A Plea for Peace and Purity
All over the world, but especially in America, brethren in Christ who ought to be working zealously and fruitfully together for the salvation of souls, are often disturbed, divided and discouraged. For a number of recent years the Lord's church has grown significantly, and as "Laborers together with God, we have been ab1e to accomplish many great and mighty works everywhere. And Yet, at this very time when sufficient growth has been made to enable us to see that the church can be, and is, a very powerful influence in the world, and when enough strength has been gained to enable us to truly reach out to every creature, trouble in the form of departures and division prevents the accomplishments of these goals. Honest and sincere brethren are being further and further alienated, and there is no reason to suppose that these disturbances are about to cease. In spite of all this, it is evidently the desire of almost all brethren that peace and purity both prevail.
There may be two extremes in our present troubles. Some people seem to want peace at almost any price. These people seem to be willing to sacrifice the true identity of the Lord's church and reduce the body of Christ to another sect among the denominations in order to find a peaceful solution of the present problems. Fond affection for brethren whom we love dearly and with whom we have worked closely for a long time may tempt us to soften our convictions and soft-pedal truth. This is not to suggest that such Christians want apostasy, but at least some may prefer compromise, departure and apostasy, rather than have division. But James 3:17 says that "The wisdom that is from above is first pure then peaceable . . ." It would certainly be better to have truth and righteousness in a small, unpopular body than to be a part of a large, well-known church that is filled with error.
The desire for peace even before purity will cause Christians to refuse almost any kind of controversy, especially between brethren. And because controversy is almost completely avoided in some places, Christians become blind to error, deaf to Bible authority and dumb in the use of truth. We gain nothing if we find the favor of men and lose the favor of God and we lose everything if we find brethren peacefully pursuing the perilous path to perdition. Instead of taking the sword of the spirit in combat against the false practices that arise within the Church. The fact that it may be our own brethren who advocate a false doctrine or who follow in unauthorized practice does not make such doctrine or practice less devastating. When we fai to stand firmly for truth we thereby fail to protect the purity of the church for which Jesus died and also thus fail to promote the true welfare of that church. We surely fail to demonstrate true love for the church which the Lord loved so much if we willingly surrender any principle of truth, even if in so doing we are trying to prevent division.
The other extreme seems to be manifested by some brethren who act as though they care little for the peace that should characterize the body of Christ. These people may be honestly zealous for the purity of the church, but they mav use such methods in advocating truth and in opposing error that they actually, unintentionally foster division and make unity improbable. They may be like the gardener who is so concerned with getting weeds out of the garden that he rashly tramples the flowers. Or they may be like the driver who is so concerned with avoiding on-coming traffic that he drives into the other ditch. In our desperation to remove the mote from our brother's eye, some of us may carelessly and ruthlessly pluck out the eye instead of the mote.
Attitudes and actions that promote division instead of unity may be demonstrated in at least the following ways: (1) Brethren falsely accuse one another, either deliberately or carelessly; (2) Brethren judge the motives of each other; (3) Brethren refuse any correction or admonition regarding their own attitude or action; (4) Brethren refuse to consider the many points of agreement, but seem to search with magnifying glasses for any point of disagreement; and (5) Lines of division are quickly and rashly drawn. Paul urged the brethren at Ephesus to endeavor to keep the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), but so many of us seem to fail to make a really earnest endeavor for peace. Honest brethren will find the way of unity in Christ if they try diligently. Peace will not just happen accidently, nor will it come as a miracle from heaven, but serious desire and diligent effort are necessary if it is to be accomplished.
FIRST, let us not ignore trouble. Just as we would recognize and care for an infection in our body, we must be alert to departures from truth and to probabilities of division. If we close our eyes to matters of controversy and to imminent divisions, we will surely be swept away in digression and/or discord. Even in those areas where comparative peace still prevails (such as northern U.S.A., etc.) brethren must be awake to the facts of disagreements and be prepared for the troubles that surely lie ahead. We must understand that all brethren do not follow truth and that all are not at peace. Let us not close our minds to matters of discussion, for Paul said, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21). In every discussion, let love for each other, as well as love for the Lord and the truth prevail. This love for brethren must be for those with whom we disagree, as well as for those with whom we agree. Let us determine to be as fair, as kind and as humble in dealing with those with whom we differ as we would be with our best friends. At the same time let us be always firm and frank with all.
SECOND, let us follow the way that is right and cannot be wrong. We must abandon the ways that are questionable in the interest of safety and unity. Until a practice is proved unquestionably scriptural, and not simply a matter of popular consent, it will only produce apostasv and division,
THIRD, even if we think a thing is permissible, if it is only it matter of human choice, and not a matter of necessary requirement for obedience to God's commandments, then if others disagree with it, and if it is about to divide the church, let us stop it immediately for the sake of peace. If a practice is not necessary for purity, and if it causes discord, let us abandon it.
FOURTH, even though there always have been, and always will be differences among brethren, there are just two practices that are about to divide the church today. Even then it is hardly the two practices that will do the most damage, but rather the zealous promotion of those practices. The practice of one church undertaking a work, that is greater than it is able to do, to which all churches are equally related, and then gathering funds from many churches to support this work, and the practice of supporting human institutions such its Homes and Schools from church treasuries, have been matters of controversy for many years in the church. However, the present zeal of those who promote such things, the high-presssure tactics used in such promotions and the determination to bring in such practices without regard for the conscience of those who oppose will evidently produce open division. A few churches could practice those things, or even many could do so, and it would not produce an open break in fellowship. In such case there would be controversy and discussion, but not division. But when those who honestly uphold those practices promote them with such relentless zeal, they are thereby pushing discord and driving the wedge of division.
Of the sincere brethren who promote the Herald of Truth and church support of human organizations, and who honestly believe them to be scriptural, I ask: "Is it worth it? Is your plan so important that you would divide the Lord's church for it? When you know that every worthy work can be accomplished without these things, will you willingly go on in what amounts to not only promotion of your own plans but also promotion of division in the body of Christ? To those who honestly oppose such things, believing them to be unscriptural and sinful, I suggest: "Let your opposition be steadfast and courageous, but with love for men as well as love for truth. Be true to convictions, but be fair and kind. Contend for the faith, but be not in any sense contentious."
Jesus prayed (Jn. 17:20, 21 ), "That they all may be one." He was praying for us! With equal emphasis John wrote (2 Jn. 9), "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God." His words are for us too! Putting all this together it simply means that we must determine to have purity first but peace also. We need purity plus peace! Let us -- you and me - determine that it shall be so with us. Let us have no part in doubtful doctrines and practices, and let us avoid all hateful and vicious attitudes that divide. If some be otherwise minded, and if they persist in pressing matters that they admit are not essentials, then they must bear the responsibility for division, for we must maintain purity even if it brings division. Finally, let everyone know that this is not just the call of a single voice from a desert place, but that all over the world there are thousands of brethren who are fully determined to have purity of doctrine and practice, and still manifest a spirit of love and longsuffering for other brethren, and that "If God be for us, who can be against us."
Truth Magazine IV:4, pp. 19-21