Heresy and Heretics

Gordon J. Pennock
Racine, Wisconsin

In the presence of Felix the Roman governor, Paul said: "I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust" (Acts 24:14-15).

Paul was not an heretic, but certain Jews had so charged him. Although he admitted that he was so charged, he denied that he was guilty. He denied that he was simply a trouble-maker (v. 5), but rather insisted that the disturbance concerning him was because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead, which he regarded as being adequately taught in the prophets.

A Similar Situation

Paul's situation was in many ways similar to the one in which many brethren find themselves today. Because of their sincere faith in the all-sufficiency of the church to accomplish the work which the Lord gave it to do, within the capacity, organization and framework of local congregations, backed by vigorous opposition to liberalistic trends in the church, especially to the use of church funds for the building and maintaining of benevolent institutions to which churches in turn may delegate their benevolent responsibilities, and to multi-congregational efforts as exemplified in the "Herald of Truth" they have been anathametized by certain brethren as legalists, antis, trouble-makers, etc. They have been maliciously slandered as being without sympathy toward orphans, widows and the poor, as well as having little or no interest in carrying the gospel to sinners. Such attitudes and charges against them came only after considerable discussion through which it became crystal clear to many of us that Bible authority could not be cited for many f the arrangements and schemes which were being promoted all over the country.

Having failed to convince, or silence, their opposition through debate the next step taken by the champions of institutionalism was to appeal to churches, preachers and papers requesting that a yellow tag or quarantine be placed upon all preachers, papers or churches who opposed them. That their inquisition might be as effective as possible, creedal questionnaires were sent to many preachers, especially those in mission fields who were dependent upon several churches to supply their needs, demanding that they give YES or NO answers to carefully worded questions with references to the issues in dispute. As to be expected, doubtless many succumbed to such pressure. Upon the other hand, others stood their ground and accepted the consequences.

In all this maneuvering to destroy their opposition, the only apparent overture of mercy is an opportunity to confess one's error and announce his capitulation in the pages of the Gospel Advocate. I know whereof I speak, because I have been "through the mill."

A Case in Point

The following will serve to illustrate what we have been saying. Before moving to work with the church in Racine, June, 1959; I was aware that a portion of the preacher's support was being supplied by the Trinity Lane church, Nashville, Tennessee. Not being acquainted with the elders there, I gave the matter little thought, since my working agreement was made with the Racine church. I anticipated no difficulty on "the issues" since I also knew that the two preachers who had consecutively preceded me shared my views on them. This I had learned both from personal acquaintance and through the Racine church bulletin, which incidentally was also mailed to the Trinity Lane church.

Our first year of work was fruitful. Seven people were baptized - a good record for a small church in this part of the country. Indirectly, we were informed that the elders of Trinity Lane were pleased with what we were accomplishing in Racine. But then in July, 1960, I received a brief letter written by their preacher, John P. Murphree, on behalf of the elders, expressing their continuing interest "in the work of spreading the gospel and saving souls," along with the following questionnaire which I answered as indicated:

1. Do you believe a church can scripturally contribute money from its treasury to an orphan home such as Potter Orphan Home, Tennessee Orphan Home, etc? NO

2. Are you opposed to churches giving out of their treasuries to orphan homes? YES

3. Do you believe that the cooperation of congregations in presenting a program like the "Herald of Truth" is scriptural? NO

4. Are you opposed to a congregation's contributing money out of its treasury to the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, .Texas, to help with the "Herald of Truth?" YES

Accompanying my return of this inquiry, I wrote expressing regret that such a statement did not allow for many things which I felt should be said and considered. I told them that these were my honest convictions and that my position constituted to me the only logical application of the principles that I had learned and preached for nearly twenty-five years. This was the only direct contact I had with them.

Some weeks later a check and letter was received from Trinity Lane, addressed to the Racine church, in care of one of the brethren. In this letter was renewed the desire upon the part of the elders to continue assistance to the Racine church, providing that my services were terminated at least in ninety days. They further instructed that no part of the money sent be used to pay my salary. And furthermore: that their decision was final and that they did not intend to debate the question. Evidently, they thought that the fact that they had assisted the Racine work substantially, and for a considerable period of time, that they therefore had some right to dictate what the Racine church should or should not do. But, their action was somewhat regarded as an attempt to buy control of the Racine church. Their request was rejected, and in a regular business meeting, a unanimous expression of confidence was given me.

Before leaving this illustration drawn from personal experience, let us emphatically say that we regard it the right and responsibility of the elders of any church to decide whom they shall or shall not support with the funds entrusted to them. But we are disturbed and concerned that any brethren will pontifically draft confessions of faith anent controverted and unresolved issues among brethren and make them instruments of either communion or excommunication. And this course becomes extremely regrettable since even the proponents of the actions in dispute readily admit that a church's participation in them is not essential to its obedience to the will of God.

When Is a Matter Scriptural?

In the light of what has been said and written in the last few years it seems quite evident that our problems spring from a failure upon the part of a great many brethren to either understand or accept the basis upon which matters are proven to be scriptural or unscriptural. Seemingly, some have reached the conclusion that if an arrangement works, or a majority or even a sizeable segment approves, then it surely must be scriptural. This is, of course, preposterous. No proposition is scriptural unless it be found in, or according to the teaching of the scriptures.

In order to get this idea before you, I quote briefly from brother N: B. Hardeman in his debate with Ira M. Boswell on the proposition of Instrumental Music in Church Worship. Note: "Upon what is my objection (to instrumental music in worship - founded? It is founded upon this: that a thing to be scriptural must come under one of three heads - either direct commandment, and you know that there is not one in all the Bible; by apostolic precedent, which you dare not give; or necessary inference . . . . Why, ladies and gentlemen, I oppose the instrument, or the music made by men's hands on the ground that it does not conform to the scriptures in any way. It is not in God's direct command, it is not in God's book taught by apostolic example, it is not in God's book necessarily by inference, and, therefore, weighed in the balance and found wanting. It comes outside of God's book, and hence I have a right to object thereto." - Boswell-Hardeman Discussion, p. 141.

What brother Hardeman so clearly and conclusively stated about the use of instrumental music in worship represents exactly my convictions in regard to the use of church treasuries for the building and maintaining of private benevolent institutions, and such arrangements as the "Herald of Truth" in the field of evangelism. Neither can be demonstrated from the scripture either in the way of precept, approved example or necessary inference. This conviction has been tested and strengthened by study of most of the major published debates, as well as a great volume of what has been written on both sides in our several leading publications in the past ten years. In short, I regard these ideas and actions as unscriptural innovations, which pose a challenge to the all-sufficiency of the church to meet its obligations and do its work in the fields of benevolence and evangelism, within the scope and limitations of its congregational organization and capacity. I am compelled to regard them as reflecting unfavorably upon the wisdom of God.

Difference Between Belief and Opinion

Let us also invite your attention to the term believe which is so frequently used in the course of conversation. It may be used not only to describe one's convictions founded upon indisputable evidence, but also his ideas, impressions, suppositions and opinions, which may be based upon very fragmentary evidence or none at all. I am sure that every Bible student will concede that its sense is much more limited in the scriptures.

Once more, I am going to call upon brother Hardeman to state this matter and its significance, for us, since he has been respected as one of the clearest exponents of New Testament principles, and to whom I feel personally indebted for much of my understanding of them. Hear him!

"There is a distinction between matters of faith and matters of opinion. Faith is that which comes by hearing God's word. It is the acceptance of evidence coming from holy men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

"To make that just as emphatic as I can, let me say that whenever I tell you I believe a thing, I have put myself under obligation to turn to God's book and read the evidence from which that faith comes. And it follows that if I cannot find the evidence and the testimony in the book of God, I do not believe it at all. It was merely a matter of opinion. The world, tonight, is divided on the question of opinion.

"When you ask me to give up my opinion about a thing, you have asked nothing unreasonable - nothing but that ought to be considered in the light of a desire to banish division. So, friends, let us not hesitate to ask that opinions be given up." Herdeman's Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 3, p. 142.

While this excellent statement was directed to denominationalism in general, and. our digressive brethren in particular, and pertained to the issues which separate us from them, it is nevertheless applicable to the questions of institutionalism and sponsoring-church cooperation. Since, as we previously stated, these cannot be shown to be scriptural, either by precept, approved example or necessary inference, how can we possibly say that we believe in them! When we do, we obligate ourselves "to turn to God's book and read the evidence from which that faith comes." We cannot cite chapter-and-verse for them, nor can anyone else. How then, can we believe they are scriptural? The most that can be said for them is that thcy are mere human opinions.

A Plea and a Plan for Unity

The tragedy is that these opinions are working havoc in the church of our Lord. Do we ask something "unreasonable" when we ask that they be given up in our earnest desire to "banish division?" Brother Hardeman says, no! And, we wholeheartedly agree with him. We fervently implore brethren everywhere to return to a full acceptance of the simple truth that faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17), and make nothing a matter of faith or a test of fellowship for which we cannot give chapter and verse from the New Testament. Despite our weaknesses and occasional failures, let us passionately endeavor to "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). Let us once more stand shoulder to shoulder upon those principles which are right, and cannot be wrong, and "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3) . Let us commit ourselves afresh to the proposition so vigorously and effectively pressed by gospel preachers in the past, that the inspired scripture, untouched and untarnished by human wisdom, is able to furnish us "completely to every good work" (2 Tim. 3 :16-17) . In contemplation of the prayer that Jesus prayed on our behalf (John 17:20-21) , let us humbly bend every effort to make unity once more the badge and blessing of His people, that the world may believe, and that we may not be ashamed to meet Him in the judgment.

Truth Magazine, V:7, pp. 10-13
April 1961