"Whenever a man or set of men ... assume to exercise authority in a church by virtue of some official appointment, or to assert they have rights and authority as officers above others and assume to exert their rights without the full consent and approval of the members, they should be resisted even to the disruption of the body. They are lording it over God's heritage, and are exalting their authority at the expense of the authority of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. One man, in the assertion and maintenance of the Divine will, has aa much authority, as another, more than a thousand ordained ones in disregard of that will. The only reason we have seen from scripture for appointing certain individuals to special work was to see that neglected work was performed. The seven at Jerusalem were appointed to see that the Grecian widows, neglected in the daily ministration were fed. Titus was sent to set in order the things 'wanting' and to place 'Elders' in their proper work.
"Whenever a man in the Church of Christ claims authority or exercises power merely on official ground, he is essentially a Pope and claims the prerogatives of Papacy as fully as does he of Rome. He may be a smaller one, his sphere of action may be more limited, but the principle is the same. All the evils of the Papacy arise out of the claim of the Pope and his council to decide questions by virtue of official position." --David. Lipscomb.Gospel Advocate, 1877, pg. 232.
"Without seeking, truth cannot be known at all. It cannot be declared from pulpits, or set down in articles, nor in any wise prepared and sold in packages ready for use. TRUTH MUST BE GROUND OUT FOR EVERY MAN BY HIMSELF OUT OF ITS HUSK, with such help as he can get, indeed, but not without stern labor of his own." John Ruskin.
For the last thirty years I have lived in this small community, just south of Fort Worth, TX, the city of Everman. I moved here because my parents lived here, and I also love the people who live here. I came here to serve Christ and labor in his vineyard. The ultimate goal in my life was then, and is now, to serve God with every fiber of my being. I have taught the Word of God as I have had opportunity, publicly and from house to house. I have taught and preached in the assemblies of my brethren, encouraged the weak, confronted the unruly and disobedient, studied with unbelievers, immersed believers who were taught the way of the Lord, comforted the bereaved, strengthened the faint-hearted, married the young, buried the dead, written articles for gospel publications, and presently, I am teaching at two Nursing Homes, and providing the Lord's Supper for them regularly; and our quartet also sings every month at fourteen different area Nursing Homes. No brag, just facts!
So what's the big deal? Well, do any of us who serve God really believe and expect Him to save us because of all the mighty works we do? Do you know of any Christian that is perfect in their obedience? I don't, and I know some 'giants in the Faith', and they all admit that they are not doing all that they could and should do. Also, if we are relying on our perfect understanding and our perfect obedience to save us, then please tell me, why did Christ die?
Nearly all of God's children, at least those that I know, serve the Lord in some similar fashion. However some of my brethren seem to feel that I'm lost and doomed to a Devil's hell, not for any of the above-mentioned actions nor the lack thereof, but because I read The Examiner, and have sent in names of those that I thought might be seekers of Truth and Freedom.
Obviously I made a mistake in my judgment somewhere, because on Sunday morning January 28, 1990, as I was in attendance at the Everman Church of Christ, little did I know that the morning lesson entitled "THE EXAMINER, OBJECTORS OF AUTHORITY" (A view from the pulpit) would be the main course. It was like a spike being driven through my heart and James Horton, "the minister", wielded the hammer. He started out with a small tack hammer but as his dander was stirred, he used two sledgehammers, one in each hand. The "lesson", if you can call it a lesson (to use James' own observation) was recorded and I have a copy.
He started out by quoting some Old Testament examples of rebellion against God's lawgiver, Moses. Then he made the comparison that rebellion is going on today in the Church of Christ He indicated that there is a growing number who reject the Eldership in the local churches, and thus are, in fact, rejecting God's authority. He proclaimed that the Lord has delegated "All authority" in local churches to the Eldership. No matter how thin you slice it, it's still bologna! But what do I know about the Bible? I'm just a poor pew person. Yes, I do believe the Old Covenant lawgiver was Moses but I believe the New Covenant lawgiver is JESUS CHRIST, not the Church of Christ! Some might ask me, "Horace, why not just go along silently and don't make any fuss"? My reply is, "How can any child of God sit back and never confront false teaching and character assassination time after time. Name calling publicly and/or privately, without giving the accused fair and equal time to respond, is evidence of weakness in the position that one holds.
I think it's about time that we started acting like we love the souls of our brethren (if we truly do). We ought to quit playing 'Church' and start individually living for Christ. And since none of us knows all truth, I think that it is only fair that we, as brethren, should come together and study both sides of any and all issues that could possibly cause division in our Lord's body. Those in the world will not be w-o-n to Christ until those who believe in Christ are o-n-e! I'm convinced it's "Peace makers," not "Piece makers", that is truly needed in God's family today. We must eradicate attitudes that cause division from our mind. If we are good enough for God to receive us as children, then we ought to receive one another as brethren. Let us strive to REPAIR, not TEAR. The only things we should tear down are the walls that we've built up through the years separating and dividing God's Family. We've almost divided ourselves out of existence, we already have lost our influence in this world.
We have over two dozen brands of Churches of Christ, each one claiming to be "The-True-Sound-Loyal-Pure-Fully-Restored CHURCH of CHRIST" in this Twenty-first century. Who among you out there is courageous enough for us to join hands and strive to answer Christ's prayer for unity, and start building bridges over our troubled water? Do you think God will answer our prayers toward unity, if we sit back doing nothing and expect someone else to do it for us? For shame.
More than two years ago, the preacher who came just before James Horton, was a young man by the name of Steve Gibson. Steve got in a groove and didn't want to get out of it. Most of his sermons were against (as he put it) the "Liberalism" in the church. He would often speak out on his hobbies and condemn those preachers who differed with him: Namely Charles Holt, Olan Hicks, Rubel Shelley, Reuel Lemmons, Arnold Hardin, Carl Ketcherside and a few others among us. Each time he spoke against my brethren I challenged him to get his facts straight about them and their positions. Need I tell you, that nine months later, there was so much disruption within the Everman church that the Elders "fired him." Shortly after that, he challenged me to a public debate on some of the issues that the above-mentioned brethren speak openly about. I told him that I only defend what I believe that the Word of God teaches; and that each of these brethren would defend their beliefs anywhere and anytime. I then suggested that an "open forum" format was the most effective way to hear both sides of any proposition. In this way each man can state his own views on any given subject and the people listening can ultimately decide what they believe about each subject. Steve didn't like that format and I've not heard from him since.
Since James Horton was hired to fill the vacant pulpit, he has preached many good lessons on a variety of subjects. However, James is like the rest of us, in that he's a human being with limitations in his knowledge as well as his judgment. Most of his sermons are uplifting as well as scriptural, but some subjects he has dealt with, he hasn't represented the opposite view properly. It's one thing to believe that we are correct on every Bible subject, but it is quite another thing to believe everyone who differs with us is dead wrong. Truth is not truth because of who said it or who accepts it or even what Big Name preacher teaches it, but what does God declare about it. Just remember, no one will ever be saved because he is right on everything. We will be saved only because we are "in" the right PERSON who knows everything Jesus! Who among us is the one to settle all theological controversies? My Bible tells me to buy the truth and to sell it not. I plan to do just that.
In November '88, on Sunday evening, James preached that a child of God is obligated to go to war and even kill for his country; and that one would be a coward in his eyes and a sinner in the eyes of God if he refused to fight for his country! He also said that a Christian is morally wrong to ask the police to step in and do something that he wouldn't do himself; also, it would be right to use force, even kill, if someone attacks your family. He said it was reasonable to him that the taking of that life would then be an act of love.
He also pointed out that God said: "Thou shall not kill", but then God turned right around and did it Himself. Hence, that justifies some killing, but not murder! He made this statement just before offering the invitation, "Some of you might say, that's the most extreme sermon you've ever preached here, are there any more like that?" Before "the services" were dismissed, I went to the front to let those in the audience know, that I for one did not believe that sermon was Scriptural. Later I was informed by the Elders that I was out of place, and that anytime in the future anyone from the 'pew' wanted to refute anything said from the 'pulpit' he would have to get permission from the Elders. There were some who agreed with what I said and did, but they did so privately. I also am embarrassed to admit that some brethren do not want any controversy, no matter what. I also know that Truth has nothing to fear from open, honest discussions of any Biblical subject on which we may differ. Only error and those that have partisan positions to uphold should have reason to fear from listening to both sides of any and all issues.
But back to the present distress. Several writers for The Examiner were called many names, spoken in sarcasm by our brother James, and not once did he refer to us as his brethren. He used these phrases, "the opposers", "those guys", "these people", "they have rebellious spirits", "he doesn't have enough sense", "I wouldn't want to be in these guys' shoes on the day of judgment", "blasphemous stuff" ... Well, you be the judge, do you think he believes we are his brethren? Charles Holt, Dusty Owes and Mike Marion can speak for themselves and they probably will, but my brother James spoke evil of good men that he does not know personally and he also misrepresented them. I've heard him speak more highly of some politicians.
With emotion and seeming conviction, James said he wanted to do what the Bible says ... that he had no ax to grind ... and that he resented the poor attitude of those guys ... Well, as God is our witness (and we are brothers in Christ), if we are wrong and doomed for a devil's hell (as he said we are), you would think he would go to each brother personally and privately. But this is not the way some of my brethren think, He also said these fellows have changed, but he has not changed and stands foursquare on the Word of God as he always has. He said that as if every subject that he has ever studied, he has always arrived at truth correctly the first time, without a single change ever! He even raised his voice when he said: 'I've never changed'. Well, I for one think some changes do need to be made. He also said: "I'm not going to intimidate you, telling you not to read The Examiner," and then immediately said: "but, I think you should not read it and you should throw it in the trash". He also said: "Elders don't have authority to dictate over us, but they do have a right to tell us what we can and cannot read". He said, "The Elders have the right and should know whether or not we are generous or covetous". Well, in order to know whether or not anyone has a generous or covetous heart, I believe they would have to have more facts than just how much someone is giving to the Church. Like, maybe, how much money do I earn, how much property do I own, how much money in the bank, how and where do I spend all of my money, etc.?? If the Eldership should be involved in all of that, there is no stopping place this side of Rome. He resented it when the "Boys from the Examiner" cried "shades of Rome"! Isn't this like the pot calling the kettle black? Shades of Rome indeed!
Today there are many complex problems among God's people relating to fellowship and division. So few are willing to rise above party lines and accept a brother as a brother unless he accepts every jot and tittle just as the party platform states it. Where should we draw the line on receiving brethren into our fellowship. Is it based on total agreement? If so, how much, 100%, 80%, 50%? Just how much agreement do we need in order to remain brethren? Why is it that a mistaken concept or fallacious reasoning is attributed to a rotten and unfaithful heart? You ask: "Who is my brother? Who is God's child" Every person who is a child of God, is my brother, and it's just that simple. Every person who through the full expression of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, having repented of all past sins, and then is immersed into spiritual union with Jesus, thus being born from above, is then a new creature, a child of God, nothing more, nothing less. If one is in Christ, he is also a son; And if a son, then a brother to every other son. The "Koinonia" (or fellowship) that we are in, is not something we extend or withdraw, nor was it created by us, but it was created by God, for us to enjoy from here to eternity. The more the Spirit of God rules and dominates our lives as God's children, the more we will enjoy the freedom and blessings of the fellowship of believers in Christ.
If one seeks to walk along the pathway of life with conviction while searching for full Truth and Freedom, then we must be prepared, at times, to walk alone. I very possibly have chosen the same path. I do not know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.
The more I study God's Word, the more I find that I'm ignorant of things that I thought I knew. It just might be that I was taught, while growing up, more about the "Church of Christ" rather than the "Christ of the church". But now when someone says, "Come let us reason together, concerning Truth and Freedom," I welcome that with open arms and a receptive heart. I'm ready, willing and able to study with anyone at anytime. But when someone says to me: "Come listen to what I've got to say, I have all the right answers and don't need to change my way of thinking", in such a case I am going to be especially careful how I listen. And so should you!!
"No man stood with me, but all men forsook me", wrote the battle-scared apostle Paul in describing his first appearance before Nero to answer for his life. I, along with the apostle Paul, love my brethren very deeply, but my love for God and His Word, also being motivated by strong convictions, must speak the truth with love. I am also truly convinced of this one fact: A THREAT TO TRUTH AND FREEDOM ANYWHERE, IS A THREAT TO TRUTH AND FREEDOM EVERYWHERE!! I'll leave you with this final thought from the pen of Galliger, centuries ago.
"He who seeks the truth and trembles
At the dangers he must brave,
Is not fit to be a free man ...
He at best, is but a slave
Be thou like the first apostle,
Be thou like heroic Paul;
If a free thought seek expression,
Speak it boldly, speak it all.
Face thine enemies, thine accusers,
Scorn the prison, the rack, the rod;
And, if thou hast truth to utter,
Speak, and leave the rest to God."