Friday, December 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Churches

I was in Indiana last weekend "trying out." That part of Indiana has small churches of Christ all around it.  One of the local families was taking us around the countryside showing us the lay of the land.  They pulled up to this now defunct church building and began telling us about its demise over 80 years earlier. The people directly involved are now dead.  Most of them are buried in the cemetery across the road due west of the church building. What I am sharing below is taken from part of their family history.  (An unpublished manuscript.)  I have not edited it in any way except that I have added current pics of the two buildings of the little churches involved. And a few labeled comments below… 

This is not a great doctrinal treatise but how it was remembered in later years by a nine year old child… 

Bethany Church of Christ

“The Bethany church Building is across from the Bethany cemetery.  It has been unused for around 80 years.  A Coal mining company has bought the property and will eventually tear it down.  Several times while talking to my mother about family history, we would talk about what happened to this church.  She was around nine when her family stopped attending there. The congregation had divided over Bible studies and Wednesday night services in the building.

The two elders being prompted by one family in particular finally said there would be no Bible classes or Wednesday night services in the building. The controversy became so strong that the elders padlocked the doors.  They said to those opposing them that “you can have classes on the steps outside but not in the building.”  The dispute was disrupting worship.   One Sunday night during services, a man who disagreed with the elders, stood up and said he was going to read a chapter from the Bible.  To shut him up another man started singing a hymn, very loudly, and his wife put her hand over his mouth.   On another occasion while the men opposing the classes where in the hallway having a discussion, the same man got up in the auditorium and started reading the Bible again. This prompted one of the men in the hallway to come in and knock him down.

Having worship services had become almost impossible.  The member’s personal lives were being disrupted by disputes also.  The fact that mother remembered so many details about the arguments between the members, shows the effect that it was having on the children also.

Eventually the members called in two preachers to try to settle the dispute.   A document was written and the members were asked to sign it. (copies of the agreement are in the following pages).  Apparently this did not settle the dispute because many of the members, including Mother’s family, left and started another congregation.  They met at “Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary Long’s house” .   In 1929, after a local farmer donated some land they built a new building- they called it Mt. Zion.  The Bethany congregation completely disbanded and the building sits abandoned-unless the mine has torn it down. The Mt. Zion church is still active.”

Begin Jerry’s comments…
Pic of the Mt Zion Church today…. This is the “new congregation” formed in 1929  from the members driven off by the no Bible class brethren.  Today it remains a small country church but it survived.

Reading between the lines below you can draw out a series of fairly common themes in a church split. 

  1. It stemmed from a church trying to cater to the whims of one family to the point the rest of the church rebelled. Presumably said family is now facing the curse of  I Corinthians 3:17    “If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”  Clearly it is up to God to judge them.   If God judges them guilty… that curse will fall squarely upon them. (among others)
  2. The “no Bible classes” position was at the heart of it.  This fad went through the churches in the early 20th century… most of those churches have now died out because of the ignorance of the following generations  I.E.  Ignoring the young generally leads to ignorance among the young.
    There are other reasons that churches split but this position will always eventually cause one.  Parents generally just will not willingly throw their children to the wolves.  Ignorance is one of the worst wolves that will devour our children. Parents tend to seek out someone (or group of “someones”) who cares in practice rather than simply words. They cannot gain new families.
  3. The church lost its families… a church without families, children, is in a fatal position unless    it can be cured.  Satan loves to find wedges to drive the families away.
    This position towards scripture is clearly fatal… it creates a mindset that “I’ll care for my kids but the devil can have yours!”  Spiritual orphans have no place to turn if they come from weak families and the church is not there for them.  The “no Bible class” position will always eventually drive off the families. There is no new thing under the sun!
    Once entrenched this doctrine has destroyed every congregation that I am familiar with. This is a real life example of the reason this position has virtually died out among us.
  4. The parents who take pains to provide a suitable environment for their children can save them. The others lose them. Hence… the new church survived.  Those parents went the extra mile to start over and rebuild…  rebuild they did.  Three generations later, their descendants still remember and are proud of the sacrifices made by them.

Most of the actual participants are now buried in the cemetery across the road from what was meeting place of The Bethany  Church of Christ.   They each have their own little stone monuments over their respective graves but …. 

Ironically the larger monument to their lives… The one that casts a shadow over their grave every morning is this old crumbling church building. In this case the shadow cast is very, very literal. 

Their legacy…

I would call this
A tale of two churches!