A Review of Brother Cecil Wright's Article
Elsewhere in this issue of TRUTH magazine is an article by brother Cecil N. Wright. At the request of the editor this review is written. I am glad that this well-written and thought-provoking article is inserted so that all who read this may read that one in its entirety; and, also, it will obviate the necessity for many direct quotations from his article. The review of another's article requires more space than the one reviewed covers, if fully treated. We shall notice the more salient points of his without endeavoring to examine every statement and confine ourselves to the general thesis of his reasoning.
The Use of Terms. A psychological advantage is secured when one conditions the use of his terms to the character of his readers and since the churches of Christ have long been classed as conservative in relation to the position of religious society in general, we can appreciate the caution exercised by the brother in his use of the terms conservative and liberal. These terms are very prominent in the political nomenclature of our time, and many astute politicians labor to avoid the label of either, as they endeavor to be "middle-of-the-roaders." Apparently, brother Wright is following this course. We are reminded of a paper that was started with the avowed purpose of wielding a two-edged sword against both liberalism, and the so-called ultra-conservatism of brother Wright's article. In the brief life, however, of this periodical its pages were devoted wholly to an attack on the latter. It, then, looks as though the opposition to liberalism was for an effect, and that to allay all suspicions of a heretofore fundamentally conservative brotherhood. We are made to wonder if such may also he the design of the brief reference discreditable of liberalism.
To be identified as an extremist reflects on a person in the eyes of many people. But the term, as that of "anti," demands a clearer definition by a proper qualification of that implied thereby. The doctrinal position of the brethren in Christ has always been an exreme one in comparison with the denominational conception of the plan of salvation. An aversion, then, to being regarded as an extremist may unwittingly lead one into the latitudinarianism characteristic of denominationalists, generally. One, however, devoted to knowing and doing God's Will, independent of what it may be, or what others may think or do, will never become the victim of such an influence. Christianity is an extreme system of teaching, both in that which it affirms and that which it enjoins upon its adherents. To teach that one must be immersed in order to be saved is the essence of illiberalism, in the judgment of most people.
In the second paragraph the brother delineates the alleged progressivism of the conservatives among us. He dates its beginning nine years ago. But what provoked its expressed opposition? Simply the inauguration which theretofore had not been done, at least to an extent to attract widespread attention. Had brethren known that the scriptures authorized such a kind of joint operation as Lubbock instituted, and had been negligent in doing so; or, had they known there was no authority therefor, but decided to do so at this time anyway? The belabored effort to discover some appearance of authority since attests the latter to be true. The same is true of the Herald of Truth arrangement. An examination of these specimens of centralized operation inevitably led to the recognition, by many, or all, of the parallel in that particular of the orphan homes among, us; hence, the incorporation of them into the controversy that has developed in the church. He comes to some observations and claims in this delineation with which I am unfamiliar, and to which I do not subscribe. I have known of no one who says a congregation cannot be assisted in meeting any legitimate need it has and which it cannot meet itself. This does not entail a situation where a congregation aspiringly assumes a need born of human imagination and ambition. We trust that a simple denial is a sufficient refutation of unsupported assertions.
The material that warrants particular attention, in this article, is the third paragraph"The Latest Explication." He notes that Gal. 6:10 which enjoins doing good unto all men as restricted in its force to individuals, and affording no directive for church action, is an instance of the ultra-conservatism, about which he is writing. Does he prove that the passage authorizes the church to act "collectively" in doing good unto all men? Only feebly and parenthetically is the attempt made. He states that the letter is addressed to the churches of Galatia. This is true. But on the principle of reasoning thus employed, he would be forced to relate every directive in the letter to the church as embodying collective or church action; and, in addition thereto, he would have to also relate it to a joint action of the churches, as distinguished from the action of a single congregation; inasmuch as the letter is addressed to the churches. We wonder why this, so, far as I know, has been overlooked by the modern co-operationists among us! However, an examination of the passage in its setting necessarily identifies it as contemplating individual action. As satisfactorily confirmatory of this is the fact there is no recorded example of a congregation, or congregations, ever extending benevolence to the world. Facts are stubborn things-too stubborn for epithets or ultra-conservatism to uproot. Next, he places in quotation marks, as allegedly stated by someone a statement the church only acts collectively in the conversion of its treasury into services. However, in the light of the issues being discussed it must be related to them, and as thus related it is true. But in an effort to "break this link of the chain" he cites references that do not involve the treasury of the church, and, hence, have no bearing on the issue. This is pure sophistry, though I trust unintentional.
The third link in his chain, and which he attacks, is noticed with an array of inferences, which he deems necessary ones. Of course he has already broken one link, the middle one, and now seeks to grind the third one to pieces! This third link is thus worded: "Careful study will reveal only two actions are authorized, namely, sending relief to needy saints, and supplying the necessities or wages of a gospel preacher." Certainly this statement would have to be appraised in its context, which isn't supplied by the quotation. Be it noted, however, that the action of sending is in the statement, and as this suggests action external of the internal affairs and needs of the congregation, his string of inferences are without foundation! Not only are they not necessary inferences, they aren't even reasonable ones.
Evidently carried away with the powers of his own persuasive reasoning in this paragraph, he launches further out in the enumeration of the restrictions he thinks conservatives should impose on their practices. Yea, not only does he say we could, but that we should. Among these stipulated restrictions is that of individual support of preachers, as enjoined in Gal. 6:6. Now if this were the only scripture for supporting the preaching of the gospel, then the restriction he prescribes would be legitimate. But he knows there are others. (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 1:5; 4:15-16.) Also, he should know that Acts 2:42 enumerates that which the disciples did from the beginning, among which is fellowship, and as found in that connection involves the matter of contribution. The passage mentions the breaking of bread, and from the occurrence in this passage he cannot determine when they did it; he is dependent on Acts 20:7 on that point, and, by the same reasoning I Cor. 16:1-2 contributes the same light on the point of the time of the contribution.
Reaching the conclusion toward which he had been looking he thoughtfully suggests that these restrictions are silly. Confident that all will agree then he triumphantly asserts they are no more so than the conservatism he starts with depicting. But in his introduction he stated that "Its absurdities become all the more glaring" as it progresses. Then the silliness is static, but the absurdity isn't, eh!.
Seemingly, however, he recovered himself from his own "extremism" in time to qualify a capitalized ending of his article. And for fear that some may have failed to note the qualifying terms of his escape, he reprinted it in the next issue of his bulletin, directing special attention thereto. With an examination of it we shall close. In allusions to general and specific authority, he almost became too general. He almost fell into the trap of saying that anything a Christian may do with his money the church can. But doubtless he recalled the many times that has been refuted, and didn't quite get the consent of his own mind to say it. With his qualification, properly explained, I concur. Here it is: "There is 110 basis for imposing limitations on its (church treasury) use beyond what may be imposed upon individual Christians in the use of their pocketbooks to discharge the obligations that are theirs because they are members of the church." Let us make the proper distinction, as suggested by the last part of his statement.
There are many things which Christians are taught to do in the New Testament, and from that viewpoint they have been denominated Christian duties. But in the most strict sense of the term no duty can be a Christian duty except that it is peculiar to the relationship formed by one in becoming a Christian. For instance, Christians are obligated to pay taxes, to love their wives, and wives to be obedient to their husbands; servants are to obey their masters and children to obey their parents. These are all duties which are indigenous to the particular relationship involved, and thus not exclusively the duty of Christians. But the Lord imposes duties on those who are his by virtue they stand thus related to him, and also enjoins a proper recognition and discharge of duties which exist by reason of the other relationships they sustain. Hence, with this distinction, it can be said, I believe truthfully that those obligations which one owes because he is a member of the church, and which in no sense otherwise would exist, are also obligatory on the church. Therefore, the individual Christian and the congregation can both support the gospel and relieve needy saints, whereas only the individual is commanded to relieve others, or "do good unto all men." This is true because as individuals we sustain a relation to human society in general because we are members of it; we sustain obligations in all the relationships of life which are legal, moral and ethical. There is, therefore far greater latitude in the scope of individual activity, than that of congregational. The reason should be apparent. The church is not of this world; it is spiritual in character, mission and destiny, and, consequently, its relationship to the world is exclusively spiritual-that of ceaseless combat in an effort to effect the deliverance of men from this evil world, and turning them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. This is the mission of the church to the world, and from, it there should be no diversion. Human instrumentalities have been and shall continue to be devised as adapted to the needs of this present life, but the church is to be appraised and appreciated in the light of the world to come. Since to become carnally minded is death so to carnalize the mission of the church can but result in the apostatizing of the body of Christ.
Truth Magazine III:8, pp. 6-8