"In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us." (Neb. 4:20.)
James W. Adams
Violent Spiritual Reactionaries
Violent reaction to ills, real and imagined, has become so common in political, educational, and religious circles in our country as to have become a way of life for many. In this article, the discussion will not have to do with the political or social, nor will it deal with religious reactionaries in general. It will rather have to do with such reaction as it manifests itself among professed churches of Christ.
Reaction vs. Violent Reaction
Christians should always react positively and aggressively against evil in every form, doctrinal or moral, but should, at the same time, recognize that there is a fundamental difference between this and violent reaction. Somewhere in my reading, I recall mention of a man so agitated by some emergency situation that "he jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions at the same time." Then, there is the story of the farmer who burned down his barn filled with expensive feed and valuable livestock when he discovered he had rats in the barn. Philip Schaff relates that Cotton Mather, learned and famous New England preacher of the seventeenth century, compared Roger Williams, equally famous founder of Rhode Island and the Baptist denomination in America, "to a windmill, which, by its rapid motion in consequence of a violent storm, became so intensely heated that it took fire and endangered the whole town." (Creeds of Christendom, Vol. L p. 849)
"Temperance, sobriety, judgment, wisdom, and counting the cost" before acting are constantly enjoined upon us by the Lord and his Spirit-guided apostles and prophets in the New Testament. Religion is not simply a social institution the effects of which will be experienced by man in the realm of time. It is a spiritual institution the effects of which will 7 be experienced by immortal souls eternally. Unrestrained, violent, purposeless reaction is always destructive in every realm, but in religion, it is eternally disastrous. Reasoned reaction which is benevolent in its motivation and purposefully expressed in word and deed is constructive and eternally blessed.
The Current Scene
All across the current, religious landscape there is evidence of purposeless violence generated by alleged disenchantment with an "establishment" that is "traditionally wedded to archaic forms and antiquated procedures of the nineteenth century." Our so-called "liberal" brethren are up to their proverbial necks in trouble over youthful reactionaries aided and abetted by more aged and experienced revolutionaries who have for years been suffering a "slow-burn" over the "brotherhood's" lack of appreciation and enthusiasm for their "advanced" concepts of church work and organization. The over-reaction of these people has manifested itself among our "on-the-march" brethren in: denominational ecumenism; theistic evolution; form criticism; repudiation of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures; advocacy of direct spiritual influence in the conviction, conversion, and sanctification of the sinner to Christ; glossolalia (speaking in tongues); sectarian testimonial meetings; and the social gospel in the style of the classical liberal.
"Conservatives" have not escaped the plague. Among us there has been: the denial that a New Testament congregation of believers did then or does not constitute an "organic, functional entity , the repudiation of the scriptural right of 'the duly qualified and appointed bishops of a New Testament congregation to superintend (exercise "oversight" over) the members, properties, work, and resources of that congregation; the tendency to make creedal tests of every trifling difference of opinion relative to the teaching of the Scriptures; the pressing of matters purely individual in character as tests of fellowship in congregational relationships; and the consequent splintering of effective, working congregations into a multiplicity of small, ineffective congregations unable to sustain without help their own work yet passionately dedicated to the propagation and defense of the extreme views of their often ignorant and quarrelsome founders and micro-memberships.
A Great Need
Growing up, as this writer did, in Southwest Texas, a land of many windmills (over one hundred in a single community}, Cotton Mather's description of Roger Williams is particularly meaningful. In a windstorm, there is a device on every windmill by means of which it can be slowed down, or if necessary, completely shut off, hence it would be extremely foolish to allow one to become so agitated by a storm as to catch fire and endanger an entire town.
In the spiritual realm, there have always been and there always will be storms of varying degrees of intensity. The faithful have always had to deal with them and always will, but rarely is violent reaction the answer to the problems they pose. Never is unrestrained, purposeless violence the solution. Let it be acknowledged that God's people today are in the midst of a devastating storm threatening the very existence of pure, unadulterated, New Testament Christianity, and that reasoned, purposeful reaction is needed on every hand. However, wild charges and counter-charges, blasphemous hurling of stinging epithets, and such like will not bring us through the storm in safety.
Violent reaction to liberality which plunges one into a holocaust of equally destructive extremism and obstructionism neither stops the storm nor saves its victims. There is great need for positive, sober, temperate, rational analysis, discussion, and action on the part of all. Why cannot the latter be the predominant spirit among brethren rather than the former?
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 36, pp. 10-11
July 23, 1970