"In what place, therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us:
our God shall fight for us." (Neh. 4:20)
James W. Adams
The Dilemma of Consistency
Someone has said, "The trouble with having too high ideals is that, when the occasion comes to apply them, they are out of reach." (Nuggets, April, 1966) This is a phenomenon of human conduct recognized by all. In the religious realm it is particularly prevalent. Men often theoretically embrace principles, from which to reason in reaching conclusions against some specific practice, which they are completely unwilling to have applied to other practices to which they subscribe, when said practices quite logically fall within the scope of the proper application of the principles in question. When confronted with such a dilemma, many deal with it refusing to acknowledge the necessity for consistency. They affect disinterest--often disdain---by saying, "I had rather be right than consistent."
Such a reply constitutes an evasion of the problem, a refusal to come to grips with reality. Certainly, none should refuse to accept truth on the ground that its acceptance would involve him in inconsistencies with past beliefs or practices. Yet, one cannot be "right" when he holds a specific principle to be vital but is at the same time unwilling to accept the consequence of all its applications and who gave thee this authority?" Jesus answered by asking them, "I also will ask you one thing . . . The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men?" The chief priests and elders equivocated by answering, "We cannot tell." Matthew explains their action by saying, "They reasoned with themselves saying, if we shall say, from heaven; he will say unto us, why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet." (Matt 21:23-26.)
"John's Baptism, Was of Heaven or of Men?"
The chief priests and elders of the Jews were confronted with the problem of consistency when they challenged the right of Jesus to cleanse the temple. They asked him, "By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?" Jesus answered by asking them, "I also will ask you one thing The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men?" The chief priests and elders equivocated by answering. "We cannot tell." Matthew explains their action by saying. "They reasoned with themselves saying, if we shall say, from heaven; he will say unto us. Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet." (Matt. 21:23-26)
Rather than face up to the inconsistency of their attitude toward Jesus, the chief priests and elders, as do many brethren regarding certain positions, took refuge in professed ignorance. They were unwilling to assume all of the consequences inherent in their indictment of Jesus as an impostor and blasphemer. They would not, they deny the inspiration of John the Baptist, but, at the same time, they were not willing to accept his testimony concerning Jesus. They solved their dilemma by saying, "We cannot tell--we just don't know for sure whether John's baptism was from heaven or of men."
Many of our "on-the-march" brethren who militantly press for the coordination of the efforts and resources of many congregations through the centralized agency of a "sponsoring eldership or church," at the same time, repudiate as unscriptural the missionary society of the Disciples of Christ Church, the convention of the Southern Baptists, and the associations of the American Baptists -- centralized agencies for the coordination of the efforts and resources of the congregations of .these communions. They adamantly refuse to make application of the only possible principles on the basis of which they can logically and scripturally oppose these agencies to their own centralized agencies in the fields of benevolence and evangelism such as sponsoring churches and orphan homes, old folks homes, and the like -- human institutions under boards of directors having independent entity and functioning separately from the churches which sustain them. Disinterested outsiders have no trouble in perceiving the fact of their inconsistency, but the brethren never!
The Christian and Civil Government
Many brethren who repudiate the right of Christians to serve in the armed forces of our country or as peace officers will not make application of the principles on which they must base their contentions to all areas of human relationships which fall legitimately within their scope of application. Almost invariably, when confronted with such applications and their attendant problems, they will say, like the chief priests and elders. "I cannot tell; I just don't know what I would do under such circumstances."
The Christian and "Christmas"
In recent years, there has developed considerable agitation in some quarters among conservative brethren concerning whether a Christian may observe "Christmas" in any sense. At first, I thought the matter too picayune to capture the interest of sensible brethren, hut it appears that many are deadly serious and are pressing the matter to the point of disrupting the peace and unity of churches. All agree that Christians and churches should not celebrate the 25th of December as religious festival. This is not the problem. The question concerns whether a Christian may observe the day as a traditional holiday, put up a tree, mend greeting cards, exchange gifts with relatives and friends, and have turkey and dressing with the family.
The principles on the basis of which these practices are repudiated by some and made an issue among Christians and churches cannot stop in their application to "Christmas." Consider the consistency of the brother who repudiates Christmas and goes "trick or treating" with his small children on Halloween, or rejects a tree as a pagan symbol while dating a letter "January" thus honoring the Roman god, Janus. There are multitudes of areas in which our brethren's principles must be applied but where they are by them ignored. I have yet to meet a brother holding and pressing this view who is willing to make consistent application of the principles on which he bases his contention.
The Answer to the Dilemma
It would seem reasonable that, before a brother adopts a practice and presses his views to the disruption of the peace and unity of God's people, he should be very, very sure (1) that he is unquestionably right and (2) that "he condemneth not himself in the things which he alloweth." (Rom. 14: 22.) To hold a personal conviction and to practice accordingly, even though one may be inconsistent in his application of his principles is not necessarily destructive or even harmful if the matter is in the realm of indifference. Some of the matters we have discussed fall in this category. One does not. However, for an individual to seek to make his personal conscience and inconsistent practice the conscience and practice of other Christians and churches in such matters is not harmless, hence should not be tolerated.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 25, pp. 6-7
April 30, 1970