A Heritage of Disdain

I probably shouldn’t pour this out here or now. After an all-day headache that’s devolving into a sore throat, I’m tired and miserable. I delivered the lesson at my church today anyway — like so many preachers at small churches, I have no backup plan for waking up sick.

It wasn’t an easy lesson, and with out-of-town guests, it wasn’t a completely easy audience.

Tonight I thought I’d relax and read a while in a 1918 book edited by my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, “Sermons and Sayings,” including some of each by himself and many of his Restoration Movement contemporaries. Among the authors are names I have long heard regarded as spiritual giants.

And now I’m a little sick to my stomach andAlfred Ellmore, my Great-Great Grandfather depressed, too.

Since I’m not the student of the Restoration that many others are, I didn’t realize that its sectarianism went back this far, and obviously farther from the advanced stage of it evident among the authors. I thought that was a development of the 1950s or so; a mere 60 years ago rather than 100 or more.

The sermons and essays are eloquent beyond measure, from a time when erudition was actually valued and respected. Within them are often magnificent truths. And just as frequently, they contain lapses of logic and prejudices that go beyond the pale.

Even in written form, the arrogance of snide remarks about people of other faiths is too evident. In this style of expression, there is no giving an inch; no recognition of common faith in a common Lord or even just a sense of morality. The mode is always attack, belittle, condemn — the ABCs of confrontative evangelism.

How it can possibly endure today after a century of failing to persuade vast multitudes of people and turning away millions more escapes my imagination.


Except for the fact that I understand that judgment can be very enjoyable. it vaunts self by making light and less of others. It is so far removed from the winsome nature of Christ that it is no wonder that so many within the Restoration Movement (and, let’s be frank, other church fellowships too) have virtually negated the power of the humble gospel by proclaiming it with their words and denying it with their arrogance.

Those prejudices are among the causes of the flawed reasoning. Assumptions are made and conclusions drawn that now have the weight of more than a century of unquestioned acceptance — unquestioned, because to question them would draw the criticism and banishment of those who cling to them for dear life. The assumptions and conclusions (of men!) have been accorded the very same weight as scripture, and have been repeated so long and so forcefully and with such threat of reprisal — expressed or not — that the words of scripture are read to have taken on their meaning. Literally, it seems to have become impossible for some to see any difference between what scripture literally says and what they (and/or others before them) have concluded that it means.

How can such a perception be overcome? How can illogic-accepted-as-valid be defeated by logic? How can one explain the difference between what scripture says and what someone has said it means after it has been drilled in by repetition and religious culture and the Damoclean sword of threatened banishment from community? How can the satisfaction of “knowing” one is right lose ground to an humble, open uncertainty and reliance upon God’s grace?

After five generations of sectarianism’s enduring popularity?

I swing between the pendant alternatives of severing all connection with those who will not see or listen, and continuing to hold out an olive branch and a few disturbing questions — expressed in love — to those who still might.

And on nights like tonight, I just feel that the effort is largely lost.

20 thoughts on “A Heritage of Disdain

  1. After reading your post, I’m laboring on how best to encourage you. Your words brought tears to my eyes because I share your feelings in so many ways. I guess all I can say is “You are not alone, brother” I preached on Elijah last year and that gave me much encouragement. The church has bowed her knee before all kinds of false gods. The sectarian attitude is just one of them. Keep preaching to word, brother, even if those of your own fellowship feel like they must interpret the message narrowly. Hang in there and hope you start feeling better soon.

  2. No effort is lost. We can plant seeds, but we seldom see them sprout, watch them grow, or harvest the results. Yet a seed planted today may grow fruit 20, 30 years from now – and that fruit would never have occurred if we had not planted the seed, made the effort, spoke the words and lessons from our heart.

  3. Philippians 1:15-18. Read and reflect on Paul’s words, then rejoice that Christ is preached, even when motives and methods are awkward at best, and mean-spirited at worst. I suspect that your great-great-grandfather tried very hard to preach Christ faithfully. You may decry his method, but remember Paul’s words to the Philippians.

  4. Answer to questions: “It ain’t gonna happen!” The old saying is still true “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” It’s unfortunate (and also unChristian) that our heritage is so cast in concrete that it can’t dig itself out of the holw we dug ourselves into — well, OK at least some of us.
    Hang in there, Bro., you’re on the right track!

  5. Some of the comments remind me of Cain and Able. Able interpreted God’s instructions narrowly and did as God commanded, he was found “faithful” in God’s sight. Cain interpreted God’s instructions more broadly and God was not pleased. I suppose we could call Cain one who had “another faith”, a faith that differed from What God intended. “Faith comes from hearing, hearing from the word of God.” Romans 10:17. Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it. because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt 7:13,14. Our job is to preach the word, spread the seed, few will accept it. We need to accept that fact, and always remember, it’s God who provides the increase.

  6. The divine word of God says that Able offered his sacrifice by faith. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God.” We infer that they had instruction from God as to what is acceptable. Able’s blood sacrifice was accepted Cain’s was not. I’m sure that Cain was sincere, he gave from the best of his field, I’m sure he “believed” he was doing right, yet it was rejected, because he didn’t do it by faith. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God.” Doing the will of God, is to act by “faith”. To do something in God’s name that has not been authorized (Cain) is not faith, it is rejection of God’s will. When you speak of “other faiths” as you do, you think as Cain did. Eph 4 informs us that there is only “one faith”. How can we find that one faith? “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God.”

    • Ah, so you can, by connecting separate verses — from several different books of the Bible (Genesis, Hebrews, Romans, Ephesians and Matthew) written by several different writers over a period of several centuries — necessarily infer something happened that scripture does not describe at all in order to make a thinly-veiled accusation at me and other commenters because they do not share your faith in your infallible reasoning and logic, are not as sectarian as you are, and are therefore outside the gate and liable to be destroyed?

      I see how it works.

      Why don’t you just come out and say it, instead of implying it? Maybe some of us lost people aren’t as adept at inference as you are and can’t conclude that about ourselves from what you hint at. Why not just say, “You people are all lost and damned to hell because you accept the confession of faith of other believers in Jesus Christ but reject some of the doctrines I or others before me have (carefully and with flawless logic) reasoned out as absolutely vital to salvation, even though scripture doesn’t come right out and express them”?

  7. My “faith” must be based on something. It must be based upon what God has revealed. Again “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God.” Remember Hebrews 1:1f? God has spoken to us through His Son, we have His will for us, we can know it, we can do it. To follow Jesus is to accept what is taught in the New Covenant, believe it and do it. For anyone to put self and selfish desires before and in exchange for what Christ and the Apostles taught is nothing more than perverting His message. To be “sectarian” is to think as the world does, to do as the world does. I’m narrow, because Jesus Christ was narrow, remember Matt 7:13,14? I’ve asked you before with no answer, just who are the people of Matt 7:21f? Are they not people who honor God with their lips, but their heart is far from Him? Are they not people who “think” they honor God (Cain) but they honor Him NOT by faith? Are they not people who decide for themselves what is acceptable (Cain) to God? What was Christ’s answer to such people? “depart from Me, I never knew you.” What did Paul say about such people who bring a different ( perverted) gospel? Is that not what people of “other faiths” bring? What I have said here and above has been taught in the church of Christ since Pentecost. You act like I’ve slapped you in the face with some new revelation. I don’t desire to change God’s word, only accept it for what it is, “truth” and the truth will set me free. And by the way, I don’t and can’t damn anyone, but the bible sure does, John 12:48. kb, if I asked you, “what must I do to be saved” what would your answer to me be?

    • Jeff, I’m guessing you’ve already done the things associated with the five-finger exercise preached in churches of Christ, so let me suggest these things to do to be saved:

      1.) Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

      2.) Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. ~ Luke 6:37

      3.) ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ~ Luke 10:37

      4.) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. ~ Romans 15:7

      5.) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2

      That’s a good start. I certainly haven’t mastered these five yet, but if you do, let me know and I’d be glad to find five more for us to work on together.

      They’re all about salvation, because salvation begins here and now; it’s about how we live as Christ in this world and show love toward others. They are about becoming more and more like him, being “transformed into His image.” They are about the very nature of Christ.

      They are not about coming into a forum on a blog and comparing people to Cain in order to win their hearts to your way of thinking and judging, brother; that’s sectarianism. That’s dividing the body of Christ.

    • Which branch of the church of Christ denomination is right? I could list many different varieties and many of them are sure the others not exactly like them are lost. Oh, I know the answer, it’s “my” beliefs and my group that is the right one, right?

      As for Matthew 7. The context is false teachers. What if included in that group are men who teach rule keeping, Sunday am perfection, church, and baptism and only mention Jesus as a bit player?

  8. So do I need to assume that you don’t necessarily agree with as you called it, “the five finger exercise? One must be in the body before he can ever divide it. Acts 2, those who asked the question, “what must we do to be saved?” Peter answered how kb? The answer to that question has not changed. Those who gladly received Peters words were baptized for the remission of their sins and verse 47 God added them to HIS church. There’s only one way to be saved, only one way to be added to the Lord’s church, Peter had the answer. he was willing to share it with those who asked, why kb aren’t you? Those who bring another way to be saved and added to His church bring a perverted gospel. Jesus said, that he was not here to do His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him. Jesus understood the importance of obedience, we should as well. Jesus didn’t just accept me as I was. He expected me to change (repent) turn to Him in humble submission. Following Jesus in the paths of righteousness. I can’t even begin to do that until I obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. (insert five finger exercise here).

    • Thanks for asking.

      No, you shouldn’t assume anything.

      Including the idea that “faith comes by hearing” means “faith only comes by hearing.” You quoted it correctly, but you attached a meaning to it – the word “only,” which doesn’t appear there – in order to make your complex syllogism “work.” Since it has a flawed premise, it doesn’t. Your second erroneous assumption is that the Word of God can only consist of instructions and commands – also necessary for your logical construct to “work.” Third, it’s also based on a flawed assumption that verses from scripture can be ripped from their context and pasted together any way you like to get scripture to say what you want it to say — in this case, above, that God gave instructions or commands to Cain and Abel. But it doesn’t say that at all.

      My point above (which you have always been skillful at missing), is that the steps we take to begin our walk with Christ don’t ultimately mean anything if we stop there, and fail to continue taking steps to become more like Him.

      You seem to be persuaded that the ONLY aspect of His character worth imitating is His obedience. (It seems to be all you talk about.) While that is important, it is only one aspect and not the crucial one. That is His love for God and others which motivated His obedience – even to death on a cross.

      Now that’s gospel … the part you keep avoiding.

      If a person is just good in order to avoid punishment in hell and be rewarded with eternal life in heaven, that person has missed the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of a mere transaction: do this and get this as a result. What foolishness!

      The gospel is meant to convey the life and nature of Jesus so that we might be transformed into the likeness of His loving image.

  9. oh kb, if “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” If that is a true statement and I believe that it is, every other avenue would be false. Bible faith is based upon God’s revealed word. If God had never revealed himself faith in Him would be impossible. All that we could possible have would be what we think, what we might assume, but it wouldn’t be faith. I have said many times that we show our love for Him by keeping His commandments. That’s what Jesus said, “if you love Me, keep My commandments. I can show my love no other way.To love my fellowman, my neighbor as my self, if I do that, would I not be keeping a commandment? Man has always lived under law. Adam and Eve did, they had only one commandment. Why is it so hard to understand that Cain and Able did as well? My bible says, sin is a transgression of the law, if there is no law there is no sin. Did Cain sin with his sacrifice? yes he did, we know because God was not pleased, his sacrifice was not according to faith (the hearing of God). There is no other understanding to be had. The same can be said of Adam and Eve. Their actions were not of faith (the hearing of God’s instructions). Your right that our first steps (five finger exercise) are meaningless unless we grow to maturity and maintain our faith until death. But you refuse to acknowledge the fact that those five steps are necessary to even begin, why is that kb?

    • Well, brother, you have your gospel that’s all about laws and commands and obedience derived by questionable human logic.

      And I have a gospel about the Son of God who loved the entire world and gave Himself up for it, sharing the teachings and instructions and example that can make life full and eternal.

      One of them is false.

      I don’t think we have much common ground to discuss.

      But let me pose a Golden Rule exercise: If, say, you were to write a blog and I came in on the comments vaguely accusing you and other commenters of being like the murderer Cain and taking a path to destruction, how successful do you think I would be in persuading them to accept my point of view? Would I be expressing the love of Christ for other believers?

  10. I agree, we don’t seem to have much in common. Again, the things I have said have been taught in the church of Christ sense Pentecost. You, who claim to be a minister in the church of Christ, disagree with most of what I have said. How can that be kb? The greatest danger for the Lord’s church today, comes from our very own progressive members who desire to change the church. Those who teach a perverted gospel. Royce asks which “brand”? Your right Royce, because the liberal thinkers among us have destroyed many congregations of the Lord’s people. And they are no longer recognizable, as the church we read about in the bible. You and Royce can’t seem to grasp the fact that Christ built and died for only one church, “HIS”. When we read and study the pages of the New Covenant, we can see clearly how this church should look, function, worship and what it’s to believe and teach. The progressives among us have placed themselves above God, rejecting HIS will and inserting their own. I didn’t accuse you of murder, you, like Cain, offer something different. Why kb does scripture instruct me “to keep the pattern of sound words”, to walk in the light, how can I do that kb if I don’t know and follow the words of God? You want me to be more direct, I can be. You teach a perverted message kb. You ignore Peter’s inspired words concerning how to enter the kingdom, and you accept any and all of man’s. You welcome into fellowship those who have never obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. You see denominational bodies as equal to the blood bought church of Jesus Christ. You disagree with the pages of inspiration concerning men and women’s roles in the church. You can’t accept the music that Christ desires. Scripture teaches us to shed the world and it’s ways, you want to embrace it. You can’t even come to terms with how one gains faith, your idea of “love” is foreign to bible teachings. I could go on, but I’m tiered of being blunt. kb, humble yourself and submit to the Lord’s will. Allow Him to be your King.

  11. It wasn’t “progressives” or “liberal” that caused the many different kinds of churches of Christ. Honesty is required to have good conversation.

  12. Keith, good post. B/c of our hermeneutic (CEI) and narrow approach to scripture, we have not only been unkind to those outside of our group, we have robbed ourselves of so much good. How is it we can preach for decades and never really grapple with verses like Romans 5:5 – “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” What exactly does that mean? Why haven’t we explored that with books, articles, sermons? Don’t our folks need to hear this? If we really spent time with this one verse, considering love and the Holy Spirit, think of the potential that has to change us, and then change how we view and treat others. Again, good post.

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