Gary W. Summers
The title of this book comes from Ecclesiastes 1:9:
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Certainly, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to errors being promoted in the camp of the faithful. This book’s subtitle is: “The Cycle of Apostasy.” What happened during the era of the judges also happens in the Lord’s church—just not as frequently. But there are many similarities occurring today compared to what happened 200 to 250 years ago.
The two issues headlining division back then were missionary societies and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music. Today, those have returned and brought many other innovations with them. The same ineffective and weak arguments are being used today as then—and with many of the same results: The voices of those holding closely to the Scriptures are being ignored. Pleas for Biblical soundness not only go unheeded; they are often treated with contempt.
This book is, perhaps, the most valuable, “right on the money” analysis and warning to churches since Ira Rice’s Ax on the Root series, published in 1966, 1967, and 1970. This book was published just months ago in 2020, and its second edition is now available. The best news is that it is free (although this reviewer thinks sending $5.00 would be a nice gesture). Jerry Brewer is the author, 308 South Oklahoma Avenue, Elk City, OK 73644.
“An Emerging Denomination”
This first chapter seeks to define what is meant in the book by the phrase mainline churches of Christ. Of course, some congregations still believe and hold fast to the Word, but many of the rest find themselves in a state of flux and maybe are not too sure where they are. Some of these remain where they used to be, but some are a long way down the road to being a denomination—the very thing churches of Christ have historically sought diligently to avoid becoming.
Brother Brewer provides eight characteristics of mainstream churches (1). The one that really struck a chord with this reviewer (and probably most of those who read this publication) was the second one: “Churches who may not preach error, but willingly fellowship churches and preachers who do (1 John 1:6-7; 2 John 9-11).” This has become an insoluble mystery to many of us over the past two decades—especially since many of those in this category once stood where we do and used the same Scriptures as authority for their stance! But now we find a spirit of compromise among those who once stood firm (they know who they are). The church has been and is being weakened.
“When the Floodgate Was Opened”
Many occasions for opening the floodgates to apostasy could be cited (and are throughout the book), but what causes the problem is one’s view of authority. Does silence authorize or prohibit Christians from engaging in various activities? The rationale for the first choice is provided by W.K. Pendleton (20). At a meeting in Lawton, Oklahoma on Nov. 17, 2003, Lynn McMillion, President and CEO of The Christian Chronicle, was asked three times: “Is the silence of the Scriptures permissive or prohibitive?” Most of us know what he believes, but he refused to answer. The reasons why are analyzed (21-22).
Chapters 3 and 4
These describe some of the current apostasy that is occurring. Some of these parallel previous conditions. Brother Brewer quotes quite often from the volumes Earl West wrote—The Search for the Ancient Order. A frequent technique was simply to introduce something without making a fuss over it. When someone opposed it, they were credited with being unloving and divisive. Isaac Errett was one of these. He set forth ten articles concerning what the church teaches and practices (41-46). Even though many of the points were Biblical, they had the appearance of a creed, and most brethren rejected them as such.
Anyone who does not think we are faced with the specter of Pentecostalism in the church has not been paying attention. For years, many Pentecostal groups believed that people were baptized in the Holy Spirit in modern times (usually evidenced by “speaking in tongues”). In the 1960s and 1970s, many in the church began to teach the concept as well. Pat Boone led the charge with such beliefs, but others followed soon.
[Editor’s note: Your congenial editor and reviewer ran into this situation in the very first congregation with which he worked. Two song leaders and their families (all of them hard workers) had involved themselves in this error. After several months of praying and studying, the congregation had no choice but to withdraw fellowship from them. They had many good qualities, but adhering to the truth was not one of them. He also recorded Pat Boone at the Civic Center in Pittsburgh in 1973. Some brethren tried to speak with him but were denied access.]
John Wesley first began to teach in the United States “a direct influence of the Holy Spirit on man’s spirit” (53). Mac Deaver began to run with this position in the 1990s, but he is not alone. Sunset School of Preaching and several “Christian” universities also have instructors teaching the same thing (60-66).
Chapter six considers what the Scriptures mean by being “spirit-filled”; a number of preachers and churches are to the point of saying that the Spirit enables Christians to do various things separate and apart from the Word. This is an error that has already infiltrated many congregations.
Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the current status of “Christian” universities. Many of us have known for decades that a university, a college, a high school, middle school, elementary school, kindergarten, or preschool is not the work of the church. By what authority would the church teach mathematics, history, science, or English? The work of the church is to educate everyone concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1947, David Lipscomb wrote in the school’s lectureship book: The Christian college is intended to help mothers and fathers bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Brewer 89).
Many brethren used to understand that the school was an adjunct of the home—not the church. For that reason, schools ought not to be supported by churches—but by individuals. In fact, Ohio Valley College once had, as part of its charter or by-laws, that they could not receive checks from churches. Any they received from churches had to, of necessity, be returned. And they were serious about this decision because the very next item stated that the previous provision could never be changed. Most “Christian” universities today are happy to take money from churches—or the government—or corporations. Anyone who knows the story of “Play On, Miss Bertha” will find an accounting of it on pages 100-101.
More on universities is examined in the next section—with a particular focus on “the pornography in the art department” at Freed-Hardeman University, which remains supported by the Henderson Church of Christ and the Bible faculty at the university—not to mention the institution’s president, David Shannon. One can only imagine the degree of jaw-dropping amazement and awe that would be expressed by N. B. Hardeman and other former godly men about something so obviously wrong.
How the information came to light is retold with information provided by Kerry Sword, whom this congregation supported in Kiev, Ukraine for 25 years. Two articles written on the morality aspect of their actions, by this reviewer, are also included. The presentation is rather lengthy (104-40), but it is well worth reading. Brother Sword is accurate in his descriptions; nevertheless, he has been much maligned in the area.
Schools of Preaching
These too are not as trustworthy as they were in years past. One of the schools examined is Sunset, which has had problems for years regarding Marriage, Divorce, and Re-Marriage. Many congregations have also reported problems with graduates teaching error on the Holy Spirit. Brewer points out that former Sunset instructor, Richard Rogers (whose class on Old Testament History and Geography course was inspirational when this writer listened to the tapes years ago) endorsed Terry Rush’s heretical book, The Holy Spirit Makes No Earthly Sense (150). The reader will be surprised by the teaching that has found its way in what were once “conservative” schools.
The Social Gospel
The author not only defines what the social gospel is (183-89); he shows from various church bulletins that the emphasis in mainline churches seems to be going that way. Also included is a study of the word, ministry, as used in the Scriptures (199-200). Chapter 12 takes a look at various “societies among the churches of Christ,” including the Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort (CCDRE) (206-10). What do Christians actually know about this organization? Chances are the material presented here will come as a surprise to most brethren. Some comparisons are made to previous institutions of one century ago.
Now all of these departures are disturbing, but the most insidious problem is discussed in chapters 13-14. Why is it the worst problem we face? The reason is that we know liberals like Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, and Rick “Abihu” Atchley are going to come along. We know we will face a few men who are not so flagrant, but who are leaning the same direction. But what we have not seen in such abundance in previous years are the number of preachers and brethren who will fellowship false teachers.
In the last twenty years, those who would have never been fellowshipped previously are now endorsed either implicitly or explicitly. Why doesn’t it make sense to people to correct someone when he has taught error? Why would a preacher appear on a program with a person who has been associated with liberalism for 35 years? Why would someone speak on the same program as another person who has written a book denying the doctrine of hell? Who could have imagined that anyone would do such a thing? Yet it is being done. If the most conservative among us fellowship men who are known for their errors, what does that mean for the future of the church? Isn’t he who justifies the wicked an abomination to God (Pr. 17:15)? No one ought to say to the wicked, “You are righteous” (Pr. 24:24-26).
Brewer also includes important chapters on brotherhood periodicals, newsletters, and youth ministries. He has collected a tremendous amount of information, which brethren need to read, and it would not be surprising to learn that a volume 3 might be forthcoming (although this material is very thorough). Some will not agree with every point made, but if it causes them to evaluate their practices, it will be worth it. (Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 19, No. 30, July 25, 2021, Published by South Seminole church of Christ, Winter Park, Florida).