Some Facts Concerning Current Issues
This article is not discussion of the issues intended as a partisan which presently trouble the Lord's people; but, -is the title implies, is an effort to set forth in as objective a manner as possible certain pertinent and salient facts pertaining thereto . T ere has been a inultiplicity of articles in numerous periodicals which have been concerned with the pros and cons of various arrangements in the area of benevolence and congregational cooperation. If vou have followed these writings you are well acquainted with the differences which prevail and the arguments which have been made. I think therefore that it would be wise for us to withdraw ourselves from the heat of the oontroversy for a moment's reflection upon and appraisal of the situation as it now stands. Whatever your personal convictions with respect to these issues may be I trust that you will seriously consider the following facts.
That there is division in the ranks of God's people over current issues, though perhaps un-realized by some, is an indisputable fact. And by division I do not mean merely conflicting persuasions and sentiments, which necessarily exist when there is an issue of any kind, but I mean that there are open ruptures in the body of Christ. Congregations are being split wide open and new congregations are being, formed as a result of such breaches. It is an occasion of rejoicing when new congregations begin as a result of a growth of the cause of Christ, but it is a most lamentable thing for new churches to be born out of discord and strife. Nevertheless, the fact of division confronts us.
The gravity of this fact becomes even more apparent when we consider that the division which has occurred thus far seems to be but a preview of things to come. Open division threatens to become more pronounced and broader in scope in the not too distant future. This controversv has been in an active state for some five years, and has consistently gathered intensity all the while. During the earlier stages of the controversy many (I should say most) churches and individuals remained impervious to these issues, but it has become increasingly difficult to remain so. There are many places in the brotherhood today where these matters have been a source of difficulty and contention for quite some time. In such places the breaking point has either already been reached, as in the above mentioned instances, or the proximity of such a point is alarmingly apparent. Since division is always progressive rather than instantaneous, it logically follows that other churches in time will reach the dividing point, and this process will continue on and on until wholesale division has occurred. History bears out that this is the way all cleavages have developed and consummated. There are many churches which no doubt are many months or even several years away from the point of division, but in time they will reach it unless the tide is turned. And even those churches where there is almost complete unanimity of conviction one way or the other, to the extent that there will be no open break among themselves, will in time find themselves alienated from other congregations if things continue as they are. Hence, the church continue on its way to open and complete division, all churches and individuals will ultimately be affected. From this there is no escape! W hat a fact then this is to be reckoned with that there is even now division in the church of the Lord!
That brethren on both sides of these issues are sincere is a fact which should be kept uppermost in our minds. Only an ultra-extremist would suggest otherwise. However, the longer an issue prevails, the greater likelihood there is that such extremism will develop. Some seemingly had rather vilify their brethren than to deal with thern in a forthright manner. There are those who would have us to believe that the ones who stand opposed to many of the practices in the field of benevolence and congregational cooperation are saturated with negativism, that they are factious in spirit, that they are chronic troublemakers who are more interested in self than in the blood-bought body of Christ. One would have to be prejudiced to the core or wholly ignorant of the facts to accept this. An objective view of the men who thus stand - their number, their character, their loyaltV to the truth through the years, men who have been tried in the crucible of time and experience and have not been found wanting - these considerations, although not proof of the correctness of their position certainly establish their sincerity.
I hasten to add, lest some think I am becoining partisan in this discussion, that the same things can be said in behalf of those who stand in defense of the practices now under question. It has been suggested that churches, elders and/or preachers who have instituted certain projects have done so with ulterior motives. It has been charged that certain elders Just want to "run the brotherhood," or that preachers are "promoting" for personal glory, or that churches are competing for highest honors and attention. Brethren, these things I cannot believe! There are no doubt hypocrites on both sides of these issues, but I am persuaded that by and. large my brethren are sincere. If we are to ever reach a solution to these problems, this fact of sincerity must be indelibly impressed upon our ininds. We must respect the sincerity of one another!
A third fact worthy of our serious attention and consideration is that the consciences of brethren are involved in the differences which exist. These differences are not to all a mere matter of opinion. The brethren who oppose the sponsoring-church type of cooperation and the benevolent institutions which are attached to the church do not do so on the grounds that these things are just inexpedient or unwise. They believe them to be unlawful. Hence, to engage in the support of such arrangements would be to those thus convicted a violation of conscience. Aside from the right or wrong of the things objected to, when one does anything in violation of his conscience or about which he even has doubts, such is sinful. Paul declares in Romans 14:23: "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Therefore one may sin by engaging in that which is right if he does so without the complete approval of his conscience! Many brethren today can have neither part nor lot in these matters without committing sin. This is a fact!
What about the brethren who believe these things to be right? Are their consciences involved? The answer is no. Their contention is that their practices are only matters of expediency. They do not contend that churches must fulfill their evangelistic and benevolent obligations in these particular ways or else become guilty of sin. In other words to these brethren these things are not matters of necessity, but matters of liberty. Therefore, these brethren may cease to do these th ngs which they feel to, be right without committing sin. This we would do well to bear in mind.
I am sure that in the light of the above facts all would agree that this is a legitimate and grave question. Is there a solution to the problems which so trouble the children of God at this time. Can complete and permanent division be averted? In answer to this last question perhaps it would be wise to consider under what circumstances division is justified or is inescapable. I believe division would he justified only if one or both of the following conditions existed: (I ) There was outright perversion or disobedience of the gospel and such was persisted in; or (2) Where the differences which existed were believed by both groups to be matters of faith and which effected each other's practices. In regard to do not believe that it constitutes a serious problem at present. Of course the brethren who believe the present practices under consideration to be unlawful necessarily feel therefore that such practices are a perversion or disobedience of the gospel. But notice that in the condition as it is stated I included the term "outright" and the expression "and such was persisted in." This reflects the attiude of individuals who, would have their way regardless of the consequences. I hope this state has not been reached. In reality, the brethren who stand opposed to these things have not advocated quarantine or disfellowship, but have pleaded for careful and prayerful study and consideration of these matters. Hence the first condition mentioned does not constitute at least at present a reason for division.
The second condition I wish to, examine more thoroughly. It describes a situation where both positions are held to be matters of faith (law) AND where each other's practices are affected. Have you ever wondered why the war question does not divide the church; or why the question of the woman's covering in worship does not cause a cleavage? In the first instance with many brethren both positions are matters of faith. Some brethren sincerely believe it would be wrong for a Christian to go to war, while others believe just as strongly that to fail to do so in defense of our country would constitute a malfeasance with respect to our obligations as a citizen. However, though both positions are considered matters of faith, they do not affect each others' practices. In the case of the woman's covering, manv brethren believe an uncovered woman is guiltv of disobedience; whereas others consider it a matter of indifference. But again this does not affect each others' practices! These are matters of individual action and therefore do not violate the conscience of the other person. Why did instrumental music and the missionary society divide the church years ago? The reason lies in the fact that these things did affect the consciences of others! Brethren were not disfellowshipped simply because they believed the instrument permissible. There are no doubt many brethren today who believe it is permissible, but no one would suggest that they be disfellowshipped. They need to he taught, not disfellowshipped I However, if such were to continue to maintain their convictions, this would not divide the church because it would not affect the conduct or the consciences of others. But division came as a result of brethren bringing in the instrument and the society without deference to others' convictions, thereby, forcing them either to stultify their consciences or to cease worshipping with them.
Now what has this to do with current issues? It has already been mentioned that with regard to these differences they are not matters of faith to both groups. Hence this second condition does not exist and therefore there remains no legitimate reason for division. It is true, however, that current practices do affect the consciences of others, by either forcing them to, have a part in them or by making it necessary for them to completely separate themselves from such. But brethren, when both positions are not matters of faith, the ones who only consider the issues matters of opinion thereby have the responsibility of ceasing to do that which causes others either to violate their conscience or to, separate them selves from part of their brethren. An expedient should never be pressed to the dividing of the body of Christ! If this is not the teaching of the New Testament, then I have read it with little profit. Paul says, "Wherefore, if meat make mv brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." (I Cor. 8:13) He also
states in Eph. 4:3 that Christians should always be "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;" and then he concludes the chapter with these words: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
I'm pleading brethren that we will follow the path that makes for peace, that we will on1v practice those things upon which we can unite and all stand together as brethren with clear consciences serving our Heavenly Father. I believe that the brethren who began these various projects did so in good faith and out of a desire to see the church of the Lord prosper. Rut now, brethren, seeing the discord that they have caused, I beg you to forsake them for the same reason you began them! I know that many feel these projects are accomplishing good, but if in N,ears to come we have to view a torn and divided church with thousands upon thousands of souls lost thereby, how much good will we feel has been accomplished then? Let's take our stand upon that which we know to be right!
Truth Magazine II:4, pp. 22-24