By Connie Adams
Division over the work, nature and organization of the church is a reality. It did not come about suddenly but did come throughout this land and has spread to other nations beyond the seas. Every right thinking child of God wishes this tragedy had been averted and longs for unity based upon the word of God. The Psalmist praised the pleasantness of unity among brethren (Psa. 133:1). Jesus prayed for the oneness of all believers in him (Jn. 17:17-21). Paul outlines the disposition which endeavors to “keep the unity of the spirit” and gave seven foundation stones upon which such unity is to be built and maintained (Eph. 4:1-16).
Yet, the word of God warned that some would not be content to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9-11). Paul said, “some shall depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). He told the Ephesian elders that some would “speak things to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Those who would pervert the gospel of Christ are “accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9). It is possible to “wrest the scriptures” to the destruction of those so employed (2 Pet. 3:16).
Worse Than Division
While division among the people of God is deplorable, there is one thing worse than division and that is unity in error. When departures from the faith come, we could be united in the departure and all be lost together. Followers of truth cannot long remain in unison with followers of error. The New Testament is clear that promoters of error are to be marked and opposed (Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3:9-11; 1:9-11). Unity in error compromises the truth of God and leads to everlasting ruin. Every saint is a trustee of the faith “once delivered” and is charged to “contend” for that sacred body of teaching (Jude 3-4).
When Issues Arise
What are godly people to do when issues arise which threaten to divide brethren? Shall the issue be ignored in the hope that it will somehow go away? That will not work. It never has. Shall we wait to see how many will stand on one side or the other and then cast our lot with the majority? Shall we make our decision based on what great and good men think about it? Shall we support a position on the ground that “we have always done it this way?” Surely, these are false standards. We suggest some simple but basic rules to help us in such times:
(1) Respect the authority of the Scriptures. “Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Let no man be honored “above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). We must also respect the silence of God. Where God did not speak, we have no authority to eat.
(2) Believe that Scripture can be understood. The Lord addressed his word to our understanding. We are challenged to understand “what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). We are to “read” the “words” written by an inspired man that we might “understand” (Eph. 3:2-4).
(3) Handle aright the word of truth. The word of God must be studied in context. We have preached this over and over to the denominational world for years, and rightly so. But the instruction of 2 Timothy 2:15 falls with equal weight upon us all. We must consider all that the Bible says on a subject. If more than one passage deals with a matter, then honest study requires that we regard the sum total of all God said about it before reaching a conclusion.
(4) Resolve to follow whatever course truth demands, What is the benefit of finding truth on any given subject unless we are determined to accept it, regardless of the cost. We must be as the man who found the pearl of great price and sold all he had in order to obtain it (Matt. 13:45-46).
(5) Stand for truth without bitterness. We do not have to hate a brother who had not as yet seen what we have seen in the word of God. If brethren become enemies because of our stand for truth, then we are challenged by the Lord to love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us (Matt. 5:43-46).
The Danger of the Closed Mind
When one has closed his mind to any alternative other than the one he has chosen, then it is very easy for him to see and yet not see, to hear and yet not hear. In the time of Ezekiel, “certain of the elders of Israel” came before him. The Lord told Ezekiel that they had “set up their idols in their hearts” and then warned: when men come to seek God’s will with such idols in the heart, “I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols” (Ezek. 14:1-5). Jesus warned of those whose hearts were “dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed” (Matt. 13:15). The church at Laodicea was blind to its faults and needed “eyesalve” that it might see (Rev. 3:18). Perhaps the most sobering warning of all was stated by Paul to the Thessalonians when he said, “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Anything less than a sincere love for the truth opens the door of the heart to deception and delusion leading to everlasting destruction.
In a parable of the sower, Jesus said “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Lk. 8:15). In the study before us in this special issue, we appeal to brethren with honest and good hearts to consider what is presented. “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
Since the division of the 1950’s and 1960’s over the work, nature and organization of the church, most brethren on either side of the division have had little communication with each other. While prejudices and old bitterness linger in the hearts of some, there is a new generation on the scene today which might be able to look at these issues more objectively and with less danger of rancor than was true of some in the past. Whether you consider yourself a “liberal,” “conservative,” “middle-of-the-roader” or scorn all such labels, we simply ask you to give this material fair and honest consideration. Through all these years, during and after the division, we have not personally stopped reading what brethren on the other side of have had to say. We receive bulletins and periodicals from those who are now estranged from us and we read them. We have never written them angry notes demanding to be removed from their mailing lists, nor removed one of them from ours just because they reviewed something we had to say. We have always been willing to study both publicly and privately with those of the contrary persuasion. Our personal files are full of correspondence with many brethren over these years which bear evidence to truth of that statement. We have met with one or more preachers with whom we differed for frank but reasonable discussions. We have never slammed the door on such discussions, not even public debates, when they were conducted under fair and equal arrangements. That remains our disposition to the present hour (Searching the Scriptures, [Aug. 1978], pp. 152-153).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, pp. 386, 409-410
July 5, 1990