August 15, 2018

“A Stone of Witness”

By James W. Adams

After having lead the children of Israel triumphantly into the land of promise and not long before his death, Joshua called all of the tribes to Shechem and delivered a valedictory address. In his eloquent, emotionally charged oration, he traced the history of the nation of Israel from the planting of its first seed by God in His calling of Abraham in Ur of Chaldees, through the bondage of the children of Jacob in Egypt and their marvelous, Divine deliverance and wilderness wanderings under Moses, up to and including their entrance into and possession of the land of Canaan.

The climax of Joshua's address was reached when he issued the following stirring challenge to the newborn nation of God's people: "Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served which were on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served which were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:14, 15).

In response to this challenge, the children of Israel answered confidently and fervently, "God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods, ... we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24: 16, 21).

As a result of this exchange, the record tells us: "Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he spake unto us; it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God" (Joshua 24:25-27).

An Analogy

Though Joshua was a prophet, hence divinely inspired, there is no evidence to suggest that his "stone of witness" was a thing specifically authorized by God as was the tabernacle, its furniture, and its worship. It was simply a thing which was not antagonistic to and thoroughly consonant with God's revealed will which Joshua used as a reminder to all succeeding generations among the Israelites of a principle of conduct to which they were dedicated by covenant promise; that is, "The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice will we obey" (Joshua 24:24).

A recognition of this principle was inseparably linked with a proper relationship on their part to God. Therefore, the "stone of witness" served, throughout the history of its existence, as a mute but eloquent and persuasive guide, like the lodestar to an ancient mariner, to hold Israel on course in her turbulent journey from smoking Sinai to Bethlehem's manger, Golgotha's cross, and the glorious consummation of the Abrahamic promise, "In thy seed, shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3; Acts 4:25; Gal. 3:16-18).

Heirs of the ideals and accomplishments of "The Restoration Movement" of the nineteenth century (members of professed churches of Christ) are related to a slogan or motto much as ancient Israel was to the "stone of witness" though the author of the slogan was not, as was Joshua, inspired. Reference is made to the slogan, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent; we are silent." (Thomas Campbell in his famous speech at the house of Abraham Altars not long prior to the writing of the "Declaration and Address," Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Robert Richardson, Vol. 1, pp. 235-239.)

This statement was, and yet continues to be, the watchword of "The Restoration Movement. " It expresses at once an ideal and a purpose. It was born in the pious mind of Thomas Campbell whose heart was torn with anguish by reason of the divisions of professed Christians of his time and whose dedicated spirit yearned for the unity of all true believers. Though humanly conceived and expressed, the slogan enunciates a clear and unequivocal principle everywhere taught in the inspired Word of God i2 Tim. 3:16,17, 1 Pet. 4:11; 1 Cor. 4-6 ASV, Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9,10; Col. 3:17; Acts 3:22, 23).

The application of this slogan gave rise to a return of millions of believers to the faith and practice of apostolic Christians, "the ancient order of things." It also wielded an almost incalculable, tempering and modifying influence upon the thinking, the faith, and the practice of a great number of the outstanding denominations of so-called "Christendom'" who were never a part of "The Restoration Movement." In fact, many times these bodies were inveterate foes. The true scope of the impact of this movement will not be completely known until, in the presence of Him who knows all, human history in time is laid before the redeemed as a finished book in which all things, men and movements, appear in their true perspective.

Our Present Situation

The above statements being true, the slogan, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent," well serves as a sort of "stone of witness" to keep professed New Testament Christians and churches on course as they plow through the turbulent waters and capricious winds of world chaos and religious and moral revolution. It demands: (1) a recognition of the Scriptures as the very word of God, complete, infallible, and immutable, (2) the absolute compliance with that which they enjoin "either in express terms or by approved precedent" (Declaration and Address); (3) unity among professed believers standing squarely and without apology upon the truth thus revealed; (4) responsibility and accountability to God in eternal judgment with reference to the foregoing. (In a later article, I shall deal with current misuse and abuse of Thomas Campbell by false teachers and uninformed, neophyte Zealots relative to the "binding of inferences and deductions from Scripture.")

There are studied efforts being made among professed churches of Christ to undermine faith in the verbal inspiration of Scripture; attacks, often violent in character, upon demands for a "thus smith the Lord" for religious practice as a legalistic shibboleth of sectarian bigotry, and concentrated efforts to disembowel the restoration" slogan by a broadly permissive application of it to a few so-called essentials which are arrived at by subjective and purely arbitrary choice among Divine mandates. Truth is made subservient to unity and unity exalted as an end within itself. The answer to religion, those find division, who are instigators and agitators of these efforts, in a restudy of the plan of God for the redemption of mail and a consequent discover of a neo-Ca1vinistic concept of salvation by grace through faith. Fellowship and unity are restored on the basis of the fact that all are sinners saved by grace and the teaching, belief. and practice of Scripture cease to be valid considerations in said restoration. As a result, our so-called "stone of witness" (the T. Campbell slogan) becomes to them not a memorial to call us back to God from our faithless wanderings, but a monument to the birth of another human denomination.

Conclusion

In articles to follow, I shall be examining the matters to which reference is made in the paragraph just preceding. For the present, I categorically reject them. In my review of these matters, I plan to be clear, specific, and thorough, vet I shall write in the love of Christ, the love of truth, and the love of man with as much moderation as our present situation will safely permit. I shall not sacrifice either clarity or truth on the altar of a false sense of obligation to men, their feelings, or their reputation among the brethren.

 

TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 19, pp. 7-8
March 15, 1973

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