He That Soweth Discord Among Brethren
The classic passage with which I shall he expected to be concerned in writing upon the topic which makes the caption of this article is, I suppose, the statement of Solomon to be found in the book of his Proverbs, chapter six.
"There are six things which Jehovah hateth; Yea, seven which are an abomination unto him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood; A heart that deviseth wicked purposes, Feet that are swift in running to mischief, A false witness that uttereth lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."
There can be no doubt of the disfavor and condemnation resting upon the individual guilty of any of the seven things here enumerated, but the placing of responsibility when discord has been sown among brethren, the sin with which we are at this time to be concerned, is not always easily and readily done. The complexity of circumstances often affords opportunity for the clever and sagacious to "cover up" and for the ignorant and uninitiated to be confused and misled. It will suffice to say, in this the beginning of our study, that all who bear any part in the polemical struggles which are necessary to the continual purging and purifying of the church, "That the truth of the gospel might continue with us" are not guilty of the sin here delineated and condemned.
The thoughtful mind of one who has been conversant with the changing conditions in the church for a considerable time, when reflecting over the changes that have come, can but be acutely conscious of a distressing, depressing loss of the exhilarating joy, satisfaction and courage that once filled his heart when he contemplated the unity and concord, peace and harmony of a united brotherhood standing shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, and with unmixed confidence in the absolute sincerity, unquestionable integrity, and unflagging dependability of all his brethren in the Lord, and in universal concert with them, he attacked the bastions of error, ignorance, and wickedness both in organized religion and in the world. This depression of spirit is sometimes much akin to the distress of ancient Israel is expressed by David when he said, "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion . . . How shall we sing Jehovah's song in a foreign land?"
It is freely admitted that at no time have conditions in the church been perfect; the unavoidable frailties of men, even Christian men, will not admit of that. But since the turn of the Century and the tragic struggle that resulted in the cleavage in the church over the Missionary Society and mechanical instruments of music in the worship and the separation from us of those who designate themselves the "Christian Church," there was among churches of Christ, until just a few short years ago, an era of undisturbed peace and harmony, save as a very comparative few, here and there, now and then, espoused some speculative theory or other. These of course, had to be "taken care of," but there were always at hand those stalwart soldiers of the cross who, armed with the truth of God, made short work of them and their speculations.
But can it be said that such a state of harmony, strength and joy obtains in the church today? Is there the mutual confidence among brethren that formerly we knew? Is there the spirit of universal good will among either churches or individual Christians today? Is it even possible that such could be under existing circumstances? To ask these questions is to answer them in the negative. And so, although it is with inexpressible grief and disappointment that I write it, the judgment of this scribe is that there has been both a doctrinal and attitudinal change even in a majority of both the preachers and other members of the body of Christ that is so basic that many of its carry about a heart that is filled with sorrow and walk with feet that are as heavy as lead.
In our discussion of these things, both publicly and privately, but perhaps, more especially in private, doubtless we have all said things we would better have left unsaid. How ever, grievous and disturbing as these aberrations of speech have been, and many of the things I have heard and read have been exceedingly repugnant and unchristian, great as they may have been as a contributing cause, they are not, I repeat, the basic and foundational cause of the discord and strife that exists among us as a people today. Nor do they constitute the fertile soil or the prolific seed the sowing of which has produced the harvest of discord arnong the brethren which the Lord hates and I here decry. There has been another and previous sowing of a much more pernicious seed that has been more or less quietly going on for the last fifteen or twenty years with ever increasing speed and intensity, and this is the sowing that has produced the lamentable harvest of discord and confusion which inevitably we reap today.
Let it not he said that I here seek to minimize the destructive influence of unguarded, malevolent, false or slanderous statements made by anyone. This is not my intention. But I am pointing out that guilty or not guilty, such are not the real troublers of Israel today, the sowers of discord who are primarily responsible for the conditions that exist.
Any qualified analyst of the condition that prevails in the church of our Lord today, in searching for the basic cause will look much deeper than the annoying, distressing symptoms that lie on the surface and which, many times, are mistaken for the real disease from which these disorders and derangements have come. Neither will he, to vary the metaphor, forget the time that of necessity must intervene between the planting and the harvest. We do not plant and harvest the same day in the natural world, and the same is true, generally speaking, in the moral and spiritual world. There must be time in both the natural and the moral and spiritual world for generation, growth and maturity; then cometh the harvest.
It is in my judgment that there are many embryotic, superficial, would-be analysts of present day conditions in the church who are making both the fatal mistakes referred to in the paragraph above. They are mistaking the symptoms for the disease, and confusing the harvest with the sowing. And what is worse, they persist in trying to treat the symptoms as if they were the disease, and decry and complain of the harvest while forgetting that it is but the inevitable result of a previous sowing that could but produce in time, the very things we are now reaping.
Ah, my friends, let no man deceive himself, nor be deceived by the blind and unwary who are following the crowd to do mischief. Those who today are opposing the disposition on the part of many to forget the importance of the autonomy and independence of the local church as the functional unit of the people of God both in evangelism and in benevolence, and who are attacking the practices among us which would erase both of these functional safeguards against the centralization of power and influence which is and has been the very essence of those bastard developments in the field of religion which have well nigh destroyed the church of our Lord from off the face of the earth, are not the real troublers of the people of God, as they are falsely accused, nor are they the sowers of discord which the word of our God condemns. This discord has come all right, but the seed that produced it was the loose thinking and looser talking of a generation of inexperienced, though in most instances, I admit, well-meaning, but nevertheless, blatant enthusiasts whose main concern and whose constant topic was, "Getting the job done; and why waste time arguing about the HOW? I'd rather be lost for doing the wrong thing, or the right thing in the wrong way, than for doing nothing at all. So why do we lose time in a fruitless discussion of these mere matters of expediency while the Catholics and the Adventists are growing by leaps and bounds, et cetera." These and many other like statements have constituted the principal diet of the church, generally speaking, as it has been besieged through these last several years with an ever increasing regiment of these promoters and effervescent enthusiasts whose chief power has been their youth, their sweet spiritedness, geniality, their inoffensiveness and consequent popularity with the general public. And while it is admitted that we have, materially and numerically, made quite an impressive increase in the eyes of the world, Satan smiles as distinctive truth as it came from the fount of Divine Wisdom is forgotten, and the church moves nearer and nearer toward an undistinguished blending with the more respectable, though none the less rebel, forces of his vast domain.
Not every instigator of battle within an established domain is liable, in the sight of God, to the charge of being a 'sower of discord' such as rests under the divine stigma. The Prince of Peace himself said, "Think not that I come to send peace on the earth; I come not to send peace, but a sword. For I come to set a man at variance with his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law: and a man's foes shall be they of his own household." Does anyone think for a moment that the strife and discord engendered by the Lord among those of the closest relationships, so that they even becomes foes to one another, was, or can be today, the discord that God condemns? Of course not. So long as peace and harmony, in the mind of a child of God , is to be had only at the expense of violating the Divine Will and thus incurring the Father's displeasure and condemnation, he has no alternative; he can only remain faithful to his convictions regarding the Father's will, and whether he stands alone or with a multitude, can be no concern of his. And neither can he be concerned with whatever other costs and sacrifices that may be involved.
And now, while I realize that many of my readers are saying in their minds, "Why of course; what is being said is true, and none of us disagree. But the matters involved in present day troubles in the church do no involve the necessity of anyone departing from the truth, or transgressing the law of the Lord, but only what measures are the most expedient in caring out what the Lord has actually authorized." But, to say this is one thing, and to prove the truth of the statement by the word of the Lord, is quite another and different thing. And since the strife and confusion in the church today exists, and will continue to exist until the rank and file in the church cease to parrot the shibboleths of what, for the time, and in their community, seems to be the popular party in the church, and address themselves with genuine sincerity to a personal and individual study of divine truth as it is related to the practices in question, the peace and harmony for which we sigh will remain unrealized. And the point I would here establish is, that the identification of the true sewers of the discord that prevails, is not to be determined by the reckless and irresponsible charges that are today being hurled, nor by the fact that within the ranks, battles are being fought, but by the final revelation of those who are really responsible for the sowing of the pernicious seeds of error and untruth in departing from the word of our God, and which has so filled the field of our endeavor with the present wretchedness and discord.
And so, this another appeal is made to Christians, my brethren, everywhere, you are amenable only to the Lord and to his word for the essence and content of your faith. Make your appeal therefore, directly and personally to the study of your New Testament BEFORE you take a position on any question or align yourself with any movement in the church, and refuse to be whipped into line by any dictatorship, at home or abroad, who would exercise "Lordship over your faith."
Truth Magazine II:12, pp. 10-12