31 Jan 2020

M. C. Kurfees: Condemning the Whole Business

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Grace, Monroe Hawley, Patternism, Precision Obedience, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Unity
M. C. Kurfees (1856-1931)

Sectarianism is a horrid, ugly, sinful, thing. It is in the religious world what partisanship is in the political world. Every act of religious and political terrorism has been carried out with a clean conscience by a religious sectarian or a political partisan (many times these are in the same person).

Sectarianism/partisanism dwarf the soul by whitewashing our own gross shortcomings (and outright sins) while at the same time attributing nothing but lies and evil motives to the other. We hold all the truth but they hold none (even while they seemingly believe and hold many of the same values and beliefs).

One of the historic strengths of the Stone-Campbell Movement has been that we resist the notion that we have the corner labeled “Truth.” This is essential, in fact, for any notion of undenominational Christianity. Restoration is a quest not a destination.

However, this noble commitment to openness, to searching, and seeking has been difficult to maintain. So sectarianism has not infrequently raised its horrid head even in our midst … even as we decry “sectarianism.”

Religious terrorism has resulted from the growth of the acrid festering boil of sectarianism. Everyone is the enemy except ourselves (or “me”).

Everyone is blind and rebellious except for my own, seemingly, “sinless heart” (the very notion is unbelievable) even though “we” embrace some radically false doctrine (i.e. the indwelling and work of the Spirit, we have deniers of the Trinity, we have Preterism that has grown out of our semi-gnostic views of resurrection, racism, etc, etc).

Back in 1922, M. C. Kurfees published an article in the Gospel Advocate in which he recognized that other people were genuine believers and lovers of the Lord and his word and were Christians even though in a “denomination.” Kurfees stated that we “should endorse all the truth taught by the denominations and condemn all the error.” This, of course, is the classic Stone-Campbell position.

Sectarianism had grown to such an extent that some could not even recognize nondenominationalism when confronted with it. Kurfees was soundly rebuked in the pages of the Advocate. The critic told Kurfees “I think we have to condemn the whole business.”

Kurfees did not back down. “What a fearful statement” (my emphasis), he declared. He goes on and writes,

When I was a little boy, a denomination taught me that Jesus died on the cross to save the world; that he was buried; that he arose from the dead; that he ascended to heaven; and that he is the Savior of all who obey him. It taught me that I must obey him to be saved and that water baptism was one of his commandments …”

To condemn the “whole business” would mean condemning such powerful truths. What a fearful thing that only blind sectarianism could do. Instead of condemning we should recognize and celebrate every truth that is held. These, in fact, are the most important of all truths.

Kurfees confesses that while he came to believe that immersion “for the remission of sins,” but he could not, and did not, “condemn the whole business.”

Why? Because what he learned, as a boy, was in fact the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Kurfees, in true Stone-Campbell Movement fashion, did not arrogate all goodness and truth to himself, nor “us.” As my shepherd, Monroe Hawley, once noted, “the focus of our faith is Christ and not ourselves, Jesus not the church.”

The fact of the matter is, the “stuff” Kurfees claimed to have learned is what the apostle Paul calls “the gospel” and of “first importance.” How can anyone but the blind sectarian “condemn the whole business?” I am with Kurfees (though Kurfess and I would likely disagree on a few minor things)

Sectarianism and partisanship, in the end, produce cults. The problem with sectarianism and partisanship is that the circle of accepted people becomes smaller and smaller till, as Alexander Campbell noted, we become a church made up of only our self.

When it comes to sectarianism … I condemn the whole business. But I celebrate all the truth held by all seeking to follow the Lord Jesus. Just as I am also seeking to follow God’s truth.

(On Kurfees see, “Where Are the People of God?, Gospel Advocate [20 January, 1922], 67-68)

We will let Barton W. Stone have a final word.

“If our faith be ever so imperfect, and blended with error, yet if it leads us to do the will of God, and bear fruits of the Spirit; if it works by love; if it purifies the heart; if it overcomes the world — it is the faith of a Christian” (Barton Stone, Christian Messenger 2 [Nov 1827], 5.


3 Responses to “M. C. Kurfees: Condemning the Whole Business”

  1. Dwight Haas Says:

    Did Kurfees still hold that position in regards to instrumental music and orhers as he seems to condemn It or did he believe it was a matter of conscience?

  2. Dwight Haas Says:

    “…we become a church made up only of ourselves”, which I think is the goal. Most conservative coC teach a beginning in 33 A.D, and that the are the one true church, due to church practices. In this sense all other churches are apostate and if not part of the coC, then not part of the true church.

  3. John Acufff Says:

    Spot on as to faith and politics

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