By Ron Halbrook
POINT 5: Our brother’s statement in the Aug. 3, 1972, Guardian is confusing, bewildering, and capable of leading souls into error. If anything ever needed clarifying, this does. Referring to an “Elder” S. N. McCann, our brother wrote, “The author worshipped with people known as German Baptist Brethren. He preached the gospel, the same gospel we hold forth today.” We are not anxious to charge our brother with anything; but we are anxious to learn what in all the world is meant by such a statement from the pen of one devoted to New Testament Christianity. Our brother having put such a statement in print, we plead with him to clarify in print whether he maintains the old gospel-doctrine distinction (or some modified form of it) and whether he really believes it is possible to embrace sectarianism and still preach, “the same gospel we hold forth today.”
REVIEW: Gospel-Doctrine Fallacy? Our brother and many readers are aware that some have taught that men receive saving grace through faith when they are baptized-this being “the gospel.” Then, men study the Bible and reach the conclusions which shape their practices-this being the realm of “doctrine.” The doctrine is not the gospel and the gospel is not the doctrine.
For instance, Carl Ketcherside says, “Not one apostolic letter is a part of the gospel” (Mission Messenger, Vol. 35, No. 6, p. 86; No. 2, p. 20). Within this realm of doctrine, men may embrace and teach premillennialism, use of instruments in worship, sectarian names, social gospel practices, centralization of churches, etc. This does not disturb fellowship with God and so should not disturb fellowship among brethren who accept and brethren who reject such things-unless one group charges sin because of innovation or the other group forces the innovation on brethren. Those following this view deny they are compromisers, because by their definition of “gospel” they have not compromised “the gospel.”
On the basis of this alleged distinction, “Elder” McCann preached “the gospel.” He understood that grace is received through faith as it moves one to baptism. Whatever he believed or taught about sectarian names and practices would not violate this “gospel.” If this distinction is behind our brother’s statement, then doubtless he had the same fallacy in mind in Vol. 21, No. 45 (p. 712); there he referred to 14 the gospel” which declares “God’s grace” and the “doctrine” which strengthens in faith and hope. At times, our brother seems to recognize that the term “doctrine” may refer to the “gospel,” but in such cases he seems to limit the meaning of both terms to that part of the gospel which involves primary obedience (Vol. 2 1, No. 44). Apparently-we purposely -use a word of doubt till he clears it up-our brother thinks the word “gospel” always refers to matters of primary obedience as distinguished from “the epistles” which are “another sort of apostolic teaching” (Ibid.).
The Bible does not teach either the strict “gospel-doctrine” distinction of Ketcherside, nor does it consistently limit the word “gospel” to matters of primary obedience. The Bible speaks of the Lord’s will (Matt. 7), his covenant (Heb.), the gospel (Acts, Gal.), the truth Jn. 8), the faith (Gal., Jude), and the doctrine or teaching (Matt. 7, Acts 2, Rom. 6, 2 Jn. 9, 1, 2 Tim.). Each word has a distinct emphasis (as gospel emphasizes good news and doctrine, a thing taught); yet, all refer to the same scheme of redemption, the same resulting body of material, and the same inspired revelation. Since the gospel is taught, it is doctrine. Since the teaching is good and wonderful in its source, nature, and meaning, it is gospel. There is no more difference between gospel and doctrine than between gospel and truth, the truth and the faith, His covenant and teaching, His will and the faith, etc., etc. The word “doctrine” is definitely used in reference to primary obedience (Acts 13:5-12). When a Christian violates the teaching of “the epistles,” he definitely violates “the gospel” (Gal. 2: 11-14).
We can show the all-sufficiency of scripture by showing (1) Matt.- Jn. emphasizes faith in Christ, (2) Acts emphasizes conversion, and (3) the epistles” emphasize how to grow daily and set the church in order. But, there is no strict division here, and thus no Bible term to indicate an absolute distinction. Each of the three divisions teaches something needed for daily growth and setting churches in order, teaching conversion, and building faith in Christ. No one division is written only for the world as distinguished from another written only for benefit of Christians. Luke and Acts are written from one Christian to another. Every Christian needs repeated study in Matt.-Jn.; this “strengthens him in faith and hope.” Writing to saints, Peter recounted some primary points of the gospel, stirred up the brethren, and told them they would always need such study (2 Pet. 1, 3).
1 Cor. 15 with 1, 2 Thess. link Christ’s resurrection to our glorification; though first written to saints, this material can be very powerful in converting the lost. If a lost man claims allegiance to the Old Law, what is better than Gal., Rom., and Heb. to convert him. Eph. I will help a man confused on predestination, and I Pet. 3 on baptism. To show allegiance to the Pope isn’t allegiance to Christ, Acts 14:23, Phil. 1: 1, 1 Pet. 5:2, and Eph. 1: 22-23 will help. 1 Cor. I and Gal. 5 show joining a denomination can’t please God, can’t be true conversion.
If it were objected that one must correctly enter God’s family, and then needs time to grow in understanding further instruction, we agree. But limiting the meaning of the word “gospel” is not the way to make that point, as the Bible does not so limit the word. Furthermore, those who practice things without a thus-saith-the Lord, or assert the liberty to go beyond the written things, or interpret divine silence as license, are not growing in God’s family, they are going out of it. They are not growing toward Christ, whether the liberalism they promote concerns baptism, worship, or organization; they are going onward and outward from Christ Un. 10: 4-5; Eph. 1: 22-23; 1 Cor. 4-6; 2 Jn. 9). They need to be told so in love; if they persist without repentance and reformation, they sever fellowship with God and brethren. They are wrapped in a blanket of false security if told they have not violated “the gospel” since it is a very limited term.
If our brother has grown into an understanding of “gospel” that is overlooked in this review, may we respectfully request that he assert and clarify for our benefit.
(* This is a correction instead of Ed’s response; it was made possible by my reading the July, 1973, issue of Carl Ketcherside’s Mission Messenger. I wrote the above paragraphs with the understanding that C. K. thought the term doctrine never refers to “the gospel” and that the term gospel does not include all the Lord’s doctrine. Since I knew E. F. did sometimes allow the term doctrine to refer to “the gospel,” I thought he had somewhat modified C. K.’s view. Instead, I have learned today, -Aug. 23, 1973, that Ketcherside and Fudge hold identical views on this matter. I have been misunderstanding Ketcherside, but Ed has not! Here is what they both believe, from pg. 106 of the M.M. of July, “While all gospel may be correctly classified as doctrine, all doctrine cannot be correctly classified as gospel.” That is exactly how Ed uses the terms in the G.G.s referred to above–exactly!)
Preach Gospel, Embrace Sectarianism? As earlier noted, McCann understood faith and baptism. Notice further, be supported sectarianism and led others to embrace a sectarian name; but, our brother says, “he preached the same gospel we hold forth today.” If so, the following is also true. He could have accepted instruments and incense in worship, centralization in organization, and socialization in the mission of the church, but “he preached the same gospel.” Whether he kept the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day, whether he wore religious titles or not, regardless of anything else that falls in the doctrine department, “he preached the same gospel.”
Can we be members of sectarian bodies today and “preach the same gospel?” (* His answer was, “What about our sectarian use of the name Church of Christ?”) The truth is that sectarians do not preach the gospel, regardless of what they say on baptism. They may preach part of the faith, covenant, will, gospel, truth, doctrine, but they are not preaching it. If they were, they would be just what the Ethiopian of Acts 8 or the Philippian of Acts 16 was a Christian only without a thought of sectarian names. It still takes sectarian seed to produce a sectarian name. It still takes gospel seed to make a Christian only,
While on the subject, our brother might clarify this. Are sectarian names in the realm of lawful expedients or of unlawful opinions? Faith, or merely opinion? If opinion, which kind? In what realm did brother Paul place the very beginnings of sectarianism (1 Cor. 1, 3; Gal. 5)?
Pride Vs. Weakness?
POINT 6. Our brother published in the Firm Foundation (Vol. 89, No. 22, 23) some studies on Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10). Along with some fine points, he presented a distinction, which is not borne out by scripture. Nadab and Abibu were punished because of irreverent pride, but their brothers sinned later in the chapter and weren’t punished because their sin was simply born of human weakness. Concerning Eleazar and Ithamar, we have this explanation, “But their sin grew out of human weakness, not out of haughty will. It involved a false piety, not a flagrant pride.” Thus, those who sinned by pride in worship were not forgiven, but punished; those who sinned by human weakness were forgiven.
REVIEW: Apply this concept to our times. If one worships with the instrument that believes it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, and he does it out of pride, he won’t be forgiven in the end, but punished. He is really the only one directly rebuked by Lev. 10. One who thinks the instrument is his liberty, who thinks silence is license, who worships with it because of its beautiful and pious tones, will be forgiven. He might multiply such pious vanities, take a pious sectarian name, and steep himself in the pious traditions of the fathers, but all will be forgiven.
If the Bible teaches such, Lev. 10 is not the place. Moses was angry at first in the case of Eleazar and Ithamar. After hearing the explanation, “he was content” (v. 20). If Moses was content, then God’s law wasn’t broken in the first place. Where was Moses ever content with a bonafide case of sin-regardless of excuses and explanations. Christ did not sin by healing on the Sabbath; it seemed to some that he did, but they were put to silence by his explanation. On Lev. 10: 12-20, Pulpit Commentary says, “It was true that the letter of the Law bad been broken, but there was a sufficient cause for it (see Hos. 6:6; Matt. 12:7).” An inspired man like Moses could determine whether an apparent violation was actually allowable in God’s sight or not. (This is wholly unlike the “situation ethics” idea of turning every man loose to set aside any and every law of God which blocks some desire he is determined to fulfill.)
In Matt. 12, Christ does not argue that David and the priests actually sinned in what they did, though misguided men might think so. David and the priests are placed by Christ exactly where Moses saw Eleazar and Ithamar to be: among “the guiltless” (Matt. 12:5). In each case, through Moses and Christ, we see no law was broken in God’s sight. If law had been broken through misguided piety or pious misunderstanding, a sin offering would have been in order (Lev. 4).
Furthermore, there is no consistent application of the supposed distinction in the rest of the Old Testament. For instance, when David piously moved the ark on a cart and Uzzah piously tried to stabilize it, Uzzah died and David didn’t (2 Sam. 6).
The Lev. 10 argument hinges on separating “human weakness” (in the form of false or misguided piety) from “pride.” Actually, pride is a human weakness to which we all are subject, just as we’re subject to other human weaknesses. See 1 Jn. 2:15-17 for the distinction the Lord does not make in this matter. King Hezekiah showed off his treasures to Babyon’s messengers; he fell victim to the weakness of pride, but lived to repent (Isa. 39).
Has our esteemed brother made a distinction God doesnt make? Or, can be clarify?
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 49, pp. 8-10
October 18, 1973