Uninspired Words Suggest Uninspired Concepts
James B. Roberts
Proponents of the Restoration Movement have emphasized the principle of speaking where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent. In connection with this intention, a companion slogan has been used by those contending for the restoration of New Testament Christianity . . . "call Bible things by Bible names, and do Bible things in Bible ways." I have heard a number of fine lessons centered on the theme of "using the language which the Holy Spirit used."
It would seem that regardless of how hard we have tried to use only scriptural language, we always fall into the practice of labeling entire groups of our brethren. We should realize that this apparent 'need to designate' is nothing more than the first step in Satan's efforts to divide us.
Over the years various brethren have been designated by others of their brethren with intentionally uncomplimentary names. Some brethren have been branded as Sommerites and others as Ketchersideites because they believed some of the same things as Bro. Daniel Sommer or Bro. W. Carl Ketcherside. Such titles are not bestowed in honor of brethren Sommer or Ketcherside but rather in derision. They are intended to degrade these men and all who might concur with them in the least way. It is exceedingly strange that brethren will label other brethren with such names and at the same time complain when they themselves are labeled Campbellites. There is no difference you know! We are quick to respond that although we believe many of the same things which Alexander Campbell believed, we do not believe them just because he believed them, but because our study of God's Word has shown these beliefs to be true; and furthermore that there are many things which Alexander Campbell believed which we do not believe and vice versa. Can we not see that when some of our brethren believe some of the things believed by brethren Sommer or Ketcherside, they may have been led to believe such things because of their own study and not necessarily because these two notable men believe them; and that in like manner there are many things believed by brethren Sommer or Ketcherside that are not believed by those labeled as Sommerites or Ketchersideides, and vice versa?
In more recent years we have heard a lot about 'antis' and 'liberals.' Literally hundreds of thousands of brethren have been tagged with one or the other of these labels, often too hastily to have happened as a result of any reliable knowledge as to their beliefs. This has usually happened after a varying period of controversy which resulted in many personal feelings and a prejudicial attitude. When such feelings and prejudice rule one's mind, an all inclusive label supposedly places the opponent where he deserves to be ... out of fellowship with those who do not agree with him. Thus arise such statements as: "Well I'm not surprised for he is an 'anti' you know," and "You might have expected it, he is a 'liberal'." Virtually everything bad is attributed to the opposition when the labels are applied; consequently when a new brother arrives, he must of necessity be labeled so everyone will know whether or not to have anything to do with him. Such sectarianism!
What does the term 'anti' mean? The term 'anti' does not in the strict sense mean anything and the least claim it has to being a word at all is that it is a slang expression and belongs with all other such nonsense. All that the term signifies for certain is that the user is intending to leave an impression with the listener - an impression that a third party is undesirable. Anti is properly used as a prefix denoting opposition. The term itself does not suggest that to which one is, opposed. The President's anti-poverty program opposed what? Obviously it opposes poverty. It would sound ridiculous to say that President Johnson is an 'anti" yet in the way brethren often use the term this would seem logical. Because some brethren oppose the practice of taking funds from the church treasury to support a human institution such as an orphan home, they are accused of being anti-orphan home. This label implies that they are opposed to orphan homes, and consequently is a misrepresentative label. Most of these brethren do not oppose orphan homes as such.
In fact they often teach that it is acceptable for individual Christians to support such privately operated institutions just as they might contribute to a college or a hospital. Their objection is not that the orphan home is in existence, but that money is released from oversight of the eldership of the church and is used by a board of directors of a human institution. In like manner these brethren would oppose contributions from the divine treasury to colleges or hospitals, or other such man-made organizations. Whether you agree with these brethren or not is, at this point in our discussion, completely irrelevant. The fact is that it is a misrepresentation to say that they are anti-orphan home, anti-college, anti-hospital or any parallel term. They oppose none of the organizations as such.
They do oppose use of church money by these organizations. Therefore, while labeling is itself sectarian in spirit, the most descriptive label for these brethren would be 'anti-church subsidization of human institutions.' Again it is evident that the term 'anti-orphan home' is intended to portray brethren as opposing a worthy work, rather than the true opposition to misuse of divinely accumulated resources of the church for its own work. Sadly, the term "anti-orphan home' is only a mild abuse in comparison to other labels such as "anti-orphan;' I have even heard the term 'orphan-hater.' These are grossly prejudicial labels and can only be uttered by one devoid of any sense of respect and love regarding the current issues facing the church. No Christian is opposed to orphans.
The paradox is that the supposedly anti-orphan brother probably gives as much to the support of orphan children as does his accuser. He makes a personal contribution from his pocket while his accuser votes for the church to give twenty-five dollars per month. Did you ever figure how much a congregation of 250 members gives at this rate - ten cents per member per month. You just do not reach in your pocket and mail off a dime to an orphan child; you give him a reasonable amount to sustain life, not just enough to buy a candy bar.
Can you not see that such labeling is simply prejudicial and is intended to damage the influence of one who is concerned with proper use of the Lord's money more than he is concerned with certain popular brotherhood projects? Most often, however, the terminology reduces itself to simply 'anti'. This can mean whatever the user wants it to mean and he always wants it to show and suggest reproach. The next time you start to use the word 'anti', think twice. Are you being fair? Are you exhibiting the love that a Christian must maintain for his brother?
Now, what is a 'liberal'? Does he believe that the Bible is not inspired? That is a liberal philosophy. Perhaps he believes in having separate Bible classes for all ages. That is a liberal position to the brother who opposes it. "Liberal" is manifestly a relative term just as "anti" is a dependent term. "Anti" means nothing unless you know what is being opposed and "liberal" means nothing unless you have some concept of what is being discussed. I recently read an article by a Presbyterian in which he referred to those within the Presbyterian Church who favor abolishment of their creed as being liberal. At this we are made to wonder, for we generally think of all Presbyterians as being liberal. We can only say that "liberal" is a relative term, correctly used only within an understood context. To label a brother in Christ as a "liberal" is not only ambiguous; but worst of all it is sectarian in nature. The next time you start to use the word "liberal," think twice. Are you being fair? Are you exhibiting the love that a Christian must maintain for his brother?
Whether the term is "anti" or "liberal," it is used for one purpose . . . to cast reflection upon a brother and that reflection is intended to damage.
'Recently I had read an attempt by a well-known brother to justify the term "anti" by comparing it with the Apostle John's references to the anti-Christ. I resent such wresting of the scriptures to justify sectarianism. Anti-Christ as used by John comes from the Greek antichristos and literally means opponent of Christ. It cannot be construed to mean a Christian who opposes a certain practice which he sincerely believes to be unscriptural. Furthermore, notice the scriptural definition of the anti-Christ: "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the anti-Christ, even he that denieth the Father and the Son" (I John 2:22-ASV). Anti-Christ plainly refers to an infidel, one who denies the Father and the Son. This is hardly a proper term to use to label a brother regardless of how much you disagree.
For generations we have opposed the use of religious labels on the ground that they are a principal deterrent to unity of those who would serve the Savior. Let's not be found guilty of approving that which, we condemn in others. Let's love one another and use only the language of the Spirit in exhibition of our love.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 6, pp. 16-18