Nearly a century and a half ago the great minds of the Restoration Period were giving all they possessed to the task of getting religious people to return to the teachings and practices of the New Testament church. They dedicated their lives, learning, and labor, as well as their fortunes, to what they believed would be the greatest religious endeavor since the days of the apostles. That effort began in the Ohio Valley. Since that time, the churches of the Ohio Valley have been a bulwark against denominationalism and a strong defender of the faith. It has produced some of the greatest preachers the church has known during that period. To this day it constitutes a great part of the disciple brotherhood. While other areas may have grown much more rapidly and may boast of greater numbers, there can be no doubt about the Ohio Valley's having contributed largely to almost every section of the brotherhood. Thousands have, through the years, moved into other states, and this has caused the church to spring up in many places, the number of which no man can testify. It is almost impossible to go anywhere in this fair land of ours without finding among the saints some who have earlier lived in the Ohio Valley.
To some of us who have spent forty years serving the Lord's people and trying to spread the kingdom of Christ into the various communities of the area, the Valley is a choice spot on this old earth. Some men see it as a beautiful valley because of its scenic glories; others see it as a great industrial center contributing greatly to the might and wealth of our nation, but to the saints scattered abroad it is the valley of many churches of Christ.
The list of names that could be mentioned of the faithful men who have served in the Valley is endless. They were good men, true to the teachings of the Old Book. True, they did not always agree on some matters, nor did they hesitate to say so! However, these disagreements did not interfere with their respect and love for each other. They did not withhold their respect and encouragement from their fellow servants merely because they differed on some opinion. Meetings were attended and encouraged even by those who did not see eye-to-eye on all matters. Those who opposed the use of the baptistery were often present to lend their help in a meeting where the "pool" was being used night after night. Some who thought the church was going digressive because classes for Bible study were permitted before the regular worship period could be seen at nearly every meeting in their community. Their visits were not merely an opportunity to "start something," nor were they everlastingly challenging their brethren who disagreed with them to a debate. Constant teaching led many precious souls and many congregations to see the difference between fact and opinion. The Ohio Valley became known throughout the brotherhood as a strong and reliable part of a growing movement.
Things have changed! Of this, there can be no doubt. The word of God remains the same! The teachings and practices of the early church remain the same! Methods of getting things done have changed! Some of these methods might be questioned. This is not an effort at compromise; it is an effort to get brethren to be sure they are fighting against innovations and departures from the faith rather than fighting against men and women of "like precious faith." This writer is just as much opposed to such innovations as he has ever been. He is also as much concerned about "keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" as he has ever been. It is one thing to fight against departures from the truth and something else to just fight against brethren. Bitterness is not the answer.
I was recently told of a congregation that had split. One of the preachers in the town visited one of the members of his congregation in the hospital. In the same room was a member of the other congregation, but he spoke only to the one of his congregation because the other sick person belonged to the one he did not endorse. This is hypocrisy! If it did happen, the preacher was guilty of bigotry. Could he have been wrong in at least speaking a word of encouragement to a sick person? It is this attitude that I deplore! It matters not which side manifests the attitude; it is sinful. A certain sister named a few gospel preachers to me that have been among the greatest in the Valley for many years and said, "I don't consider any of them sound any more." It is this bitterness that I speak against. Just because some do not "line up" with certain leaders (?) does not mean that they have ceased to declare the whole counsel of God. It is possible that some have NOT bowed their knees to the Baal of modernism in spite of all the tales to the contrary. There are some who want to see the Lord's work prosper without the discontent and bewilderment that plagues so many congregations. I do not believe in "peace at any price," nor would I advocate such a thing, but I do believe the price paid for the church was so great that it hardly behooves any of us to sit in the seat of the scornful and ridicule the souls who have been redeemed by the blood. Surely, there is a way to reach the hearts of God's people who show themselves to be perplexed about some things without ridicule, bitterness, insinuations, and innuendos. This does not mean that we should not condemn sin and departures from the faith; it merely means that we can do so without manifesting a spirit of hatred and malice. It seems to me that I have read somewhere that these are the things that Christians should put away rather than manifest!
Thirty-eight years ago, today (March 4th), I gave up a good job in order to spend the rest of my life telling the old, old story. I had already spent three years preaching over Lord's days, but this did not satisfy my yearning to have some part in extending the border of God's kingdom. During this time, I have preached for over two hundred and fifty congregations in Ohio and West Virginia, alone. My schedule is still full, and nearly all my meetings will be in this same area. Along with other gospel preachers of this time, I have watched a handful of faithful ones develop into great and prosperous congregations. Some of the largest churches in the Valley were once "mission points" to some of us. We rejoice in their strength!
The fight against sectarianism and digression must go on! I am sure that it will. There must never be a stopping place short of a return to apostolic teaching and practice. This has been the plea of the Restoration Movement, and it must continue to be so. It is imperative that we all "contend for the faith once delivered," but let us not contend merely for the sake of contention and strife. It is impossible to preach the word of God without condemning sin wherever we see it in or out of the church but it is possible to do it with all "longsuffering and doctrine." We do not have to be mean to say what we mean! We plead for peace in the Valley that comes from "hearts knit together in love."
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