Who Gave Thee This Authority? (2)
The church of Jesus Christ was brought into existence by the preaching of the gospel. Jesus said, "The seed is the word of God." Luke 8:11. Thus wherever the gospel in its purity was preached, churches sprang up. The apostles and other inspired men of New Testament times realized that they also had a responsibility in preaching only a pure gospel and they chose death rather than to compromise the truth which was revealed to them by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven. It was because of the plea of the leaders in the restoration movement, to take the Bible alone as the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice, and through the subsequent efforts of faithful gospel preachers, who stood firmly on the word of God, that thousands were led to throw off the shackles of denominationalism, and become Christians only, - simply members of the church of the New Testament. Since the church was brought into existence by the preaching of truth, the doctrinal purity of the church will be maintained only by the adherence to truth. This is as inevitable as the law of sowing and reaping. Sow a human creed and the harvest will be a human denomination. Sow human philosophy in the church and the result will eventually be an apostate church. The church that has ceased to be guided by the Bible will cease to be the church that you read about in the Bible. The church that has ceased to be subject to Christ is not a church of Christ.
Over the years, preachers of the church of Christ have built up a reputation for loyalty to the word of God and for testing all things by the scriptures. The determination to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent, eventually made them to be feared in religious discussion. The time was when sectarian preachers openly challenged for and engaged in debate when their sectarian doctrines and practices were called in question. Today, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to persuade them to debate at all. Evidently time and experience has taught them that sectarian doctrine will not stand up under the searchlight of scripture. In this respect, at least, preachers of the church of Christ, who stood with an open Bible in hand and their feet firmly planted on truth, proved to be invulnerable.
Having given some study to the present issues, in the various debates that have been held between representative brethren, and having read considerable on these matters from the pen of various writers on both sides of the question, it appears to this writer that these issues have given birth to a new concept in debating, writing, and preaching on the part of men who have long been noted for being gospel preachers. We hope we are not piejudiced and do not think that we are. When we first heard of these issues we were inclined to think of the brethren who are opposing the large promotional schemes, in the same way that many still think of them as a bunch of hobby-riders and opposed to every good work. However, we have been amazed on more than one occasion to see men long noted for sound preaching, affirm that a certain practice or a certain organizational set-up is scriptural, and then never produce any scripture, but spend their time in name calling and recriminations. Certain1y that is not the course they followed when they debated sectarian preachers on the question of baptism and the possibility of apostasy. When they debated these questions they produced the scriptures to back up their affirmations. The fact that they have resorted to these sectarian tactics in debating and writing has weighed heavily with us in our appraisal of the current issues.
Since this series of articles is not only for the purpose of showing the absolute need for scriptural authority for all that we say and do, religiously, but also to emphasize the matter of how to establish scriptural authority, it will be in order here to notice some of the "proofs" that are being offered in debating and writing for some of the present day promotional schemes, and show that they DO NOT constitute scriptural authority.
To misrepresent an opponent's position, especiallv if he has no opportunity to reply, is manifestly unfair. Preachers of the church of Christ have long been acquainted with the tactics of sectarian preachers in debate, who will set up a straw man and proceed to tear it down rather than deal with the real issue.
In the discussion of present issues between brethren, how often we hear the charge, "They don't believe in caring for orphans," or "They don't believe in co-operation." We do not suggest that such charges are always made deliberately. Sometimes they are made by brethren who just don't know what the issues are. Be that as it may, such charges only have the effect of creating prejudice and closing the minds of some who are studying these matters. However, even if such charges were true, the fact remains that current practices would not thereby he proved scriptural. Only scripture can prove a thing scriptural.
Those who have engaged sectarian preachers in debate have long been accustomed to having the name, "Campbellite" hurled at them. When a sectarian preacher got into a tight place he seemed to think that if he could just shout "Campbellite" often enough, he would answer the argument and annihilate his opponent.
The discussions over present issues have spawned a number of new names, "Anti," "Sommerite" and "Hobby-rider" are names that are all too often heard when issues are being discussed today. Certainly it must be obvious to anyone who is capable of weighing these matters impartially, that if brethren had scriptural authority for the things they advocate, they would not have to resort to such sectarian tactics as name calling. It doesn't prove anything, and never did. Calling a man a "Campbellite" never proved the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Calling a man a "Hobby-rider" will never prove that churches can shift their work over to human institutions that are separate and apart from the church.
Of all the arguments that have been advanced in favor of the promotional schemes that are being questioned, this one has been used perhaps more than any other. How often have we noted, in the debates that have been held between brethren, and in the writing that has been done on these matters, that a preacher will affirm that a certain practice or a certain organizational setup is scriptural, and then he will spend much of his time showing how that his opponent has, at some time or other, practised the thing he now opposes. They seem to think that if they can prove that their opponent is insincere, or inconsistent, they will have proved that what they are pleading for is scripturally right. Surely brethren have learned long ago that two wrongs do not make one right. Certainly we believe that one's preaching and practice should harmonize. For a man to continue to practice what he opposes in his preaching is hypocrisy and deserves the scorn of all sincere people, but it would not necessarily mean that somebody else was right.
In the Porter-Bogard debate, Mr. Bogard was trying, at one point to prove that candidates for baptism should be decided on by vote. He cited an instance of how one preacher of the church of Christ refused one time to baptize a certain person. His point was that this preacher had voted on this candidate and that therefore preachers of the church of Christ were inconsistent in their opposition to voting on candidates for baptism. Of course this preacher had not voted on the candidate in the instance mentioned, and even if he had, it would not prove that the Bible taught it. Even if it could be proved that those who oppose present trends are inconsistent and a bunch of hypocrites, the fact remains that when a man affirms that a certain practice is scriptural, the onus falls on him to produce the scripture that teaches it. Proving that someone else is inconsistent is not scriptural proof. Such tactics should be left with the sectarians where they originated.
This argument has won many adherents to the promotional schemes that are being advocated. And why not? People like to see results. And so, the fact that a large number of people have been baptized as the result of some program, or the fact that some needy people are being fed is sufficient proof, to some at least, that the organizational setup of the thing in question is scriptural. This is an appeal to the philosophy that the end justifies the means. Are we prepared to go all the way on that? Thousands have been baptized through the work of the missionary society. Does that make the missionary society scriptural?
In all God's dealings with them, the fact that good eventually resulted, never justified the means used when that means was contrary to God's established order. Viewed from the hman standpoint, it was a good work for Uzzah to prevent the ark of the covenant from falling and being broken to pieces, but the means he used violated an express commandment of God, and he was punished by death. I Chron. 13:9, 10. The death of Christ made possible the redemption of man; but it did not excuse the crime of the Jews in crucifying him.
If the promotional programs under discussion are in harmony with God's pattern of church organization, let us be thankful for the good they are doing. If, however, they violate God's organizational pattern, all the good that they are doing, and all the good that they may do in the future will never make them scriptural.
In the discussion of present issues it is common for brethren to try to prove that their practice is right by referring to what prominent brethren have taught and practiced in the past. Or it is common to hear some one say, "We have practiced this for the past hundred years." This is merely an appeal to tradition. If we are going to start proving things that way, let us go to the Catholics. They have several hundred years advantage over us when it comes to proving things by tradition. Surely brethren ought to realize that when it comes to proving the scripturalness of a practice, church of Christ tradition is no more reliable than Catholic tradition.
One writer said, "By far the largest number of congregations and gospel preachers are committeed to the same manner of caring for orphans and church co-operation as has been practiced for many decades." Again, he wrote, "It is assumed that a few brethren will eventually draw the line of fellowship which they at first were reluctant to do. They will be committed to a pattern of negativism and they will remain dwarfed even as the numerous other 'anti' groups."
In these words, characteristic of much of the writing that has been done on these issues, the writer seeks to brush aside the opposition as being composed of a small minority of "antis," and dwarfed by the large number of progressive congregations and preachers. Have brethren not yet learned the lesson that no Bible question can be settled by an appeal to the majority, vs. the minority? Surely it is evident to every Bible student that in all God's dealings with man, seldom, if ever, has the majority been right. Almost always, if not always it was the minority who was right. Noah and his family, eight souls were all that were saved in the ark, while hundreds and probably thousands perished in the flood. To harmonize with the thinking of some of our brethren, the Bible account of the flood would have to be re-written, with Noah and his family drowned because they were only a splinter group and the rest of the world saved in the ark, because they were in the majority. If one is on the wrong side of a question because he is in the minority, then surely the experience of Elijah with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel was a monumental failure. He was outnumbered four hundred and fifty to one. I Kings 18:19.
In the foregoing thoughts, we have not tried to prove the right or wrong of the things that are being promoted by ambitious brethren. We have merely tried to get before our readers the fact that the "proofs" that are so often offered, do not constitute scriptural proof. A practice cannot be scriptural unless it is taught in some way in the scriptures. We cannot say of any practice, "This is just as scriptural as what you are doing." Nor can we say, "This is ten times more scriptural than what you are doing." That is not the way we measure the right or wrong of any practice. A practice is either scriptural, or else it is unscriptural. If it is taught in God's word, it is scriptural and that is all there is to it. If it is not taught in the Bible it is not scriptural, and no amount of reasoning nor appeals to emotionalism and prejudice will make it so.
(More to follow.)
Truth Magazine II:11, pp. 22-24