By Morris W. R. Bailey
As we continue our study of attitudes toward the truth as revealed by New Testament writers, we observe that another unfavorable attitude, while not specifically named, is nevertheless implied in Paul’s description of the apostate condition of the Gentiles, as recorded in Romans 1:24-25.
Wherefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Here we have an attitude of presumptuousness that dares to elevate the wisdom of men above the wisdom of God in that they
Exchanged The Truth Of God For A Lie
The keynote of the epistle to the Romans is sounded by Paul in verse sixteen! “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Paul then proceeded to show man’s need of salvation, tracing his course from a state of belief in God to a state of unbelief, from whence he descended to the lowest depths of moral depravity. That is obvious from the words of verses nineteen to twenty-three.
Because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity, that they may be without excuse. Because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.
It was in that context that Paul said that they had exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
A Recurring Phenomenon
Many times since, men have exchanged God’s truth for the philosophies of men. That disposition is manifested in those who turn away from the Bible account of creation to a theory that would account for the origin of things on a non-miraculous basis. Just as the existence of the universe, with its harmony and order, bore witness to the ancients that God is, so also it bears witness to us today that “the hand that made them is divine.” So, if those of whom Paul wrote were without excuse in failing to recognize God as the Creator, then it is certain that with our tremendous increase in knowledge in the various branches of science today, man has even less excuse than they when he turns from God as the Creator to the speculations of human philosophy.
It is the simplest of logic to conclude that the universe, with its evidence of design, harmony, and order, is the product of not only a Creator, but also of one possessed of a high degree of intelligence. That is obvious from the following illustration.
I drive an automobile. Of course every one will agree that at some point in time it came into existence. Moreover every one will agree that it is not the result of mere chance, produced by some spontaneous action that threw a lot of disassociated debris together and, thus, formed an automobile. Nor would anyone suggest that it was the result of along evolutionary process that began with a tiny piece of metal that grew in size and in complexity, resembling at one time a wheel-barrow, later a two-wheeled chariot, and still later a stage coach of frontier days, and finally, after having acquired a two cylinder motor, it evolved on up through the model T Ford stage to emerge as the high powered V-8 of today, and all this, bear in mind, untouched by human hands and aided only by forces resident in itself.
Of course, no one who had their head on straight would suggest either accident or evolution as the explanation for the existence of an automobile. Reason tells us that some one with intelligence made it. But that is as far as reason can take us. Who made the automobile is a matter of revelation. Under the hood of my car I see a name-plate that identifies its manufacturer, General Motors of Canada. In the light of so reasonable an explanation, would it not be sheer folly to suggest that the automobile was the result of spontaneous generation, or of a long evolutionary process?
That the universe exists is an indisputable fact. That it bears strong evidence of design, harmony, and order cannot be denied. Reason tells us that behind it all is a maker of infinite intelligence and wisdom. But that is as far as reason can go. For the answer to the question of who made the universe, we are dependent on some form of revelation. That revelation is provided for us in the Bible account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. There we have an explanation that meets all the demands of reason. For it ascribes the existence of the universe with its harmony and order to an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful being who “spake and it was done; . . . commanded and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). Therefore, when men turn away from the Bible account of creation to a theory that ascribes the existence of the universe to unintelligent forces acting on dead matter, they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
The attitude of presumptuousness that tends to elevate the wisdom of men above the wisdom of God rears its head within religion when men adopt human creeds. The writing of the human creed is an admission on the part of its author(s) that they do believe in the all-sufficiency of the Bible. Yet the Bible claims to be all-sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
Moreover, human creeds teach error on various subjects. The Methodist Discipline, in one of its articles states,” . . . that we are saved by faith alone is a very wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.” Obviously, there is something wrong with the attitude that finds comfort in a doctrine that so obviously contradicts the Bible. James said, “Ye see how that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith” (James 2:24). Twice in the book of Romans, Paul wrote about “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Assuming, as we must, that Paul and James wrote the truth, we must conclude that when men turn from the Bible to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
Some human creeds teach the doctrine of inherited total depravity of the newly-born child. In the Larger Catechism of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, we find this statement: “Original sin is conveyed from our first parents to their posterity by natural generation, so that all that proceed from them in that way, are conceived and born in sin.” This is a vastly different picture of little children from that portrayed by Jesus who taught that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3). Moreover the Bible teaches that sin is an act of transgression (1 John 3:4). It is therefore not transmissible from parents to children (Ezek. 18:20). The doctrine of inherited depravity therefore replaces the truth of God with a lie.
And Now, Some Brethren
It is a sad fact that the disposition to exchange the truth of God, once held, for a lie has made its appearance among some of our brethren. This is, perhaps, not surprising when we remember that Paul foretold that there would come a time when some would “turn way their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:4). It has become manifest in that there are some who deny the role of approved example in establishing scriptural authority for faith and practice.
Up until the early 1950’s, it would have been rare to find any of our brethren who would deny the authority of approved example. I realize, of course, that unanimity among even a large majority of brethren is not the deciding factor in determining truth. That can be determined only by an appeal to the scriptures. But it was with sound scriptural reasons that brethren taught the role of example, as the following, scriptures reveal.
1. In giving the great commission to His apostles, Jesus instructed them to teach the baptized disciples “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). If, we are correct in assuming that the apostles were faithful in discharging the responsibility committed to them, it is logical to conclude that anything practiced by the early disciples with apostolic approval would reflect the will of the Lord on that particular matter, and thus would furnish an example for us to follow today.
2. Paul, himself, taught the authority of apostolic example when he wrote, “The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do . . .” (Phil. 4:9). Thus Paul ascribed equal authority to what they heard (command) and what they say (example). Other scriptures that may be noted are Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 11:1.
3. More over it is a fact that much of what we know about how people were converted in New Testament times, the early church, and how it functioned in the work ‘of evangelism and benevolence are learned by example. The book of Acts is a book of examples. To deny the role of approved example is thus to deny the utility of one of the most important books of the New Testament. It is by example that we learn that elders were appointed in every church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). It is by example alone that we know when to eat the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7).
But as the issues concerning institutionalism and sponsoring churches began to intensify, and it was pointed out that the examples of evangelism and benevolent work in the New Testament did not include things that some brethren were promoting, they were faced with the dilema of abandoning their unscriptural projects, or denying the authority of examples. Many of them chose to do the latter. That this is not an unsubstantiated charge is apparent from the following facts.
1. In his book entitled We Be Brethren, J.D. Thomas, after a long and complicated argument on Acts 20:7 said, “This then is the reason why some good brethren have concluded against the establishment of pattern authority by examples alone.”
2. Another writer, Milo R. Hadwin, writing in the Firm Foundation said, “The conclusion of this study is that New Testament examples have no role as related to Bible authority. The actions of individuals or churches recorded in the New Testament have no authority to require imitation today” (emphasis mine, M.W.R.B.).
Other like quotations could be given from other brethren, but these are sufficient to confirm our charge that some brethren are denying the authority of examples. When we consider the plain and emphatic teaching of the Bible on this subject, we can only conclude that they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creatures of their own invention rather than the Creator.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 8, pp. 133-135
February 21, 1980