By Robert F. Turner
Only the “straw man” argues all questions make a creed. The issue is: despite undoubted good intentions by the writer, does “the 28,” with accompanying letter, have the elements of a creed.
I did not “request” this exchange, as reported in Ron’s letter to Gospel Truths, April issue. His offer to make correction in that paper is appreciated, but I should speak for myself. In October ’93 I sent the G.O.T. editor an objective article on creeds (no reference to church, person or “the 28”), but saying the Bible was an adequate test for othodoxy. He would only publish it side-by-side with an article (not Ron’s) that was filled with innuendo, questioning of motives, “playing the martyr,” “problem of ego,” “something to hide.” We needed teaching, not character bashing. Then Mike suggested brother Halbrook as the other writer. In a conference call (with Mike and Ron) I pled for objective articles, written at the same time rather than as rebuttal, but they would not accept that. So, I said do it your own way: two articles each, five pages, double spaced.
Brother Halbrook did a great job of proving elders should beware of false teachers (Acts 20:28-32), feed the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4), try the spirits (with words of inspired men, I might add; 1 In. 4:1-6), and the like; but those things are not the issue. We are discussing creedalistic tendencies, and before one can label or deny anything to be “creedalistic,” the meaning of “creed” or “creedal” must be established. Reread sources quoted in my first article.
Brother Halbrook says there is Bible authority for asking questions. I know of none who doubt it. There is also Bible authority for writing what one believes Paul’s letters, for example. But these are straw men. Stating what one believes, or the mere fact that “the 28” are questions does not make them creedal. But add: (1) these questions duplicated as a unit, (2) sent to 19 or more men, including men believed to be sound, (3) used to prove recipients “walk in the old paths of divine revelation,” and then (4) adopt the attitude that “men who are drifting would resent and would refuse . . .” and we have a case. I am aware that Ron explains this as having to do only “on the subjects specified.” He fails to see that this specifying of a few subjects for such a job is the essence of creedalism. Passages cited as “authority” for the “28” (Acts 20;28-32; 1 Pet. 3:15; 5:1-4; 1 In. 4:6; 2 Jn. 9-11) do not justify whatwas done. Each calls for testing by the total inspired message (art. 1, par. 11).
Important distinctions must be made between what is recorded in the N.T., and what Ron defends today. Paul said “the Spirit speaketh . . .” regarding forbidding to marry, etc. (1 Tim. 4:1-3). These inspired statements were a part of the whole truth being gradually revealed at that time. He was not authorizing a selection of a few special interest items to be used to test for soundness. Regarding 1 Corinthians, surely Ron does not think Paul sent a list of questions, such as: (1) Do you have too much confidence in preachers? (2) Do you live in adultery? etc., in order to test Corinthian orthodoxy. Instead, he gave inspired teaching on these subjects to add to the whole truth. We are to use the total truth, not a creed derived from it, to test others. Neither denominational beliefs, nor yours, nor mine, make an adequate standard for testing preachers.
Debate questions, duplicated and sent as standards to test the orthodoxy of preachers you support, would be equally inadequate.
Brother Halbrook did the writing of the “28” and “they reflect” his special interests. Now so far as I can determine, I agree with Ron’s conclusions about marraige and divorce, but passing that and the other test questions would not guarantee my soundness. Ron’s views cannot test my soundness it is subject only to God’s inspired word as a whole. But he says creeds “claim to be” creeds, and his questions do not so “claim.” If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… Ron has yet to recognize the essence of creedalism.
He says the “28” is a “judgment call,” because some have voiced unsound views recently. Before the “28” how did they know these men were unsound? What guarantee have we that signers of the “28” will remain sound? Ron puts the “28” in the realm of Romans 14. Do all human “tests” (per se) fit in Romans 14? Although most have errors (nor are the “28” inspired) we have already shown the list may be true and still be a creed (definitions, in my first article).
My advice regarding selecting preachers? Treat each man individually, seek references from others you trust, watch for good character traits, ask questions growing out of investigation, remember God’s rule applies to all alike (2 Cor. 10:13). Knowing your own “beliefs” are subject to error, seek a man who, like yourself, is willing to measure and remeasure his beliefs by the total truth. You cannot know his heart, nor even all his concepts; but look for evidence of a soul hungry man who puts God service above himself.
Then, a surprising statement. We are told variations in interpreting a question, lack of agreement on every aspect of a subject, or “preference of another format for stating his stand” do not terminate support. Sounds good, but did not the elders’ letter say “men who are drifting” would resent and refuse to answer the “28”? Written statements of others who approve of this project are far more bitter about all who disapprove, leaving no room for honest doubt about the procedure. This is a typical result of sectarian and creedal attitude, and we urge that it not be encouraged.
Ron selects six doctrines, scattered through 1 and 2 Timothy, acknowledges they are “less than the whole truth,” then says, “It could be said, `Men who are drifting would resent and would refuse to answer these six simple questions. ‘ Of course they were not questions in the first place, each had its own context, and were but part of the process of divine revelation of truth. Can you see Paul sending out six questions to Timothy to test his orthodoxy?
But delving deeper into the history of creeds we will see that creedalism and sectarianism go hand in hand. Rereading the quotes in my first article you will see that the creedal mind selects certain parts of the total revelation, rallies its followers around these parts, thus creating a distinctive “sect.” The dictionary suggests having in common a leader or a distinctive doctrine or way of thinking, i.e., distinct because only a part of total revelation.
The Greek hairesis (translated “heresy, sect”) has an interesting background. Its early meaning was “choose,” and for a time was “kin” to eunoia (favor, good will). But this “choosing” developed in a bad sense to mean “factiousness” (Moulton and Milligan). So, a “sect” of the Jews was a party rallied around their distinctive “I believes” (Pharisees, Herodians, etc.), and early followers of Christ were once thought of as a “sect of the Nazarenes” (cf. Acts 24:5,14). Ron and I both know that truth Christians rally around Christ, meaning the total teaching of Christ. I am satisfied Ron and his elders did not intend to do otherwise.
But the history of creeds shows that when limited doctrines are set forth in some special form, a list of “I believes,” whether stated declaratively or interrogatively, they encourage strife, build party lines, discourage the balance attained by looking to the Scriptures alone as our standard. Can anyone doubt that “the 28” places emphasis upon certain portions of the total doctrine of Christ, tests for “drifting” from these particulars, and has caused exactly the kind of friction, impugning of motives, etc., we have come to expect of creeds. With no personal animosity, fully believing in the writers’ good intentions, it should be clear that “the 28,” while an honest mistake, shows creedal tendencies.
Finally, Ron and I, and all of us, face a common problem. Fellowship is based upon the “doctrine of Christ” (2 Jn. 9-10), and that must mean what we believe is his doctrine. In seeking to teach others we explain the N.T. as we believe it to be . . . what else can we do? But here we face a critical point. We must not build their faith on our beliefs, but strive to “sanctify the Lord God” in their hearts, so that they build their own faith from his teaching. We are asked, “What does the church of Christ teach on divorce?” I reply, “The church is not the source of any teaching. God’s word says . . .” I have no right to set forth my beliefs as the standard for others. What the Holy Spirit wrote is completely adequate for that. My own beliefs must be constantly subject to testing by that rule.
I am well aware that certain “issues” arise, needing special attention. I appreciate and applaud men, including brother Halbrook, who make the necessary study, and preach God’s word on these matters. For several years in the fifties I left home, family and guaranteed support, to try and meet the special need of that day. But I also know that balance is necessary. It was wrong then to conclude a church was “sound in the faith” merely because it did not support sponsoring elders or orphan homes. If any made such claim, liberal brethren were right in saying those “issues” had become their creed. A church, and a preacher, must be measured by much more than what they believe about some special problem, important though it may be.
Ron and the elders should be appreciated for their concern about sound teaching. I pray this study regarding sound methods of concern will help much, and hinder none, of like concerns in the future.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 11, p. 20-21
June 2, 1994