Problems in the Church (IV) Materialism

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

In an article appearing in last month's issue, we discussed two manifestations of materialism in the church. These two forms of materialism had to do with (1) the effort to make money, and with (2) the use made of this money, once it is made. In connection with our remarks then made, we quoted two definitions of "Materialism" as given by Webster, and showed how these two materialistic manifestations in the church filled Webster's definitions.

Philosophical Materialism

There is also a third definition given to "Materialism" by Webster, which definition we wish to discuss in this article. Webster states that, "Materialism" is "Any theory which considers the facts of the universe to be sufficiently explained by the existence and nature of matter." This definition would relate to philosophical materialism, concerning which we here wish to say but little.

However, there is a field of philosophical inquiry that seeks to determine the basic world "stuff." This effort to arrive at a basic and ultimate reality variously has been labeled by philosophers as "the problem of Reality," "the problem of Being," "the science of Being," or "Ontological Inquiry." These are complex words to the most of us, and they, therefore, likely mean but little to many of us.

But there is a predominant system of philosophy that maintains that the basic and original element in this universe is matter. As Webster said in his definition, this theory asserts that all the facts of the universe are sufficiently explained by the existence and nature of matter. Since this philosophical system resolves the ultimate "stuff" to one element (Matter), it sometimes is called "Monism," or more precisely, "Materialistic Monism." It asserts that Matter is all there is, in the final analysis of this universe. The system, therefore, maintains that there is no divine or human spirit, nor that there is a spiritual realm.

Now I do not want anyone to get the idea that I think that the church is filled with "Materialists" of this philosophical sort. There likely are not any avowed materialists in the church. Why should such a person care to remain in the church at all, if he denies the existence of either divine or human spirit?

Bluntly put, materialism of the philosophical sort denies that we have an immortal spirit or soul, and that there is a prepared place called "heaven" for prepared spirits. But while there are no avowed materialists in the church (or very few to say the least), there are myriads in the church today whose beliefs, behavior and practice indicate an undeniable materialistic influence.

Materialism and Religion

Materialism as a philosophical system was rationalized and popularized about a century ago by the general acceptance of the theory of evolution. By entirely materialistic means, this theory purported to account for all that there is in the universe, including man.

Eventually the theory of evolution became so generally accepted by men in scientific circles that certain leading religionists who felt that they had no scientific basis or competence upon which to question the validity of the theory, therefore, began to seek ways to incorporate this materialistic system into their religion. The fruits of this effort is seen in the fact that most modern-day sectarian preachers (who long since have given up any concept of verbal inspiration of the Bible) now unhesitatingly accept the theory of biological evolution. By this theory they seek to explain the facts of the universe solely by the existence and nature of matter. Some of them might prefer to be called "theistic evolutionists" rather than atheists, but this is little better.

Gradually in the latter part of the 1800's leading sectarian preachers began to try to apply to their religious thought this materialistic theory of evolution. If man has no soul and he is not going to a spiritual sphere called "heaven," what is there left for religion to accomplish in life?

Social Gospelism

It was here that the theological system called the "Social Gospel" arose. The "Social Gospel" declared that even though man is not going to an eternal heaven, there is yet some value in religion. (One college Professor of Religion called my faith in the existence of heaven a system that provided "pie in the sky by and by!")

These "Social Gospel" advocates began to speak of realizing "the kingdom of God here on earth." What they did not say was that they did so because they believed it would never be realized in heaven. They, therefore, began to advocate slum clearance, better working conditions, abolition of child-labor laws, recreation programs for youth, church sponsored boy scout troops, orphan homes, homes for unwed mothers, and other such social programs. It was also under such a program that the YMCA organization was founded.

Social Gospelism in the Church

For the past fifty years sectarianism has diligently been following this course upon which they were set by the acceptance of materialism. As if this were not tragic enough, the members of the church have in the last twenty years begun to imitate them. We are now engaging in social programs of various sorts.

To illustrate: (1) The churches of Christ in Detroit and Lubbock (and many other places) have long been active participants in church ball leagues. (2) The Union Avenue church in Memphis, which recently completed a $500,000 addition to its building, included in this building facilities with which to serve meals to five hundred people at one time.

(3) Several churches have conducted Halloween Parties and other similar parties. (4) Church sponsored skating parties, weiner roasts, swimming parties, and youth camps are the order of the day.

All of these things brethren have tried to justify under the Bible word "fellowship." But a worse perversion of a scriptural term was never made! Brethren would do better frankly to admit that we accepted these things from sectarians who had become materialistic enough to deny the soul of man and the existence of heaven, and therefore, had become

intent only in enjoying themselves in the life that now is. At least by such a frank admission we could maintain our honesty.

To further illustrate the distance we have gone down the road over which sectarianism has traveled for half a century, I quote in part a letter mailed by the Addison Road Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio to other churches in this area. The letter is dated October 8, 1962. Perhaps to avert someone saying I misquoted the letter, I should quote it all. The letter from which I quote was addressed to the Bedford, Ohio church.

"In Christ we live and work by Faith. We work to build a better kingdom in his name. We are asking you and your congregation to help us build and establish a youth program in all congregations. And by so doing we will be able to teach them the spiritual side of life and physical side of life.

This program will give our youth an opportunity to engage in sports activities within the congregations.

We are having a meeting with the ministers and coach of the sport recreation. At this meeting we would like to lay our foundation whereby we will know what we are doing and how we are doing it, date of meeting will be Oct. 20-62 at 1375 Addison Rd. Time 3 p. m. Hope to see you and coach then.

Yours in Christ,

Signed Bro. John E. Cathey"

(Note: this letter is printed exactly as received, except that I have omitted the salutation and have corrected some misspelled words--C. W.)

Now if I were to ask for authority for such a meeting I would be accused of causing trouble in the church, of being "Anti," or called something even less complimentary. We learn from this letter that every church should have a "coach." I presume that the mentioning of the "coach" by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 was only a slight oversight on his part! He said some were given to be "apostles," "prophets," "evangelists," "pastors." It does appear that here would have been a most appropriate time to add that some were given to be "coaches" also!

Yes, brethren, materialism already has made its inroads in the churches of Christ. The emphasis put upon material things (Making money, hoarding money, luxurious living, expensive meeting houses) indicates we have been affected by it.

Perhaps now even more insidiously threatening is the concerted effort on the part of many uninformed preachers, incompetent elders, and overzealous though ignorant members, to turn the blood bought body into a glorified YMCA, an inexpensive country club, or a common-people's social club. We hear much about dialectical materialism's (communism) welfare state. Is a "social welfare church" much better? This effort is but another indication of the threat posed by materialism.

It is obvious the person who has read the Bible through even once that such things had no part in New Testament churches. We picked these things up from sectarians who accepted a materialistic theory that denied the soul of man, and the existence of heaven

Knowing now where these things came from, let us lay them aside, and get back to the spiritual mission, which God assigned the kingdom of His dear Son!

Truth Magazine VII: 3, pp. 2-3, 23
December 1962