By Larry Ray Hafley
“Intolerance and exclusiveness of Christian religion and society: In one marked way Christians contravened the tolerant eclective (free to choose-LRH) spirit of the empire-the intolerance and absoluteness of their religion and the exclusiveness of their society. All other religions of the empire admitted compromise and eclecticism, were willing to dwell rather on the points of contact with their neighbors than on the contrast. But Christianity admitted no compromise, was intolerant to all other systems . . . Many heathen would gladly accept Christ along with Mithra and Isis and Serapis. But Christianity demanded complete separation. (It) could tolerate no rival: it claimed to be absolute, and worshipers of Jesus must be separate from the world. The. . . church was absolute in its demands; would not rank with, but above, all worships. This spirit was of course at enmity with that of the day which enabled rival cults to co-exist with the greatest indifference. . . . No pious heathen who had purified his soul by asceticism and the sacraments of antiquity could be admitted into membership unless he renounced things dear to him and of some spiritual value. In every detail of public life this exclusive spirit made itself felt.
“. . . But the Christians were not content with an uncompromising withdrawal from the practices of heathen worship: they also actively assailed the pagan culius” (I.S.B.E., Vol. IV, p. 2604).
A Familiar Spirit
We tend to think of our age as being the excessively eclective, pick and choose your own religion, age. However, the above quote reveals a similar and familiar spirit that permeated and contaminated the thinking of the First Century. This attitude pervades every subjective religious movement. It parades itself as the defender of individual liberty and freedom. It condemns any objective standard as a prison and any appeal thereto as legalism. It is humanistic unitarianism in its embryonic stage of development. This leaven eventually leavened what became the Catholic Church. Instead of opposition, pagan and heathen practices were made a part of the apostate brand of “Christianity.”
Do not delude and deceive yourself. The same poisonous furnes abound even among Christians. Instead of loosening attitudes toward paganism, there are liberal attitudes toward the acceptance of denominationalism. Oh, I do not mean that I can point lo a preacher who says the Methodist Church is the New Testament church, but I can point my finger at ,hose who do not want Methodism to be reproved and rebuked. Observe the last paragraph quoted above. Not oiilv did the Christians of the first era withdraw from false religion, they also “actively assailed” it. If some of the present day eclective evangelists had been present, they would have nodded agreement against paganism, but they would have belittled the brother who openly opposed it gods and doctrines. In the Old Testament, God was not pleased with merely remaining aloof from idolatry. “But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire” (Deut. 7:5). The spirit of the day is the path to digression and apostasy. First, sympathize; se-cond, empathize; third, compromise.
Characteristics Of A Compromiser
1. His teaching is vague and general. It is pleasing to all and rarely if ever offends anyone (Cf. Matt. 15:12).
2. He urges “love” and “understanding” (as if they were cure-all salves) without any appeal for open reproof and plain rebuke. He speaks of “too much negative preaching” and decries “attacks” against error as being “self defeating.”
3. Unrest results from his preaching. Brethren sense something is wrong.” They notice the lack of distinctive doctrine, but they say they “can’t put their finger on anything.” Others express fears they have been too narrow-minded, and they indicate they will re-evaluate their position with regard to errors such as institutionalism. They begin to feel embarrassed when they hear an “old-timey” gospel preacher describe the unique features of the churches of Christ and deny the doctrines of denominationalism.
4. The compromiser, if questioned, gives all the “right answers,” but he objects (mildly, of course) to “strict, unbending interpretations” of Scripture and expresses the fear that some who contend for the faith are much like the Pharisees. He appeals to the “general tenor” or the “spirit of Christ” as his reason for not being as “firm” as some might like him to be on some issues. “But oh,” he cries, “don’t misunderstand me. I agree with your basic doctrinal conclusions.” If he truly does, you would never guess it or learn it by listening to his meatless sermons.
5. He tends to use the term “Restoration Movement” a great deal when he speaks and writes.
6. He seeks to avoid or minimize differences in teaching and practice. Ile is equally at home at an “Area-Wide Youth Vallv” or in sharing “the services” with a Baptist preacher at a funeral and ignoring the gospel plan of salvation.
“Exclusive Spirit” Needed Today
“In every detail of public. life this exclusive spirit made itself felt.” Would to God that such a spirit could be infused in every Chrisfian! It is not a summons to smug factionalism; it is not a call to arrogant oddballism. It is the urgency of separation-a setting apart brought about by faithful and unashamed adherence to the oracles of God. Gcd tolerates no rival to Himself, so why should it be thought strange that he no less abominates systems of faith contrary to His written revelation? “Thou shalt have no other gods” argues for no other doctrine. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
Truth Magazine XX: 39, pp. 621-622
September 30, 1976