A Few Foolish Fables
P. J. Casebolt
Paden City, West Virginia
The term fable, as used in the Bible, has reference to a fictitious tale or myth. Giving heed to fables could be dangerous if it affected our health or well-being. The practice of "bleeding" persons who were ill cost many their lives and unnecessarily prolonged the recovery of others until medical science (knowledge) exposed the practice. Surely a fable, which adversely affects the soul, is even more dangerous (Mt. 10:28), and Paul especially warns against this (1Tim. 1:4; 4:7).
The main reason that a fable is dangerous is because one is kept from the truth as long as he follows the fable. For example, we have all heard (and used) the expression "out of the frying pan into the fire." The trouble with this statement is that it allows only two positions either in the frying pan or in the fire. We've parroted this phrase so often that we have completely overlooked a third possible position. We could jump out of both the frying pan and the fire into a place less conducive to the process of combustion. When neither of two positions seems tenable, we should exercise enough initiative to look for a third.
Do Wrong or Do Nothing
Some have been known to take the position that "it is better to do something wrong than to do nothing at all." This is a fable. Paul said to Philemon, "but without thy mind would I do nothing . . ." (v. 14.) There are times when it is best to do nothing, if God has so directed. Furthermore, this fable admits of only two possibilities in any given situationdoing nothing or doing wrong. When we are confronted with this dilemma, it is time to find out how to do a thing right. If God has not told us what to do, when to do it, or how to do it, then it makes no difference what we do, or how we do it. But if God has given us a command, an approved example, or a necessary inference to guide us, then we had better do what he tells us, and do it right.
The parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30) is invariably used to support the theory that it is better to do something wrong than to do nothing. But, in doing so we overlook the fact that the man with one talent had three alternatives: he could do nothing (which he did), he could have placed the money with gamblers and lost it all (which would have been doing something wrong), or he could do right by doing what the others did. I would as soon do nothing as do something wrong, but I would rather do something right.
The Middle' of the Road
Somewhere along the line a fable was initiated which compares the positions on a given issue with a highway. Some leave the impression that you have to be on the right, on the left, or walking the centerline. This idea must have originated with the first two-lane highways, and certainly is out of date in this modern age of turnpikes and expressways. Today, one could be in any one of six lanes and still be headed in the same direction.
How much difference is there between the left lane headed north and the left lane headed south? They may be closer than the two extreme lanes headed in the same direction. The Bible speaks of two waysthe broad and the narrow (Mt. 7:13,14). We are in one or the other. Jesus is the right way (Jno. 14:6). There is nothing said about either of these ways having a right and left side divided by a centerline. There may be varying attitudes as to how assiduously we advance or defend a given position, but in matters of doctrine we either abide in the doctrine or we transgress (2 Jno. 9). In matters of opinion or expediency (and there are fables about this too), who is to determine what is right, left, or middle?
The only distinction made in the Bible between right and left is found in Mt. 25:32, 33. The sheep will be placed on the right and the goats on the left. It may be that some goats will affiliate themselves with the sheep while journeying to the judgment, but don't let someone make a goat out of you with the idea that life's journey is a many-laned highway taking all travelers to the same destination. This middle-of-the-road business is fraught with the dangers of compromise. If we must compare life's journey to a road, I prefer the Model-T days when you were either in the ruts going the right way or in the ruts going the wrong way.
Marrying a Non-Christian
I have never talked with anyone who would not admit that it was better for a Christian to marry another Christian than to marry a non-Christian. Yet, some have tried to defend the practice of marrying out of the Lord by saying, "It is better to marry a non-Christian than to marry some of the hypocrites who call themselves Christians."
This may be true, but it is like the fable of doing wrong or doing nothing by jumping to the conclusion that there are only two courses left open. In the first place, God never told us we had to marry anyone. Paul didn't (1 Cor. 7:8). Yet, the marriage relationship is an honorable one when properly observed, and the majority of men and women enter into it.
Israel was forbidden to enter into marriages with outsiders (Deut. 7: 2-4). Solomon disobeyed this injunction, and his wives turned his heart away from God (1 Ki. 11: 1-4). Paul was not married, but he said that if he were to marry, he had a "right to lead about a wife that is a believer . . ." (1 Cor. 9:5, ASV.) A widow is commanded to marry "only in the Lord" if she decides to remarry (1 Cor. 7:39). We expect elders, deacons, and preachers to have wives who are Christians, and many are disqualified or rendered ineffective because of unsuitable companions. "Are thou bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed" (1 Cor. 7:27). If you are not bound, then I strongly recommend that you either choose a companion who is a Christian, or remain unmarried until you find one.
The Individual and the Church
"Anything an individual can do as a Christian the church can do." This fable allows no distinction between the works of an individual Christian and what the church may do in its collective capacity. By following this rule, the church has at times neglected its mission while providing recreation and entertainment, and individual Christians have forsaken their God-given responsibilities by trying to unload them onto the church or some other institution.
The very fact that the home is hundreds of years older than the church is evidence that the mission of the two is not parallel in every instance. If the church can do anything that the individual, as a Christian, can do, then the church needs to practice the washing of feet (1 Tim. 5:10; Jno. 13:14). The list could be lengthened, but anyone who could get around this one example could get around a hundred.
Following this fable further, it is concluded that anything which constitutes "pure and undefiled religion" when done by an individual Christian, constitutes pure and undefiled religion when done by the church. Anything which the Christian is authorized to do constitutes pure and undefiled religion; anything which the church is authorized to do constitutes pure and undefiled religion.
The idea that visiting "the fatherless and widows" and keeping oneself "unspotted from the World" are the only things which constitute pure and undefiled religion is an erroneous one (Jas. 1:26, 27). When Paul admonished children to care for their parents, he said, "for that is good and acceptable before God" (1 Tim. 5:4.) No one would contend that this is the only thing that is "good and acceptable." Certainly these are, but there are other things that are just as good and acceptable.
So it is with "pure and undefiled religion." The things that James mentions come under this heading, but they are not the only things. The church would be practicing pure and undefiled religion in the preaching the gospel, or anything else the church is authorized to do. The same is true with the individual, but let us not contend that the church practices pure and undefiled religion when it assumes responsibilities that definitely belong to the individual.
In this same connection, it has been claimed that because a certain letter or book of the New Testament was addressed to "churches" that everything in that letter must of necessity be something for the church to practice collectively. The letters to the Corinthians were both addressed to "the church of God which is at Corinth," but there are things in these letters that are unquestionably directed to individuals. This is especially true of chapter seven in the first letter. We must allow the text and the context to determine who is to be the recipient of the message.
Don't believe a thing just because you have heard it, or just because it sounds plausible at first. Investigate. Analyze. Question. Think. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 8, pp. 17-19 May 1966