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Conviction Not Compromise
The more I study the history of the churches of Christ in the twentieth century, the more amazed I am at what these men and women of faith accomplished.
At the turn of the last century, our fellowship numbered only about a hundred thousand adherents, largely restricted to a few areas of strength in the South and Midwest. Within a few decades the churches of Christ would represent a worldwide movement claiming several million members, with well over a million members in the United States. This phenomenal growth came early in the twentieth century. Less increase, proportionally, has occurred over the past fifty years.
Why did the church grow in those early years, and why has the growth been lackluster since mid-century? I would hazard three observations.
First, the churches of Christ in the early 1900s possessed convictions tempered by the fires of conflict. The generation before witnessed the apostasy of the vast majority of congregations as they accepted instrumental music, women leading in worship, and a looser view of biblical authority. The church grew because the church knew the truth about themselves. They understood what God expects the church to be.
Second, the churches of Christ in the early 1900s were focused on the work of the local congregation. Part of the great apostasy of the 1800s was fueled by the Missionary Society and other unauthorized institutions which encroached on the work of the church. The church grew because the church knew the truth about God’s plan for the church to do His work in this world. They understood the difference between the Lord’s church and religious institutions which are not the Lord’s church.
Third, the churches of Christ in the early 1900s were passionate about reaching the lost. The apostate Disciples of Christ denomination began an approach of “open fellowship” with the unimmersed, beginning in the mid-1800s. The churches of Christ grew in the early 1900s because the church knew the truth about the way of salvation. They understood the difference between someone who had been “born again of water and the Spirit” and someone who has not.
In contrast with the dynamic growth of the past, the churches of Christ have stagnated in resent years. I believe there is a direct correlation between our lack of growth and the muddled thinking that now characterized a large part of our fellowship. We need to return to the profound truths, revealed by God, which show us the plan God has for the church and the pattern we must follow to bring the message of salvation to a lost world.