The Seeds Of Apostasy

Jerry C Brewer

It took approximately 50 years for the seeds of apostasy, sown in the 19th century, to come to fruition. What began with “progressivism” in the mid-19th century in the work and worship of the church—the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music—became full fledged division in 1906 when the Christian Church finally formed itself into a denomination. Throughout that half-century, brethren introduced liberal practices that were unauthorized in the church and were opposed by those who remained faithful to the New Testament pattern. Battles raged in the periodicals of that period, from pulpits, and on the polemic platform, but the “progressives” adamantly refused to return to the old paths. Fellowship was sundered and formal division ensued. The time for formal division has come again.

There are two Greek words that are translated “division” or “divisions” in the New Testament. The first is schisma, the word from which we get our English word, “schism,” and is defined as, “Not yet formal cleavages into two or more organizations, but partisan divisions that showed in the love-feasts and at the Lord’s Supper” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, 1 Cor. 11:18, eSword). Strong says this word means, “a split or gap (“schism”), literally or figuratively: -division, rent, schism” (eSword). The idea set forth by schisma is a rent or tear in a piece of fabric that is not yet separated into more than one piece. The second is dichostasia, meaning, “standings apart” (Robertson’s Word Pictures, Rom. 16:17, eSword). Schisma is the beginning of division when a rent is made in the whole, and dichostasia is the final result when the whole becomes two distinct parts.

Division (schisma) had its genesis on the minds of 19th century preachers and editors. In Earl Irvin West’s, The Search For The Ancient Order, in which he chronicled restoration movement history, West devoted an entire chapter to Isaac Errett, who was a leading light in that division. West wrote,

“Historians among the Disciples of Christ invariably look upon Errett as the one who saved the restoration movement from becoming ‘afissiparous sect of jangling legalists.’ This group hails Errett as the prophet of spirituality and liberalism” (p. 23).

Errett was not only an early proponent of the Missionary Society, but when he moved to Detroit to work with the new Jefferson and Beaubian congregation in 1862, he did so at the behest of two men, Richard Hawley and Colin Campbell, who West says, “were the chief men in the new congregation, and were liberal in spirit and outlook” (p. 27). Errett’s liberalism was manifested by the plaque he secured to put over his office door in Detroit. “On it was engraved the words: ‘Rev. I. Errett’” (p.28).

Errett was the founder and editor of The Christian Standard in 1866. J. S. Lamar, who authored Errett’s biography, explained the “need” for The Christian Standard.

“There were several weeklies, also, among them the ‘Review’ and ‘Gospel Advocate,’ but these were not satisfactory. They were regarded as being narrow in their views and in many respects, hurtful rather than helpful to the great cause which they assumed to represent. I would say nothing here derogatory of the editors of these papers. They represented and fostered that unfortunate type of discipleship … a type with which the leading minds among the brotherhood could have no sympathy. We may credit these writers with sincerity and honesty, but we can not read many of their productions without feeling that we are breathing an unwholesome religious atmosphere. They seem to infuse an unlovely and earth-born spirit, which they clothe, nevertheless, in the garb of the divine letter, and enforce with cold, legalistic and crushing power. The great truth for whose defense the Disciples are set, demanded a wiser, sweeter, better advocacy—an advocacy that should exhibit the apostolic spirit as well as the apostolic letter” [all emph. J. S. Lamar] (Memoirs of Isaac Errett, cited by West, pp. 29, 30).

       Division (schisma) in the church a half-century ago began in the hearts of those who believed they were “new lights” to lead the way out of “legalism” and into a “wiser, sweeter … apostolic spirit.” That same liberal spirit has characterized multitudes in churches of Christ for the past 50 years, and has reached the point that another formal standing apart (dichostasia) is needed, and ought to be recognized. Paul wrote, “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:18-19).

Paul used the word schisma, which is translated “divisions” in verse 18. He continued by saying that those divisions—rents, or tears in the body—would result in “heresies.” That word is the Greek, hairesis. It is also translated “sect” (Acts 24:14) and is used only twice by Paul, in this passage and in Galatians 5:20. Hairesis is defined by Strong as, “properly a choice, that is, (specifically) a party or (abstractly) disunion” and Robertson says, “The schisms naturally become factions or parties.” Schisms produce sects, and the schism of the 19th century produced the sect of the Christian Church.

Another sect is emerging from among us in this century that has been 50 years in coming. That sect is not yet fully grown, nor do most people recognize it. But it is a reality and is fueled by churches that consider themselves as “mainstream” and those of us who still hold to the ancient gospel as “legalists.” They are those who are unabashedly liberal, having long ago departed from the faith, as Max Lucado’s church in San Antonio, Richland Hills in Ft. Worth, and Quail Springs in Oklahoma City. They are those who call for “balanced preaching” like Forest Hill in Memphis. Their “leaders” call us “a toxic loyalty circle,” and “vile,” as did Keith Mosher at  Sunny Slope in Paducah, Kentucky in July, 2006.

There are thousands of other churches and individuals like these and many of them are in our own back yards. There is only one congregation in our area with which we can have fellowship, the church at Willow, Okla., and that includes at least twelve churches in neighboring towns, and three in our own. All of these have sold out to the “sweet spirit” of J. S. Lamar, Isaac Errett, Barry Grider, Dave Miller, Keith Mosher, and unnumbered others who once stood upon the word of God.

This sect has no tolerance for plain gospel preaching, nor civil discourse. They are intent on restructuring the church after their own likeness, and dragging along with them as many as they can down that broad way that leads to destruction. Those who still love and respect the authority of God’s word must mark them, disassociate ourselves from them, and let the world know that we have no fellowship with them. The Lord said heresies will come, and they have done so in our day. The time for recognizing division has come—again.

Jerry C. Brewer. 2018. (edited, glg, 2019).
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