"What Is Your Position?"
Recently there was the report of a preacher who resented the request of the elders of a certain congregation as to his position on controversial matters of current concern. He is said to have asserted that he did not think a preacher should be required to state his position on such matters. This seems to be a rather popular view for a preacher to take especially since gospel preachers for many decades have been ever ready not only "to take positions," but also to contend for them. It reflects a softening of the preaching and a lack of conviction as to the subject of the queries. It is lamentable that men who profess to be gospel preachers cannot display enough conviction as to be able to reply to a request by the overseers of a congregation as to matters which concern vitally so many brethren of the day. Imagine the Apostle Paul refusing to state his position as to the conditions at Corinth whether they related to practice or to doctrine! Did he ever fail to state his position as to Judaism? If there be those who say that present controversies do not relate to matters in such a category then let them answer as to what Paul did when confronted with matters of opinion!
It is recognized that a gospel preacher may not have had opportunity to study a matter so as to be able to answer in regard to it, but as time passes there is little excuse for not studying controversial matters. There is no excuse for not studying both sides of any matter that disturbs many brethren. The preacher should be the last man "to bury his head in the sand."
Whether or not the following list of questions is typical is for the reader to judge, but this list is submitted together with the answers given at the time the questions were submitted to the writer. These questions were presented by the elders of a congregation in a distant state personally unknown to this writer and it is regarded that they had the right to ask them. Not only so but it is also deemed right in the interest of good understanding with a possible working agreement to ask the elders certain questions pertinent to the matters about which they made request. We enumerate the list and follow with the answers also enumerated. This correspondence occured a few years ago.
"We would like to know more about you, and you may want to know more about us. We have no reason to doubt you as a gospel preacher at all, but deem it wise to ask a few questions, in view of the fact we have had and now have some whose teachings we cannot agree with.
"1. Do you teach the Bible in cottage meetings? We do.
"2. Can Christians serve in military service?
"3. Can Christians or congregations contribute to support orphan homes?
"4. Can Christians contribute to Christian colleges, and/or Herald of Truth program?
"5. Must people having divorced and remarried, before obeying the gospel separate and cease living as husband and wife?
"6. Does an evangelist have authority over elders serving before he arrives?
"We are trying to profit by past experience and observation and trust you will accept these questions in the Christian spirit in which they are asked." (End of quote).
To these questions were submitted the following answers in order.
"Now we shall give attention to the queries at hand as you stated them.
"1. I teach the Bible anywhere I have the opportunity. That includes cottage meetings.
"2. The Bible has given no answer. I am well aware that many have cited scriptural references on this matter, but most of them were taken out of their contexts to establish a case. The churches of Christ cannot hand down a decision on this matter or any other matter without becoming a denomination in doing so. Besides our government gives at least two different classifications for conscientious objectors. Each man must decide when he is called what he must do. I see no point in disturbing a church over the matter.
"3. Permit me to say that this question in its present form indicates that the questioners do not grasp the real issue confronting the churches today. All the brethren whom I know (excepting the hobbyists of the Ketcherside type) believe that both churches and members as individuals may support such homes, false charges to the contrary notwithstanding. I have attended recent debates on these matters and know whereof I speak. The issue is, shall churches of Christ do such work through a human organization? This is not something like the issue; this is it!
Therefore, I answer in regard to the issue: That the church as it was divinely organized and constituted was thoroughly adequate and equipped to accomplish all the work divinely imposed upon it without the addition of human organizations effected to do that same work. Those who affirm the necessity of the human organizations are logically and morally bound to furnish scriptural proof for their assertations. It is never necessary that the negative assume the duties of the affirmative.
"4. This constitutes, in the very nature of the case, two questions. Nor does it take into account extenuating circumstances. For instance, suppose modernism or false doctrine is taught in the colleges. Would that make any difference? As long as the Christian college holds to the position that it extends the work of the home, not that of the church; that it is a private institution, not a church work or institution; and teaches the truth without laying claim upon the treasury of the Lord, then I am for individuals supporting it. I went to a Bible college.
"The second portion of the question relates to an admittedly church work, not that of a private institution operated by believers. Hence, it cannot logically be conceived as falling in the same category with the college. Mav I say that I believe in church co-operation just as far as it is revealed in the New Testament, but I do not believe in church co-ordination in any extent for it is not revealed in the New Testament. God has never imposed upon any church or individual as a regular work a program of activity which is admittedly far beyond its or his power or means. The so called independence of congregations which is claimed in such co-ordinated efforts is not one whit greater than that of those congregations which support missionary societies. I know, for I used to be a member of the Christian Church. Their congregations always claim complete independence. They still do. But the effort is co-ordinated, a practice without scriptural precedent. (I know that texts have been cited to prove the contrary, but I also know what those texts teach.)
5. 1 have often said that some people get themselves into entanglements of such complication that I don't know how to get them out. However, the question itself does not indicate the exception for divorce which Jesus gave. I assume that you recognize this exception and are asking in the cases of these who have no scriptural grounds for divorce. So I am compelled to say that if such couples are living in adultery then I can't see how obeying the gospel removes the relationship. I can't see how obeying the gospel by a thief permits him to retain the goods or the money he has stolen. I preach only what I find in the New Testament; it is up to the hearers to apply it.
"6. An evangelist has no authority over the elders either before or after he arrives. He has authority to preach the gospel under the oversight of the elders where there are elders. He has authority to preach nothing else under any circumstance.
"Permit me to ask a few questions also since you have not revealed your own convictions excepting by tacit admission in your questions.
"l. What is the essential difference between voluntarily making ammunition for combat service and in shooting it in service?
"2. Do you believe that elders are scripturally authorized to expend monies from the Lord's treasury for things not authorized in the work of the church simply on the ground that they are elders?
"3. Do you know of a single instance in the New Testament where many churches assisted in carying on the work of the church as a regular practice by funnelling their efforts through one congregation?
"4. Would not the fact that God provided for church organization only on a congregational basis indicate that He has provided for the work of the churches to be accomplished only on a congregational basis? That is, the work as independent as the congregations engaging in it?
"5. Do you accept the thesis the authority of the New Testament is based upon precept, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference? Or do you add or subtract from these three means or avenues of authority?
"6. Can you cite one single precept, approved apostolic example, or necessary inference in the New Testament where God imposed a permanent work upon the churches, or upon any church, which it was wholly unable to perform?
"7. Do you believe that elders are authorized by the New Testament to make rules and regulations for preachers and congregations? Or simplv enforce those already recorded in the New Testament?
"I trust that these answers and queries are received in the same spirit yours were before placed and received. I am sure they will be." (End of quote.)
As to whether these answers and questions gave complete satisfaction must be judged by the reader for no response of any sort has been received unto this very day. But we do not allow this to give the slightest offence nor to dim the right to ask and answer pertinent and proper questions. A church has a right to know what a preacher believes and teaches and the preacher has a right to know what a church believes and teaches. Neither should believe and teach anything without an honest attempt to give a scriptural reason when requested to do so. He who feigns offense when so requested is without an honest excuse. Even an unbeliever has a right to know why we believe, teach and practice what we do. He who is not ashamed of his faith and practice, who has convictions as to the position he has adopted, has no compunction about stating his views. Christianity is a religion of ready proclarnation; faith comes of proclamation of truth received. He runs counter to the faith who makes no effort to attain conviction on matters of brotherhood wide concern, who thus has no conviction to affirm. Let a man therefore "study to show himself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, holding a straight course in the word of truth." For we ought to be "ready to give answer to every man that asks us a reason concerning the hope that is in us, yet with meekness and fear; having a good conscience," realizing that "we must all be made manifest before the judgement-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether good or bad." Be convinced, therefore, of t he righteousness of a given position, or of its wrong; but first of all be informed before assuming any position. And, Dear Reader, know this, that knowledge is never attained by assumption, nor by closing the mind to all information excepting what one merely wants to hear, but by dint of mental effort and prayerful investigation of all sources of information on the matter concerned, especially the study of God's word.
Truth Magazine IV:2, pp. 9-10