Societies &
In 1908, W.W. Otey debated J.B. Briney in Louisville, Kentucky, on the subjects of Instrumental
Music and the Societies. In his first speech, brother Otey said:

“Jesus established but one religious body – the church – and instituted but one order of work
and worship. He prayed that all ‘that believe on me through their word; that they all may be one;
even as Thou, Father, art in me and I in Thee, that they may also be one in us; that the world may
believe that Thou didst send me.’ (John 17:20,21.) God, through the inspired apostles,
commanded the members of that one body to ‘speak the same things’; to be ‘perfectly joined
together in the same mind and the same judgment.’ As long as the members of that one body
obeyed these injunctions, unity prevailed. In fact, while these commands are obeyed, division is
impossible. But in course of time ambitious men began to substitute the ‘traditions of men’ for
the commandments of God. The result was division that culminated in the great apostacy in
which the ‘man of sin’ was developed to full maturity. The darkest hour of the dark ages was
caused by men’s substituting the wisdom of men in the work and worship of the Church for the
wisdom of God – was caused by substituting the ‘traditions of men’ for the commandments of

“In the early part of the nineteenth century the Campbells and their co-laborers, seeing the
divided and warring condition prevailing among believers in Christ, and recognizing the
sinfulness of such division, began to urge those of all sects to lay aside their ‘traditions ofmen’
and unite upon the Bible alone. They realized that the only unity taught in the Bible was to be one
in Christ, by teaching and practicing just as did the first churches under the direct supervision of
the inspired apostles – no more and no less. They adopted this as their motto, ‘Where the Bible
speaks we will speak; where the Bible is silent we will be silent.’ They held that the silence of
the Bible on any religious question was as binding as its voice. What the Bible says must be
taught, what the Bible enjoins must be obeyed. That which is not clearly taught in the Bible must
not be urged as a matter of faith, that which is not clearly enjoined must not be practiced as a
religious observance. What the Word of God enjoins we dare not neglect, what the Word of God
does not enjoin we dare not practice as religion.

“Here was inaugurated a religious movement unlike any other movement since apostolic days.
All other religious movements had been efforts to reform existing religious bodies by purging
out immorality,and some of the grosser assumptions of ecclesiastical authority. Since the
apostacy no trumpet-call has been heard for a complete return to apostolic teaching and
practice. The church was not reformed, but restored in teaching and practice just as the first
model church that was established under the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit in the
apostles. There was no organization larger or smaller, nor different from the local
congregations. The plurality of elders and deacons were the only officers set in the church.
There were no ‘presidents,’ ‘vice-presidents,’ nor ‘board of directors,’ whose position of
authority was paid for in cash. There were no ‘societies,’ ‘district,’ ‘State,’ ‘home,’ or ‘foreign.’
The churches did not send ‘delegates’ to ‘annual conventions’ to frame and amend
‘Constitutions,’ ‘by-laws,’ or pass ‘resolutions of federation.’ They did not organize ‘ ‘Societies of
Christian Endeavor.’ Each local congregation was itself a Divinely constituted endeavor society.
They ‘endeavored to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.’ They framed no
additional society to destroy the ‘unity of the spirit’ and to break ‘the bonds of peace.’ In the
language of one who put it tersely, ‘in their congregational capacity alone they moved.’ Their acts
of worship consisted in ‘continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and in the fellowship
and in the breaking of bread and in the prayers,’ and in ‘singing psalms, hymns and spiritual
songs.’ (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:15.)

“Tens of thousands of honest-hearted believers in Christ saw the divine grounds of unity
proposed and laid aside their ‘traditions of men’ and united in the one body of Christ upon the
Bible alone. All walked by the same rule – the Bible – and were ‘one in Christ.’ The very
foundations of sectarianism were shaken and its walls began to crumble. The prayer of Jesus
was rapidly being answered and the world was being converted to Christ. Some began to think
that, at least, all Protestants would soon be united. Such a plea urged by a united people was
well-nigh irresistible. But alas! How different the picture now before our eyes! Instead of the
‘unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace,’ we are divided and warring among ourselves. The
people who so earnestly and effectively plead for unity stand to-day a divided people. The
effectiveness of our heaven-born plea has been destroyed, and in many places it has become a
‘hiss and a byword.’ The Church – the body of Christ – that He purchased with His own blood –
has been rent asunder, and is mangled and bleeding at every pore: the promoters of ‘spiritual
wickedness in high places’ are shouting hallelujahs, while thousands of the purest and best of
earth hang their heads in shame, and pour out their tears like a mighty river.

“The wedge of division began to be driven about the year 1849. From 1890 to 1900 the lines of
separation were rapidly drawn between the two bodies of disciples – one known as the Church
of Christ and the other as the Christian Church – as the lines between any two Protestant
bodies. The greatest brotherhood of believers in Christ since apostolic days has been rent
asunder. The heaven-born plea for unity has been rendered ineffective. Is this division well-
pleasing to God? As certain as Paul was inspired when he wrote, ‘There is one body,’ as certain
as the Holy Spirit guided his pen when he condemned division and commanded unity, as
certain as Jesus prayed the prayer recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John, just so certain
is it that an awful sin has been, and still is, being committed in this division. Who is responsible
for this division? The Church of Christ? Or the Christian Church? The answer to that question is
found in the answer to this question, ‘What has caused the division?’ The answer is, The use of
instrumental music in the worship and the use of various religious organizations in the work to
supplant the Church. These things constitute the wedge of division. Till they were introduced
unity prevailed. When this wedge was driven the church was split. Who splits the log? The man
who drives the wedge splits the log, and not the man who protests against its being driven.
Elder Briney and his brethren drove the wedge that split the church. Who did right in splitting the
log, the man who drove the wedge or the man who protested? That depends upon whether or
not the log ought to be split. If it was right to split the log, the wedge-driver did right. Follows it
not, then, as clear as demonstration itself, that Elder Briney and his brethren have split the
church? Till they drove the wedge the church was united. We protested against the wedge being
driven, and warned them that it would split the church. Had they refrained from driving this
wedge into the work and worship of the church, we would to-day be a united people. But are they
sinfully responsible for this division? That all depends upon by whose authority this wedge was
driven. Who authorized the splitting of the log – the church? Was it right that it should be split?
Did God want it split? By whose authority, then, are these things used in the work and worship of
the Church – God’s or man’s? This is the pivotal point in this controversy. If God authorized the
wedge to be driven and the log to be split it must be done; it matters not who protests. But if God
has not authorized the wedge to be driven, then those who protest against its being driven stand
upon the side of God.

“Jesus said, ‘I am come not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance
against his father and the daughter against her mother.’ (Matt. 10.) Here Jesus caused division.
But it was caused by preaching the truth and urging obedience to the divine commands. He ho
causes division by teaching and practicing what God requires does right, while he who opposes
what God commands commits sin. But Paul says, ‘Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them
that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the teaching of Christ; and
turn away from them.’ (Rom. 16:17.) Here Paul says that those who cause division contrary to
the teaching of Christ – by teaching anything else in religion than the gospel – sin. Now, in the
light of these Scriptures, if my opponent can show that the things which he and his brethren
have introduced into the work and worship of the church, and by which they have rent it asunder
– I say, if he can show that God has authorized these things to be used in the work and worship
of the church, and by which they have rent it asunder – I say, if he can show that God has
authorized these things to be used in the work and worship of the church, then he and his
brethren will stand convicted before heaven and earth. …”

It was Alexander Campbell in The Christian Baptist who said of the early church: “Their
churches were not fractured into missionary societies, Bible societies, education societies; nor
did they dream of organizing such in the world. The head of a believing household was not
president or manager of a board of foreign missions; his wife, the president of some female
education society; his eldest son, the recording secretary of some domestic Bible society; his
eldest daughter, the corresponding secretary of a mite society; his servant maid, the vice-
president of a rag society; and his little daughter, a tutoress of a Sunday-school. They knew
nothing of the hobbies of modern times. In their Church capacity alone they moved. They neither
transformed themselves into any other kind of association, nor did they fracture and sever
themselves into divers societies. They viewed the Church of Jesus Christ as the scheme of
heaven to ameliorate the world; as members of it, they considered themselves bound to do all
they could for the glory of God and the good of men. They dare not transfer to a missionary
society, a cent or a prayer, lest, in doing so, they should rob the Church of its glory, and exalt the
inventions of men above the wisdom of God. In their Church capacity alone they moved. The
Church they considered the pillar and ground of the truth; they viewed it as the temple of the Holy
Spirit, as the house of the living God. They considered, if they did all they could in this capacity,
they had nothing left for any other object of a religious nature. In this capacity, wide as its sphere
extended, they exhibited the truth in word and deed.”

The churches of Christ have, for the most part, rejected the societies accepted by the Christian
Church for the following reasons: (1) We are complete in Christ in the church to do the work God
gave us to do (Colossians 2:10); (2) It is “in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages”
(Ephesians 3:21) that glory is to be given to God; (3) God has given the responsibility of
preaching, teaching, and benevolence to the church, not man-made societies (Matthew 28:
19,20; Ephesians 3:10; Galatians 6:10); (4) There is no scriptural authority for man-made
societies to be financed by the church; and, (5) Man-made societies usurp the position of the
church and her glory.

Over the years, many have tried to incorrectly use these arguments against orphan’s homes
and the intercongregational cooperation. They mistakenly have equaled orphans’ homes, a
legal home – not a society – and the societies. They mistakenly have equaled local
congregations of the church of our Lord with man-made societies.

However, it now seems that there are some who fail to acknowledge the validity of the
arguments for the rejection of church financing of man-made societies; for they have formed
non-profit corporations (which is their right as private citizens and individuals) and have sought
the church to finance them (which is no man’s right). These organizations are general
benevolent foundations (merely receiving points of benevolent funds to be given to others to be
used in benevolence, not using the funds themselves), evangelistic corporations, radio stations,
and educational institutions. Many churches of Christ have fallen prey to this unscriptural appeal
for funds.

Let us remember that the church should do its own work; and, individual businesses and
corporations should do theirs. Churches have no right to contribute to foundations, institutions,
and corporations, and corporations which exist a private concerns and appeal to churches for
financing have lost their scriptural right to exist unless they cease their appeal unto the
churches. Let us not repeat the apostacy that led to division in the past.

“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at
any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1).
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