Perspective—Rejection of the 1880 Reformation
In the previous issue, we addressed the teaching of Elmer E. Shelhamer, who defended the entire concept of sectariansim. This article continues and concludes the discussion.
Do Men Ordain and Command Others?
This is what is wrong with that good man, E. E. Shelhamer. His faith stands in the wisdom of men, rather than in the power of God. This characteristic colors his prejudice against those who teach coming out of the churches of men, especially in the details that he finds offensive about their teaching. Here is one of them:
It is asserted by no-sectites that man has no part in the ordination of men for the offices of bishop (elder), or deacon—that the Holy Ghost only does this work. One plain statement of Scripture is sufficient to show the falseness of this theory: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed.” (Ac 24:23) If the Holy Ghost is to appoint men to this office exclusive of men, why did Paul instruct Timothy so particularly as to the qualifications necessary in bishops and deacons (1 Tim. 3:2-13). And why did Paul instruct Titus to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city”? Tit 1:5 Here it is plain that Titus was under Paul’s command; and Paul had even appointed him to a circuit or pastorate at Crete, and gave him authority to appoint elders in every city. Mark you, Paul does not say that the Holy Ghost had appointed Titus at Crete, but that he had. The word does not say the Holy Ghost shall ordain elders in every city, but that Titus should. Yet, with this word in their hand, we hear certain men saying, “No man shall say to me, go here, or go there.”
[Elmer E. Shelhamer; False Doctrines and Fanaticism Exposed, “Chapter 6. Sects and No-Sects”]
If the idol had not been in Mr. Shelhamer’s heart, he could have read such texts as Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,” and realized that Paul did not regard those brethren as being under his own command, with their authority proceeding from him. The full, rightly-divided meaning of the authority of New Testament ministers, the God-given boundaries and limitations of that authority, is observable in the Bible by the completeness of the scriptural record, but it is easy to overlook the weight of different passages, if one is under another influence than the Author of the Book. Such scriptures as 1 Peter 5:5 contradict the hierarchical vision of Mr. Shelhamer and other sectarians. Such scriptures as Acts 16:6-7 reveal a source of guidance that is independent of men—“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) Scriptures, such as Matthew 20:25-26 contradict the very concept of sectarian hierarchy: “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you.” And this scriptural viewpoint of absolute equality before the Holy Ghost is revealed in the way that the ministry operated in Acts. When Paul got saved, needed healing, and needed to be filled with the Holy Ghost, that same Holy Ghost does not suddenly go through Peter or James or John or any other man of prominence. Instead He chooses a vessel, Ananias, unknown in the sacred record before and unknown afterward. The Holy Ghost uses this man to pray for the newly-regenerated persecutor; he recognizes that the Holy Ghost has ordained the newly-saved brother to be a minister in the church of God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And the newly-added member of the body of Christ goes right to work, doing what God has saved him to do. Brother Paul says of this, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” (Galatians 1:15-19)
At first look, there are scriptures that seem to teach a hierarchy of ministers in the New Testament church of God. These scriptures, such as Hebrews 13:17 and Titus 2:15, seem to teach that there are those ruling and those ruled: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.” And other texts appear to contradict the thought, such as Matthew 20:25-27: “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” The apparent clash in these texts is manifested in 1 Peter 5:5, “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility.” This last text teaches an absolute equality between all members of God’s church: young, old, male, female, slaves, slave-owners, Jews, Gentiles.
So, how can they that rule and they that are ruled all be subject one to another? Only in the church that Jesus built. Certainly not in the churches of men. All the authority of men ruling men would collapse in the all-of-you-be-subject-one-to-another way. Consider the effect in the human, secular governments. The policemen would exercise authority on the law-breakers and the criminals would exercise authority on the police!
But how does such a thing work in the church that Jesus built? By the simple fact that every human member of that church is walking in the light as Jesus Christ is in the light. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) Notice that this is not just any old light. It is a certain light—light from heaven, light from God. This is a steady, unceasing impartation from the Head of the church to each member; or, to use another Bible illustration, a steady, unceasing impartation from the Vine to each branch in the Vine. The government of this unique people is not from men or by men; it is from above. Therefore, every member in the body can be used of God as a vessel to impart light and truth at any juncture. Therefore, the submission of each member in the body is to God in each other, as God in each other is manifest. Thus the saved “walk in the light, as He is in the light.” The effect is that we have fellowship one with another and “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)
But what if someone gets out of order—fails to walk in the light as He is in the light? The divine Head has His ways of dealing with all who walk not in the light. “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered.” (John 15:6) How do the other branches know what is happening? They simply keep their eyes on the Lord; they abide in the Vine; they walk in the light. God takes care of those who abide not. What happens to them? Why, they find the natural home of those who walk not in the light: “Men gather them.” (John 15:6) Here is where Mr. Shelhamer has his attention focused: the many ways of men gathering them, even the divisions and churches of the devising of men. But then what happens to these withered branches? They “cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” This is the end of not walking in the light.
But then what do the scriptures mean by people ordaining elders, submitting to those who rule, etc.? God works through different children of His as pastors (bishops), teachers, evangelists, apostles to feed His children and assist them. The boundaries of their “ruling” are limited by how God uses them—again a matter of revealed light from heaven. To go beyond these things and claim dominion over the children of God is to become a lord over God’s heritage (1 Peter 5:3; 2 Corinthians 1:24). The sense of ruling for a godly pastor is exactly the same as Revelation 2:26-27, “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.” See also 1 Corinthians 6:2. The light and truth that is established in any child of God by the Holy Ghost is a standard that condemns all else, breaking in pieces all the vessels of an earthen potter (men’s efforts on their own), so to speak.
The ordaining by men of other men is but a ratifying of what God has already done. The ordaining of Titus of elders did not endue them with authority; his ordaining merely recognized what God had already done. That this is the case is plain from what Paul said to the elders whom he or some other brother had ordained in Ephesus. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) If this were not enough, after reading of how the Spirit of God gives spiritual gifts to different ones as He chooses, we read, “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) And again, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” (1 Corinthians 12:18) This all comes together in 1 Corinthians 7:17, “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.” God distributes; God calls; and Paul follows in recognition of what God has done, by ordaining. Paul did not regard those brethren as being under his own command, with their authority proceeding from him.
Mr. Shelhamer has it backwards. He would have us believe that men choose as seems best to them and set the members in the body as it pleases them, i.e., God ratifying the work of men. But behold, men are to recognize what God does. God endues; spiritual men acknowledge what God has done. We have liberty to acknowledge what God does and to do as He would have us do. We avoid putting men in God’s place, and look always for God in what is being done, turning away and rejecting the efforts of men on their own.
Human Intervention in Holy Spirit Government vs. Human Involvement
We enquire further: was the Apostolic or early Christian church without a visible government? Was it administered solely by the Holy Ghost without human intervention?
Where is the visible government in Acts 16:6-7? “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” We are not told of just how the Spirit of God made it plain to them what they were not to do, but that it is made plain is beyond dispute. The next part of this scripture tells of how Brother Paul had a vision in the night. This vision persuaded the brethren to go to Macedonia. Here are the words of the scripture: “And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” (Acts 16:10) These are the words of response to the invisible guidance. God goes before; men of God follow.
Now Mr. Shelhamer asks, “Was it administered solely by the Holy Ghost without human intervention?” Yes. They did not intervene. Now had he asked, “without human involvement,” the answer would be no. The crucial question is: What is the nature of human involvement in church government? What are its liberties and what are its limits?
Without question, we reject Mr. Shalhamer’s ideas of church government. He says, “It is plainly declared that some are to rule, and, as a natural sequence, some are to be ruled by others. It is not here said that the Holy Ghost is to rule, but some one of their number, and how can one rule another without it being a visible government?” I certainly do not want to be among a people where the Holy Ghost is not ruling, where someone or something has usurped His place. We want to be among and a part of a people where the Holy Ghost is ruling in and through each member of the body and dealing with each person who is not a member. And we want to detect and submit to the Holy Ghost in each person, in whatever capacity the Holy Ghost sees fit to work in those who have Him indwelling.
In many ways, the way that the Holy Ghost directs and rules through and over a group of people is exactly the same way that He guides and works through a given individual—with this exception: He uses each member of the body of Christ as it pleases Him for the benefit of the others.
The way that the Holy Ghost deals and works with a given congregation is a model of how He deals with all congregations of God’s children who are under His control. A complete description is found in 1 Corinthians 12. The Holy Ghost does not control men like puppets are controlled by people. He does not control men against their will. In verse 3, Brother Paul tells us that only people who are filled with the Holy Ghost can comprehend what he is about to say. If you are living in such a manner and have such a heart that your life calls Jesus accursed and you cannot say that Jesus is Lord—that is, absolutely supreme in you—then there is no way that you are going to see and comprehend the way that the Holy Ghost governs the people of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that a man who is not born again cannot even see the kingdom of God, and He also told us that the pure in heart are blessed because they see God—which includes seeing Him at work (John 3:3; Matthew 5:8). You must have the miracle of the Holy Ghost filling you and being in you before you can see the Holy Ghost guiding, directing, reproving, and correcting the body of Christ corporate.
Once you have the Holy Ghost yourself, and you are all upon the altar laid, loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then you begin to realize that the Holy Ghost works with men through gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1). The Spirit works as He sees best with each saved and sanctified brother/sister, and “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh ALL in ALL.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
What is the human part of all this Holy Ghost gift-giving? It is recognition; it is submission to God in each other; it is taking it as from the Lord, and not from man. The gift makes room for itself among spiritually-minded people (people filled with the Holy Ghost); the gift commends itself. “A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.” (Proverbs 17:8) “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” (Proverbs 16:18) These scriptures are general descriptions of gifts, both natural and spiritual. We apply them here to those gifts which the Holy Ghost gives to members of the body of Christ.
This is why there is no need for pulpit committees, preacher licensing, letters of commendation, etc. The spiritual do not need such things; they simply look for the same Holy Ghost that has purified their hearts and esteem Him in where and in whom He works. Neither Peter, James, John, nor the others of the original ministry formally ordained Brother Paul to have a place among the saints or other ministers. They simply recognized what God had done—and what God kept on doing. If Brother Paul had failed to walk in the light after many years of being true, the spiritual would have no longer seen the Holy Ghost in him and recognized that Brother Paul had lost what God had given him. If they were mistaken about that, they relied on the Holy Ghost to make it plain. If they were coming under an influence personally to Brother Paul outside of what the Holy Ghost would have, then there would be a need for the Holy Spirit to reprove and correct, and He would do so. (This actually was happening in Corinth to those who said they were “of Paul.”)
When Mr. Shelhamer says that because governments are given by the Holy Ghost to the church, men have a right to set up and operate governments as seem best to them, he does greatly err. The Holy Ghost sets up no governments independent of Him. “For without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Not, ye can do a little; but, “ye can do nothing.”
But when God does something, we must do something, too—we must stay with God. This is our reactive part. If God has rejected something, we must reject it, too. If God will not touch something unclean, we must not touch it, either. If we do, we will find that whatever we didn’t follow God in, wherever we failed to walk in His light, will come between us and God. We must withdraw from every brother that walks disorderly; we must put away from among ourselves that wicked person (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:13). We no longer recognize them as spiritual; we began to pray for them that they can get delivered, that they will once again walk in the light of God.
Order in the Church without Formal Human Structure?
But Mr. Shelhamer thinks we are in an impossible situation. He says:
But just how to go about putting “a brother” (a member) away from among them without some rule or regulation as to what constitutes “a brother,” is a query [question].”
[Ibid.; emphasis added]
To him, there is no workable order without formal admission and formal rejection. And Mr. Shelhamer continues to press his point, presenting the following supposedly impossible examples:
But since every one has a perfect right to construe the Bible as he understands it, your backslidden brother might argue, that he took a little wine for the stomach’s sake. How can you exclude him without some understanding, as a body of people, how much wine he shall take? Another brother professes holiness, but is living in adultery, having a plurality of wives. How can you exclude the brother, when he pleads that in ancient times they had a plurality of wives, and God is just the same yesterday, today, and forever?
To each of these objections, we can clearly reply, that if the brother in error is walking in the light to all he sees and knows, he will still blend in spirit with the others with more light. What he is teaching is not safe or sound, and it is the Spirit of God who watches over us that will deal with the situation. How? He may stir a minister to put forth the truth on the point in question. He may put the offending brother through trials and battles that will bring him to the point of acknowledgment and confession of the error.
Mr. Shelhamer would have us believe that it is necessary to formally declare a creed and set up a government to hold the truth, but it is not. The Spirit of God knows all the truth—more than even the most taught and informed of us have ever known. The Holy Ghost knew the truth about circumcision, even when no human being comprehended the full meaning of the New Testament dispensation on this God-ordained practice. He knew how to bring it out. A lot of people who did not have their eyes on the Holy Ghost, failed to walk in the light, and got into disastrous spiritual trouble. To advocate, as Mr. Shelhamer does, that we must do something, as though the Holy Ghost was not up to the job, is to denigrate and belittle the capability of the Holy Ghost. We are the ones not up to the job; let us honor and esteem our Comforter above all human ability.
Are Divisions Part of God’s Order?
“But now hath God set the members in the body as it hath pleased him.” (1 Corinthians 12:18) No-sectites say this Scripture teaches that as God organized the tree and plants in their perfection, in the same manner He hath organized His church without the help of man. But the true meaning is that as God hath set the members in the physical body in such perfection, that there is no division, and no strife among the members, even so hath he set the members of his church.
Mr. Shelhamer’s interpretation of this scripture is another attempt to say that division is not division. This man would have us believe that all of God’s truly saved children dwell together in peace with no strife and no division, no matter how separated by rival sectarian walls. In answer to this idea, we will quote from one Brother Starr (“a conscientious Presbyterian minister”):
It would seem as if no man could read these words of the great apostle [1 Corinthians 1:10-13] without vividly seeing that party divisions among the people of Christ were, in his view, a most astounding evil. “Is Christ divided,” (1 Corinthians 1:13) he says, that ye who are all His, and who have been baptized “by one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13) should be sundered one from the other by party names?
And he adjures them in the most solemn manner, he beseeches them by an appeal the most sacred that words could utter, even by the name of Christ, as it were for His sake, and for His bleeding cause, to forsake these pernicious ways, and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind….
The divisions of the Christian church, as they now exist, are a prominent cause of the low state of piety among believers; the greatest single obstacle which now exists to the spread and triumph of our religion in the world….
The moment you separate the church of Christ into distinct divisions, you set up the idol of party. Success or adversity will no longer affect the mind simply as they touch the cause of Christ, but they will be felt, also, as affecting “our side,” or “our church.” It is not Christ and His cause to which their whole thoughts and desires are now turned; the idol of party has now been set up, and it claims, and receives, part of their regard. The man, I think, is almost more than human that can wholly avoid this influence, at least after he has been long identified with any branch of the church. It is an influence which is all the time at work. The idol has been set up to divide the heart from the blessed Savior and His holy service; and its influence is as ceaseless as the existence of the cause. And this party feeling is, as we have seen, the essence of all sin, so that sinful desire is blended continually in the heart with its love to Christ, and pollutes the worship which it offers Him….
It casts a millstone round the neck of those who are struggling upwards to the image of their Redeemer. It mingles poison with the streams of salvation that flow to the soul through the church, and casts a blight upon its budding fruit.
Fairness in Evaluating the Fruits
We come now to Mr. Shelhamer’s prejudices against the Come-out Movement. We would remind you that he bundles all efforts that claimed the come-out message together. Everything that made a claim to leaving the formally-organized sects of the day is regarded as representative by Mr. Shelhamer. We cannot find a single attempt to discriminate by the man, such as, “This one appeared more spiritual than the others”; “This one had more integrity than others”; etc. Piling everything claiming to be right together, is, of course, unfair. Worse, it is misleading. Satan tried the same thing with the first coming of the Son of God. False Christs abounded. We read in Acts 5:36-37 of Theudas and Judas of Galilee, both false deliverers. There were many such; the devil stirred them up to hide and obscure all who would be diverted from the true Messiah. So it was in the Evening Light Reformation. The restoration of truth on the church of the New Testament was obscured and hidden by a multitude of different groups, all preaching “Come out of her, my people,” who differed widely in many ways.
Quoting from a journal of that time:
There were in attendance, as was usual in the meetings everywhere, people who gloried in hearing the sects spoken against. Such people, of course, while adding force in the start, were no substantial credit to the movement, as they were not genuine representatives.
And again from Shelhamer:
These deluded people as a rule profess a much higher standard of piety than anyone in the churches. They have come out of “Babylon,” and claim a type of freedom that no “church member” knows anything about. Consequently it is only fair that we should look for corresponding fruit. If they enjoy more than any of the churches, then they ought to be more successful than any organization. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20) But what do we find? We venture to assert, without fear of successful contradiction, that more abusive, slanderous language can be found in the no-sect papers than in any church paper in the land. More confusion and downright anarchy exists among them than among any other people known to us. We see numerous cases of backsliding among them, but where, oh, where, do you see any “revivals of pure and undefiled religion” among them in which sinners become converted and believers entirely sanctified? In fact, we do not know a single blessedly saved soul joining these people who retained his Christian experience. Instead of holding meetings in which sinners are invited to Christ, they prefer to attend the regular services of some church, and by sowing the seeds of error, induce the members to leave that sect and join their sect. Of them it may be said, “they compass sea and land to make one proselyte, when he is made, ye make him twofold more a child of hell than yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)
[Elmer E. Shelhamer; False Doctrines and Fanaticism Exposed]
This is prejudice, indeed! To begin with, everything that teaches a come-out message is included in this barren category. Naturally there were and are errors and problems in many of the imitations of pure religion which Satan uses to hide the truth, which do indeed yield no fruit whatsoever and bring a great reproach upon that which is pure and right. In addition, there were and are many souls who are trying to come clean of humanly-organized religion who have a rough time surviving spiritually. But to read the comments of Mr. Shelhamer above, and to contrast that by reading the books of brethren such as C. E. Orr,1 is to be definitely convinced that Mr. Shelhamer was willfully ignorant of that which he condemned—at least in part.
[A man who embraced the “come-out” message, and wrote such books as The Hidden Life, Heavenly Life for Earthly Living, Helps to Holy Living, The More Abundant Life, and How to Live a Holy Life—to name just some of the devotional writings available for evaluation.]
But we can say the same when examining the New Testament saints. “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” (Acts 17:6) “For as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22) “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.” (John 16:2-3)
Consider what was said of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?… He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:1,3) What then shall they say of His children? “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
People act like this, with slander and hatred, because they feel threatened—more accurately because they feel their idol is threatened, and therefore they feel threatened. Thus the Jews persecuted the followers of the holy and lowly Savior. Thus do people today resent and criticize the genuine children of God, misrepresent them, wish they didn’t exist, refuse to acknowledge any good about them. The more threatened they feel, the stronger the reaction—even to the point of lying and rioting. Let us sample Mr. Shelhamer a little more:
No-sectites as a rule come from one or more of the following classes of people: 1, Sore-heads; 2, Grumblers; 3, Religious Fenians [revolutionaries]; 4, Those who are unwilling to be governed; 5, Men and women of disappointed ambition; and 6, Fanatics. Seldom if ever will you see a truly humble, gentle, meek and melting spirit among these deluded people. Many of them have been delivered from formalism, and others perhaps are sincere and conscientious, but, alas, have drifted into the opposite extreme of fanaticism and following blind impressions. Persons under the influence of this spirit are usually not only unteachable, but unreasonable. Under cover of being led by the Lord they do many ridiculous and fanatical things. It is almost impossible to convince such persons they are mistaken, for they are right. They have light from God.
When such weapons are employed to condemn others, we find that they are invariably two-edged. As one brother preached, he pointed to all sides of the congregation, saying, “This Word applies to you,” and then he pointed back to himself, continuing to say, “This Word applies to you.” This is very true. What is true for others is just as true for me as for everyone else. All of us are subject to the Word of God. In the end, all will be judged by that same Word, and be found either justified or condemned. None are exempt.
Anyone who says that those who follow the Bible standard of truth in coming out of what is not of God, belongs to at least one of six reproachful categories; such a one himself has no truly humble, gentle, meek, and melting spirit, and is unteachable and unreasonable, and has made a ridiculous and fanatical conclusion in itself. The very process that God has designed for people to follow truth all the way brings a man down and humbles him, refines out the dross in him, and melts him to God and His truth in such a way that leaves him open to the Spirit of God to mold him and remake him as God knows is best for him. Now sectarian leaders love to get control of someone who has been humbled, gentled, melted, and purified by the Spirit of God if they can persuade the child of God that God meant for them to be this sheep’s leaders and guides. They would use what God meant as needful to flow up to Mount Zion (Isaiah 2:2-3) for the purposes of causing these sheep of the Lord to adapt to the sect machinery, which these sectarian leaders operate. As the Word warns the children of God, “they with feigned words make merchandise of you.” (2 Peter 2:3) God does not save sinners and sanctify believers to make sectarian members of them, but sectarian leaders will persuade you that He does, if they can. Then they would display what God has done as representative of how they are constituted, with expressions such as, “Thank God I am a member of the _____ Church.”
Mr. Shelhamer himself is unreasonable and unteachable on this point. While conceding that the God of heaven designed a church and governs the same, he would contend that somehow we have a right to make a “visible” organization, which would operate “for” God—as if what God made and designed is somehow inadequate. Mr. Shelhamer will meet his own judgment: “It is almost impossible to convince such persons [as Mr. Shelhamer] they are mistaken, for they are right. They have light from God.” Mr. Shelhamer has indeed exposed some false doctrines and fanaticism, for he has exposed himself and what he is a part of.
In conclusion, we would say that this chapter of Mr. Shelhamer’s writing is more than just his conclusions and ideas. At the bottom of the chapter, he acknowledges other writers of the same spirit and belief.
Extracts from T. H. Nelson, G. W. Saunders and A. Sims on “Primitive Church Polity”; “Come-outers and No-sectism.”
This was the general, accepted sectarian standard of Mr. Shelhamer’s day among those of where he stood. These men and others not only justified division among God’s children, but felt that division, though unfortunate, was inevitable and irreparable; that any attempt to recover was doomed to fail. The Bible answer to this deplorable conclusion is that Jesus has bought and paid for a church without spot or wrinkle, that is what He is coming back for, and that is the only kind of church He is going to have. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
We note the stubborness, the entrenched quality of E. E. Shelhamer’s resistance to the Word of God about divisions. He reverenced the professed Christian world. He had a high regard for the strenuous and arduous attempts of men over the centuries to “preserve the truth,” to grapple with the problems, and he undoubtedly felt that the attempt to abandon all that was a lack of respect and futile. If the sacrifices of the past by godly men and women meant anything, he thought, then we needed to respect what they had been able to accomplish. He highly respected the efforts of the past and felt that he was not better than his fathers, so to speak. But in settling on this position, he, as well as his predecessors, ignored plain Bible teaching on the unacceptability of divisions between God’s children. And worse, they ignored God’s provisions for dealing the root causes of divisions between God’s children, and so their uncompromising stand enshrined division, even while decrying it. Their philosophy is captured in the sectarian verse:
“We must agree to disagree;
We cannot hope to see
The Word of God just all the same,
Until we reach a higher plane.”
This unbiblical condition is the consistent result of allowing an idol in the heart. When anyone does this, their ability to see is continually filtered through the idolatrous affection. The Word of God is a different book when viewed by idolatrous eyes. It seems to teach things, that when rightly divided by a Holy-Ghost-led workman not under the influence of of the idol influence, it really does not teach at all.
It is plain that there is an invisible leadership to the New Testament Church. There must be an ability to look at the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18), to see God at work—both independent of flesh and blood, but also working through earthen vessels. To do this, one must have a pure heart (Matthew 5:8) and have one’s eyes opened and God’s eye salve applied (2 Kings 6:17; Revelation 3:18). It is quite possible to come to the heart purification, cease from one’s own works, and yet fail to go on with the Lord to the complete implications of what God is doing. As long as we live in time and place, the Holy Ghost will guide the entirely sanctified into all truth. He will reinterpret all of our former thinking and conditioning to us, and we will find it necessary to continually adjust and obey as light is shed upon our pathway. To cease to do the works of God will necessarily lead to a resumption of doing our own works—in such a case, no longer will my all be upon the altar laid, and it cannot be truthfully said of me that I am all the Lord’s. I will be a mixture of love for God and a certain love for something else.
What then is the conclusion of all human efforts in human ways to bring about the unity of which the Bible speaks? It doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked. It will never work. It is unacceptable to God. And so, not having realized and experienced the fullness specifically detailed in the Bible, both in prophecy in the Old Testament and in happy fulfillment in the New, sectarians believe that it is for the future and not for now. The incorrigible diversity of mankind has defeated them because they went about it in ways other than God’s way, consequently they doubt the Biblical standard of unity is really possible. They doubt it is possible to reach “a higher plane” now, regarding that higher plane as a hopelessly idealistic goal—noble, but beyond practical reach, and they feel exonerated in their incredulity when things fall apart.
And so, dear reader, how do you think that professed Christianity regards the disintegration of the come-out movement since the Evening Light Reformation of 1880? Men such as E. E. Shelhamer, while yet here in time and place, would and do feel that events simply have proven the futility of anything other than “we must agree to disagree.”
But I say in time and place, for we are all steadily journeying to the end of our existence in this world. Soon, dear reader, you and I will leave time and place, too, and we will be in eternity. Much will be seen starkly and completely that is only partly seen at present, and we will be dealt with utterly fairly and rightly. There in eternity, we will see things in the past as they really were seen by the all-knowing eyes of God. There, whether in paradise or torment, the plan of God—His ways and His dealings—will all be perfectly clear, and saved and unsaved alike will acknowledge that God had a perfect, practical, workable, wonderful plan that did just what He said it would do, and has done just what He promised all along. Then will the righteous rejoice and praise God for helping them to find it and benefit from it, and then will the unacceptable bewail and bemoan their failure to walk in the light of the Lord. Oh, dear reader, let us pray that God will help us to see in this day—the day of salvation—what God has for us! Let us earnestly lay hold on the scripture text, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” (Matthew 13:16-17) Yea, “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) There is a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord for every promise that God has given—including the promises of unity. “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.” (Isaiah 52:8)
I wonder how great the regrets of E. E. Shelhamer are in eternity about his chapter we are discussing. I hope he made it. I hope he was accepted. But I have little doubt about the fate of his doctrine. Surely the fire awaits the wood, the hay, the stubble!
We will conclude with a quotation from Birth of a Reformation.
The truth is, the holiness movement was a movement prophetically due at this time  as the introduction to the great reformation (restoration) that now succeeds it, in which God’s people are not only embracing holiness, but are taking their stand free and complete in Christ, distinct from all humanly organized bodies called churches. The reader of church history will observe that the progress of [recovering] Christianity has not been by gradual, steady increase of light and truth, but by reformation after reformation in which some special truth is emphasized and men’s hearts are stirred.
Among the early leaders of the movement in this country [the United States] were Dr. W. C. and Phoebe Palmer, of New York. Mrs. Palmer, especially, was prominent in this respect. She wrote a number of books on holiness and with her husband held meetings in various openings in the East and was otherwise very active in the cause. William Macdonald, John S. Inskip, Daniel Steele, and J. A. Wood were others who, both by preaching and the press, gave prominence to the doctrine of entire sanctification as a second, distinct work of grace. Holiness societies sprung up, books were written on the subject, periodicals were started, and holiness bands began to canvass the country. Well does the writer remember of seeing when a boy these holiness bands travel about the country in covered wagons. They carried a spiritual fire that caught in the hearts of the more fervent ones who, on the barren plains of sect religion, were seeking for a higher and better Christian experience. The activity on this line was not on the part of the various denominations, as such, but on the part of earnest Christians within the denominations.
Holiness, it must be remembered, is Scriptural, a part of God’s will to His children, and the movement must not be regarded as being something new, but as a revival of truth intended for man. Since the attainment of this distinct higher experience requires a perfect consecration, an entire abandonment, to God, it was but natural that the doctrine should be opposed by the pleasure-loving church members, those who were Christians only in name and did not care for any advancement or improvement of their spiritual status. These, of course, were greatly in the majority. The holiness advocates were at once opposed and often persecuted; but silently and surely, as leaven works in the meal, the holiness agitation increased and spread throughout the country. It was a very unwelcome and disturbing element among the cold professors. They said that sinlessness was not to be attained in this life; that we could not be sanctified till death; etc. But when shown by the Scriptures that it is indeed God’s will for Christians in this life, they would declare that it is attained by growth, or perhaps would say they had received it in conversion. They were opposed to having any further spiritual obligation placed upon them.
But it was not alone the advocacy of an advanced Christian attainment that might well make the holiness movement distasteful to sect devotees. Holiness is unifying. It makes Christians one, in accordance with our Savior’s prayer: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21) True holiness is destructive of divisional elements. That is why the advocates of holiness in the different denominations lost to a great extent their sectarian bigotry and could join together in holiness associations independent of their denominations. As a general thing the holiness editors and teachers spoke against sectarian divisions.
This brings us to the critical point. Would those espousing holiness dissolve their sect relations? Here is where many in the holiness movement compromised and would not follow in the onward march of truth out of all denominational confusion and into complete oneness in Christ. Instead, holiness associations urged and even required their members to maintain also a sect membership. They seemed to believe sects were a necessary evil and they opposed the idea of coming out of sects. This is as far as the majority in the holiness movement would go. They deplored sects, but seemed to think that to be outside of all sects would be to have no church relation at all. Had they walked in the light they would have comprehended the true body of Christ and been led out of sectarian entanglements; but failing to follow the true leading of God, they receded, and their holiness degenerated into what was mere sect holiness. To this day they have their holiness associations and their conventions, but fellowshipping as they do the sects and factions of almost every description, they are left to grope in their own darkness and confusion, still making an effort but accomplishing nothing toward Christian unity….
The writer [A. L. Byers] had an interview not long since with one of the holiness leaders who used to know D. S. Warner, and who still labors to bring about the unity of Christians through a holiness that respects sectarian divisions. This man was asked about the prospects for unity after so many years of effort. His reply, in which he complained of the bigotry existing among the denominations, was anything but encouraging. He seemed to have no knowledge of a way out of the trouble, and regarded the present true church movement as only a sect, or faction, saying that “a sect is any body of Christians joined together in the same belief,” etc.
“But suppose a number of persons come out from and leave the sects with which they have been connected, and stand only on the Bible, independent of sects—suppose they assemble together in a body; would they be a sect?” he was asked.
“Yes,” was his reply.
“Then what about the body of Christ itself, the whole, of which sects are regarded as cut-off factions—is that a sect?”
“Yes,” was his answer. And then, as if he could know nothing but sects, he referred to Paul as calling the Christians in his day a sect, and assumed to quote him thus: “For as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22)
He was told that these words were not spoken by Paul, but by his opposers.
“Well,” said he, “I will look that up.”
Thus his conception of the subject makes the true church impossible. When men have been forty years in the ministry and in the holiness movement, and are just as far from discerning the church as when they started, and even suppose that Paul called the Christians a sect, how blinding and confusing must be the darkness in which they grope! Having failed to follow in God’s way when came the call, “Come out of her, my people,” (Revelation 18:4) they have been building with wood, hay, and stubble a structure that only awaits the consumption at the last day.