By Ron Halbrook
Rubel Shelly reopened the debate about whether there are good Christians in all the sects with his 1983 tract Christians Only, which is reprinted in his more recent book I Just Want to be a Christian, both published by 20th Century Christian in Nashville, TN. Says Shelly, “There are sincere, knowledgeable, and devout Christians scattered among the different denominations. ” Their “creedal formulations, human names, and cumbersome organizational structures” unknown to the Bible do not separate these good Christians from God’s grace unless embraced “in conscious and deliberate error” (pp. 18, 11). They became Christians when they were immersed in spite of certain “imperfections” in understanding about the purpose of baptism and they continue to serve God in spite of “imperfections” in regard to the work, worship and organization of the church.
How long will it take Shelly to decide that some more people became good Christians when they were “baptized” in spite of their “imperfections” in understanding the action of baptism-those who had water sprinkled or poured on them-the pious unimmersed? And what about good Christians among the Quakers in spite of their “imperfections” in understanding the need for any kind of baptism at any time for any purpose (they don’t bother with it at all)?
Shelly says we should go back and read what some of the old time preachers taught, but he is rather selective in what he reprints in his book. We suggest the article “Talking Back at God” by Cled E. Wallace (1892-1962) be included in the second edition. It appeared in the Bible Banner 11, 3 (Oct. 1939):3.
Talking Back at God
Cled E. Wallace
In his brilliant speech that rushed him to his death, Stephen charged that the Jews had “received the law as it was ordained by angels and kept it not.” Paul charged that although they had “a zeal for God” it was “not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God,” They formulated a theory speculative and complicated. They judged and changed the law by the demands of this theory. Jesus charged that they made the law of God void by their tradition. It caused them to reject Christ because his measurements were wrong, by their theory, and later when the gospel was preached to them their objections to it grew out of idolatrous homage to a theory. Paul rebuked them with this question: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” All objections to the gospel and its righteous demands grow out of an egotistic veneration for human theories. All such idle chatters is silly blather because it is a presumptuous talking back at God.
Nebuchadnezzar felt mighty and important when he walked upon the broad walls of Babylon and swelled with pride as he surveyed the works of his hands. God pulled him from his throne, gave him the heart of a beast and after the haughty king walked on all-fours awhile, ate grass as an ox, bathed in dew, with hair grown like eagles’ feathers and nails as birds’ claws, he accumulated a vast respect for God. “And at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth forever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation; and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his own will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? “
Men who chide God today with theories subversive of his truth, should learn a lesson from this humbled monarch of the East. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven; for all his works are truth, and his ways justice; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” There is no more debasing pride today than the pride of party and no tenacity more stubborn than that which clings to unscriptural notions in religion. False doctrine is sugar-coated with pious phrases, pays lip service to God, while “in fact and in act” it dethrones him and sets up human, traditional authority. The rank and file following blind guides stumble along traditional paths ready to mouth cut and dried objections to the gospel when it is preached to them. A case in point is a question handed me by a college graduate which reveals an amazing lack of Bible information and a state of mind requiring a thorough overhauling that it may be subject to Christ.
Do you think that members of other churches are going to hell? (No matter if these people are good Christians.) Do you think a God with good common sense will condemn a good Christian just because he doesn’t belong to the Church of Christ?
This querist, whom I know to be a fine and talented character in many respects, is more interested in what “you think” than in what the Bible teaches. It is a common ailment and a very disquieting symptom. It indicates a deep seated trouble. It sets up a theory based on what somebody thinks and if it is found that God does not endorse it, then the victim of human thought is ready to suggest that God does not have “good common sense.” It is a refined form of blasphemy. In the light of the Scriptures, which right do men have to judge God by a standard of “good common sense”? Such judgment would have kept Abel from offering his sacrifice, would have kept Noah from building the ark, would have kept Abraham from offering up Isaac, would have kept Naaman from dipping in the Jordan, and would have kept the Israelites from marching around Jericho.
An appeal to common sense today is a pretext that keeps many from obeying the command of God to be baptized and keeps them out of the church. This same “common sense” rule keeps in operation churches and systems in religion the New Testament knows nothing about at all. A rule that operates that way is wrong. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith must be capable of obeying God, even if it apparently outrages all common sense. “O, Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” “Let no man deceive himself. If any man thinketh that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise.” When a man becomes this kind of “a fool” for Christ’s sake, he will not be found cancelling out the commands of God on the ground of “good common sense.”
My information about the church and who will be saved comes mainly from the New Testament. It says nothing at all about “members of other churches” who are “good Christians.” All I ‘good Christians” in New Testament times were “members” of the body of Christ, the only church we read about in the New Testament. There were no Christians outside of it. In the light of the sacred volume it is absurd to talk about God condemning good Christians just because they do not belong to the church of Christ. It is tantamount to saying that God can condemn a good member of the church because he is not a member of the church. The church is the family of God and includes all the people of God. The sectarian idea of this “other churches” business made up of only a part of the people of God is all wrong or else even the apostles as well as God were lacking in this highly valued commodity “of good common sense.”
So-called fundamentalists first began to rule out part of the divine scheme on the ground of “good common sense” and the modernists are finishing the job for them. Between these schools of common sense doctors, faith and Scripture do not stand much show. The commands of God have been so much doctored by common sense that multitudes worship mon sense I and pay very little attention to anything the Bible says.
It is a terrible thing to think of anybody “going to hell.” A theory of common sense says that nobody will. How do we know that anybody will? The Bible says so. What does it say about it? Those who obey the gospel will be saved, those who reject it are in the way of “going to hell.” Man’s thinking cannot change what God says and talking about what “good Christians” people are who refuse to obey the gospel is plainly dodging the issue. God does not consider anybody a good Christian who prefers a sectarian setup to the church that Christ built.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 21, pp. 646-647
November 7, 1985