Papers and Public Discussions

November 5, 2007

In the modern Restoration Movement, the axiom is true: The apple has not fallen far from the tree.

In Restoration Review, April 1977, Carl Ketcherside wrote about the divided state of the church in that day:

Divisions do not happen. They are caused. Parties form around men who promote the separation and insist upon the segregation of their adherents. In the movement growing out of the ideal of restoration as enunciated by Thomas and Alexander Campbell, most of the divisions centered around men of prominence. In almost every instance they were editors of journals. They could use their journals as propaganda media and the United States mails as a distribution method. No party could long endure without an editor and a “loyal paper.”

Prominent papers of the Restoration Movement late 1800’s and early 1900’s included the Gospel Advocate, the Firm Foundation, the Octographic Review, and the Christian Standard. Each of these papers emerged to promote a certain view of sound doctrine. Because the Restoration Movement churches of that era were autonomous, there was no central body defining orthodox beliefs and practices. In such an environment, these papers carried enormous influence in defining orthodoxy–each paper defining its own view of what is true. Each paper drew a following. The boundaries between those followings became battle lines over time, lines which continue to be tenaciously defended and relentlessly attacked to this day.

A few of the early papers are still being published, along with many new entries. In the 1960’s, the churches of Christ added the Christian Courier. The ICOC, as the new kid on the block, has its own outlets, including Disciples Today, Mission Memo, and ICOC Hot News. Like those that came before, each of these outlets provide commentary and news from the perspective of the editors of the site. And numerous blogs such as this one have been started by individuals to promote a certain point of view that the site’s founder sees as important and perhaps under-represented.

Today, the landscape has changed dramatically. As this blog illustrates, it is now easy for virtually anyone to create a platform where he or she can promote their view of what the church should be and should do. Many people are taking advantage of that opportunity to publicize their points of view to anyone who will listen. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing.

We need to be careful not to use these platforms to create division. History has shown the potential that these papers have to promote factions in the church. On the other hand, through respectful public dialog there is potential for these papers to promote much needed progress toward unity. Of course there are some topics of a private and personal nature that must not be discussed in public. However, on topics that affect the whole community, respectful public discussion can be quite healthy. Public discussion makes leaders publicly accountable for making decisions that are in the best interests of the whole community. That kind of discussion can build trust, acceptance, and support for the direction leaders choose.

This public scrutiny can be uncomfortable to those who are used to a more closed style of leadership, where decisions are made in private and presented to the community as a done deal. Discussing alternative or opposing views in public can be personally risky, since leaders may occasionally have to eat their words, or at least publicly accept a view other than their own. The reward for taking that risk, however, can be increased trust and support from the community. And in many cases, public discussion can lead to better decisions.

For these public discussions to contribute to unity, rather than to division, we must:

  • treat one another with respect.
  • listen to one another, looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others.
  • be willing to accept another position on matters of opinion.
  • follow Romans 14 in matters of conscience, not doing anything that causes our brother to stumble.
  • acknowledge our own fallibility.
  • refuse to allow our publishing platform to become the rallying point for a faction.

I hope my previous posts about the ICOC Plan for United Cooperation are taken in that way. My intention in writing those articles was to promote discussion of the real issues standing in the way of broader cooperation, so that those issues will be resolved and we can work together in a greater way. My purpose, as always, is to promote the unity for which Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed.


  1. Well, I think you know how *I* feel… :)I think it’s important to add that, without your site, the only public “discourse” on that Plan would be from folks in favor of it. My local congregation decided to opt in without ever even considering the kinds of views you and others have presented. This, to me, was a serious ethical breach, like “elections” in oppressive countries: “Here is your Plan, now vote for it.”I wish some of the other folks with thoughts on the downside of this issue would express themselves publicly, too. Very few members of other congregations are even aware that congregations comprised of some of our most committed, faithful, and Biblically solid disciples have come to see it the way you and these other disciples have.Thanks for your always balanced and For True Unity articles.

  2. Hi Mark,It’s not really my goal to talk people out of ratifying the plan. I do want the ratifiers to be aware of the concerns of those who have decided not to ratify, so that something can be changed to accommodate them.

  3. I think this is one of the mileposts we must reach and surpass. For so many years, there was just the ‘party line’ that everyone supported in public (even if they didn’t support in private) because any dissent or questioning of it would be met with disdain at best or accusations of rebellion and divisiveness at worst. Now, we find ourselves in a new place. We know dissenting views are ok but we’re still not comfortable with them. I believe, because we fear the worst (ie division and conflict) and haven’t learned how to live with differences of opinion (and convictions) on some items. The first step is to be ok with presenting both sides. Not to ‘persuade’ others to be on our side; but to facilitate understanding of the issue and why folks hold the views they do. And then to allow everyone to hold their view without recourse from those that hold the ‘majority’ view. We need to be able to understand and accept others’ views without being dismissive or prideful.

  4. Amen, ttk!

  5. Honestly, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought you were wanting to talk people out of affirming (“Affirming” – it’s the New “Ratifying”) the Plan.Almost all of us ICOC members promised to Make The Bible Our Standard and to Be Bereans. I think it’s one of the Best. Things. We. Did. Ever. Articles like the ones you’ve written truly honor God by honoring his word and calling us back to that standard, IMHO.

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