A Medley of Matters

Reviewing Controversies - Past and Present

James P. Needham
Owensboro, Ky.

IN EVERY GENERATION since the beginning of the church on Pentecost controversy has been one of her most predominant characteristics-controversy between her and the world; controversy within her own ranks. From the very earliest beginning of the teaching of Christ on earth we find CONTROVERSY as one of its most outstanding traits. This was destined to be true by the very nature of his cause. His teachings flattered no man's vanity, nor tolerated any one's tradition. What He said was constant1y against the grain of that which human tradition wanted. He walked the hills and planes of ancient Palestine with the spirit of an emancipator, and attacked the forces of religious error with the courage of a great warrior, "The LION of the tribe of Judah . . . (Rev. 5:5).

It was this spirit and courage that was breathed into his apostles and from them transmitted to the true children of God of every generation for all time. As long as time shall last controversy will be inevitable if true religion is preserved. The devil has no intention of letting it exist in peace, nor will he give up his cause without a furious battle. The spirit of compromise, and peaceful coexistence are the very opposite of that which MUST characterize true Christians. This is why Jude says, "CONTEND EARNESTLY for the faith . . ." (Jude 3). For this reason Paul commands, "FIGHT the good' fight of faith . . ." (I Tim. 6:12). So, as the Lord said to Gideon, "Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart EARLY from Mount Gilead . . ." (Judges 7:3). We must not therefore, allow the banner of truth to touch the ground, much less fall in the mud of fear and compromise.

Today, controversy is AGAIN raging within the church and AGAIN the hearts of many of God's children melt within them and become as water (Joshua 7:5). Is this the spirit that characterized our Lord and his disciples? If not, can we be pleasing to Him and possess it? How can we say, "Peace, peace; when there is no peace"? (Jer. 6:14). If the church of our Lord is to continue in her pristine purity and ancient glory those who love her more than the passing fancy of worldly approval or fading peace must "put on the whole armor of God" and "take the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17) and free her from the hands of error. We must NEVER "give place" to error "by way of subjection, no, NOT FOR AN HOUR; that the truth of the Gospel might continue . . ." (Gal. 2:5). We cannot afford to sit back in our easy chair of compromise and peaceful co-existence with the vain hope that those who "corrupt from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3) will voluntarily cease their subversive activities and suddenly become satisfied with God's arrangements. ERROR NEVER DIES OUT, IT HAS TO BE FOUGHT OUT!

Birth and Development of the Present Controversy

Our present controversy is the result of a well planned effort initiated some several years ago to make the church more acceptable to a modern society; to create her in the image of the denominations about her, and thus deliver her from their "reproaches." As is always the case, certain men, papers and schools arose to champion the cause of corruption and take the lead in the move toward apostasy. Men have been glamorized, schools emphasized, and papers peddled with a fervor never before witnessed in a restless effort to take over the church and control the thinking of her members. That such efforts have met with success in a large degree cannot be denied.

The soil was fertile and had undergone extensive preparation for the reception of the seeds of current innovations. This should have been evident to brethren when they witnessed the events of the Premillennial controversy just previous to the present troubles. Just notice that practically the same papers, preachers, and schools that compromised in the premillennial fight promote the present departures. Those conversant of that issue know full well that ONLY A HANDFUL of brethren bore the brunt of the battle while many of the PRESENT PROMOTERS sat back and criticized their "bad spirit" ; then, when the fight was over, and to a large degree the battle won, the great warriors were placed on the shelf of no-longer useful, and the carping critics stepped forward with their preserved vigor and took over to put the church "on the march" toward another apostasy just as vicious, if not more so, than that one from which she had just recently been saved.

We need to be impressed with the fact that the church generally is now struggling with one of the most aggressive and insidious apostasies in her history. This appraisal is forced upon us due to the many changes it has wrought in such a short time. It is probably difficult to accept the idea that the present apostasy is more vicious than the one which culminated in Roman Catholicism, yet, such a conclusion is irresistible when the two are contrasted. Let us remember that it was approximately six hundred years from Jerusalem to Rome in the first apostasy. The present wave of liberalism has been active for less than twenty-five and some are halfway to Rome already!

One often hears brethren denying that there is any danger or threat of apostasy in the practices and promotions at issue among us today. But really, this is just the dragging of a red herring across the trail of the promoters to try to sidetrack their pursuers. One preacher was heard to say, "Some brethren yell 'wolf, wolf' when there's not a wolf within a mile . . ." Well, when "gospel preachers" start talking like that we can be sure that the wolf is much closer than a mile - in fact, he has already entered the flock and possibly devoured some lambs! One of the most dangerous characteristics of apostasy is the fact that those who are active in it are unaware of it. Paul indicated this when he said, "Let him that THINKETH HE STANDETH take heed lest he fall." (I Cor. 10:12). If we delay our protest against apostasy until its promoters admit it we will have waited too late to save many.

The Issue Today Is New Testament Authority

What is the issue today? Why all the confusion and controversy? It seems evident that many don't know. The basic issue in this controversy, as has been true in all others, is that of AUTHORITY. The question is, "Shall we be guided exclusively by the positive teachings of the New Testament, or shall we take the liberty to do or add that which IT DOES NOT EXPRESSLY FORBID? Does the New Testament "Furnish us COMPLETELY unto ALL GOOD WORKS" (2 Tim. 3:16, 17), or has God left it up to human wisdom to decide what His church shall or shall not do? Reader, there has never been a religious controversy in or out of the church which did not have AUTHORITY at its root. This was the question with Luther and Zwengli, it was the question with the restorers, it was the question a hundred years ago, and it is the question now. Let nobody tell you otherwise! ARE WE LIMITED TO WHAT THE NEW TESTAMENT AUTHORIZES? - that's the question.

Efforts To Becloud the Real Issue

As in all controversy, there has been a lot of confusing the issue in our current discussions. Proponents of present departures have compassed land and sea in search for another quibble that would draw attention away from, or hide the real issue as stated above. Certainly, they don't want folks to know of their questioning the all-sufficient authority of the New Testament. It always works to the advantage of errorists to becloud the issue - this is their greatest weapon -if they can't convince they'll confuse. Many people are unable to see through the smoke screen of false charges, epithets, vituperation and sarcasm. All one has to do to convince them against a thing is give it a bad label. So, we have heard much of anti, hobbyist, dictators, legalists, Sommerites, et al., AND VERY LITTLE SCRIPTURE-DON'T FORGET THAT! The best evidence that the present controversy is over the matter of the authority of the New Testament is the lingering lack of such offered by the promoters of the matters in question. I have read everything I can get my hands on from both sides, I have attended every possible lecture and debate I could afford, and I here testify that I have heard and read numerous proponents of the questioned practices who did not offer ONE passage of scripture in support of their contentions. I have just finished reading the book of a debate I couldn't attend and it is the same story - the defender of present practices "proved" his contentions by everything under the sun BUT THE NEW TESTAMENT! When able men who have capably defended the truth in days past, and who have been wisely known as diligent students of the scriptures make whole speeches or use reams of paper and gallons of ink in defense of their positions without EVEN ONE appeal to the scriptures to authorize their practices can there be any doubt that the issue before us is that of AUTHORITY?

Let us all rest assured that if these brethren could find NEW TESTAMENT AUTHORITY for their practices they would be QUICK to do so and STOP the controversy. They are not enjoying the dispute - and who could with the position they hold? They would like to stop the discussion and hold their error too, but they know they can't do both. Some of God's people just won't accept their brethren's ipse dixits as a substitute for what God says. The only way they can stop the controversy is either produce NEW TESTAMENT AUTHORITY for their contentions or abandon them, but since they will do neither they'll seek to mark their opposition by calling them ugly names, and invent quibbles to becloud the real issue. Such has always been the handmaid of innovation and religious error. The person who resorts to such is unwittingly admitting that he can find no Scriptural authority for his ideas.

Misrepresentation has been the most successful tool of the defenders of current innovations. They have told out-right falsehoods in an effort to blind the minds of the unsuspecting. And at this point it is most difficult to refrain from impugning their motives. I shall refer here to only two of the most prominent misrepresentations namely, their charge that their opposition doesn't believe in helping the needy and congregations cooperating in a given work. I do not hesitate to say that such charges are both uncharitable and unchristian, and that nobody knows of their falsity and utter ridiculousness better than those making them. I also charge that such misrepresentations are unworthy of ANYBODY who claims to be a Christian. They have been asked repeatedly to name someone who doesn't believe that congregations of the Lord's people can cooperate and that the needy should be cared for. To date they haven't named that first one!

These misrepresentations are but outward signs of inward weakness - they indicate far more than their makers realize! If these brethren could produce New Testament authority for their contentions they wouldn't need to talk about what someone else believes or doesn't believe.

Why New Testament Authority Is Questioned Today

The real reason for the development of the present liberal attitude toward New Testament authority is the entrance into the minds of many brethren the social gospel concept. It is a basic tenant of modernism and has as its philosophy the idea that the church is basically a SOCIAL institution. It says her mission is SOCIAL BETTERMENT, and whatever lends to such is essentially a part of her work. We see the concept in its final development among the denominations. They have long since ceased to preach or defend, and in many cases to believe, their doctrines. Some of their main leaders have been known to say that they don't so much as care whether Christ was born of a virgin, or rose from the dead, or whether there is a life beyond the grave; that they have too great a task to perform to be bothered with such "trivial" questions - the task of MAKING THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE IN WHICH TO LIVE. This is the rankest type of social gospelism, and though it isn't quite that rank among us yet there are many who are headed for just such positions.

The first step in social gospelism is the destruction of the idea that the New Testament is an all-sufficient standard of authority for all time. One cannot hold to the idea that what was bound on the first century church must be bound on the twentieth century church and the social gospel concept at the same time. So one does not embarrass a social gospel advocate by asking him to authorize his practice by the New Testament; he answers, "I don't have to!!" That just such an attitude can be found among us today is easily demonstrated. For instance, the president of one of the colleges among us has circulated a tract entitled, "Where there is no pattern." This expression is becoming a byword with many. Another expression being heard is, "We don't need scripture for everything we do." And last but not least is a lot of talk about a "legalistic use of patterns." This rings a familiar bell! In fact, all such expressions have been used for centuries by those who have lost faith in the all-sufficiency of God's revelation for all ages, and who wanted to elevate their human wisdom above it. When once this attitude toward New Testament has gained prevalence the flood gate is open and the sky is the limit!

Some Social Betterment Programs Among Us

As before stated, social gospelism's concept of the work of the church is social betterment. That this phase of the philosophy has already gained prominence with many of our own people is quite easily shown. Let us see.

Following is a list of sermons to be delivered by a gospel preacher in what was advertised as a "GOSPEL MEETING," the theme of which was "Building homes . . . here and hereafter.- "The carpenter encouraged the goldsmith," "If God should speak again," "When a Christian marries," "Causes of divorce," "The baby in a Christian home," "Is modern man fit to be a father," "God's qualifications for a mother," "Sons and daughters do grow us," "Getting along with in-laws," and "Growing old gracefully." I have not listed all of the above as a criticism of each of them, but to show you where the emphasis is being placed. Is there any doubt in your mind ? Can't you see that this was really a "social betterment meeting" rather than a "Gospel meeting"? If the above example is not a demonstration of social gospelism right in our own ranks, then it doesn't exist anywhere on earth!

Another indication of the social betterment concept of the work of the church is the growing number of preachers who feel that their work includes social counseling - we hear of one preacher who uses the church office for such, thus no doubt feels that such is a part of "the work of an evangelist." In a lectureship recently a prominent preacher advocated that the church pay for the education of psychiatrists, and social workers and then furnish them offices in which to practice. Furthermore, many preachers are using the pulpit to lecture on child psychology, etc. This is the social betterment concept in operation within our own ranks.

The social gospel advocates contend that the church has the right to provide institutions for its social betterment programs. This is basically the source of the present institutional controversy among us. The idea is that the church can build and maintain an institution or program through which to perform any work of social betterment. Thus we have orphan homes, old folks homes, church owned and operated schools and kindergartens, and a proposed hospital, etc. To aid social betterment local churches have kitchens, recreation halls, student centers, youth hobby shops, all types of hall teams, and leagues, vouth camps, youth meetings: county-wide, state-wide, and probably national and international before long. Now, don't let anyone tell you that these are only figments of my imagination -- I HAVE ACTUAL ACCOUNTS OF THESE THINGS ON FILE.

The social betterment concept has greatly affected the quality of the preaching from many pulpits among us. It is gradually doing for our brethren what it has long since done for the denominations. Distinctiveness is rapidly disappearing among the promoters of the matters at issue as can be seen from the list of sermons given herein. Preachers have ceased to preach and members to appreciate sermons on the plan of salvation and Christian living. The idea is that the strict restraints of the ancient gospel constitute a social evil. "It isn't healthy to place so many prohibitions on people," they say. Negative thinking and preaching are bitterly abhorred - "we must be positive!" Thus, a soft, sentimental, insipid, empty husk type preaching flows from many pulpit., in which nothing is condemned and much is advocated that is foreign to the scriptures. For instance, some preachers are defending ballroom dancing, social drinking, divorce and remarriage for every cause, mixed bathing, wearing of shorts, etc. etc. Preachers have actually been fired for condemning such! A group of brethren recently told this writer of having spent much time and money in advertising a meeting and were successful in getting several outsiders present only to hear the preacher spend all his time promoting an old folks home! He even waved a dollar bill before the audience saying, "I'll give the first dollar toward starting an old folks home here." (The church was hardly "started" there then!). Another preacher was heard to say, "We don't claim to be the only Christians, we just claim to be Christians only." Apologies either precede or follow every statement of any strength made by some brethren. I recently heard a preacher make the following statement in a sermon, "I don't mean to be rude or unkind, but if you don't repent of your sins you will be condemned . . ." Must I make any comment?


May the above lines serve to open the eyes of many sleeping brethren. We must "Contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3), and be "Set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1:17.) When man would pervert the gospel, or prostitute the Bride of Christ our duty is clear. The church has always had to fight for every inch of victory she obtained, and there is New Testament evidence that it will always be thus. This should serve as a source of comfort in the present controversy. Who are we to think we can enjoy the liberty of the children of God for less blood, sweat and tears than our forefathers. It is easy to become discouraged in controversy and think it useless to go on when we can't see any results, but let's not try to tend God's business. It is ours to plant and to water, and God's to give the increase. So, let us screw our courage to the sticking place as we meditate on the following lines:

Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize,

And sailed through bloody seas?

Sure I must fight, in Jesus' name

Increase my courage, Lord;

I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,

Supported by Thy Word.

Isaac Watts

Truth Magazine III:4, pp. 6-9, 18
January 1959