Pages from the Past

"Differences Between Brethren"

David Lipscomb

We occasionally receive a letter complaining that there is too much discussion between brethren through the Advocate. We see an article occasionally in other papers from some brother complaining of the same thing in other periodicals. One from Chapel Hill, Tenn. to the "Christian Proclamation" uses the following language: "We like periodicals to contain less quarrelling and debating, discussions and contentions among brethren. We wish to hand our pamphlets to those we think erring neighbors and I verily believe such contentions have bad influence. The Gospel Advocate has too much of such matter to have the happy influence it otherwise might have." Another brother writing to the Standard, complains that he cannot put the periodicals into the hands of young converts on account of these discussions and differences.

Now we are grateful to every brother who makes a suggestion to us in reference to the true Christian temper or spirit of the Gospel Advocate, but we do not understand what Christian principle prompts a brother to write such a statement, whether true or false, to the Proclamation, a paper circulated almost exclusively in a section where the Gospel Advocate is unknown. For our brethren in that section of country have learned that if they succeed in any work they must encourage their home efforts. Even if they are not just what they ought to be, take them, encourage them and make them what they ought to be. They have learned that neglecting and discouraging home men and home efforts and spending their means to encourage foreign men, foreign talent, and foreign efforts, never yet built up any cause in any country.

But the objection made is not a sound one. If the desire is to build up a party regardless of the truth, the objection is a good one. Hence the papacy and all the sects very much oppose investigation, discussion or debates. Their object is not the truth but a party.

No people ever did exist and maintain a vigorous and ardent love of the truth with out constant investigation, comparison of ideas and interchange of knowledge. Vigorous and energetic men, in study and advocacy of the truth will, sometimes, too, come in conflict. This has always been so, in every age of the world and always will be. The Church or community that stifles investigation will soon become stagnant, lifeless body. Now while investigations have been free and pointed in the Advocate, and ever will be, we deny utterly that one word of what could be termed quarreling or contention in an evil sense, has ever been admitted in it since our connection with it. Such a statement, in such a manner, we feel does the Advocate gross injustice. The objection when sifted to the bottom is about this. Our brethren have not learned the whole truth. Some of them are anxious to learn more. To this end they write, read, compare notes; where they differ they strive to convince each other of the wrong. Now why object to let the world know this? It is truth, and why conceal the truth? To do so makes a false impression. What good does it do? Is it right?

The reason that such facts do harm either to the world or the new convert, is because a false impression has been made upon their minds in reference to such matters. They are led to believe that the Church of Christ is a calm, placid lake, with an unruffled surface, over which men with indolent ease float to the promised haven of rest. But this never was, nor ever will be the true character of the Church of Christ. Through conflicts and strife, through watchfulness and ceaseless vigilance, the crown is to be won. He who imagines that it can be gained without these will miss the haven of safety.

False teachers, badly taught teachers, with evil and deliterious errors, crept into the Church in Paul's day. Even good men were drawn aside from the truth by the evil current; investigation, debate, strife, "quarrels" much fiercer than have ever taken place through the Advocate were the result, and stand today to mar, in the estimation of easy, sentimental brethren, the pages of the New Testament. If our brother hesitates to place the Advocate in the hands of his mistaken friends, because of these differences between brethren, he must utterly refuse to put the Bible in their hands for the same reason.

To say nothing of the difficulties and strifes of the Old Testament heroes will he show a difference among brethren in the Advocate so bitter as that between Paul and Barnabas? See Acts XV:36,37. Those who differ most widely can work together most harmoniouslv. That was a personal difficulty, was it? That is the most severely condemned and least excusable of all difficulties. But look at the beginning of same chapter, and see account of the dissention concerning the subject of circumsision. See again, Paul's account of his sharp controversy with reproof of Peter, Gal. 2:11.

Indeed, the whole body of the epistles of Paul are taken up with earnest controversies and sharp reproofs of brethren perverting of the true teachings of the Holy Spirit.

The same spirit that objects to investigation of unsettled, doubtful and erroneous teachings within the Church will object also to the investigation of those without the Church. This spirit objects to all positiveness in advocacy of truth; this spirit never converts sinners or builds up congregations to the Lord. It will be ever found objecting to every move and every work that is positive and aggressive in its character. Men of the Pauline mould, carry forward the work of God. Sometimes in the heat of the conflict thev are not as choice in the use of a weapon as the fastidious, fault finding critic would have them he but still they win the battle and carry forward the triumph of truth, while their more fastidious co-laborer is choosing and polishing his weapon. This indisposition to investigate closely the claims of truth, to prune every practice within or without the Church of its errors, produced the apostacy from the truth. Had Luther, Calvin, and others been of this type of men, Rome would still rule undisputed mistress of the world. Had Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, and their compeers been of this stamp, our brother and thousands who now see the light, would have doubtless been involved in the dark, dreary mazes of sectarianism. And if this ever becomes the prevailing spirit of the disciples of Christ, they will speedily lapse back into an apostate sect or heretical denomination. This spirit can find justification only in the idea that we have learned and are practicing the whole truth, or in the idea that we had better remain in error than investigate the truth. Either idea is false and ruinous. The spirit itself is anti-scriptural and evil in tendency. We would have investigation, always in an earnest, but kind and loving spirit; but better have a little Pauline sharpness than that error should triumph and corrupt the church. Error within the Church is tenfold more dangerous than the same error without it.

This is an indolent, indifferent spirit. Debate, discussion and contention increase knowledge and diversity of mind is far better than indifference.

Certainly no Christian can wish to deceive either men of the world or young converts as to the true condition of affairs among us. Such persons deceived into the Church, are likely to fall out when they find matters differing so widely from the impression falsely and deceptiously made upon them.

The differences now existing between brethren are no greater than those existing in the days of the Apostles, and that have existed wherever a live active working Church has been found, from that day till this. Paul did not conceal the differences and difficulties then from either the world or young converts, nor yet from unborn generations, nor should Christians so do now. We apply not these remarks to our brethren that wrote the articles referred to, but to the spirit manifested in their letters. D.L.

From The Gospel Advocate, Volume XII, Number 45, Pages 1065, 1066, 1067, Nashville, Tennessee, Nov. 18, 1869.

Truth Magazine III:1, pp. 6-7
October 1958