By Ron Halbrook
Is This Liberalism?
In our 3 May 1979 column we reprinted Donald Townsely’s fine piece on the Difference Between “Liberal” and “Conservative” Churches of Christ. He specified ten differences pertaining to the church’s mission and organization, all of which reflect the deeper difference in concept of Bible authority. In all matters of mission, organization, worship, discipline, and doctrine, conservative churches strictly adhere to the New Testament rule of faith and practice. New Testament teaching in all of these matters is derived from direct statements or commands, approved examples of apostolic practice, and necessary implication from specific passages. In contrast, liberal churches are loose constructionists in the field of Bible authority. They practice many things for which no statement or command, no example, and no implication from Scripture can be produced.
Someone has handed me a copy of the 1 August 1979 Old Paths Advocate of Lebanon, Missouri. Under the heading “Who Are the Real Liberals and Conservatives?” the writer Billy Dickinson asserts, “Bro. Halbrook, of course, and those associated with him have accepted both the modern Sunday School with its women teachers and the individual communion cups, even though they do so without scriptural authority.” He finds himself nearly but not quite amused, reprints Townsley’s article, and adds to the list of liberal practices, classes and cups.
We had pointed out that additional organizations taking donations from churches, or churches which act as centralizing agencies for other churches, are violations, of the simple New Testament picture of local church autonomy. In the Bible, each church carried out its own work under the oversight of its own elders (Acts 14:23; 20:28; Tit. 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:2). The Bible classes in which we participate are the work of each church, under the constant oversight of the local elders – including literature, subject matter, teachers, and every other significant detail! Brethren, is this liberalism?
Liberal churches have gone beyond the spiritual teaching mission of the church to include social, secular, and recreational programs (contrary to such passages as 1 Tim. 3:15-16). But our Bible classes offer the spiritual teaching of the gospel, nothing more, nothing less! Is this liberalism? Is it liberalism because women of greater maturity are permitted to instruct other women or little children, but never men (Tit. 2:4; 1 Tim. 2:12)?
Churches which put on plays, contests, and choral performances are going down the liberal road in worship. They pervert the simple New Testament pattern of worship: songs, prayer, gospel teaching, with the Lord’s Supper and collection on the first day of the week (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 10:16; 16:1-2). In partaking the Lord’s Supper, we eat but one loaf – the loaf of unleavened bread – “the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” We drink but one cup the cup of the fruit of the vine – “the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Is liberalism determined by the shape, the size, the color, the material used in making, or the number of containers? Are we liberal for using several small plates and vessels, rather than one large platter and bottle or pitcher? Some folks of the one-container persuasion send separate containers down opposite aisles. Is this liberalism, too? Some pour from one large pitcher or cup into three or four smaller receptacles for large audiences. When does it become liberalism – at 10, 20, 30 or 40 containers? How about enough containers for every two people to empty one? If that is acceptable, perhaps the line of liberalism is drawn when a person shares in the Supper by receiving his portion of the common loaf or cup in an amount which he can consume.
May we pass around a large bottle or pitcher from which each person can dip or pour in using his own smaller container? Those who split hairs can usually split the split hairs just as well. Have at it, Advocate advocates.
When our feelings about the receptacles incidental to sharing the Supper become so strong as to constitute law and gospel, idolatry is the result. The Pantheon of false doctrine includes both liberalistic and legalistic exaltation of human opinion.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 14, p. 226
April 3, 1980