By Ron Halbrook
(EDITOR’S NOTE: For the Preface to this series of articles, please see the Introductory article in the Sept. 20th issue of Truth Magazine).
POINT 4: Our brother’s writing on restoration thought which appeared in the 1968-69 Guardian is replete with quotations from H. W. Everest, J. Z. Tyler, Isaac Errett, J. S. Lamar, W. T. Moore, and John S. Sweeney (G.G., Vol. 20, Nos. 8, 39, 41, 43; Vol. 21, Nos. 1,8,9,10,11,12). There is only occasional notice of or quote from the “anti-progressives.” The various articles were more than mere historical reports; they included admonitions, based largely on quotations from these men, that we (1) grow more, (2) put emphasis on the right things, (3) avoid unwritten creeds, (4) “restudy (the) entire subject” of “Christian unity,” and (5) avoid “slavish uniformity.” After some Observations on History, we shall notice specific points-points which undermine Bible authority-which our brother has asserted. We shall consider “Christian Unity-Second Thoughts,” What Shall We Emphasize? John Locke or Jesus Christ? and What All Do We Need Authority For?
REVIEW: Observations on History. The brethren quoted thought such things as instruments, church-sponsored recreation, and centralization, along with other additions to God’s Word, are matters of lawful opinion, allowable inference, and liberty in Christ-as our brother occasionally noted, without registering disagreement (as Vol. 21, No. 27). These brethren included such practices in “growth,” and they thought “Christian unity” wouldn’t be disturbed thereby. Effective opposition to such things was considered creation of unwritten creeds, “theological hairsplitting,” and “slavish uniformity.”
If these brethren were right, then let’s fearlessly say so! The Creaths, Tants, Hardings, Sewells, Lipscombs, and a host of others charged the above brethren with drifting from the New Testament pattern, denominationalizing the church, and apologizing for apostasy. If the Creaths, Sewells, etc., were wrong, let’s fearlessly say so. We worship at the shrine of no men. Neither list of men formed a Pantheon of gods which we fear to desecrate. And, we’re glad to have all the truth they can point out.
Here is the point. The Isaac Errets, etc., are the men who promoted innovation, violation of divine silence, and addition to God’s Word. Naturally they interpreted their practices as harmless opinion. Naturally they said such was their liberty. Naturally they thought their liberal movement should not be opposed and should not disturb fellowship. They pitched their tents toward the great city of Denominationalism and soon were camped right in the middle of it. Brother J. W. MeGarvey wrote Brother Sewell in later life to admit his attempted middle-of-the-road approach was a failure on the instrument in worship.
It is striking that our brother can write nearly a dozen articles on the restoration effort without a single attempt to report that a great digression and apostasy leading back to denominationalism occurred. How can true restoration history be reported without the great digression receiving emphatic notice? Was there no digression to report – only periodic squabbles over bad attitudes, but no sinful apostasy from the ancient order in the work, worship, and organization of the church??? The digressive “lights” are quoted and reported on as though they maintained the original principle of speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent. Is it not historically true, whether various positions be analyzed and reviewed or not, that a great failing away occurred just as happened after New Testament times? Those who would learn from history so as not to repeat its mistakes will gain insight into today’s sinful apostasy by giving careful attention to yesterday’s similar occurrences.
It appears our brother sees much light in the midst of the darkness of digression, in that he constantly quotes the digressives and omits emphasis to the digression. If be is not putting light for darkness, we desire with all our being to learn that he isn’t. If he isn’t falling victim to the very arguments by which the liberals hoped to foil effective opposition, we must depend on his clarification to learn it. Our interest is not merely historical, but practical, since the modern movement away from the New Testament order uses these same arguments. Our interest is not to brand our brother; we all brand ourselves by the stands we take. Our interest is centered around concern for our brother, and those he teaches, in view of the fact that thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and principles do have consequences. (* Ed says that when he was in Fla. College, he thought his instructors indicated that books by Tyler, Errett, etc. would give him a balanced view of restoration history; he might have given conservatives more notice if it weren’t for this. On the other hand, he said he doesn’t subscribe to the view that men like Errett prepared the way for complete overthrow of Bible authority by their teaching; they were a “totally different breed” from those who don’t respect Bible authority. Ed doesn’t seem to understand that the kind of teaching these men did, and he is doing, does have disastrous consequences!)
“Christian Unity-Second Thoughts. ” In G.G., Vol. 20, No. 8, J.Z. Tyler is quoted in asserting it is not “strictly true that the Bible is the basis upon which we are to unite.” From this, our brother develops three notable points. (1) Our unity is, strictly speaking, in Christ rather than upon the Bible. (He says in Vol. 21, No. 1, that not “even the plainest New Testament teachings are the basis of unity . . .”) (2) Correct understanding does not belong to the subject of our unity in Christ. (3) John 17, 1 Cor. 1:10ff, 2 Jn. 9, and Eph. 4 do not require unity of understanding on any subject.
The Bible is the voice of Christ to us – his word given through his personal ambassadors Un. 12:48; 2 Cor. 5:20; Matt. 16:19; Jn. 10). Surely no one believes the Bible is Christ or Christ is the Bible; they are as distinct as are the Father and the Bible, and as the Spirit and the Bible. But, to talk about being united in Christ rather than upon the Bible sounds like the old, uncertain trumpet call of the denominations: the Man, not the Plan.
To unite upon the Bible is to unite in Christ. When Christ said, “Follow me” and “go thou and preach the kingdom of God,” was the hearer expected to obey Christ or his word – which? (Lk. 9:59-69) Imagine the poor fellow trying to decide whether to unite on the Man or the Plan! Imagine him trying to unite with Christ and his disciples by uniting “around Christ and in him” without uniting on the command Christ gave. Would this be “harmonious variety?” God will judge us through Christ, and Christ will judge us through his words (Acts 17:31; Jn. 12:43). Rejecting his words is equivalent to rejecting him, obeying his word to obeying him, and uniting upon his word to uniting in him.
Now, consider points (2) and (3) above. Christ prayed that his apostles might be both “mine and thine,” be filled with joy and kept from evil, and set apart-“sanctified”-unto God (Jn. 17:10-17). The pressures of the world would be great, but the power of God to reserve and unify His own would be greater. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” The same word of truth, which would reserve and unify His apostles, would be sufficient to preserve and unify all who would believe the Apostles’ preaching. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they may all be one” (vv. 17-211. God’s own are both called and kept, unified and preserved “through thy truth: thy word is truth.” Divine truth understood, believed, and practiced–does belong “to the subject of Christian unity, as such, based on such passages as John 17, 1 Cor. 1:10ff, 2 John 9; 11, or Eph. 4. “
The Corinthians had to understand spiritual gifts in the light of their Giver, purpose, diversity, and endurance (1Cor. 12-14). They had to understand that exalting human wisdom in preacher-worship undermines the gospel (chapt. 1). The relation between Christ’s resurrection and ours had to be understood (chapt. 15). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper had to be restored (chapt. 11). Failing to “discern the Lord’s body” would result in “damnation.” “For this cause many are weak and sickly . . . and many sleep” (vv. 27-20). Spiritual death was creeping in where life had been. Some were failing from grace. The “church” would not be “of God'” long if they failed to hear, Understand, sorrow, repent, and do works meet for repentance. In this context, Paul appeals for brethren to “speak the same thing”-to remember “my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” (1. 10; 4:17). The truth Paul taught was “in Christ;- Corinth needed to unite upon it and in him.
In Vol. 21, No. 1, our brother says the “Man versus Plan” idea is “an unscriptural distinction between Christ and His teachings.” He adds, “It is right to emphasize the teaching of the, New Testament Scriptures in dealing with the matter of unity” so long as one doesn’t neglect or overlook “Christ’s role” in unity. But in the same place he does himself recognize the very distinction he disavows. He suggests the Philippian jailor may never have “enjoyed the benefit and blessing of additional instruction” after primary obedience in baptism. That primary obedience “embraced everything that was absolutely essential,” so the jailor could have lived the rest of his life with the man and without one iota of the plan of “additional instruction.” Our Lord never taught such a thing nor authorized us to do it. This Man without the Plan could have resulted in nothing but death (Jn. 15; 1 Pet. 2: 1-2; Matt. 28:20). The plain teachings of the New Testament are the basis of unity, for through them – and only through them – can we maintain our vital relationship with our Savior.’
What Shall We Emphasize? As already noted, Vol. 20, No. 8 and Vol. 21, No. 1 inform us we should not so much emphasize the Bible (New Testament teaching), but should emphasize Christ. In Vol. 21, No. 3, we are told, “Those who led the nineteenth century Reformation in this country” did not place “their emphasis in restoration . . . (on) the Church itself,” but on “Gods Word . . . especially in the beginning of their work, as the all sufficient canon of orthodoxy, unity, and communion.” After being told to shift our real emphasis from the Bible to Christ. now we are told the importance of shifting our emphasis from the church to the Bible. Not the church, but the Bible; not the Bible, but Christ.
The truth is, when the gospel was preached by inspired men in the 1st century, both the Man and the Plan were preached – with emphasis on the Son of God who gives the Word of God and thus has absolute authority over the People of God in all the affairs of spiritual service. The church and the Bible and the Christ. Our “emphasis in restoration” preaching, i.e. gospel preaching, must be on the absolute authority of the Son, the all-sufficiency of the Word, and the distinctive characteristics of the People of God. Digressives, such as our brother quotes, are forever trying to figure out how to emphasize some part of the gospel without emphasizing all of it; is our brother getting on the merry-go-round with them? Let us all determine, as Paul, to shun not “to declare . . . all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
John Locke or Jesus Christ? In Vol. 21, No. 3, some excellent quotes of pioneer preachers are given. Their plea was “that the Church of Christ . . . should resume that original unity, peace, and purity which belong to its constitution, and constitute its glory” and should “conform to the model and adopt the practice of the primitive Church, expressly exhibited in the New Testament.” They thought the “authority of Scripture” and “the idea of the ancient church as a model for all time … went together and were a natural pair.”
“. . . Thomas Campbell assumed that ‘when once the principle of the sufficiency of the divine standard and model-the church of the New Testament-has been accepted, and men begin to inquire in its pages as to what is the will of God concerning his church, they will all at once fall upon the same self-evident truths of faith and practice. In this assumption, Campbell was essentially proposing his solution to the problem of disunity among professing Christians. He was suggesting unity by conformity. “
Our brother adds this explanation,
“. . . Campbell’s reasoning was partly obligated to the idea of ‘natural law, and particularly to the philosophy and reasoning methods of John Locke of England. Campbell did not approach the subject of Christian unity from the standpoint … used with other topics: i.e. to see what the New Testament itself had to say on the topic. He did not … develop a Biblical theology here. . . . “
(* I pointed out to Ed that I read the entire set of The Christian Baptist in the past year. His statement that the Campbell’s did not go to “the New Testament itself” to see what it said on “the subject of Christian unity” is totally in error. There are numerous articles in The Christian Baptist, the Campbell’s first magazine, dealing with unity from the New Testament viewpoint. When I told him this, he was, as Martin Luther once said, “silent as the fishes.”)
Locke’s “natural law” theory said man was in “original purity” before civil government began; man was endowed with natural rights, some of which were given up to civil government. He surmised that if government became oppressive, men may dissolve it and take back all their rights. He also said these propositions were “self-evident” and all could see them to be true without benefit of closely reasoned proof. Two basic points emerge: (1) the concept that man’s original state establishes standards, patterns, or norms of conduct, and (2) the concept that these propositions will be self-evident to all who look into the book of human nature.
How is the idea of patterning the church after the Bible model based on Locke’s philosophy? Is it because of the emphasis given to the church’s original state as our pattern today? There may be a coincidence of ideas, or even an increased interest in the original state of the church under the influence of the widespread interest in the original state of man. One is a spiritual interest, the other political. This won’t prove the restoration plea is based on Locke. The plea for men “to conform to the model and adopt the practice of the primitive Church” is based on the headship of Christ, the perfection of the apostolic teaching, and the all-sufficiency of Scripture (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22; Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The work, worship, and organization of the church were among the things, which the Lord himself perpetuated (1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 2:2; Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5; 1 Tim. 3:15). A return to the original teaching and model of the church, as “expressly exhibited in the New Testament,” is the only “solution to the problem of disunity among professing Christians.” This is “Biblical theology,” not natural law theory. This is not what John Locke had to say, but “what the New Testament itself had(s) to say.”
Is the objection that Locke gave the idea of “Self-evident truths ‘? Locke’s idea of self-evidence was apparently based on his inability to produce real evidence for his assumptions and philosophy. The divine model of the church can be understood by all who first learn “the principle of the sufficiency of the divine standard and model.” if men learn the all-sufficiency of the divine order, inquire in the Bible “as to what is the will of God,” and lay aside human speculation, they will be united in “faith and practice.” But, Locke’s idea of assumed principles is far removed from the idea of teaching men Biblical principles of divine authority that lead to unity in faith and practice.
Thus, we do not need a new frontier of discovering what the Bible teaches on unity, except in the sense that we should constantly examine what we preach in the light of God’s Word. The principle of establishing unity by conforming to God’s standard of teaching is valid, has been preached before, and comes from Jesus Christ, not John Locke. (* I never could get Ed to specify exactly what has been borrowed from Locke. In fact, he told me he wasn’t really familiar with Locke’s philosophy! I’ve read this statement on borrowing from Locke from liberal Christian Church writers and wonder if Ed picked it up from them, instead of from a careful comparison of Locke, the Campbells, and Scripture.)
What All Do We Need Authority For? In Vol. 2 1, No. 5, we are told that “everything not authorized in scripture was to be put out of the church,” according to pioneer gospel preachers. “. . . their reason for this was that such unauthorized practices” create “disunity,” when they are forced on those who object. Such “unauthorized practices” were not considered “condemning in themselves. ” So, though “human standards of orthodoxy” were opposed and condemned when they blocked unity, they were not wrong for those who could maintain unity along with their human traditions. Our brother says, “the wrong-unless-authorized concept” later “came to be regarded as a guide for positive action” and “a standard of orthodoxy.” Thus, tests of fellowship don’t need to be authorized except when they are a problem in blocking unity in a particular situation.
Why do tests of fellowship need to be authorized at any time in the first place? Because only Christ has authority to institute terms of fellowship. Certainly, yielding to those terms does result in unity-unity on the terms of Bible teaching, the teaching of Christ. The institution of such tests is a “positive action” and thus those who act under Christ as Head must have a thus-saith-the-Lord. When the church institutes “positive action” in its work, worship, and organization, it still must act under Christ as Head and therefore have a thus smith-the-Lord. Since Christ has all authority, all religious activity must be approached by asking, “What does Christ say?” When this is done, unity results. When human traditions are embraced, (1) we stand condemned for acting without divine authority (Eph. 1:22; Matt. 28:18), and (2) unity may or may not be disturbed, depending on how many accept the traditions. Not only when alienated brethren are seeking unity, but in all religious activity whatever, the question of authority for what we do is basic.
We appeal in love for our brother’s clarification-not because he is expected to answer every question a person might imagine, but because he has apparently already publicly taught positions, which undermine Bible authority, i.e. Christ’s authority.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 48, pp. 5-9
October 11, 1973