Effective May 9, 1988, the Sixth & Izard Church of Christ in Little Rock is no longer a congregational church, for on that day the Arkansas Supreme Court held this church to be hierarchical with the elders holding ultimate authority. The Court held "application of our corporation laws (requiring election of the Board of Directors by the members and permitting members access to corporate records) would almost certainly infringe upon the doctrine of the church."The Court found substantial evidence that the elders' claim of an exemption from state law was tied to established doctrine that the (1) New Testament placed in the elders sole responsibility for overseeing all affairs of the church; (2) that scriptural duty extended to all aspects of administration with the elders being accountable to God only; (3) the scriptural purpose being to maintain harmony and unity; and (4) execution left to the scripturally guided discretion of the elders by biblical admonitions to the flock to obey and submit to them that "have the rule over the flock." This was the holding of the majority (4 to 3) notwithstanding an admission by the elders that the church was congregational!
Associate Justice John Purtle wrote a stinging dissent citing a Louisiana Supreme Court holding that "First Amendment values are plainly not jeopardized by a civil court's enforcement of a voting member's right to examine those records." When the majority summarily granted the elders' Petition for a Writ of Prohibition on July 5, 1988, Judge Purtle wrote an even stronger dissent, stating:
"The Arkansas civil justice system has suffered damage from which it may never recover as a result of the majority opinion in this case which they have labeled a 'per curiam.' I respectfully request the bench and bar as well as all church members to study the opinion and this dissent. From this date forward there is no longer a separation of church and state. The per curiam is definitely a victory for the majority of the members of the Sixth and Izard Church of Christ. This court, in an effort to mollycoddle the dominant faction in this church dispute, has, in effect, reversed its original decision in this case and held that the Sixth and Izard Church of Christ need not bother to abide by the laws of the state of Arkansas even though the dispute has nothing whatsoever to do with church doctrine. Eventually even this church will wish this decision had never been rendered."..."I am deeply saddened that this court has been stampeded into ignoring the law on the totally false premise that it violates freedom of religion.
The United States Supreme Court has consistently held that the courts must not reject themselves into a "doctrinal dispute." However, that precedent was ignored by the Arkansas court.
Until this lawsuit and decision, who in their right mind would have contended that the elders have the authority to install a piano, substitute sprinkling for immersion, claim ultimate authority to determine "truth," select deacons and elders, determine, in secret, which members are "saints" and which members are "sinners," or to deny the divinity of Christ? One thing we learned in this conflict was that there are many similarities between the institutional Church of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church. We are much more alike than dissimilar! Until you have the audacity to question the authority of the elders of the institutional Church of Christ, you will never understand how close we have come to the Roman Catholic Church in practice if not in doctrine. The elders select the Minister who becomes the titular head, just as the College of Cardinals select the Pope. The Minister then selects future elders and deacons, further concentrating his power and authority. In the past decade, Ministers have begun selecting themselves as elders. One innovation at Sixth & Izard was a provision in John Gipson's employment contract that the elders could not meet in his absence!
Another shocking discovery was the fear held by the average member of the institutional Church of Christ of being "secretly disfellowshipped" by the "eldership." Early in this conflict, we mailed a questionnaire to every member requesting each member to indicate agreement or disagreement with the elders' position in the lawsuit that the Bible teaches that (1) members have no right to know the business affairs of the congregation, (2) elders should conduct all business in secrecy and (3) elders select elders. In the cover letter we stated that we would not only drop the lawsuit but would also abandon Sixth & Izard if a majority supported the elders' positions. Only 12 members supported the elders' positions or .017% of the total membership. However when called upon to publicly take a position, 437 supported and 12 opposed the elders selecting elders and 412 supported and 24 opposed the elders secrecy.
During the course of this litigation, no less than 300 members have privately supported our efforts to require selection of elders by members, rather than by elders, and no less than 500 have supported our position to permit members to have access to business records, specifically, to learn the amount of salary paid John Gipson. At least 50% of those members no longer attend Sixth & Izard, and the vast majority specifically requested that we not disclose how they felt.
Finally, the clearest lesson to be learned from this experience was the confirmation of Lord Acton's statement that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Even Joy McMillon, editor of the Christian Chronicle an unabashed, supporter of the institutional "eldership," had to admit an elder caught in an adulterous relationship must, of necessity, resign the "office of elder." Paraphrasing the words of Lord Acton, absolute power corrupts absolutely, because the elder caught in an adulterous relationship not only did not resign, but also refused to resign when confronted by us, and continues to "serve" to this day as an elder of the Sixth and Izard Church of Christ. (John Gipson concealed this adulterous relationship from the other elders for a period of several weeks, if not months, while he was "counseling" the offending elder - the other elders learned of the affair from the employment supervisor, who sought the assistance of the elders to put a stop to the affair as it was working havoc among the office personnel where this elder was employed).