I was a student at Alabama Christian College (now Faulkner University) in Montgomery, Alabama during the 1950s. I remember very well how excited I was to be taking a course called "The Restoration Movement" taught by Dr. Furman Kearley. It was a genuine thrill to study in detail how men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone and a host of others who were intent on going back to the Bible for guidance in matter religiously. Our textbook was "The Search For The Ancient Order" written by brother Earl West. Of course it was sad to learn of the division among brethren over unscriptural doctrines and practices that invaded the fellowship of those of like precious faith. One problem that faced brethren in that period of time related to how far one could go in ‘fellowshipping’ our denominational friends. There was a segment of our brotherhood that began to extend fellowship to all simply because of their common belief in Jesus Christ as being the Son of God. To them, doctrine and the various modes of congregational worship were not to be a hindrance to ‘open fellowship’. Frankly, I never thought that this would be a problem facing the church of the Lord during my preaching experience. But, I was wrong. Here we are dealing with the same issues and problems the church dealt with a hundred or so years ago.
I love my brethren and I constantly pray for unity, harmony and peace to exist in the church of our Lord. However, I am fully aware that man has not remained faithful to God for very long at a time. Presently we are dealing with a full-blown digression in the church. There are those who serve as elders/shepherds and preachers, along with teachers in some of our Christian schools who are leading the people of God into error. It is truly heart breaking to witness a division that has come and is coming to our brotherhood. I want to give you an example regarding some brethren who are having communion with the denominations, and, I do so with a deep sadness in my heart.
In the church bulletin of Sunday, May 5, 2002, John Ed Mathison, preacher for the Frazer Memorial Methodist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, wrote: "This will be a very significant Sunday as we have the Carriage Hills Church of Christ ensemble singing at the worship services in the Sanctuary. This is a wonderful musical group, and I deeply appreciate their willingness to participate and lead in our celebration of worship. I have had the privilege of speaking at Wednesday night worship at Carriage Hills Church of Christ on three occasions. The people there were gracious and warm and accepting of a Methodist. Like Frazer, their music is great. I invited, and they are coming! I believe very strongly that we need better spirit of cooperation among Christian people throughout the community and the world. We are not in competition with each other, but we need to cooperate to lift high the name of Jesus Christ. Part of the ministry of Frazer is to join hands with people of other congregations and denominations to celebrate and worship." In the "ORDER OF WORSHIP" section of the bulletin, the "Carriage Hills Church of Christ Ensemble" was scheduled to sing twice during the service.
There are several conclusions that can be reached/inferred by the actions of these brethren. First of all, it seems that this Methodist preacher was extended the "right hand of fellowship" by at least a number of the brethren meeting at Carriage Hills. This would include these brethren believing that the visiting preacher was a brother in Christ, regardless of his understanding and teaching on how a person is saved from past sins. Otherwise, they could not have accepted him as a Methodist. Second, some brethren at Carriage Hills undoubtedly believe how one worships God is not of great importance; otherwise, their ensemble would not have had a leading part in the worship service at Frazer. It would also appear that the elders at Carriage Hills believe in the "diversity of doctrine" theory propagated by Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside in years past and now practiced by a large segment of our brotherhood. It may also be inferred that they believe that the church of Jesus Christ is just ‘another denomination’.
I want to refresh our minds regarding the exhortation and prediction that the apostle made to the Ephesian elders when he met with them at Miletus: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30, NKJV). If shepherds/elders were faithful to the Word of God, error would not be taught in the classrooms or from the pulpits. It is worthy to note however that Paul specified that it would be the case that the apostasy would begin among the eldership. No wonder Paul warned them first of all to "take heed to yourselves". I served as an elder with some faithful men in years past. There was a very active group (faction) in the congregation where I served that wanted us to make some drastic changes in our worship assemblies and in other areas of the local work. Those changes that could be considered as methods and/or expediencies were discussed and were often put into practice. But, there was a stopping point when we considered something as being unscriptural or highly questionable. One of the brothers who later left said in an elders’ meeting, "I guess you are drawing a line in the sand." One elder replied, "I guess you can say that." Eventually, several families left because of the refusal of the elders to go along with their desire to implement questionable and some unscriptural practices. In contrast, it is indeed sad to observe that the shepherds/elders of the Carriage Hills Church are leading the congregation into digression. They will have to give account of the souls under their oversight (Hebrews 13:17). Then, there is the matter of influence. A little leaven will leaven the whole lump (Galatians 5:9). These brethren are no doubt associated with other members from various congregations and Christian schools and will have some impact on the thinking of others in these matters.
Digression from the Lord’s way has been slow coming to the state of Alabama. The reason being, we have had great men of God who have preached and taught sound doctrine in years past. I speak mainly of brethren like Gus Nichols, Franklin Camp, Rex A. Turner, V. P. Black and a host of other preachers who have contributed to the growth and faithfulness of the church of our Lord. There have also been various periodicals that brethren have published in our state, along with other publications from without our state that have contributed to the faithfulness of our brethren and made us aware of the various false teachings of certain preachers/teachers among us. The apostle John wrote, "My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin" (I John 2:1, ASV). Someone has said, "It is better to prevent than to repent." The message is clear. We must do a better job of teaching brethren about the present issues facing the church. While we must preach the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) the need remains, we must preach the truth!