Some Startling Statements
The following quotations are all from the recently published book, We Be Brethren, written by brother J. D. Thomas, and hailed by so many as one of the finest works ever published. The reader will be permitted to judge for himself the extent of the "liberal" nature of the thinking manifested by these quotations since comments by this writer will be held to a minimum insofar as possible. The word liberal in the preceding line is used in accordance with the definition found thereof in the glossary of terms found in the back of the aforementioned book, p. 252, as follows: "(2) An adjective meaning simply 'less conservative,' and thus could be applied to any area of human thought." We need to remember, however, that the less conservative one becomes in his thinking, the more he leans toward the type of thinking that is meant when the word liberalism is used in another sense.
The first few quotations will have a bearing on the problem of interpretation. "We have no problem whatever about what one needs to do to be saved, or the overall scheme of redemption, or the place of the church in God's plan. . ." P. 6. Evidently brother Thomas has not contacted some of the arguments that some of our brethren have made concerning the "legalists" who still insist that baptism is essential to salvation. Again we read from the same page.
The real differences between the BRETHREN involved in these controversies can be attributed to differences in methods of interpretation. This can also be said concerning the other problems of longer standing. Surely, real differences of interpretation do lie underneath all of our tensions and even some of our personality clashes.
Did you ever hear a denominational preacher attempt to explain the reason for so many churches in the world? Why, it is not a matter of addition to, subtraction from, or perversion of the word of God. It is just a matter of interpretation!
Now notice this statement as the "scientific method" of inductive reasoning is advocated as the answer to all of our problems of interpretation.
Hypothese are formed by simply "occurring to the mind," during the time that experienced and trained thinkers in the field under consideration are engaged in reflecting on the various data at hand. What we mean by "experienced thinkers" may be illustrated by the fact that an automobile mechanic or a preacher would never conceive a hypothesis of how a surgeon might best perform a certain operation. They could not even reflect very well upon the data that are available in the medical field, since they could not understand or evaluate them. On the other band each might do correct reasoning and formulate helpful hypotheses within his own field. P. 15.
One is made to wonder about the field of spiritual matters. To whom does the field belong? Who is it that can qualify to reflect "upon the data that are available in" spiritual sufficiently to be able to "understand or evaluate them" and thus have hypothese "occur to the mind?" Is this an indication that the average man must depend upon someone else to do his thinking for him in spiritual matters? Do you suppose having a "Ph.D" automatically causes one to qualify? This sounds much like the doctrine which tells the "laymen" they can not understand the scriptures, and thus ought not to try!
We notice more on this subject:
This ability to understand and evaluate facts and data that bear upon a particular problem in a given field and to formulate hypotheses that may issue in a solution of a problem puts one in a position to actually make necessary "leaps of inference" from known things to unknown things and thus to draw down conclusions. p. 15.
One of the real problems about this thought is that some are not willing to content themselves with "leaps of inference" but make leaps from the revealed to the unrevealed, thus "draw down conclusions" that conflict with the revealed, and demand that others be willing to compromise their convictions by accepting this conclusion falsely drawn from the unrevealed.
Early in his discussion of expedient matters brother Thomas gives us the following statement: "Again, please note that all 'expedients' are to be found in the 'optional' class. Never can an expedient be classified as a binding or as a required matter." Page 23. Notice the terrible fuss that has been stirred up among our brethren by those who insist on doing things that they themselves class merely as expedients, but which they demand that every individual in the church be willing to accept regardless of how strongly he may be convinced that these things are not expedient but illegal! Remember that nothing is ever expedient that it is not legal.
Now notice the illustration that is given of an expedient that is supposed to be optional except for one point.
Now to illustrate: The Missionary Society, in relation to the required pattern, "Go Preach," could be classified as an optional expedient, or as an "aid" (a Box "OE" type matter), as it is indeed considered by those who use it. The fact is, however, that the requirement "Go Preach" is not the only pattern requirement to which the Missionary Society has relation. The other pattern with which it is involved, is in the area of church government, and which stipulates that each congregation is to have its own bishops and deacons, and the exclusive type of church government required is "local autonomy." * * * This means, then, that the use of the Missionary Society is excluded and sinful, since it clearly involves an alternate or substitute form of church government. Where the Society functions, it dominates and controls (in mission activity) the local congregations which comprise its membership, and the "local autonomy" pattern is definitely replaced. P. 35.
Most of, the Missionary Societies that have ever been known to man did not dominate and control in any sense other than the power of public opinion, and in the control exercised over matters voluntarily placed in their charge by the churches that fed them! Thus this statement would make any missionary society arrangement that did not dominate and control an expedient.
Here is another example used in an effort to illustrate what is called an expediency.
I Corinthians 16:1,2 commands and thus establishes a pattern requiring a weekly contribution FOR BENEVOLENT WORK. A careful study of this in the light of the Standard Authority Diagram forces the recognition that this passage taken alone, excludes a first day of the week collection for general church purposes. But even though this passage does not authorize (and really excludes) the collection for general purposes, there are other commands, necessary inferences or examples in other passages which establish a pattern requirement for a collection for general purposes. There is, however no required time for this collection stipulated and of course the first day of the week is perfectly acceptable. P. 36.
This must mean that any other day would be perfectly acceptable also (since this is just an expedient,) and thus every other day would be, so we can look for the brethren to start passing the hat every night during the big meeting! If not, why not? I am not sure whether brother Thomas thinks this passage also authorizes us to take up a collection for the needy saints on a day beside the Lord's day or not, nor whether or not he thinks this pattern which requires a weekly contribution for benevolent work means that a part of the contribution on each Lord's day must be used for that purpose.
In a chapter discussing "Legalism" and Its Fruits brother Thomas uses this as an illustration of "An extreme Legalistic attitude."
(c) The extreme Legalist recognizes that the scriptures authorizes (sic) church enrollment and support of certain sixty-year-old widows (I Tim. 5:9, 10), but he would be willing to let a fifty-nine-year-old widow starve! Being "scriptural" to him means no more than meeting a technical demand. There is no "spirituality" involved-no concern with right "attitudes." P. 115.
I must confess that I have never met such an extreme of Legalism. It would have been good to have learned where they grow them like that! Now, if our brother means that it is an extremely legalistic attitude to contend for the widow who is enrolled as the permanent charge of the church to be sixty and not just fifty-nine then I suppose the apostle Paul would qualify about as well as any of the rest of us. He did write that record. We can all see that Paul was not advocating the starving of any widows whether fifty-nine or nineteen. Let me paraphrase another illustration for brother Thomas to wrestle with along this line. The denominational preacher says "The extreme Legalist recognizes that the secriptures authorize" salvation from past sin for the one who is baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38), "but he would be willing to let" an un-baptized believer spend eternity in hell! He would continue by saying, "Being 'scriptural' to him means no more than meeting a technical demand. There is no 'spirituality' involved - no concern with right 'attitudes.' " It would be very interesting for brother Thomas to tell us just exactly how old these widows placed in the permanent responsibility of the church can be (or should I say how young?). If fifty-nine can be squeezed in what about fifty-eight? Or even fifty-five? Why, even some forty-five year olds have a difficult time making ends meet. Surely one as liberal in his thinking as brother Thomas would not bar one of these either! You see, there is no stopping place.
We close this paper with an observation about attitudes, and with plans to continue with some even more startling statements from We Be Brethren. It seems rather odd when a man takes such pains to show the injustice of having someone called a "Modernist" or "Liberal" in the usual usages of the expression when that individual does not deny the authority of the scriptures in their entirety, but professes to use them as a guide and for authority; but will then quickly and readily brand those who disagree with him as "Antis" or "Legalists" and even "Extreme Legalists." Institutionalism is defined in the glossary of terms (page 251) as a "loaded" term, and then "Loaded" Expression is carefully defined on pages 252-253 to show that one should never use the term in describing another's teaching or actions. Of course, not a single time was there any hesitancy to brand the "antis" and the "legalists" whether they were fairly represented or not. This causes me to be somewhat suspicious about attitudes! More next month, the Lord willing.
Truth Magazine IV:9, pp. 3-5