heophilus, a cartoon character now showing up regularly in The Examiner, began his weekly appearances in church papers on February 6, 1966. Two years later, a collection of these teaching illustrations was published. In the book's foreword, my special friend, Connie W. Adams, had this to say:
"When this feature first began appearing in the Pine Hills Exhorter, I doubted the wisdom of such a method of teaching in a church bulletin. My feeling was that such an approach detracted from the dignity which befits the gospel. As time passed and the feature continued, I began to change my mind about it. Theophilus was getting across vital lessons, sometimes hard-hitting lessons, in very little space and with good humor. The apparent honesty of purpose of this little character began to clearly show through, and his terse, penetrating comments drove the truth home..
"Behind the wit and pungent spiritual truth expressed by Theophilus is the attitude toward truth maintained by Bob West. His artistic pen could not draw the characters and put the proper words in their mouths without his being well informed as to the modern religious scene, deeply committed to truth as opposed to error, and possessed of a natural wit to reduce the whole situation to three or four scenes and a few words."
That was in 1968. Connie is now editor/publisher of Searching the Scriptures In the May 1989 issue he wrote this:
"THE SUBVERSION OF THEOPHILUS...It is with sadness that I note the inclusion of Theophilus in The Examiner, published by Charles A. Holt, a paper set on the destruction of local churches .... Bob West has joined in and has revived his famous character to spout the party line, and that is exactly what he is doing. The movement is destructive of the faith of God's people and it grieves me to see friends caught up in it."
This example is the most recent of the comments published during the past several months by some of my brethren (preachers and editors for anti-institutional church institutions).
Back when I agreed with them, I was their "beloved brother", "honest'', "well informed", "deeply committed to truth", and was "presenting pungent truths." They had "much respect" for me. That is until I began to question whether some of the doctrines they preach are really from God or from man. Suddenly they seem to think of me differently.
Now they say that I have "fallen prey to false ideas; have been "duped", "deceived," "led astray by drivel," "subverted"; am "naive," "gullible," "a malcontent," "spouting the party line," "a false prophet," "a ravenous wolf in sheep's clotb2ng"; and they're "disappointed in" me.
My first reaction was to feel misunderstood and hurt. Then I realized that I was being insulted and belittled by those who said they loved me. Now I wonder about their motives. It seems that their view of me is determined solely by just one thing that is whether I agree with them.
A few questions come to mind.
Is It Bad to Change?
When a person changes, is it a reflection on that person's integrity, intelligence, or character? Consider Paul. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees! He changed. The Pharisees didn't like it. They plotted to kill him when he "left the faith" (their one true church) to follow Jesus. Had Paul lived today, he would have faced another peril the poison pen.
Every time I see the word "church" in the "New Testament," it refers to people Sometimes the context is about all of God's people everywhere, sometimes all of God's people in a particular city or cities. Always people saints, priests, disciples, servants, living sacrifices, members of the body, branches on the vine, living stones in God's building, workers in the vineyard, citizens of the kingdom the called out.
I believe the evidence shows that men, not God, decided that God requires us to form something with its own separate identity, give it a name, give it a set of rules to govern its work and worship/services (which are supposedly different from those governing individual saints), appoint or elect officers to run it, and set up its bank account (designated the Lord's treasury) which is replenished as an official act of worship. Once men form it, they call it a body of Christ. Men made this thing (for we can't read about it in the Bible), and it has become their idol. This is what men become a member of, teach about, preach about, write about, convert people to, and urge people to be faithful to. Men fuss and fight about its rules and regulations (which originated with men in the first place), and persecute or crucify any who dare question whether such ideas originated with God.
To my mind, the above concept makes a denomination whether it is called a Catholic Church, Methodist Church, Christian Church, or Church of Christ. It may only be a local denomination, but it's a denomination just the same dividing people and "teaching for doctrine the commandments of men."
I believe it all boils down to one question: Is the church (anywhere in Scripture) an organized institution? I mean by institution, a corporate body organized to perform some particular function. And I mean by organized, to arrange systematically, with either elected, appointed or self-proclaimed officers, to make decisions and policy for and give direction to the corporate body.
Did Jesus instruct his disciples to organize a church? Did the apostles give instructions on how to organize a church? Or, is there an example in the Bible where anyone ever organized a church? I can't find it. Can you? Shouldn't it be there if we're required to do it?
Searching the Scriptures recently had a entire special issue devoted to "The Church." That would have been a natural place for Connie and his writers to have given us book, chapter, and verse for the above. Not surprisingly, they failed to do that. Remember, I'm talking about a "thus saith the Lord," not a "thus meanetb the Lord" per philosophical syllogisms built on assumptions.
In the background section of the book mentioned earlier, I wrote my own description of Theophilus: "He is an honest soul and uses the same sense of reason in religion that we use in every realm. He inquires after all the facts and allows them to speak for themselves. He forms convictions based on current evidence and takes a stand for what he believes to be the truth. But he doesn't prevent further investigation. He keeps an open mind and examines new evidence as it is reported."
That was written in 1968. It's still true today. It is his "open mind" and "honesty of purpose" that has allowed him to grow spiritually. His integrity, intelligence, and character (not the lack of it) has helped him in his struggle to find freedom in Christ from denominational slavery.
My heart goes out to our professional clergy brethren. I know how easy it is to see an organized institution in a verse like 1 Corinthians 1:2 after years of programmed conditioning. It must be very difficult for those who are on the payroll of organized institutions to take an honest look at traditional proof-texts and rethink their standing before God. The fact that Searching the Scriptures is subsidized by about 15,000 advertising dollars per year from 200 "local churches" certainly won't make it any easier for Connie. But I believe he, like Paul, will have his eyes opened. I am still his friend. I have confidence in his integrity.
So, has Theophilus been subverted? No. Has he changed? Yes. And, as we learn better, so should we.