Attitudes Toward Current Issues
The church of the Lord today faces grave issues. This, within itself, is not unusual, for almost from the day of her establishment, 33 A.D., the church has been beset with problems from without and within. Before the writing of the New Testament was f inished church problems had developed to such an extent that when Paul predicted a "falling away" he wrote, "the mystery of iniquity doth already work." (2 Thess. 2:7). The Ephesian church warned earlier by Paul (Acts 20) was told, repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."
And, periodically, the day-by-day problems of the church become a general trend, affecting the peace and hindering the work and growth of the kingdom. Strong, aggressive preaching may check the digression and win majority strength so that the issue is solved-for the time at least. This was the case with the Premillennial threat some twenty or twenty-five years ago. Sometimes, however, the attitudes of the brethren are such that divine authority is abandoned, the preachers who seek to warn are branded as "cranks" or "non-progressives", and the majority of the brethren move down the road to apostasy. This was the case in the second and third centuries, when the Roman Catholic system developed; and it was the case here in this country some seventy-five years ago, when the "progressive" liberal brethren branded as "Anti" all who opposed the Missionary, Publication, and Bible Societies, and the use of mccharical instruments of music in the worship. There is no reason to believe that today's church is immune to digressive tendencies. We can apostatize, just as did our fore-fathers.
It is foolish and dangerous to try to ignore our present-day problems. They are being discussed from the lecture platforms of colleges operated by brethren, in the majority of religious journals published by brethren, and in the congregations of every state in the union. And more important than the discussions, are the dividing wedges that have brought on the discussions. There would be no debates on doctrines and practices that did not exist. And if our brethren persist on holding -to certain doctrines and practices, they should be happy to give the N. T. authority for such. For years we have claimed to "Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." That is still a good rule, and we should welcome the opportunity to apply it to our present problems.
Neutrality is much better in theory than in practice-and in cases where matters of faith are involved, neutrality may be as much a sin as the error. When neutrality condones error-"for the sake of peace" is usually the excuse-it becomes a compromise with Satan. A Christian church preacher once told me that we could worship together if I would just be neutral about the piano. He said he would not say anything for it, and I should not say anything against it. Meantime, of course, the pianist would go right on playing. It is surprising how many brethren today seem to take this attitude toward present issues. They wish to support the objects of the issues with money from the church treasury, yet insist that all should be neutral meaning, of course, none should object.
But if it is wrong to ignore, or compromise vital issues, it is also foolish and dangerous to panic in this crisis. Some have rushed to "take sides" without knowing the points of issue, or bothering to give them serious study. Some have made enough study to have some convictions, but have failed to develop the virtue of patience in dealing with their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul told Timothy to "Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." And many have become so panic-filled as to throw overboard the very life-boats of N. T. Christianity. One well-known preacher has publicly denied that N. T. approved examples are binding upon Christians. Some have denied that the primary work of the church is spiritual-preaching the gospel to the saving of souls. Some, panic stricken at the thoughts of preaching upon the current issues, have argued that lessons concerning the church, her government, etc., are no part of the gospel. Repeated temper outbursts are further indications of panic-sometimes brought on simply because it was imagined something was going to be said, or read from the scriptures, which might have bearing on current issues. Panic has caused brethren to forget the Bible principles which they former1y accepted and preached to their sectarian neighbors: (a) The New Testament church is complete; needs no additional "aids" or "societies" to do her work; (b) We must make all things according to the N. T. pattern; (c) Must not go beyond that which is written; (d) Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.
Finally, in any issues as wide-spread as the current ones there are some who will lose all sense of proportion and propriety. They will "eat, drink, and sleep" the issues. Everything that is said is construed as having to do with the issues. They read them between the lines of the church bulletin, they hear them in the public prayer. They mix them into every conversation, and allow them to choose their friends. They become such an obsession with them that it would surprise me not if they should taste them in their coffee -sweet or bitter, depending on which "side" they take. Now anything important enough to affect the whole church warrants attention; and in order to approach the subject intelligently it is necessary to read and study carefully. It is natural that such a study leads to conversation on the subject. We must remember, however, that there are many other important demands upon our time if we are to serve God properly. The current issues may be the most important matter in our work just now, but if we ignore or leave undone other demands of our Lord, we will soon find ourselves with many additional issues. A church problem does not automatically cancel our job of saving souls.
Our first step, in settling the current church problems is to settle ourselves. This is necessary-even before defining the issues-for we can hope for little good to come from irresponsible statements, personal attacks, sarcasm, or other types of carnal strife. Paul said, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Three things named here are necessary for our triumph over the present problems: (1) knowledge of God's way, (2) our own will humbled (captured), (3) to the extent that we will obey. Brethren, it is much better to be captive of divine truth, and obedient to Jesus Christ as master, than to stubbornly pursue our own selfish course and become captive and servants of Satan. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt. 16:24).
The utmost humility is necessary to correct faults, and this humility is needed on the part of the one who corrects, as well as on the part of the one in error. Gal. 6:1-2 reads, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." If humility is needed when correcting a clear-cut case or error, how much more is it needed when brethren are divided as to what constitutes error.
And we must pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray as we have never prayed before. Let our tears wet the pillow at night. Find quiet moments through the day, and pour out our petition to God. "But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth." (Jas. 3:14). We must remove all idols from our hearts, pray for our enemies, and those who despitefully use us, if our prayers are to be heard. We must not use prayer as a weapon-to strike at our brethren through a prayer to God. What a travesty of justice! But we must sincerely pray "Not my will, but Thine be done."
In this attitude, we can then come together to study God's Word. We can be honest truth seekers; and hungering and thirsting after righteousness, we shall be filled. (Matt. 5:6). We can search the scriptures daily, and find the solution to the problems that threaten the peace of the church, and our eternal welfare.
Truth Magazine I:9, pp. 2, 17-18, 21