By Wallace H. Little
Twenty yeas ago I was talking with Yater Tant. This was shortly after my return from Vietnam and very near the end of my 28 years of military service. I had been out of the country most of the 1960s. I wondered at the state of the institutional apostasy in the U.S. I specifically asked him if he thought churches might be rescued from the institutional evil.
“No; we might save a few individuals here and there, but I don’t believe any churches will be brought out intact.”
If I doubted the accuracy of his evaluation then, events of late have confirmed just how right he was. I recently finished my first hearing of the tapes of the Nashville Meeting. I am stunned and appalled! To keep their institutions, the liberals (with respect to the institutional issues) are desperately seeking a way of avoiding the binding authority of command, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference. Even if it means they must wrest Scripture to do so, they will have their institutions.
It means exactly that.
During earlier times, while the liberals misused Scripture to justify their practices, they claimed they were staying with God’s Word. The controversy then swirled around how to apply command, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference. At least everyone agreed these principles were valid.
Some liberals now seek their (Jer. 10:23) “authority” based only on what Christ personally taught as recorded in the gospels. Others claim that we are bound only by what he personally commanded. They reject the authority of Acts through Revelation. (I ask: what about John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:13?) Yet others say that whatever Christ did, we can do. Still others claim “we need a new method of hermeneutics.” As authoritative and binding, these offer only what Christ did. They say we (collectively as a church or a joint-functioning collection of congregations) can do whatever he did. Others assert we can do anything that does not harm a good man. They are promoting more changes, but the ones I listed here will serve to illustrate my point. The liberals will have their institutions!
I am distressed that such men as Johnny Ramsey, Jimmy Jividen, and other “conservative liberals” (this is a conflict of terms, but I don’t know how else to describe them) re-main in the liberal camp. I am more distressed because of how they defend themselves in this and justify doing so. Doctrinally they are much closer to us than to the “liberal liberals.” Thirty years ago, some of their disposition said they only supported funding orphans homes and the Herald of Truth out of church treasuries. They claimed they rejected doing this for anything else, such as colleges and other “pro-ducts” of the so-called social gospel. These have now seared their consciences, swallowed their tongues, and become very, very quiet. They will have their institutions!
I cringe for them!
I cringe even more for us, however. I am beginning to hear some of our men, those who have stood faithfully against institutionalism for years or decades now saying “our institutional brethren” in talking about those liberals who are so far out that most of the main-line Protestant denominations wouldn’t even accept them, or “my brethren in the Christian Church” (by its own acknowledgement, this organization became a “denomination among sister denominations” in 1968), or others “our brethren in the institutional churches,” just as if there are not soul-destroying differences between us. Hayse Reneau once told me he noticed some brethren were using the terms “liberal churches” as if this was okay, and “conservative churches” as if this was okay. That was in 1971. I haven’t seen him lately, but if he has listened to the Nashville tapes, he probably flipped!
Even that is not the end. Coming down the pike, and in-deed, some of these things are already here, we now have “brethren” urging joint participation with the government and the denominations in various social services, catering to the outer man in restaurants (called “fellowship halls”), athletic departments, community life centers, old folks homes, unmarried mothers homes, social services centers, church officers such as “Young Peoples’ Associate Minister for Recreation,” and ad nauseurn.
If that isn’t enough, there are those today who change God’s order of things in worship by introducing mechanical instruments of music, humming, and choral singing. I detect also the beginning of questioning that baptism is necessary for remission sins. One “Church of Christ preacher” (not at Nashville) praised Billy Graham as “an outstanding Christian.” Do not think this is the end. It will continue. To the liberals, Christianity is “this worldly.” It has become entirely subjective. The only things lacking today for these “brethren” (liberals) to establish their denomination is selecting a name, deciding on an organization, and choosing its leaders. That will come. It is only a matter of time until they seek to distinguish and distance themselves from us.
In a congregation I know of, at their once-a-month mid-week sing, one song leader suggested that some might hum instead. Perhaps he didn’t know any better. But sitting in the audience were saints with 5, 10, 15, 20 and even 25 years experience in the church. Not one of them opened a mouth to object! They all shared sin (2 Jn. 10,11)! It gets worse: the regular preacher was away when this happened. When he returned, he was appalled. He prepared and presented a lesson on it to the church. Some of the same ones who sat silently when humming was suggested now objected to him preaching on it. They also contended with him on his use of Scripture when he proved this practice was sinful. I’ve listened to his lesson on tape several times. I say “amen” to every point that preacher made and the manner in which he made them!
This is not an isolated incident. I haven’t been looking for them, but even so, this is the third one I’ve learned of in a very short time. This leads me to wonder if these are but the tip of the iceberg of present and future departures in worship. I wonder how many churches of Christ today occasionally or regularly practice choral singing or humming instead of singing in worship? Or even use mechanical instruments of music. I guess I don’t really want to know. It would scare me too much.
A chorus, humming, and mechanical instruments of music in worship all violate the same biblical basics that “allowed” congregational financial support of human institutions and activation of the church universal. A proper understanding and application of necessary inference would stop this developing apostasy, this type of foolishness, in its tracks.
Thirty years ago in a gospel meeting, I listened to a preacher state that apostasy develops over three generations and takes four stages. In the first stage, brethren only change the meaning of words. “Church” no longer only means either all of God’s saved, or a single congregation. Now it can mean a functional grouping of two or more congregations. During the second stage, brethren begin seeking a “good work” fitting the new definitions, ignoring 2 Timothy 3:17 in defining this. In the third, Philippians 1:1 becomes passe; an organization is structured to do this new work. Not until the fourth stage, however, do they violate John 4:24 and Hebrews 8:5, and change worship. I don’t have to guess what stage some are in now. The process is words, work, organization, then worship. Just as surely as they begin the first stage, when they stop speaking as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11), they guarantee the fourth! All it takes is time.
These people are no longer my brethren in Christ. They are not walking in the light (1 Jn. 1:7). I didn’t make the decision to depart; they did. When they did, God recognized that they had broken fellowship with him. They are still precious souls before God, but their continued stubborn disobedience caused the Lord to remove their candlestick. They are as-yet unnamed denominationalists. I do not object to contacts with them in such meetings as at Arlington and Nashville. However, these meetings ought not to be for what they describe as “fellowship” (using their definition of the word), either having it with them, or reestablishing it between those in the groups represented. Rather, we must use such meetings to teach them the truth, to save their souls. Uncorrected and unrepentant, they are headed for hell. We must remind them of this as often as they will listen (Ezek. 33:1-9).
Among us, we already have some who object to this “shelling of the corn,” fearing it would “drive them away.” (To where? Hell Number two? Hell number three? They’re already headed for Hell number one.) Some even apologize when the truth is plainly delivered. This happened at the Nashville Meeting. For shame! We must never let these get-togethers lull us into thinking that the gap between us can be closed, script rally, without the liberals repenting. Other-wise any bridge we build over that gap will be named “Compromise.” I will not be a party to this. I love you all in the Lord, and many of you in the flesh also. But I refuse to go to hell for you!
We do the liberals no favor by refusing to accept the fact that in their present condition, they are eternally lost. For their good and to fulfill our responsibility, we need to say so, privately and publicly, but plainly. I know it is hard. One of the finest friends I’ve had in this life converted me to Christ. He was and remains liberal. He is also lost. This grieves me at heart. My grief doesn’t change his status before God, however. I have done my best to bring him out of his error, using every fundamental argument that he used on me to make me a Christian. I failed. He rejected my teaching efforts (Hos. 4:6). I still love him. Yet Ephesians 4:15,16 demands that I love truth more. I cannot genuinely love souls until and unless I love truth first and foremost. My love for my friend cannot overcome his disobedience. He is no different from my mother who died out of the Lord years ago, and others close to me in this life whom I’ve taught but have failed to convert. Unrepentant and unchanging, they are all headed for the same destination: hell.
It makes me weep.
But my tears change nothing.
What does all that have to do with conservative (the only real) brethren? Just this: 80 years ago, Christians recoiled in horror before the missionary society. They separated themselves from those who supported it. Then a generation later, their children turned right around and swallowed other institutions that violated the same biblical concept. Today, I greatly fear we have conservatives who in times past have steadfastly rejected church financial support of orphans’ homes, the Herald of Truth, and “Christian” Colleges, and more, are now beginning to accept other things based on the violation of the same basic principle. History has many examples of those who refuse to learn its lessons having to repeat its mistakes. We can expect nothing better if we follow the same path.
Silence of the Scriptures
The fundamental principle that under girds God’s binding authority in command, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference is his silence. This is the very bedrock on which these rest, on which we can determine precisely what our Lord requires of us to satisfy John 14:15. Briefly stated, it means whatever God has not authorized in the New Testament, he has forbidden by the very fact of not mentioning it.
One of the clearest applications of this is in Hebrews 7:12-14. Under the Old Law, Christ could not be a priest. All priests were of Levi. He was of Judah. He was prohibited from being in the priesthood because the Old Testament nowhere authorized him to be in it. He wasp forbidden by its lack of authorization, its silence! There are many other Old and New Testament Scriptures that state this idea in plain, impossible-to-misunderstand language. In discussion, the liberals gloss over these. Some of us are doing the same thing in practice. There is nothing more important to pro-per understanding and application of Bible authority than its foundation: the principle of God’s silence. Without it, we become outlaws (Matt. 7:21-23). The Bible is no different than any directive document: it forbids what it doesn’t authorize. There are dozens of Old and New Testament Scriptures that state this principle.
Even so, I hear (on the Nashville tapes, and elsewhere) from saints who by virtue of their length of service ought to know better (Heb. 5:12) such nonsense as: “How do we know when an apostolic example is binding?” I like what Connie Adams once told me. “It is binding until God unbinds it. It was authoritatively certified twice: once when the Apostles did it under the instructions of the Holy Spirit; a second time when the Holy Spirit had them write it down.”
I believe, however, that by far the worst example of the loose application of Bible hermeneutics is misunderstanding or rejection of necessary inference. For very good reasons, God chose this method to teach us. I won’t go into the “why” here. Suffice it to say, we learn many of the Lord’s requirements only through necessary inference. Some ask, “Necessary to whom?” I answer: necessary to all who will save their souls.
Let me cite some texts. These show the necessary conclusions, the necessary inferences if you will, that we are forced to draw, if we are to please God. In Matthew 22:23-32, the Sadducees came to Christ and tried to entrap him. They posed the question, that if there is a resurrection, whose wife would a woman be, who (in obedience to the Law), in her lifetime, had been married successively to seven brothers. In his response, Christ told them, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God . . . have ye not read … I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.” We are forced to conclude (draw the necessary inference), that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive. There is no other possible conclusion we can draw, if we believe Scripture. Mark 16:15 commands us to go in-to the world and preach the gospel to every creature. We necessarily infer that we must have a method since we can-not fulfill the command without a method. Acts 14:27 and 15:12 both talk about God’s work among the Gentiles through Paul. We necessarily infer that Gentiles are privileged to become Christians too, and as the Jews, are also subject to God’s law. As a final illustration, look again at Hebrews 7:12-14. Since our Lord “sprang out of Judah,” we infer necessarily that he could not have been a priest under the Old Testament Law of Moses.
A necessary inference is an unavoidable conclusion, a conclusion we are forced to draw if we believe God’s Word. On the first day in one assignment during my military service, my superior informed me that my duty time was 0600. He did not say, “Your duty time is 0600 on Monday, and 0600 on Tuesday, and 0600 on . . . and so on.” Nor did he tell me, “Your duty time if 0600 until I say otherwise.” Why not? Because I necessarily inferred these conclusions. I did that because I believed what he said, and so believing, these conclusions were forced on me. On occasions, he ordered me to travel to other military installations on official duty. He didn’t tell me that there was a means of my going. He didn’t have to. I knew better than to play “cute word games” with him. We need to treat God’s Word as fairly.
Many, including some conservatives who also ought to know better, are questioning and doubting the importance of necessary inference. In a discussion on abortion with one saint, I used Luke 1:44. The response was, “That’s only your conclusion. You can’t bind that on others.” That’s right, it is my conclusion, but not only mine. It is the conclusion God demands of me. And yes, I can bind it on others! Unborn, non-life fetal-matter does not experience emotion. The babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. Joy is a human emotion. The necessary inference is that John the Baptist existed as a human being with a soul before his birth. Q.E.D: abortion is the unlawful taking of human life, and thus is murder!
I despair. Brethren, if we think that because we believe ourselves to be conservative, we will escape this nonsense and its consequent carnage to the body of Christ, we fool ourselves. So many with whom I have talked in the last few years who oppose the institutional apostasy do so based on something other than principle. lndeeds, many conservatives do not know what Bible hermeneutical concepts are, to say nothing of their application. They do not know how to apply these basic fundamentals of Bible authority to the institutional departure. Yet these are so important that the salvation of our souls depends on understanding and applying them properly. Many brethren would not recognize an approved apostolic example or a necessary inference if it walked up and kicked them in the shins!
While thinking we won the institutional fight, I fear we have become neglectful of our personal study and teaching. At the very least, we ceased teaching the basics to the new generation coming on the scene. We are in great danger of losing them. If we do not begin soon to reverse this trend, and it may already be too late, we may live to see the heart-rending agony of a separation among our brethren in the near future that makes the one in 1906 from the Christian Church, and the one taking place now from the liberals both look like “Sunday School Picnics.” We desperately need to quit flinching from truth, regardless of its consequences in our personal lives.
One brother suggested the best, and possibly the only means of stopping this is to establish an aggressive paper among us, patterned after the old Gospel Guardian. Then through this paper, attack this error relentlessly, until the principles become widely known and accepted again. And finally, after that, to keep teaching on them, and not lay back and rest, thinking we’ve won because those who op-pose us refuse any longer to discuss these things.
Old brother J. D. Tant used to finish his articles with, “Brethren, we’re drifting.” I fear we’re no longer just drifting. Rather, I think we have built a powerful inboard motor in our boat of apostasy, and have greatly speeded up our “progress” on the road to hell. I plead: wake up; smell the “skunk cabbage.” Stop this dangerous nonsense now if it is still stoppable; save your souls. You are in very great danger!
How important is necessary inference? Exactly as important as your soul! You cannot be saved without it because so much of God’s truth, so much of what God demands of us if we are to satisfy Revelation 2:10, we can learn only with necessary inference as the vehicle of our understanding.
Mark it: unless we do something fast, the remnant will be small indeed!
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 5, p. 18-21
March 4, 1993