Complementing the subject material of a recent article under the heading of "My Faith", I wish to offer some thoughts on the above topic. Opinion is a term that enjoys a very widespread usage, and not infrequently an improper one. With many it is synonymous with the term faith, but by no means can they be properly employed interchangeably. Faith comes by hearing, or it is produced as the result of competent evidence or testimony, and thus is equal to a conviction or persuasion as established thereby. On the other hand, an opinion is a judgment formed as resting on a foundation of evidence insufficient to produce faith or belief. It is the product of the working of the human reason on inadequate premises, and thus as such is wholly unreliable as the basis on which minds might be brought together and united action be performed, that is in matters of, a religious sort.
The apostle said "we walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). The "we" of course are Christians, and the "walk" is expressive of how they live and act, that which characterizes their service to, God. "Sight" denotes appearance, and thus while affirming that he walks by faith, he denies the contrary-a walking by appearance. That which "seems to be right" is not the criterion of the life and course of the Christian, but rather faith as the guiding and directing, as well as the impelling, principle of one's life-the faith that comes by the Word of God. As embodied in the term "appearance" there would be the matter of one's opinion, and hence, Paul didn't order his life and render his service to God as suggested and dictated by any opinion he might have held. And as he did, it well behooves us to act, for his intent and purpose was the same we profess-that of pleasing God here and going to heaven hereafter.
With the development of the movement under the Campbells and their co-laborers in behalf of the restoration of the ancient order, there was inevitably a necessity to draw the proper distinction between faith and opinion. People of conflicting religious teaching were being appealed to come and unite on the scriptures and only the scriptures; that faith came by the word of God, and that there was therefore, as produced by the scriptures, a unity of faith. Hence, the slogan: "In faith unity, in opinion liberty, and in all things charity." One's opinions were to be regarded as his private property, held in private and never made the test of fellowship among the saints. Many gathered around their leadership, and responded to this appeal, among whom there were those who, held opinions which were erroneous. The position was taken that these should be held in private, and thus not taught and advocated. Alexander Campbell very wisely foresaw that with this course followed there would be a forgetting, and hence a forsaking, of those opinions in the course of time. Why was this so? Because with the devotion of one's thought, time, energy and interest to matters of faith there would be a perishing of opinions by virtue of neglect and starvation. Too, such opinions which had been formed by a too hasty appraisal of the scriptures, and which were contrary to the truth as clearly taught therein, would in time be renounced and no longer cherished because of their incompatibility with the truth learned and believed.
Any opinion which conflicts with faith is false inasmuch as faith comes by the word of Christ, whereas opinion is the creature of one's own mind as it operates without sufficient evidence to produce faith. Too, to hold an opinion which conflicts with the faith, is to hold to that which is essentially an item of unbelief rather than one of opinion. This being true (and who would deny it?) it becomes transparently clear that any effort to Justify religious differences by saying we have a right to our opinions is essentially evasive. I have no right to hold any opinion as a term of or condition to, the union and communion of God's children; on the other hand, I have no right to discredit any item of revealed truth, and hence faith, as unessential to the proper bond of union and communion among the children of God. The difference between faith and opinion is pronounced and vital, and a confounding of their distinctive meaning and respective provinces is deceptive and dangerous.
Christians are obligated to grow in the grace and the knowledge of the truth. It is, therefore, conceivable that one's faith might be immature because of the incompleteness of his knowledge of the Word which produces the faith he holds. However, as he grows in knowledge accordingly will he grow in faith, and correspondingly will his opinions become fewer and weaker in the area of religious thought. It isn't wrong to hold and cherish any opinion which does not conflict with clearly revealed truth. But while holding and cherishing that opinion, though frankly avowing it as the occasion might suggest, yet never is it to be
pressed to the injury of the church of the Lord. Barton W. Stone held some views which were not regarded as "orthodox" on the subject of the Trinity. Alexander Campbell was rather severely criticized for fellowshipping Stone on this account. Stone held them in abeyance, and, as I recall, his interest in them gradually ceased. R. H. Boll was a staff writer for the Gospel Advocate at one time. He was regarded as a young writer with much promise. He began to speculate on the subject of the millennium. He was appealed to hold his views as his own, and not force them on brethren. At first he agreed to, but failed to ab' de by such an understanding. Moses E. Lard expressed some views on the same subject, but with the distinct qualification that he was only stating a theory, and thus not binding any doctrine on others as touching the matter. The difference between the attitude and course of these two is clearly discernible. Lard never pressed his views to the disturbing of the church; Boll ruptured the church in many places through his persistent agitation of the question, and the cleavage remains until this hour.
When the opinion began to take form among our brethren of the last century to the effect that instrumental music was permissible in the worship, there were those who, opposed such a view. With them it was not a matter of opinion but a matter of faith. That is, they sought to walk by faith rather than by opinion, and since they sought to please God, and without faith it is impossible to please him," they rejected this principle of walking by opinion. A great, prolonged, and oftentimes bitter controversy followed its introduction into the congregations. In 1870 Isaac Errett wrote in the Christian Standard that: "Our own course is clear. We shall advise our brethren everywhere for the sake of peace and from a reverential regard to one of the noblest lessons of Christian brotherhood, to discard the use of instruments in the churches. At the same time we set ourselves most decidedly against all attempts to create divisions in churches on the ground of differences in regard to an expedient. The law which binds it on us to please our neighbor for his own good is not more imperative than that which forbids us to judge our brother in regard to the rights of others, and an equally sacred regard to the conscience of others possess us, and we shall master the difficulties of this question." Be it noted that Errett viewed the use of the instrument in the worship as an expedient, and thus while acceptable to him, personally, he advised against its use, and that it be discarded from the churches! Of course his advice was disregarded! The ground on which he rested this position was that of regard for the peace of the church and the consciences of brethren who believed that the use of instruments of music in the worship were without Divine approval. Ho merits the admiration of all for this course of magnanimity chosen by him in relation to the crisis then existing.
If Errett had considered the use of the instrument to have inhered in the term Psallo, he could not have followed this course, for then its use would have been mandatory, as stated by 0. E. Payne. But regarding it as merely an "expedient," he recognized it as dispensable, and its non-use far preferable to the ill-effects wrought by its use -the broken hearts and broken fellowship of the saints of God, all from holding and contending for a mere opinion.
Sectarianism is the product of human opinions, when such opinions are elevated to the plane of faith. It is a matter of faith that immersion is baptism, and that it is for the remission of sins. It is a matter of opinion, with many, that sprinkling is baptism also, and that baptism is not essential to, forgiveness of sins. It is a matter of faith, because the Word of God teaches it, that the Holy Spirit works in conversion through the word; it is an opinion held by many, because of their ignorance of or unbelief in the teaching of the scriptures, that the Holy Spirit works apart from the Word and directly on the sinner in effecting his conversion. It is a matter of faith, because the scriptures so teach, that the church is able and sufficient to do the work that God ordained it to accomplish ; it is a matter of opinion that the church needs the human expedients identified with human institutions to accomplish this work. It is a matter of faith that churches in the time of the apostles helped needy saints, and not only their own but other churches in distress where the need exceeded the ability of such church. It is a matter of opinion that the church can and should erect, support and maintain institutions of a benevolent nature to relieve the needs of men generally. It is a matter of faith that in New Testament times congregations sent directly to the support of the preacher; it is a matter of opinion held by many that a congregation can elect itself to be a sponsoring church to receive and disburse funds for other congregations in the accomplishment of the mission of preaching the gospel to the lost of the world. It is a matter of faith that each congregation is wholly independent, and capable of doing its own work; it is the opinion of many that it cannot effectively function apart from being a contributing church to the pooled and centralized operations of brotherhood programs.
In a recent editorial in the Firm Foundation, the editor tells us that we have a right to disagree, and that possibly one of the reasons for the Lord requiring a plurality of elders was that "different points of view (opinions) might be brought into play in a given situation." He further states that disagreement is healthy, but that disfellowship is deplorable. With this statement I would disagree-that is, that disagreement is healthy. So I suppose, he would think my disagreeing with him on this statement is healthy! With the next ' that disfellowship is deplorable, I agree. But who has fostered and exercised disfellowship, and on what grounds? Brother Lemmons laments the broken fellowship over opinions, and I fervently join in the lamentation. But whose opinions are being projected and made the terms on which fellowship is tendered or withdrawn? When brethren take the position that these present differences are matters of opinion, and then insist that all must accept their opinion on these issues and accede to their practices as founded on these opinions, then they have elevated their opinions to the level of faith, and thus become the creators of a human creed. This inevitably will eventuate into a human denomination just as has the socalled Disciples church, which came into existence through the contention over and a contending for their opinions in the organization and worship of the church.
A sad, but obvious, truth is that when opinions are thus elevated, the effect is the inevitable debasement of faith. To bring an opinion into the realm of faith is to drive faith into the realm of opinion. Witness those items of faith formerly held by our one-time digressive brethren which have degenerated into the position of insignificant opinions-such as baptism for the remission of sins. Today there may still be a few who regard this doctrine as a matter of faith, but generally among them those who favor the idea regard it as but an opinion on a par with its contrary view.
Reverting to the contention of the editorial above mentioned to the effect that disagreement is healthy, we would suggest that if this were true the apostle was entreating the Corinthians to become unhealthy in I Cor. 1:10. While recognizing that men do differ, yet there is no necessity for or justification for differences among brethren. The more enlarged and mature becomes one's knowledge of and faith in God's Word, the less reliance does he attach to either his or another's opinions, and consequently the less disposed to contend for his own or against another's. However, to decline to accept the opinion of another is not a sin. If an apostle could give it as his opinion, his considered judgment, and as one who had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful, that in the then present distress it was better for those unmarried to not marry, and yet concede that should any marry they would not in so doing sin, it ill-behooves any today to require submission to their opinion on the penalty of sin. I can hardly think the opinion of an eldership is of more force or merit than one voiced by Paul (I Cor. 7:25-28), and to see brethren submitting to those who profess such powers renders less incredible the fact that millions believe in the infallibility of the Papacy.
There is no opinion I hold, whatever it may be, that holding it will carry me to Heaven, and relinquishing it will send me to Hell; and, this being true, it ill-befits me to seek its imposition on others or to allow theirs to be imposed on me. Let us, therefore, hold or relinquish as we see fit those cherished opinions that are ours, but never, never contend for them as bonds of union and terms of communion between Christians.
Truth Magazine, V:3, pp. 7-10