Two Students at Bethany College

This from an undated (but probably mid-1950’s) little pamphlet by Win R. Matsler titled The Independent Movement Within the Christian Church, An Historical Study.

Matsler’s (likely self-published?) octavo pamphlet is 24 pages and deals with the “possibility, if not the probability of another split in our Brotherhood.  Why is that so?  Are there reasons; if so, what are they?  This article is an attempt at two things: First to list some of the experiences and incidents which have contributed to bring about the present situation.  And, secondly, to ask, and in part to answer the question: Where are we now?”, p. 1.

The little pamphlet is worth the 15 minutes it’ll take to read.  Of the several items Matsler points out, I’ll only mention one here.  He suggests it is one basic cause of the division between the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (often called Independents) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).   One reader’s note:  In the paragraph below the Christian Standard and Russell Errett (above, left) would be aligned with the Independents and Archibald McLean (right) and the FCMS/UCMS would be aligned with the Brotherhood (which was typical language before 1968 when ‘denomination’ was no longer taboo).

——-

Several years ago, in a conversation with an older graduate of The College of the Bible at Lexington, Ky., this writer’s attention was called to a little known series of incidents that, in the judgment of the informant, accounts for much of the friction in the first quarter of the present century, and laid the foundation for the attack by The Christian Standard upon the policies of the Brotherhood in subsequent years.

Messrs. Russell Errett and Archibald McLean were students at Bethany College at the same time.  Both were exceptional leaders in campus activities, and usually were on opposite sides on any issue before the student body or any activity or project sponsored by the college.  And, to cap everything else, these two young men fell in love with the same young lady.  Mr. Errett married the estimable maiden and Mr. McLean died a bachelor.  In later years Mr. Errett became editor of The Christian Standard and Manager of The Standard Publishing Co., and Mr. mcLean the President of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society.  According to the informant the college rivalries and courtship years were never forgotten and were at least a hidden reason for Mr. Errett’s attacks on the Foreign Christian Missionary Society and its successors, The United Christian Missionary Society”

——-

How about that?  I’ve heard a tale of a love-rivalry between two editors, with Isaac Errett being one of the editors.  I forget now when and in what context I heard, or perhaps read, it.  Anyhow, here we have it from an “informant” who is a graduate of the College of the Bible.  Sounds exotic…informant.  And a College of the Bible man, to boot.   I’m not quite sure why that makes any difference, but it seems to be important.  Since he doesn’t name his source, which is another issue altogether, one is left to wonder how the informant has this deeply personal inside knowledge.  From the Errett’s?  From McLean?  Is this story part of the office gossip in Cincinnati?  St. Louis?  Indianapolis?  Lexington?

It’s one thing to notice that back in the day a couple of college preacher-boys had a rivalry going.  No surprise.  It another to say that said rivalry was not only still raging but was “a hidden reason” for denomination-wide attacks in print years later.  When you really think about it, this story makes some pretty bold claims.  

That said… I’d believe it.  This one rivalry probably didn’t split the movement, but get two rivalrous preachers going and you could do a lot of damage.  Mr. Matsler offers several other elements of background that he believes explains why the situation has gotten to where it is (when was this published?  1950’s?).  This dance between Errett and McLean isn’t the entire story of a divided movement, to be sure, but that it could be part of the story is fascinating at best, and at worst, very, very sad.

Sometime I’ll do a little searching to see what I can find out on this.  If anyone has heard or seen a variation of this story, I’d appreciate your sharing it.  It may a handy etiological tale and nothing more.

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