By Morris W. R. Bailey
Wrong attitudes toward the truth, while not specifically named, are nevertheless sometimes implied in the conduct of certain Bible characters, as revealed by inspired writers. Such is true concerning some, of whom Paul said that
They Walked Not Uprightly According To The Truth
In recalling an incident that occurred in the church at Antioch, Paul wrote,
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face because he stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Cephas before them all, If thou being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
So then, it is possible for one who preaches the truth, to act the hypocrite and conduct himself in a way that is inconsistent with the truth that he preaches. That has ever been one of the weaknesses of man. It was the sin that Paul charged against the Jews of his day. They regarded themselves as being more righteous than the Gentiles who had been guilty of most vicious crimes against humanity (Rom. 1:26-32). Paul showed, however, that in condemning the Gentiles the Jews condemned themselves in that they practiced the same things (Rom. 2:1). “Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorest idols, dost thou rob temples?” (Rom. 2:21-23).
Peter, The Offender
But let us get back to the scene at Antioch and the language of Paul in Gal. 2:11-14. Ironically, the chief offender in this case was none other than the apostle Peter.
They say that Peter was the rock of which Jesus spoke when he said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Passing over, for the time being, arguments to the contrary, we make this observation that if indeed the church was built on Peter it rests on a shaky foundation. For if there was one human weakness that Peter had, it was that of impulsiveness coupled with instability. A few hours before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest Peter had assured his Lord that though all others would forsake him, the Lord could depend upon him. Yet it was just a few hours later that Peter denied Christ three times.
It will be remembered that God chose Peter to preach the first gospel sermon to the Gentiles. Some time afterward, Peter, recalling the event, said, “God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7).
Peter’s going to preach to the household of Cornelius required that he do something of which all Jews even those that were believers disapproved. It involved his going in and eating with Gentiles who were still considered as unclean by the Jews. But by means of the vision recorded in Acts 10:9-16), God had taught Peter that the old social barrier between Jew and Gentile had been done away. And it is obvious that Peter had understood that the purpose of the vision to be that he “should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28).
But now we find him at Antioch, the man who had boldly gone in and eaten with the Gentiles, and later defended himself for so doing, retreating from that position because of the criticism of some Jews that had come down from Jerusalem. Paul said, “He drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12). In such conduct, Paul said that Peter and others had not walked uprightly according to the truth of the gospel.
The manner in which Peter conducted himself on the above occasion has found a counterpart many times since. Too often we find men who preach one thing, but practice something else. Sometimes we find preachers who are strong on what we call doctrinal matters, giants in defending the truth and exposing the false theories of man, but weak in their own morals. More than one preacher has been ruined by a scandal in his own life. Sometimes preachers will preach about equality of men and of brotherly love, yet refuse to associate with a brother because of the color of his skin. Sometimes preachers will preach about honesty but when they move they leave unpaid bills behind them. Such, like those of whom Paul write, are not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel.
Fear Of Criticism
There is yet another aspect of this matter to be considered. It reveals the disposition to take the popular course, a course dictated by policy. Paul said, “Before that certain came from James, he (Peter) ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision.” So Peter ate with the Gentiles until it brought him criticism, and made him unpopular among his old associates. In this instance, Peter proved to be a policy man. He took the popular course, he wanted to be with the majority.
Peter is not the only guilty man. There have always been those who wanted to be with the majority when controversial issues arise. Their attitude toward disputed practices is not characterized by the question “Is it scriptural?” Contrariwise they are more concerned with whether or not it is popular, and if it will bring them criticism if they practice it.
Displayed In Current Issues
Too many times has such vaccilating conduct been found in the church of our Lord. When issues arise, I have seen men take a strong stand for the truth until they found that it brought them criticism and made them unpopular. Then, like Peter, they drew back and disavowed positions once held and now practice things that they once condemned as unscriptural. As I write, I have before me the first volume of the Gospel Guardian, published in 1949. It contains a list of names of impressive writers, none perhaps better known that that of Foy E. Wallace, Jr. In the issue of May 5, 1949 and in an article entitled, “The Issues Before Us,” under a paragraph entitled “Institutionalism,” Brother Wallace said of human institutions, “. . . No one denies that they are secular and human; yet their proponents want to bed them up in the treasuries of the churches and thereby subordinate the divine church of the Lord to the human organizations of men.” In another paragraph on “Brotherhood Elderships,” he wrote, “History is repeating on ecclesiastical organization. It comes now in the form of the little church working through the big church – which is centralization. It amounts to little elders turning the responsibility of their work over to big elders . . . .”
Can anyone read these, and other similar statements from the pen of Brother Wallace, and come to any other conclusion but that he opposed human institutions being supported by the church to do the work of the church, and also opposed the concept of the sponsoring church? Yet, today, we find Brother Wallace lending his support to those who are building up the things that he once sought to destroy.
Another prominent writer of past years, Guy N. Woods, wrote in 1939 in an article entitled, “The Tendency Toward Institutionalism”:
The ship of Zion had floundered more than once on the sandbar on institutionalism. The tendency to organize is characteristic of the age. On the theory that the end justifies the means, brethren have not scrupled to form institutions in the chruch to do the work the church was designed to do. All such institutions usurp the work of the church, and are unnecessary and sinful . . . . Of course it is right for the church to care for the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, but this work should be done by and through the church, with the elders having the oversight thereof, and not through boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament.
Can anyone read the above and come to any conclusion other than that Brother Woods strongly opposed human institutions doing the work that God gave the church to do? Yet in 1956, when he debated W. Curtis Porter, he affirmed a proposition that reads, “It is in harmony with the Scriptures for churches to build and maintain benevolent organizations for the care of the needy . . . .” Thus, in 1956 Brother Woods affirmed as having the scriptural right to exist, boards and conclaves which he said in 1939 were unknown to the New Testament and therefore sinful. If Peter were living today, he would have a lot of company!
There are men who will not take a position on any matter until they know where the marjority stands. Their attitude obviously is that truth is determined by counting noses. Others take what they call “the middle of the road” position on controversial issues, which means that they can be found on either side.
One thing we need to learn and never forget is that, so far as truth is concerned, it does not matter where the majority stands, for truth is never determined by majority vote. Truth is truth regardless of how few stand for it, or how many stand opposed to it. History has testified more than once that the majority was wrong, and those who stood for the truth, sadly in the minority.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 9, pp. 151-152
February 28, 1980