Who is Binding Opinions?
For many years now we who are in the Lord's church have been seriously concerned with problems regarding church support of institutions operated by Christians, the "Sponsoring - church" type of cooperation, and other related questions. It is useless for anyone to act as the proverbial ostrich by hiding his head in the sand, and thus pretending there is no problem; or that it will run away if we ignore it. We might as well face the facts and do what we can to be at peace with brethren who will permit us to be at peace with God, and join battle with those who would do otherwise.
Attempts to Justify as Expedients
Since the time I first became aware of these problems among us, I have been hearing arguments made by those who advocated church support for institutions and the sponsoring-church type of cooperation, that these things are all just matters of expediency. These brethren would say no church had to send funds to some home or other institution, but insisted it was all right to do so if they deemed it expedient. The same was argued concerning the controversy over the centralized-control type of cooperative evangelism, benevolence, etc. This expediency argument was really just one horn of a trilemma. There were three possibilities, alternatives, or "horns" to be taken by the advocate of these practices: (1) They were lawful, but not necessary; (2) They were lawful and necessary; or (3) They were unlawful. If one contended they were lawful and essential he found himself in direct conflict with the history of the church and New Testament revelation. If it is argued these things are unlawful then one condemns himself by practicing such. The third alternative (horn) was seized as the logical defense for such practices, but, alas, this horn has impaled them as surely as either of the other alternatives would have done.
Let it be noted here that when speaking of church support of institutions, reference is made to donations from the treasury of the collective church (or any other collective contribution from the church) to boards of directors who, in turn, control and operate children's homes, homes for the aged, schools, hospitals, camps, etc. By the sponsoring-church type of cooperation I mean the pooling of the resources of many churches under the control of one church, which then performs a work of evangelism, benevolence, etc. unto which all contributing churches sustain equal responsibility. There is no record in the New Testament that such was ever done by churches in the apostolic period, nor that it should ever be practiced. There was no history recording such practices among faithful churches of the Lord until very recent time.
As time went by these brethren who desired to practice these things, and who had attempted to justify such practice by arguing they were merely expedients, insisted upon and pushed such actions to the point of dividing churches all over the land. It was only logical that they should be repeatedly embarrassed with the necessity of facing the question, "Why should the church be divided over an expediency?" It thus became necessary to find some sort of excuse for such practice, and a slogan, if possible, with which the excuse could seemingly be justified. As a result, the recent cry has been that some ("The Antis") have been trying to bind their opinions upon the church and making laws where God has made none. The say that since this is just a matter of opinion they are to have liberty to practice their opinions that we must not bind our opinions upon them by objecting to such activities.I must deny that these controversial matters are just matters of expediency and opinion. However, in this paper we shall note that even though expediency and opinion were all that were involved, these brethren would stand convicted by their actions in these matters. Their own arguments will be turned against them.
Definition of Terms
It would be good for each reader to make a brief study of the terms expedient and opinion. Briefly, Webster says an expedient is "1. That which is expedient; suitable means to accomplish an end." As synonyms he gives "Resource, resort, expedient, shift, makeshift, stopgap . . ." He further states that expedient applies "to any device or contrivance when the usual one is not possible or at hand . . ." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Sixth Edition, pp. 290 and 72 1-722. His definition of opinion is, "Belief stronger than impression, less strong than positive knowledge; a belief; view; judgment." He further states under synonyms that "Opinion, view, belief, conviction, persuasion, sentiment mean a judgment one holds as true. Opinion implies a having been thought out yet open to dispute . . ." op. cit., p. 589. Nothing could ever possibly be a "suitable means to accomplish an end" if that means is not lawful. Therefore, no act in spiritual matters can be expedient until it is first shown to be lawful.
Paul emphasizes the fact that sometimes even that which is lawful is not expedient; that even lawful things must be used in such a way as to edify (build up) in order to be expedient. "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not" (1 Cor. 10:23).
It so happens that in God's wisdom He saw fit to include in the New Testament two entire chapters that deal with the question of practicing that that is lawful, but not necessary, when such practice was not understood to be lawful by some. We shall note briefly the principles emphasized in these chapters, and would logically expect these principles to govern present-day attitudes when brethren argue for the right to do things on the grounds of expediency.
First Corinthians Eight
In the first seven verses of First Corinthians eight, a contrast is drawn between the actions of the man who acts on the basis of his knowledge but without the tempering quality of love, and the actions of the man who combines knowledge and love in his actions. Note the stress placed on the imperfections of the knowledge of any man in verse two. "And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (Emphasis mine, REF.)
There are many degrees of knowledge within the body of Christ, even on the subject of the Godhead!
In 1 Cor. 8:8-9, liberty in what is right is freely granted, but caution in using such liberty is commanded. "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak," verse 9. In verses 10-11, those strong in knowledge are encouraged to be aware of the consequence of insisting upon the practice of a liberty that would lead another who is weak to sin. Failure to show proper concern and proper realization of this fact is stated to be sin against the brethren and against Christ, verse 12. Now, what conclusion does the apostle reach? The true Christian who has knowledge and love will be determined not to offend his brother doing what is right but not necessary! Read verse 13.
Turn with me now to Romans 14:1-23. The question of eating meat or herbs, and the special observances (esteeming) of days is discussed. The one who eats meat or esteems days is not to despise the one who abstains from so doing. Neither is the one who abstains to pronounce judgment upon the other. The certainty of this is summed up in verses 10-13. "But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So Then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." God through Christ will take care of judgment.
Verse fourteen states a principle that is later re-emphasized in verses 20 and 23. That which is not unclean of itself is unclean for one who practices it while thinking it to be unclean. Verses 15-18 show the action required by one who really loves his weak brother and really desires to serve the Lord. If eating meat grieves my brother, I am not walking in love toward him by eating meats. Insisting upon eating meat may destroy him for whom Christ died. I am commanded not to do so, verse 15. Insistence upon practicing what is good (lawful and right) may cause my actions to be "evil spoken of." Partaking of meat and drink are so insignificant in the kingdom. "Righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost . . ." are truly significant, for serving Christ in these "is acceptable to God, and approved of men" (Verses 16-18).
We are thus commanded to "follow after things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." Verse 19. "For meat destroy not the work of God" (Verse 20). I can think of nothing for which it would be acceptable to destroy the work of God, a fellow Christian. Again now, what is the conclusion? I must be determined not to practice anything, even though it is right (lawful) which would cause my brother to stumble, to be offended, or made weak. "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak (Verse 21). If one has a strong belief concerning such a matter, it can be a matter between him and his God without being bound upon another. However, "Happy (blessed) is he that condemneth not himself in that thing he alloweth" (Verse 22). This is a cautious word of warning to the one who is sure in his own mind he is right.
Notice now the clear statement of fact. "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Verse 23). Note again verses 14 and 20. Brethren, we must not practice what we believe is wrong; yea, we must not practice what we doubt is right! To do so is sin for us, even if the thing in question is not unclean or evil. Neither are we allowed to practice things that are right, but which will in turn cause another in Christ to stumble, or be offended. To do so is to sin against our brother and Christ.
When Is One Offended?
When is one caused to stumble, or be offended? This is not "hurting the feelings" of some cantankerous one because he does not get his way about something, but who is not about to engage in the disputed act. It is causing in some way the participation by one in that which he believes to be wrong, or in that which he DOUBTS to be right. As stated by Romans 14:23, such action is sin to him. Such participation may be brought about simply by following the example set by another, or by one being pressured in some way (forced) into a practice by others.
Brethren, we are dealing with something more important than personality problems, whims, and fancies. Souls are at stake. Read again I Cor. 8:11-12; Rom. 14:13, 15, 20, and 23. We find words such as sin, evil, offend, stumble, fall, destroy, perish, etc. Eternal destiny for you and me is involved.
Now, how do these principles apply to our study? Even though the controversial things in question could be proved lawful, they could never be expedient when bound upon one who is convinced they are not lawful, or who doubts their legality.
What Causes Us to Divide?
Brethren have been in disagreement for many years over many questions without division over such matters. There is not agreement on the war question, the covering for women in public worship, and many other areas, but these have not caused us to divide. Why? Because each individual has been allowed freedom to believe and practice that which he believes on each such question. On the other hand, there are many questions that have caused problems to the point of division. Illustrative of these are mechanical instrumental music in efforts to worship; the missionary-society plan for churches in preaching the word; and the controversial matters already mentioned in this paper. Why have these caused division? Because these practices were brought into the activities of the collective church by the will of the majority being forced upon those who were convinced these actions were illegal. Those who were conscientiously opposed to these things were then forced to stifle their senses of right and wrong and sin by practicing what they believed to be sin, or they were forced to separate themselves from brethren who made such demands; brethren who did not love them, nor the Lord's church, enough to give up that which they claim to be only expedients!
Who Is Binding Opinions?
Who, then, is it that binds opinions in these controversies? Who bound opinions in the instrumental music controversy? How do we defend ourselves when we are so charged? We simply show from the scriptures what is right and cannot be wrong, and demand book, chapter, and verse to authorize any other practice. That is what many of us are still doing in these matters. Believing it is right to worship God with a mechanical instrument did not, and does not, divide the church. Insistence upon practicing such in the assembly of the saints did, and will continue to do so. Believing it is right for the church to support Boles Home, Shults-Lewis Home, Romeo Home for the Aged, or any other home will not divide brethren. Insistence upon sending the church's funds to such a home will. The same is true of cooperative ventures such as the Lubbock plan of preaching the gospel, the Herald of Truth, and Maude Carpenter Home as well as other homes under an eldership. Regarding the questions of church funds for any needy people of the world, placing the church in the social-recreational realm, and on and on ad infinitum, the same principle prevails.
We make these very definite assertions in conclusion. Those who are conscientiously opposed to the practices in question are not binding opinions. As individuals, those brethren who advocate these controversial things may practice such and no police action could, or would, stop them. (Note: There are many of us who would continue to try to show them the error in their reasoning by teaching the principles of truth found in the scriptures.) To demand and practice these things over the objections of those who are conscientiously opposed to them is to be charged by Paul with sin against the brethren and against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12). This is especially true when they admit them to be unnecessary for faithful service to the Lord. Such is a willful violation of the commandment of Paul to "follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (Rom. 14:19). Brethren, honesty demands that we admit that such as this verse demands, has not been the course of brethren in the last few years. If those who advocate these matters were right in their claims of expediency and opinion they would still be wrong because they are sinful in their practices and their attitudes. They are binding their opinions on brethren who have convictions in these matters. Therefore their own arguments have backfired upon them to condemn them.
I categorically deny that such practices are merely matters of expediency, opinion, and judgment. I stand ready to affirm my practice, or deny the lawfulness of those actions we have noted. There is no statement of fact, no commandment, no inspired example, and no necessary inference to sustain such. They cannot be expedient until they are first proved to be lawful. To paraphrase a slogan of yesteryear, let us be united in those things we can all do by faith; let us permit liberty unto all in those matters which are matters of opinion; and, in all things, may God help us to demonstrate fervent love for one another and for the church of Jesus, our Lord.
Truth Magazine VIII: 5, pp. 6-9 February 1964