Use and Abuse of Gospel Papers

Leslie Diestelkamp
Cicero, Ill.

In a recent editorial in the Firm Foundation, brother Reuel Lemmons had some things to say that need to be said over and over again. He began by saying, "Someone suggested a few days ago that the editors of 'our' papers ought to get together and decide what the truth is and then all stick to the decision. The honest suggester thought that that would cure all the division in the brotherhood, 'for brethren', said he, 'all follow one of the papers."

"God forbid! I don't want any committee of editors deciding for me what the truth is. I will decide that for myself. And every reader of every paper in the brotherhood should feel the same way. Neither an infallible man nor an infallible paper exists. No man, nor committee of men-even though they be editors-can tell me what to believe."

Later in the same article brother Lemmons says, "To blindly follow any paper is as foolish as following the pope." To this we want to add a hearty "Amen." In reality probably no one would admit following any paper blindly, but we see evidence that shows many actually do so, even if they didn't intend to. Some brethren have to wait until some certain paper takes a stand on an issue before they know which side of a controversy to be on. On this point brother Lemmons continues:

... If someone else, regardless of how honest and sincere he may be, does your thinking for you, the blind is leading the blind. Every utterance of every teacher, and of every paper, should be examined critically-not accepted blindly.

"On the other hand, honesty demands that critical examination be made in the right spirit. Almost every editor has seen his work butchered by unchristian and dishonest inen. There are the distorted emphasis of words, the twisting of phrases, and undertones and overtones that give different meaning to plain teaching. The difference in quoting what a man says, and in distorting what he says is the difference in telling the truth and telling a lie."

Brother Lemmons concludes thus:

Each must search the Scriptures daily to see whether these things be true. The Bible-not some paper-must continue to be our rule of faith and practice. Loyalty to the word of Almighty God, rather than loyalty to a paper, is the important thing.

"It makes me not one whit of difference whether I agree with any other editor or paper in the world-nor preacher either. But it does make me some difference whether I agree with the Word of God. That I am anxious to do. Then, if I find myself in accord with others papers or preachers-that's fine. It will have resulted from our both going to the same source of authority-the Word of God for our rules of faith and practice."

Abuse In Reading

Some brethren abuse a writer or that which he writes, especially if it is not in harmony with what the reader believes. Current controversies on the institutional question illustrate this matter. A man. can spend his life in evangelism; he can defend the truth about salvation from sin in every community where he goes; he can speak and write much in opposition to modernism, premillennialism, etc.; he may have been lauded highly as a truly good preacher; he may have been popular with churches and Christians everywhere; but let him express opposition to the "customary" practices of the brethren with regard to benevolence and cooperation, and he is immediately branded as a hobbyist and a church splitter. Even though he has never been involved in church trouble, or even though he has helped heal many such wounds made by others, yet he is said to be a trouble maker.

Let someone write an article in some paper stating that he finds no scriptural authority for churches, from their treasury, supporting the needy of the world, and he is immediately branded as being opposed to helping the poor. Of course he may have given time, energy and money in personal efforts in behalf of the unfortunate, but t h a t makes no difference to the reader. The reader may be a member of Podunk Center church, which has 100 members, and which church sends $10.00 per month (10c per member) to an institution-and none of the members even touch the unfortunate ones-so he thinks that since the writer does not agree with such procedure, he is against helping the poor!

There are also some who read an article that exposes some practice of the reader, and he immediately cries that he has been attacked personally. Let me illustrate: Recently I wrote an article in this magazine on the subject of "Forced Conclusions" (May issue). In the article I tried to show that the same process of thinking or reasoning that leads to the doctrine of Purgatory, also may lead to the establishment and maintenance of Benevolent Organizations and institutions to be supported by the churches. I wrote: "The doctrine of Purgatory is a necessary one if the doctrine of restitution and suffering for sin is true." Then I wrote that "Many people suppose that James 1:27 is a charge to the church . . . This false conception leads to the building and maintaining of gigantic institutions to try to meet this need. These institutions in turn, solicit contributions from the churches under the guise that James 1:27 demands it of them."

Now some of my brethren who have read that have declared that I am classifying those who support the institutions with the Catholics. But it is not so. I have simply shown that many times the "end demands a "means", and if the "end" is a false one, it will usually require a false means.

Abuse In Writing

One abuse in writing is that of vilifying a person simply because we disagree with his practice. This may be done by branding him as a "digressive" or a "modernist" or as an "anti". A common practice in present day controversies is to classify some as "anticooperation" brethren. But I think almost always the writer knows that such is not a fair statement. Just because one does not agree with some practices does not mean he opposes cooperation. The very opposite may be true. Many refer to those who oppose certain benevolent organizations and projects as "anti-orphan" or "anti-orphan home." Yet, no doubt the one thus characterized may be just as interested in the welfare of the orphan as the other person. In fact he may often show more interest. Just because one does not agree with certain organizational set-ups, does not mean that he is opposed to any proper benevolence.

Some writers make statements like this: "Brother John Doe believes and teaches that the only way to care for orphans is to take them into our own private homes." Almost always this is a false claim. Some of us may think that is usually the best way, but I know of no one who thinks it is the only scriptural way.

Gospel papers ought to serve as a medium for study and discussion of any issue that is vital to the welfare of God's people. Real progress and strength come to the body of Christ through controversy. The blacksmith's arm was strong because the iron was hard, And so the conviction of the Christian is usually strong when it is determined through discussion, argument and controversy. Convictions are very likely going to be weak if the conclusions were drawn without strong opposition. Besides that, our beliefs should always be tested to see if they be in accord with divine truth.

Fair Tests

On the other hand, truth has really not been tested at all when a writer stoops to slander, abuse and perversion. To show that a man is inconsistent, mean, ugly, or weak, does not in any sense show that his conlusion or argument is false. Too often the practice is to ridicule an argument rather than to answer it.

Some good brethren who are my friends have expressed the idea that they are "disappointed" in me because I suggest that the church, from its treasury, and with regard to benevolence, is authorized to care for needy saints only. Some seem to feel sorry for me, and others seem to be sorely vexed with me. In either case it seems to me that the proper thing to do would be to show that I'm wrong, if that can be done. So far no one has come up with even one verse of scripture to authorize the church, from its treasury, to care for the needy of the world. The only fair test of the proposition will be a scriptural test, not an emotional one or one based upon human reasoning.

"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21).

Truth Magazine I:10, pp. 16-17, 20
July 1957