12 August, 2022

Throwback Thursday: ‘Have We Outgrown the Plea?’ (1952)

by | 3 March, 2022

Here’s a Christian Standard editorial from 70 years ago this week.

_ _ _

‘Have We Outgrown the Plea?’

Editorial (by Burris Butler);
March 1, 1952; p. 10

This question has reappeared at various intervals since it was first raised and answered by Zach Sweeney, many years ago. We remember one occasion when Will Sweeney, Zach’s nephew, had been assigned this question as the theme of a convention address. The convention session had got out of hand, as far as time was concerned, and it was time for Brother Sweeney’s address to have ended when he was introduced. In a never-to-be-forgotten lesson in convention manners, the speaker stated that the answer to the question is, “No,” and sat down. In spite of popular demand that he present his address, he stood adamant, and the session was dismissed.

Even if Brother Sweeney had given his address, he might have elaborated on his answer, but neither he nor any one else could have improved upon it. But we see the theme coming up again, in an address scheduled for a convention in April.

We would not anticipate the speaker’s answer, nor would we try to “steal his thunder,” but the question and possible answers to it intrigue us.

Who are we? What is the plea? We assume that the plea refers to that appeal to the religious world propagated by Abner Jones, James O’Kelly, Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Walter Scott, Samuel Rogers, James Creath, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Errett, J. W. McGarvey, and a great host of others—the plea to abandon human names and creeds and return to the Christianity of the New Testament. “We” are assumed to be those who are the present-day inheritors of that movement.

Will Sweeney is still right. The answer is, “No.” For to outgrow the plea, we would have to outgrow the Bible. It would be necessary for us to be bigger than divine revelation, the plan of salvation, the scheme of redemption worked out by God through Christ on the cross of Calvary and the opened tomb. It would be necessary for us to have outstripped the Lord himself, for, after all, the plea is His plan to a lost world.

There are some who act as if they had outgrown the plea. These have attacked the Bible with a destructive criticism that presupposed what they set out to prove. These have adopted a social gospel that was supposed to be somewhat improved over the old model, which saved men by bringing them one by one into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. These have by one means or another introduced the practice of “open membership” as an improvement over the Lord’s plan for admitting men and women into the fellowship of His church. These have been somewhat impatient with the divinely given polity of the church, and have discarded its primitive simplicity for a more complicated denominational structure in the interests of efficiency. But it remains for the Lord himself to demonstrate that His ways are higher than their ways, and His thoughts than their thoughts. . . . They have not outgrown the plea . . . they have wandered away from it. . . .

But, have we outgrown the plea? What about us who still give it lip service, who still pay verbal homage to its efficacy to settle the problems of religious people, to unite all disciples of Christ, and to give impetus to the world-wide spread of the gospel?

No, humbly and modestly we admit, we have not outgrown the plea. It is still bigger than we are.

We have not outgrown the need for it. If ecclesiasticism and sectarianism, the twin evils of denominationalism, were hindrances to the progress of the gospel 150 years ago, they are even greater problems today. For in that day they at least had religious conviction as an excuse for their existence, but not so today. The three great systems of modern religious thought—modernism, fundamentalism, and neo-orthodoxy—cross denominational lines and mingle behind sectarian walls. The only excuse for the existence of denominations today is just the fact that they already exist. They are continued and strengthened for no other reason than the perpetuation of organizational power. And the linking together into councils, under the specious plea of unity, only strengthens the organizations in their hold on local congregations and individual Christians under their sway. The plea is still needed to say to the religious world, “You can not get a Scriptural entity by joining together a group of un-Scriptural units. The unit of Christian unity is the individual Christian.

Our generation has not outgrown the need for the ancient gospel. Sin and corruption permeate the whole of society and threaten its destruction. Men are lost and need to be pointed to the Lamb of God, who alone is able to take away their sin. We must always be ready with the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”

But we have not outgrown the plea—we have ingrown it! . . .  

We are ingrown theologically. We have seemed content to settle down with faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and a few slogans, as our stock in trade, while professing to have access to the whole treasure house of God. We have failed to delve into the Scriptures and to bring forth treasures both old and new. We have been content with the crumbs that fell from our neighbors’ theological tables, when we should have been setting out a sumptuous feast ourselves.

We are ingrown educationally. Because of the departure of Christian colleges into modernism, liberalism, and religious humanism, it was necessary within the past two generations to build a number of Bible colleges and seminaries specializing in the training of true-to-the-Scriptures ministry. But inherent in the present structure of the Bible colleges is the danger that our preachers will be trained rather than educated. A ministry that specializes in a technical knowledge of the Bible without relating it to the world and the people for whom it was intended, is a ministry that can never see the broader aspects of the plea.

We are ingrown in our local churches. In too many places the preaching of the plea has been a narrowing rather than an outreaching process. In many instances, the “church of Christ” assumes an antagonistic position that cuts it off from access to the minds of the very people who might otherwise be receptive to the plea.

We are in danger of becoming ingrown into many little cliques and factions, each one jealous of the prosperity and progress of the other. One of the most ludicrous and heartbreaking situations in modern religious history is the denominationalism in miniature growing up within the movement whose worthy aim and proud boast was the unity of God’s people through the restoration of New Testament Christianity.

We do not take any pride or satisfaction in penning these lines. They are written in a mood of humility and penitence, and with a prayer that God will give us all the grace to grow up to the plea and to grow out to the realization of its many potentialities.

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com

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