By Charley Alexander, James Moore, J.D. Harris
As elders of the church of Christ in West Columbia, TX, we offer this article with some reluctance, not wishing to be the focal point of controversy among brethren. We try to oversee the work of the church here quietly, without fanfare. We are surprised to learn that our efforts to oversee the process of financially supporting preachers here and elsewhere has become a topic of discussion among some brethren. While ultimately we are accountable only to the Lord for our local work, when questions arise we are “ready always to give an answer . . . with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 5:4; 3:15).
In October 1993 we wrote all twenty-one preachers with whom we have a working relationship and asked them to answer some Bible questions on Bible issues relative to what they are preaching. Most of these men gave sound Bible answers, but two say we have written a human creed. This was purely a local effort to fulfill our duties as overseers (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). We initiated no effort to publicize our Bible questions, but as the news spread we received commendations, requests for copies of the questions, and other inquires. Somehow the story is growing and changing as it travels. Several versions have come back to us including the report that we wrote out a creed and asked preachers to sign it, and that we sent this creed to churches telling them what to believe. We want to set the record straight.
Bible Background to Our Question
The inspired Apostles teach us to give attention to specific issues and questions. Sometimes the problems and issues were localized and sometimes they were spreading from region to region (1-2 Cor.; 1-2 Pet.; Rev. 2-3).”The apostles’ doctrine” included general admonitions on godly living and specific teaching on current issues of the day. We are taught to give attention to the same principles and categories of truth (Acts 2:42; Phil. 4:9). By teaching this pattern of truth, the Apostles taught first-century Christians to distinguish between those who adhered to this standard and those who departed from it (Phil. 3:15-19; 4:9). The early saints were taught to pose specific questions on current issues and to test the answers against divine revelation (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 In. 4:1-6).
Both elders and preachers are especially admonished to “watch. ” We must watch for danger signs, watch to sound a warning where needed, and watch to do everything possible to see that the truth is taught at all times (Acts 20:28-32; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). One expedient way to fulfill this duty is to ask those with whom we are fellow laborers questions regarding their stand on current issues. This may be done face to face in formal meetings, in informal conversations, by phone, or by correspondence. It may be done by asking one question or several questions, covering one issue or several issues. It may be done one time or any number of times, as the need arises.
Recent Background to Our Questions
This matter of asking questions is not new to us or to brethren generally, although the exact format we used may be new to some brethren. We have asked preachers questions on many occasions for one reason or another. It was common for us to inquire what positions preachers were taking during the rise of institutionalism. When we inter-viewed one man by phone about the possibility of preaching here, we asked about his stand on the institutional issues. He said he could preach these matters either way and inquired which answers we preferred. We looked further.
In recent years as troubling issues have arisen and as some beloved and respected brethren have drifted, we have become more and more convinced of the importance of asking questions. Our experience with Don Givens shows the wisdom of asking questions, and repeating them after a period of time. We helped send him to Hawaii and then found out a few years later he was teaching error on divorce and remarriage. We had been reading his reports and appeals for extra help, but we would have been wise to have repeated some questions after awhile. What we said then still applies now:
We are sharing the following information for the sole purpose of urging brethren everywhere to be as careful and cautious as possible in supporting gospel preachers from the church treasury. The information we are sharing makes us painfully aware of how important it is to know what is being taught with the Lord’s money.
When brethren are asked to send and support a preacher somewhere, there should be no hesitation on the church’s part in asking or on the preacher’s part in declaring what will be taught (see our article, “A Plea for Care in Using the Lord’s Money,” Guardian of Truth, 7 May 1992, pp. 272-73).
We believe the same principle applies to all preachers with whom we have a working relationship. “There should be no hesitation on the church’s part in asking or on the preacher’s part in declaring what will be taught.”
Asking Direct Questions
Though our questions covered several topics, more dealt with marriage, divorce, and remarriage than with anything else. The questions were simple and direct, not trick questions. The preface to the questions and the eight questions on marriage appear below in order to illustrate our format:
What Saith The Scripture? (Romans 4:3)
The following questions are designed to clarify what you believe the Bible teaches on a number of matters. Our purpose is not to create a creed, because we recognize that the New Testament itself reveals the pattern of sound words, and we can neither add to it nor subtract from it. Neither do we consider this list final or exhaustive, because there may be other questions which we will want to discuss at some point. These are questions which are commonly discussed among brethren from time to time, and we do not believe you will be hesitant or embarrassed to “give an answer” as to your convictions on these questions (1 Pet. 3:15).
Although you will probably find that a simple YES or NO will suffice on most questions, feel free to add any comment. If you cannot answer YES or NO on one, please explain why. We will be glad to discuss further any question in person.
6. Do you teach that God’s marriage law requires one man for one woman for life, the only exception being that a mate who is morally pure may divorce his wife for fornication and marry a new mate?
7. Does God allow the innocent party to put away his mate if she commits fornication?
8. In such a case, does God allow the innocent party to marry another person?
9. In the same case, does God allow the guilty party to marry another person while the first mate still lives?
10. Does God have the same marriage law for both saints and sinners?
11. Do people who enter marriage contrary to God’s marriage law commit adultery as they continue sexual cohabitation in an unscriptural marriage?
12. If people enter a marriage contrary to God’s law, does repentance require them to get out of that unscriptural marriage?
13. If a believer is deserted by an unbeliever, where there has been no immorality, is the believer free to marry a new mate on the ground of desertion alone?
If there is a problem, we prefer to know it up front so we can resolve it scripturally, rather than waiting until damage has already been done. Our questions are designed to “red flag” subjects which we may need to discuss further with someone, but are in no sense designed to be final, a standard of truth, a basis of union, or authoritative in any other way. A cover letter stated we hoped to confirm that “every single man with whom this church has fellowship continues to walk in the `old paths’ of divine revelation.” Critics object this sounds like our questions are a summary of truth as the very basis of unity. Our true meaning seems clear in context but to avoid misunderstanding, if we use the letter again, we will say, “These questions are one of several methods we use to confirm and demonstrate that every single man with whom this church has financial fellowship continues to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). As elders we have selected some questions related to current problems among brethren.” The introduction to the questions already states that this list is not “final or exhaustive.”
We do not apologize for expecting and demanding that only the gospel of Christ and all of the gospel of Christ be taught in our local program of work and wherever we support men to preach (1 Cor. 2:2; Rom. 1:16; 15:19; Gal. 1:8-9). We are open to study and will discuss any subject with anyone at any time, but we are firm in our resolve not to support known error at any time! While false doctrine is creating compromise, turmoil, and division in many churches, we are diligently working to keep such dangers out of the church here and to avoid supporting men who spread such dangers elsewhere. In order to do that, we have the right to ask men we support what they preach on matters which trouble and subvert the souls of men (Acts 15:24; Gal. 1:7). We were impartial in asking all the men with whom we expect to have financial fellowship. If we had asked only certain men (foreign, domestic, those not known by face, etc.), we could have been charged with partiality. To prevent that misunderstanding, we asked every man on our meeting and regular support schedules the same questions, including the son of the one of the elders.
Our Opposition to All Human Creeds
Since some brethren charge that the elders at West Columbia have formed a creed, we want to make it very clear that we are adamantly and unalterably opposed to all human creeds! The battle cry of the gospel is, “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible” (1 Cor. 1:10; 2:2; 4:6; 14:37). The only authority in religion is the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 3). Anything more than the Bible as a standard of authority is too much, anything less is too little. Any creed, catechism, manual, rule of discipline, or other authoritative standard that claims to be the same as the Bible is unnecessary.
We decry any human document as a test for communion and fellowship, regardless of its origin. The Bible alone is the basis for unity with God and all faithful saints. We fully endorse every expression by brethren past and present in opposing human creeds. Gospel preachers have exalted the Bible and denounced human creeds throughout the years in the pulpit here, and such preaching is still being done. Our questions carry the heading “WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURE? (Rom. 4:3)” The preface begins by exalting the Bible as the only standard and also clearly states, “Our purpose is not to create a creed.” From the start, every question focuses on what “the Bible teaches.”
Evaluating Our Effort
Several methods may be used to learn where preachers stand including direct questions, third party information, reputation, tapes, or published materials. Whatever method we use, if we learn someone teaches error and decide not to work with him, we are subject to the charge of making a human creed as a bond of union and communion. If our effort is not put in writing, we will be charged with having an unwritten creed. Such charges have been made for years against faithful brethren by denominationalists, premillennialists, liberals, and men in the “new unity movement” like Carl Ketcherside. Such charges are unfounded but will be repeated anyway by some. We share the caution of sincere men who say questions must not become exact or exclusive codes for expressing the truth on any subject, nor limit the scope of the truth, lest they become creedal. The same is true of sermons and printed matter (bulletins, tracts, etc.).
We regret that one beloved brother refused to answer the questions and cancelled his meeting here. We offered to study and discuss the matter, and asked him to reconsider his cancellation, but he did not respond. Just as we have the right to use our best judgment in asking questions, anyone has the right to use his best judgment in accepting, rejecting, or canceling a meeting. Brethren may not be able to work together at times because of strong differences in judgment without charging each other with sin (Acts 15:36-41). If some cancel meetings rather than answer written questions, we hope it represents a mere difference of judgment and not a new creed which says there can be no fellowship with brethren who ask written questions.
One brother who disagrees with our effort said,
I appreciate your desire to stand for the truth and your efforts to never use the Lord’s money to support the preaching of any error.
Now you may be saying, “Should we not ask questions to find where one stands on certain issues?” You certainly may and should. And those asked should be ready to make a defense of the hope that is in them.
At this very time the enemies of God are actively waging a battle against the people of God, and all that is right and decent, and winning it!
Many elders continue to support men who are teaching error on the above subjects. They also continue to support preachers who will say nothing against these teachers of false doctrine on these subjects.
We are trying our best to heed the warnings and meet theobjectives stated by these good men. We are open to constructive criticism and suggestions on how to do a better job.
To keep all of this in perspective, we should emphasize that most reactions to our effort have been very under-standing and supportive. Nineteen of the twenty-one men we wrote saw simple Bible questions rather than a creed. Here are a few of the comments made by experienced gospel preachers who answered the questions without any problem:
1. Bill Cavender (has held many meetings here): “Good letter and questions. No one ought to object to them. All ought to be willing to state what they think and believe on any matter.”
2. Ernest A. Finley (was once our local preacher): “Be assured that I was not at all offended by the questions that you asked nor by the issues you raised. Rather, let me commend you for having the courage and conviction to raise them. I just wish there were more churches and elderships that stand where I know you stand.”
3. Bill Reeves (has preached for 50 years): “Given the times in which we live, and the fact that many preachers take advantage of the pulpit, to promote false doctrine, I can certainly appreciate your effort, in part by means of this questionnaire, to ensure that the church is being fed only sound doctrine.”
4. Ray Votaw (has been supported in South Africa by this church for many years): “I think I know enough about problems in the churches over there to see where you’re coming from in desiring this information. Thank you again for your `carefulness’ in all these matters including your `care’ for us.”
(Comment on question 6 about divorce and remarriage:) “I even preached this before King Sobrosa in Swaziland. He had 112 `wives. ‘
5. Dan Huddleston (came out of liberalism in recent years): “Thank you for sending these out and only sup-porting sound preachers who preach sound doctrine… . You know it is unpopular in many circles today to take such a stand for the truth. God will reward you for your efforts to both extend and defend His kingdom.”
Our own evaluation is that asking direct questions has been very effective, helpful, and reassuring in our program of work. We hope to close the communication gap with the few who mistook our effort, and to clear the air of any false rumors. We remain open to suggestions for improving our work.
(As a matter of courtesy, we were permitted to read in advance “Determining Soundness” by brother Connie W. Adams. It states our own views about as well as they can be stated. The strong biblical convictions expressed in his article are shared by our local evangelist and the church here generally. He held us an excellent gospel meeting in 1986 and we anxiously look forward to his return in 1997. We commend his article and his preaching to one and all.)
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 12, p. 5-7
June 16, 1994