Intellectual Honesty

By Mike Willis

All of us like to think that we are honest, as indeed we should be in reality. Honesty is a virtue which God commands of every man. We are to be men who “laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25). We are supposed to be men who pay our bills and strive to lead an honest and pure life. Yet, not all men in America have the desire to live this way.

We have each been exposed to some person who is less than honest. We have even witnessed people shop-lifting or taking tools from their employer. I remember talking to one used car salesman who told of how he was “taken” one day. It seems that a man pulled up in a car and wanted to sell it to the car salesman. The man asked him what condition it was in and he assured him that everything was okay on it. Inasmuch as the man requested a price which seemed like a fair bargain, the salesman apparently did not examine the car very carefully. After the man left with his money, the salesman got into the car and started to pull it around to the back for servicing. When he turned the key on, nothing happened. So, he called for a man to bring jumper cables. When the man arrived with the jumper cables, he raised the hood to jump the battery and found to his surprise that there was no motor under the hood. Apparently what had happened was that a friend had pushed the man’s car until he was able to coast into the dealership. The man sold his car and took off with the money.

We have come to expect better things of the majority of American citizens and, hopefully, we shall not be greatly disappointed. However, there is a form of dishonesty which is becoming more and more acceptable even among members of the church which I want to call to your attention. It is what is called “intellectual dishonesty.”

I first confronted intellectual dishonesty, as best as I can remember, when I entered a university. The form which it took was such that it took me several weeks to figure out just exactly what was going on. I was sitting in a class in which the professor was discussing the miracles of Jesus and other recorded miracles in the Bible. He stated his belief that these miracles did not actually occur and that what we read in the Bible is the record of early myths which have grown up around the character of Jesus in the same way that certain myths have been told about George Washington. I was prepared for handling this; I knew that some men were unbelievers. Hence, I raised my hand and asked, “You do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, do you?” The professor replied, “Yes, I believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures.” That floored me! How could this man believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures and yet disbelieve the miracles recorded in them? As the school term continued, I began to see what he was doing. The professor was changing the definitions of the words which he was using in order that he could use those words accommodatively to cover up his infidelity. He believed that the Scriptures were inspired in the same way that any great literature is inspired and not in the sense that God “breathed” the very words which appear in the book. Hence, when I asked, “Do you believe in the inspiration (i.e., that God breathed the Scriptures) of the Bible?’.’., he replied, “Yes, I believe the Scriptures are inspired (i.e., in the same way that all great literature is inspired).” That, my friends, is intellectual dishonesty.

As the years went on, I saw more and more of this kind of intentional veiling of the truth. I heard a man deny that Jesus was raised from the dead and then speak of the “resurrection of the body.” As I pressed him for exactly what he meant, I soon found that the establishment of the church, which is the body of Christ, was the resurrection of which he spoke. This is a type of dishonesty which is very subtle but, nonetheless, sinful.

Intellectual Dishonesty in the Church

I am saddened by the fact that I am seeing certain evidences of this type of intellectual dishonesty raising its head in the church. I would like to cite certain examples of this:

1. “I am sound.” Several years ago, there was a brother who was accused of being “unsound” because he did not believe that it was sinful to use instrumental music in worship. This man protested that he was as sound as any of the rest of the preachers were. About a month later, he wrote an article in which he stated that he had been studying the Greek word hamartia (the word which is translated “sin” in the New Testament) and had reached the conclusion that he could now say that using instruments of music in worship was sinful (it missed the mark of what God wanted). Without going into a discussion of the issues involved, notice the instance of intellectual dishonesty. The man was questioned regarding his soundness. He perfectly well understood that the word would involve where he stood on the issues of instrumental music in worship, the sponsoring church, and church support of human institutions. Yet, he said that he was sound when he did not believe that any of these were sinful and would break the fellowship of the saints. That, my friend, is exactly the same kind of theological double-talk with which I was confronted during my years at school. Frankly, I had come to expect better things from my brethren.

2. Redefining of words. As we are presently in the throes of another great conflict of brethren over another important issue, it is interesting to watch this kind of intellectual dishonesty going on in the papers. I see no better example of it than when I read the word “legalism” being used.

The word “legalism” has a definite theological meaning. The doctrine of “legalism” is the doctrine of salvation through good works. What it teaches is that a man can be saved on the basis of doing enough good things to go to heaven. The Catholic doctrine of salvation is a doctrine of “legalism” because of its ideas of accumulation of merits for works done. I know of no one among us who is teaching that salvation can be earned.

Yet, there are some who are trying to say that men can be saved without obeying the commandments of God. Rather than coming . right out and saying that we can be saved without, obedience- a concept most brethren would readily reject-they cover up this doctrine. They charge that those who teach that salvation by God’s grace is conditional upon one’s response to the gospel are teaching “legalism.” That I am not the only one who has noticed this trend to redefine certain theological words is evident from the following quotation:

“The term legalism in theology used to designate a theory of justification by works. Liberals have now redefined it so as to exclude rules, laws, and obedience from moral living. Amorphous love replaces definite commands. This enables the liberals to transfer the odium of legalism in its historic sense to the evangelical view that Is not subject to such a criticism” (Gordon H. Clark, “Concerning Justification,” Christianity Today, Vol. XVII, No. 12 (March 16, 1973), p. 5).

This is exactly the situation as it appears in certain periodicals among us today. As evidence that this is so, please read the following quotation:

“Man cannot establish his own righteousness, and anyone who thinks that he can and seeks to do so is really ‘ignorant of God’s righteousness’ as the apostle Paul says.

“But this is exactly what we who are heirs of the American Restoration Movement have done and are still doing to a large extent. We have reduced Christianity to a legalistic relationship contrary to the teachings of the new covenant scriptures ….We who are heirs of the American Restoration Movement are steeped in legalism” (Jimmy Albert, “A Zeal Without Knowledge-Legalism,” Outreach, Vol. VIII, No. 3 (May and June, 19771, pp. 5,7).

If I had the time to go through the various journals which are being written to promote this unity-in-diversity apostasy, I could reproduce many similar quotations which use legalism to describe those of us who stand opposed to the unity-in-diversity basis of unity. All I can say about the charge is that it is not true and those who are making it are guilty of intellectual dishonesty.


Those who are pushing this unity-in-diversity idea have stated that God will forgive automatically sins which are committed in ignorance but will hold man accountable for sins committed knowingly. Though I do not accept the idea that God does not hold man accountable for his sins of ignorance, it offers no comfort for those who are guilty of intellectual dishonesty. Those who are charging us with teaching “legalism” know what the word means and know that what we are teaching is not a forty-second cousin to what the word “legalism” means. What they are trying to do is push off the opprobrium which is rightfully attached to the system of doctrine which says that man can earn his salvation through his own good works to those who oppose their ideas of unity-in-diversity. They are doing this knowingly and are guilty of the same kind of intellectual dishonesty which the modernists use to cover up their infidelity.

The Bible still says that “all liars” will have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 21:8). That applies to “intellectual liars” just the same as it applies to ordinary, unintellectual liars. Tile fact ‘that some can dress their lies up in prettier clothes than others can, does not lessen God’s punishment for the liars who put the pretty clothes on their lies. Lying is lying.

Truth Magazine XXI: 44, pp. 691-693
November 10, 1977