to his shame this apostasy had to be exposed by a secular court of law.
So Mr. Corey ignores the testimony of the higher court because it is devastating to the whole presumption of the Disciples and the case he endeavors to build up throughout the book, namely: that what does not support the "cooperative institutions" is not a church of Christ or Christian Church or a part of the brotherhood because said support is essential faith or doctrine.
The next case cited concerns the First Christian Church of Pontiac, Illinois, in 1949.35 It is stated the minister attempted to take away the right of the church to carry on its doctrines, tenets, etc. and that the Circuit Court found that he and others had violated the doctrines and tenets of the Christian Church and that it was the court's conclusion that these by their actions had "broken away from the church" and therefore lost rights to the properties.36 Mr. Corey then proceeds:The implication of such a court decree is that the property and organization of an established church cannot be used to change the long, continuing doctrines and practices . . if any part of the group is opposed to such changes from the original beliefs and practices.37The facts contradict this and other statements relative to this case made by Mr. Corey. He makes an obscure statement that would cause the uninformed reader to believe that the breaking away from the church by Mr. Hill and others38 constituted a departure from the doctrines of the church. Edwin Hayden in The Compass gives a keen and well informed answer to these misrepresentations:. . . the defense at Pontiac was never heard in court... the church allowed the case to go by default. The court, therefore, could not do otherwise than "find" according to whatever the plaintiff partisans had written into their complaint. As a matter of judicial finding, then, the Pontiac case cannot be considered as evidence, and would certainly not be introduced by an unbiased seeker for truth.39Now our attention is led to the case at Salem, Illinois:He says that "until recent years" the Salem Church "has been in full accord with the cooperative forces of the Disciples." To the contrary, evidence showed the Salem church to have had a very checkered career as to "cooperation." It also showed that the Women's Missionary Society, which became the local agency through which officers of state and national organizations worked in Salem, was originally established to support independent missions, and did so until an organization-minded preacher changed the situation after some years.
Mr. Corey says that, "led by ministers from independent schools," the church finally "expelled The Women's Missionary Society from the building and locked the doors against it." It is true that the church told the UCMS-affiliated group that it could no longer furnish them a meeting place for activities which had long been out of harmony with the convictions of the congregation. It is not true that they locked the doors against it. On this point Mr. Corey has accepted and published the falsehood which was naturally derived from certain literature published by the Women's Missionary Society at Salem. The society said that after the action to exclude their organizational activities from the building, the lock on the front door was changed. That was true. It was also true that there were two front doors, and the lock was changed on only one. It was also true that the Society never used the front door to get to its meetings, and that the back door which it did use was unaffected, and was indeed, seldom locked at all, either before or after the action. Thus the replacement of a worn-out lock on a door which the Missionary Society never used, grows into "locking the doors against it," and Mr. Corey's (probably unintentional) falsehood goes into every parsonage in the "Brotherhood!"40
Mr. Corey continues, saying that the Salem board and congregation were led ''by these ministers" to adopt a constitution which contained a creedal statement . . Mr. Corey's order of narrative would lead one to believe that the creedal statement was adopted after the Missionary Society was excluded. Actually it was adopted several years previously, with the members of the Missionary Society as active members of the congregation which adopted it. The Society folk never raised a voice against the instrument until they found that it could be used in their fight against the church in relation to the expulsion order. Mr. Corey also igrores the fact that, less than two months after the exclusion of the Mismonary Society, the Salem church rescinded the objectional constitution and by-laws,41 which had never been operative in its life, together with the creedal statement, which had never been applied.42
Mr. Corey's words would lead the unsuspecting reader to believe that the preacher responsible for the creed was the product of a Christian Bible College. He was not. He was a Lutheran, who had come to the New Testament position concerning baptism and perhaps a few other matters, but retained much of his Lutheran credalism, which was reflected in the document which he "sold" to the Salem church, including the women of the Missionary Society . . The present minister, trained at Cincinnati Bible Seminary, led in the rescinding of the creedal statement.43The case Mr. Corey attempted to build for the Disciples by these distortions of fact, falsehoods, half-truths and misrepresentations crumble as clay feet under the impact of "truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
The Circuit court judge who heard both sides of the case fully, and who finally dismissed it for "want of equity," was himself a Presbyterian, and could hardly be charged with prejudice in favor of the undenominational position represented by the Salem church under its present leadership.44
Many other cases could be cited with these, not only with relation to law suits, but also with regard to the conventions and ministerial ordination, to show that the Disciples aim is to rob the local church of its freedom and glory and compel by one way or another the support of and affiliation with the "cooperative institutions" and thus denominationalize the entire restoration movement by placing it under an ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Chester E. Tulga gives a keen analysis of the situation in a series of articles on the local church when he states:Today, many local churches are in a state of apostasy, not because they chose to be apostate, but because they gave to an un-Scriptural authority over them a loyalty which eventually involved them in the sins of the parent body.45
Denominational loyalty, denominational sentimentalism, denominational traditions, hold men to denominations long after they have ceased to stand for the word of God. To justify their position, they attempt to subscribe to their denomination an orthodoxy it no longer possesses, and apologize for even flagrant departures from the Word of God. When men give first place to denominational loyalty, even to the compromising of their loyalty to the Word of God, they have become the victims of a false-religion, a religion which God cannot bless. Herein lies much of the powerlessness, the colorlessness, and the ineffectiveness of the modern ministry.46This is the deplorable plight into which Mr. Corey and his associates in the Disciples quarters have brought many of the churches and much of the ministry.
Mr. Tulga concludes by stating the basic principle:God's answer to the evils of ecciesiasticism is the independent church of Christ, free to do the whole will of God, free to accept or reject human leaders, free to support or refuse to support a prophetic ministry, free to resist apostasy. God's answer to the apostasy of our day and the unity-at-any-price religious unionism of our day, is the call to return to the New Testament faith, the New Testament church, New Testament methods, and New Testament fellowship. There will be no new Reformation unless there is a return to the New Testament church.47
Endnotes1 S. J. Corey. "The Logical Outcoome".Fifty Years of Attack and Controversy (Indianappolis: Christian Board of Publication, 1953) pp. 242-243.
2 e.g. The Official Church Register and Record For The Church of Christ, Calhoun, Kentucky, pp. 148-50.
3 Corey, op. cit., p.243.
4 Editorial, "Disciples Denomination," The Restoration Herald, November, 1947, p. 9.
5 Corey, op. cit., p. 243.
6 Ibid., p. 243.
7 "Virginia Church Faces Court Fight", Christian Standard, June 12, 1948, p. 149; "What Took Place In Harrisonburg", Restoration Herald, March, 1951, p. 3.
8 George D. West, The Tennessee Christian, February, 1948.
9 John A. Tate, Chesapeake Christian, September, 1936.
10 Tate, Ibid., March, 1938.
11 Tate, Ibid., June, 1939.
12 Tate, Ibid., May 1940.
13 loc. cit.
14 Tate. Ibid., April, 1942.
15 "Virginian Elected...", Cincinnati Times Star, October 29, 1949; "Disciples Choose Virginian . .", Cincinnati Enquirer, October 29, 1949.
16 The Rights of Members In The Christian Church, The Brotherhood Action Committee, Box 1089, U.P. Station, Des Moines, Iowa.
17 lbid., II.
18 Ibid., III.
19 Corey, "The Logical Outcome", op. cit., p. 244.
20 loc. cit.
21 Ibid., p. 246.
22 Ibid., p. 245. See Eldora, Iowa, church of Christ. Equity No. 52-299, Judgment and Decree, in District Court, State of Iowa, In and For Hardin County, Issued at Hampton, Iowa, on August 23, 1951, pp. 3, 5, 9.
23 Corey, op. cit., p. 246; Judgment and Decree in District Court, p. 9.
24 Ibid., p. 11. .
25 In the Supreme Court of Iowa, Alva L. Ragsdal, et. al, Applees, V. The Church of Christ in Eldora, Iowa, et. al. Appellants, and Iowa Christian Missionary Society, Defendent to Counterclaim, Appellee. Appeal from Hardin District Court. (Typewritten, p. 2).
26 In the Supreme Court of Iowa, op. cit., pp. 4, 5.
27 Corey, op. cit., p. 246.
28 In the Supreme Court of Iowa, op. cit., pp. 4, 5.
29 Corey, op. cit., p. 247.
30 In the Supreme Court of Iowa, op. cit., p. 4 Keith v. First Baptist Church.
31 Ibid., 50 N.W. 2d., at p. 809.
32 Ibid., 45 Am. Jur., Religious Societies, Sec. 66; also 76 C. J. S. Religious Societies, Sec. 71b., p. 853, et seq.
33 Corey, op. cit., p. 245, Judgment and Decree, District Court, p. 6.
34 In the Supreme Court of Iowa, op. cit., p. 5.
35 Corey, op. cit., p. 249.
36 loc. cit.
37 loc. cit.
38 loc. cit.
39 Edwin V. Hayden, "Corey on the Illinois Court Case", The Compass, February, 1954, p. 4.
40 loc. cit.
41 In the Circuit Court of Marion County, State of Illinois, Wm. Wright, et al, Plaintiffs vs. J. Edwin Smith, et al., Defendants, in Chancery, No. 50-1013, (typewritten p. 34, Answer 50).
42 Loc. cit.
43 loc. cit.
44 Hayden, op. cit., p. 4.
45 Chester A. Tulga "The Independence of the Local Church," Christian Standard, December 2, 1950, p. 764.
46 Tulga, Christian Standard, December 16, 1950, op. cit., p. 793.
47 Tulga, Christian Standard, December 30, 1950, op. cit., p. 828.
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