"We Cannot Tell"

P. J. Casebolt
Paden City, West Virginia

The chief priests and elders could not answer a question concerning John's baptism, because no matter how they answered it, they would incriminate themselves. Therefore, they said, "We cannot tell" (Mt. 21: 2 7). The use of the word cannot did not imply that it was impossible for them to answer, but rather that they would not answer. In modern terminology, they were invoking the Fifth Amendment.

A certain preacher was sitting before his television set, watching the proceedings of a Congressional Hearing into organized crime. Witness after witness refused to answer the simplest questions by invoking the Fifth Amendment: "I refuse to answer on the grounds I might incriminate myself."

As the hearings droned on, the proceedings became so dull that the preacher fell asleep and began dreaming. He dreamed that he had been summoned before an august Council that had the authority to investigate the religious activities of certain preachers. He took the witness stand, and faced his questioners. He wasn't afraid, for he was "ready always to give an answer to every man" that asked him a "reason of the hope" that was in him.

The questioning began.

Q. "Do you preach for the church of Christ?"

A. "Yes."

Q. "Are you acquainted with the doctrines and practices of the Christian Church?"

A. "Yes, sir."

Q. "Have you ever condemned said church for such doctrines and practices??'

A. "Yes, sir."

Q. "Specifically, what doctrines and practices did you condemn?"

A. "I condemned them for innovations in doctrine, organization, and worship; the introduction of mechanical instruments of music in worship, the establishment of other organizations through which to do the work of the church, and the acceptance of other doctrines and practices which had their origin in denominationalism."

Q. "Did you also accuse them of causing division by the introduction of these things?"

A. "I most certainly did."

Q. "Have you preached sermons wherein you pointed out the differences that existed between the church of Christ and the Christian Church? "

A. "I have."

Q. "Do you still point out such differences in your preaching?"

A. "I do."

Q. "Specifically, what differences do you emphasize? "

A. "Well, there's the instrument of music..."

Q. "What else?"

A. "I can't think of anything else right off, but just because I haven't preached about these differences lately doesn't mean that they aren't still there."

Q. "How long has it been since you condemned some practice of the Christian Church other than the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship?"

A. "Let me see. I guess it has been ten or fifteen years."

Q. "Do you mean to tell us that the reason you haven't preached about these differences between the two groups is because the Christian Church has ceased doing those things which constituted said differences?"

A. "Oh, no. I suppose they still do the same old things they always did."

Q. "Could it be that the church of Christ has narrowed the 'difference gap' by adopting some of the same practices condemned in the Christian Church" (Rom. 2: 1-3)?

A. "I refuse to answer on the grounds that my answer might tend to incriminate me."

Q. "Do churches of Christ do their work through organizations other than the church; provide entertainment and recreation; build kitchens and fellowship halls; have preachers that wear titles; preachers that do the work of elders and deacons, observe religious and national holidays; and in general do things for which you condemned the Christian Church as recently as ten years ago?"

A. "I refuse to answer on the grounds that I not only might, but most certainly would incriminate myself if I answered that question. It's loaded."

Q. "Is there any division among churches of Christ over the things mentioned heretofore?"

A. "Yes, there is."

Q. "Who is guilty of having caused said division? "

A. "Those who objected to the introduction of said practices."

Q. "But in the case of the Christian Church, didn't you say that the ones who introduced instrumental music, missionary societies, etc. were the ones who caused the division?"

A. "That's right. They had no regard for their brethren, and introduced their "aids" and "expedients" over the protest of faithful brethren, causing division."

Q. "But, according to your reasoning, and the basis upon which you condemned the Christian church, aren't those of you guilty of causing the strife and division who have introduced these practices that divide you?"

A. "I refuse to answer on the grounds that . . .."

Q. "In other words, you don't condemn the Christian Church today because you are doing the same things they do?"

A. "No sir. We still don't have the instrument of music in worship, and we don't call our organizations Missionary Societies."

Q. "But, other than this, you're in the same position today that Christian Churches were twenty years ago?"

A. "Fifth Amendment."

Q. "Don't you think you should apologize to the Christian Church?"

A. "Same answer as before."

Q. "How will you account for your inconsistent attitude in the Judgment?"


A. "I refuse to answer. Now look here, I came before this Council voluntarily, and I didn't expect to be subjected to such abuse by a bunch of Antis and Hobby Riders. If you insist on continuing these embarrassing questions, I'll invoke the Fifth Amendment until that hot place I preach about freezes over."

About this time the preacher's wife awakened him from his dream, and asked him what he wanted for dinner. He awakened with a start, and blurted out, "I refuse to answer on the grounds...."

"What did you say?" asked his puzzled wife. "Have you been dreaming?"

"Oh, ha! ha. I was just making a joke about coffee grounds. Dreaming, did you say? That wasn't a dream, that was a nightmare."

Truth Magazine IX, 3: pp. 19-20
December 1964