Origin of the Issues
It becomes apparent when we discuss religion with one who differs with us that we must have common agreement in one area before proceeding to the next. For instance, it is necessary that we concur on the existence of God before we can discuss the divinity of his Son. We must then agree upon the divinity of Christ before we can discuss the validity of his word, and we must agree upon the validity of the word before we can discuss its teachings. Without common ground it is impossible to have a basis for argumentation.
For instance, I could discuss the Bible with a Roman Catholic more easily than with a Unitarian. The Catholic usually believes that the scriptures are inspired and infallible. The Unitarian usually believes that the Holy Scriptures are of human origin.
The current problems plaguing the Lord's church in recent years present just such a problem in communication. Brethren advocating church support of human institutions and "brotherhood elderships" are reluctant to discuss the matter from the word of God. The truth of the matter is that they cannot discuss the word of God with us, for they do not think of the scriptures as we do. We have two opposing attitudes toward the Bible.
It is difficult to determine whether the attitude was always present and resulted in the unscriptural practices, or whether the practices came first and brethren changed their attitudes and their preaching to fit the practices, which they refused to abandon when they found them not in harmony with the scriptures. I am of the persuasion that the two attitudes existed simultaneously for many years. One attitude resulted from sincere faith in God's word as the all-sufficient guide to heaven. Such passages as I Peter 4:11, II Cor. 5:7, Col. 3:17, I Samuel 3:9-10, Acts 10:33 reveal what attitude God intends for us to possess. It is the attitude that seeks divine authorization for all beliefs and practices. It is the attitude that we must have a "thus saith the Lord" for what we do religiously.
The other attitude developed in recent years, even as it did in the nineteenth century, among many converts who were brought into the church and never taught the full truth, and among congregations where preaching was weak and worldliness strong. It is the attitude that "I'll do what I want, what pleases me, and expect it to please God." It is an attitude that provides that Bible examples are never binding, and man is free to act in areas where God has not specifically prohibited us. This attitude developed the missionary societies and instrumental music in the last century. It finally resulted in the Christian Church. Today it is developing the benevolent and edification societies, sponsoring churches, and other arrangements. If pursued, it can only lead to the establishment of a denomination. The end result of such an attitude, taken to its logical extremity, involves a complete apostasy from God. Witness the liberal element of the Christian Church. Mark the "progressive" brethren of today who will soon leave the Christian Church far behind.
Thus we have two fundamentally different attitudes. Until we regain common ground, which appears unlikely, there can never again be the old scriptural discussions and debates. We have tried to get them to prove that the building and maintaining of benevolent institutions on the part of churches is in harmony with the scriptures. But how can we discuss such a matter from the scriptural viewpoint with men who do not believe it necessary to have scriptural authority? They cannot see the reason in our arguments; we cannot see the reason in theirs. We operate from two separate premises. So long as we have different attitudes toward God's word, agreement is impossible. And where there is no agreement, there can be no unity, for Amos truly said, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"
As to the solution of the problem, I certainly would not propose to offer one. It will surely be possible to find some of our brethren who basically desire to serve God and who do reverence his word sufficiently, who, when they are shown the error of their way, will abandon it and cleave to the truth. But I fear that in many cases we must admit that "Ephraim is joined to idols." However, let us be diligent in teaching those who remain to develop the proper attitude toward the Bible, and make application of that attitude in practices. Let us do so now while we have the opportunity. Let us especially teach our young folks and recent converts. If we may all, as Paul commands, "be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is," then perhaps we can prevent a repetition of this unnecessary tragedy.
Truth Magazine VI: 12, pp. 10-11