Societies &
By Rod Ross

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 God.

“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, theman 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. Hw 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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