Abuses and Extremes
Middlebourne, West Virginia
Our subject is not a new one, but there appears to be an inordinate number of extreme positions being embraced throughout the country. Maybe it is time to study the matter again. Generations have a way of coming and going before we realize that some basic principles have been neglected.
Let us not make the mistake of concluding that all extreme positions are the result of abuses. Some folks can seem to find an extreme doctrine or practice without any provocation whatsoever. But both inspired and uninspired histories are replete with examples of abuses which engendered extreme reactions.
Neither do we wish to leave the impression that truth is always found midway between two positions. It is possible that two conflicting positions could both be wrong. But, it is possible that truth may lie somewhere between two extreme positions, and that the abuse of a practice may have contributed to these extremes.
The sons of Eli abused their position to the point that "men abhorred the offering of the Lord" (1 Sam. 2:17). Eli was partially to blame for the misconduct of his sons, for "he restrained them not" (1 Sam. 3:13). This abuse was augmented further by the sons of Samuel who "walked not in his ways" (I Sam. 8:3). These abuses prompted Israel to reject a rule by judges, and demand a king, but the abuse did not justify such extreme action (Hos. 13:11).
Rehoboam made the mistake of abusing his rule over Israel by increasing the burdens of his subjects, which in turn provoked Jeroboam to lead a rebellion "against the house of David" (1 Kgs. 12:6-19). But, both Judah and Israel were reaping the results of their first mistake, which was a substitution of kings for judges.
In contemporary history, we have seen examples of abuses which have been at least partially responsible for some extreme positions taken by brethren. And, while the abuse of a practice is no justification for an extreme position, neither is the abuse of a lawful practice justified.
Congregations have been rent asunder and new congregations established because of the complaint that the old congregation "wasn't doing anything." In some instances, this charge was justified, though it was not sufficient reason for the strife and contention which followed. Of course, in some cases, the complaint that the church "wasn't doing anything" was simply an excuse to start doing things which the church had no business doing in the first place.
Some of the extreme positions being taken with reference to the Lord's supper may be traced to abuses which never should have begun, and which should have been corrected or approached in a sensible fashion.
The time and order of worship on the first day of the week are matters to be decided by the local congregation, based on local conditions. The size of the congregation, geographical location, and economic factors can affect such decisions. A Filipino congregation on Samal Island (accessible only by boat) will surely have to consider factors which would not even enter the picture for a congregation in the hills of West Virginia or the plains of Texas.
If you have the Lord's supper before the sermon, some members will come early and leave after they have "observed" the Lord's supper. If you have the Lord's supper after the sermon, some will come to the assembly just in time to "get communion." If you have a morning assembly, some will skip an afternoon or evening assembly because they "had the sacraments" in the morning. Trying to find the perfect time, place, or number of songs for a given congregation can be an exercise in perpetual futility. And even when the local congregation resolves such matters, some outsider will come in or write in to bind his opinions upon others.
And I'm persuaded that such extreme positions regarding the Lord's supper are simply the result of someone's reaction to a real or imagined abuse which he has experienced.
Church buildings can only be authorized by generic authority, and fall into the category of a "place" to assemble (Heb. 10:25), just as a place for baptism is essential before you can baptize anyone (Matt. 28:19). It is impossible to obey either command without a place to baptize or a place to assemble.
Some brethren have built and rented buildings in places that almost defy discovery, even by local residents. Some church buildings and houses for preachers are monuments to poor judgment, considering local needs and circumstances. Some congregations have added facilities for recreation and entertainment, none of which falls within the scope of a congregation's work, mission, or worship. Some pervert the church building and grounds into rental or other financial ventures, including secular schools and projects.
But such abuses of church buildings do not justify some of the extreme positions being taken by some in this area. If we could somehow abolish the protective restraints of congregational autonomy, and decide to demolish or sell every church building in the country, the next generation would still be faced with the same decisions we have faced - where to meet, when to meet, when to observe the Lord's supper, and how many songs to sing before and after prayer.
And if some of us could live long enough, we'd probably find the next generation doing things about the same way we have done in the area of generic authority. And there would be the usual abuses, and extreme reactions to those abuses.
And sooner or later, the Lord would return and want to know why we were wasting our energy, time, and talents on things which are only incidental to the work which he left us to do.
And some of us who have talked and written incessantly on such matters would for once in our lifetime be speechless (Matt. 22:12).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 6, pp. 168, 171