A “detractor,” in the sense of this article, is one who attempts to weaken, diminish, nullify, or alter the will of God, as the Lord has revealed his plan for the redemption of fallen humanity. The tendency toward “detraction” seems to be characteristic of many whom the Creator has endowed with freedom of choice, but who abuse the gift. Such was the case even among angels in heavenly realms (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
“Detraction” — A Historical Trend
At the dawn of human history, sacred writ warned that there ever would be conflict between truth and error. The Lord’s “protevangelium,” the so-called “first gospel,” is evidence of that reality (Genesis 3:15). The Old Testament overflows with examples of those who have dedicated themselves to detracting from God’s redemptive plan, as well as distracting and deflecting those who are committed to Heaven’s order of spiritual service.
Moses and Aaron had their Korah, who led an anti-authority mob into a black hole of the wrath of God (Numbers 16:1ff). Ahab and Jezebel sought to detract from the ministry of Elijah, and the wicked couple came to a bloody end on account of it (1 Kings 22; 2 Kings 9). Jeremiah’s detractors claimed that Judah never would see captivity (Jeremiah 14:13), but seventy years of Babylonian incarceration demonstrated otherwise.
The church of the living God is glorious beyond one’s ability to express adequately (Ephesians 5:27). Purposed in eternity (Ephesians 3:10-11), and carefully prepared across the eras of Old Testament history (Galatians 3:24; 4:4), it burst onto the scene of human activity on Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after the death of Jesus (Acts 2:1ff).
It was not long, however, before even this blessed organism had its misguided revisionists. Judaizers attempted to affix circumcision as an appendix to the gospel (Acts 15:1). Some, with Greek ideological baggage, denied the Savior’s promise of a resurrection from the dead (Matthew 22:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:12). Others tried to distract from the simplicity of gospel revelation with a corrupt, proto-Gnostic (special knowledge) dogma (1 Timothy 6:20-21). Ominous New Testament prophecies foretold of even more sinister times that lay in the future, when sound doctrine would be forsaken with abandon (2 Thessalonians 2:1ff; 1 Timothy 4:1ff; 2 Timothy 4:1ff). History demonstrates the fulfillment of those inspired declarations in a monstrous apostasy from the primitive faith.
Finally, though, a new day dawned—first in Europe, then in America. Honest men and women developed a passion to throw off the shackles of those “dark ages” that were burdened by the oppressions of the Roman Church. Too, they yearned to go beyond the well intentioned, though misdirected, efforts of Protestantism. Under the instruction and leadership of talented and dedicated men, multiplied thousands embraced the primitive gospel without the encumbrances of sectarianism.
Early “Restoration Movement” Detractors
The “restorers” eventually had their detractors. In the mid-1800s, Jesse B. Ferguson disrupted churches in the Nashville area. He taught that there is no “hell,” and that people possess the ability to communicate with the dead. H. Leo Boles compared Ferguson to a “meteor” that briefly lights up the sky, but leaves only “darkness in its wake.” A few years later, voices of outright modernism and theological liberalism began to swell in a chorus of confusion and digression.
R. C. Cave of St. Louis denied the historicity of the virgin birth of Jesus and the Lord’s bodily resurrection, as well as a variety of other errors. Alexander Proctor and George Longan capitulated to the radical theories of German rationalism. Restoration leaders who contended for faithful obedience to Christ were dubbed “legalists.” Radicals claimed that the “pious unimmersed” were saved, and changes were initiated in the worship format of the local churches (e.g., the incorporation of choirs and the use of instrumental music). The “progressives” clamored for fellowship with denominational groups and intermingled happily with a variety of sectarian causes. Finally, as every student of restoration history knows, a distinct rupture came, resulting in the “Disciples of Christ” or the “Christian Church,” standing aloof from brethren who were determined to adhere to New Testament doctrine.
Those who wish to be conversant with what has happened to our glorious brotherhood over the past century and a half should read Chapter XIII, “The Rise of Liberalism,” in Earl I. West’s incomparable series, The Search for the Ancient Order (Vol. 2, 259-291). The comparisons between the era West describes (1849-1906), and the current “change agent” aberration, are more than striking. In this connection it would be well to remember George Santayana’s admonition, that those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.
One of our notable preachers in the first half of the past century was G. C. Brewer (1884-1956). When his autobiography appeared in the year following his death, it contained this warning regarding the smoldering embers that ultimately would be fanned into a roaring, destructive flame.
It does not cease to astonish us that Christians generally, and preachers especially, are now holding views and making arguments that we opposed and refuted when advanced by denominationalists forty, fifty and a hundred years ago. Like Paul we are going to have to declare again the gospel which we preached.
The Modern “Change Agent” Defection
Distinct movements generally emerge gradually; hence, it is very difficult to date the advent of such with precision. This assuredly is true of that arrogant and insidious swell that has come to be identified as the “change agent” conglomerate.
In terms of its make-up, the “change agent” confederation scarcely can be viewed as homogeneous. It doubtless contains an element of sincere, though immature, Christians who, due to their novice status, or perhaps a long-standing exercise in superficiality, easily are swept to and fro by varying winds of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). It always is difficult (if not mostly impossible), to judge motives in individual cases. Be that as it may, many believe that it is neither unkind nor unrealistic to suggest that this body largely consists of malcontents. They appear to be a collection of unstable souls led by those whose common passion is for renown. Their goal may be achieved (in their minds) only by redesigning the apostolic pattern of Christianity, each according to his own notion of how things ought to be. As someone has noted, the highest form of vanity is the quest for fame.
When Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett joined together more than two-score years ago, in an effort to restructure the brotherhood of Christ by broadening its scope of “fellowship,” they were considered by most to be fringe-element oddities, rather than a significant threat to the Lord’s cause. Through their respective journals, Mission Messenger and Restoration Review, they chipped away at the biblical concept of being vigilant to restore the New Testament pattern of doctrine and practice. Now, in a radically different brotherhood, they virtually have been enshrined in the digressive hall of fame.
Eventually, others began to raise voices of criticism regarding what they called the “stale” dogma of “Church of Christ traditionalism.” The “church of the fifties” became a favorite slogan associated with their assault. Magazines like Integrity, Image, and finally Wineskins, joined the dissident movement, each contributing its own measure of discontent.
“Christian Scholarship Conferences” began to be conducted on certain college campuses and, quite undisguised, appeals were made throughout our brotherhood that we should ignore many of the doctrinal differences that have kept us separated from the denominations. By means of the Internet came the misdirected theology of the “grace-centered” gurus, who claimed to have discovered a refreshing ideology previously unknown among our people.
In the initial stages of this baby-boomer rebellion, the “restoration plea” merely was questioned—under the guise of honest investigation. Then, bolder voices emerged, openly challenging elementary propositions of the faith—issues that had weathered countless battles with sectarian antagonists. Now, we are far beyond that. The fundamentals of the faith are shamelessly ridiculed as a new breed of brotherhood “entertainers” do standup comedy routines with the church of the Lord as the focus of their poisoned assaults.
Almost no point of doctrine now goes unchallenged. The inspiration of the Scriptures is disputed. A college professor asks his students, “What difference does it make if the Bible contains contradictions?” Graduate Bible courses question the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and repudiate the New Testament testimony that the prophets wrote the documents that bear their names. Several of our influential universities are hotbeds of liberalism.
A widely traveled, popular speaker boasts that “the Bible and evolution agree on almost all issues.” Men in our classrooms and pulpits have gullibly embraced several egregiously compromising theories that accommodate Charles Darwin’s basic thesis.
Bizarre views concerning the work of the Holy Spirit abound. A Texas professor authors a volume on the workings of the Spirit, compiling information from Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Stott, et al., and a brotherhood “news” journal praises it as a collection of “outstanding insights into the Holy Spirit” that will open one’s daily life to “explore the presence of God.” Church members are claiming special revelations from the Lord. Thus, one must suppose, the New Testament documents have been supplemented. Sue, Harry, Dick, and Tom, now join Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!
The Gospel plan of salvation has been gutted. In spite of clear passages (e.g., Acts 2:38; 22:16), some allege that baptism is not essential to salvation — or if it is, the convert need not understand that it is. Others contend that for the honest seeker, “sprinkling,” instead of immersion, may be a perfectly viable option.
The use of instrumental music in Christian worship is being accepted increasingly, and the Lord’s supper has become a “love feast” that may be observed any time the notion strikes. The rush is on for an expanded role for women, irrespective of the New Testament restrictions regarding this matter. Everything is up in the air; nothing is certain any more. Relativism rules the day. Postmodernism has become a maggot in the brain.
A Call for Steadfastness
There is a real war today within the body of Christ. It is a shameful thing, a heart-breaking thing; but digressive brethren initiated it. The faithful have but two choices—do nothing, or do something. If we allow it, and let the detractors have their way, they will capture our schools (a significant number already have been), our church facilities, our children, and, yes, maybe even our souls! It is time for devout children of God to oppose this apostasy — lovingly, firmly, and steadfastly — before we find ourselves in a “church” that we no longer recognize, and from which the Savior has departed (Revelation 3:20).