By Ron Halbrook
When strife occurred between the herdsmen of Abram’s and Lot’s cattle, Abram appealed to Lot for peace in the following words: “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren” (Gen. 13:8). We are often instructed to seek and pursue peace within the perimeters of God’s Word (Rom. 12:18; 14:19; 2 Tim. 2:22; Heb. 12:14; Jas. 3:17). Like Abram, the church here at West Columbia hopes to see all strife between brethren eliminated, especially where there are no doctrinal differences.
In October of 1993, the elders did an overall review of our program of work, including a survey of the stand taken on some doctrinal issues by men we support and have scheduled for meetings. During the last decade, a number of men in whom the elders have had confidence have faltered and departed from the faith, especially on divorce and remarriage and related issues. This includes men whom we have supported and men who have been on the meeting schedule here. For reasons deemed sufficient by the elders, including the desire to be impartial, the elders decided to make the survey general by including all the men we support or have scheduled for meetings, and thus all of them received some Bible questions along with a letter explaining the elders’ purpose. When a couple of men expressed reservations about the questions, the elders worked with each of them in a patient, kind, and forbearing way, as each of them would doubtless testify. Gradually, what began as a local church taking care of its own business became a topic of widespread discussion as critics published the questions along with their objections, as pro and con views were exchanged in correspondence, and as anecdotal stories circulated.
Having completed their recent survey of our current program of work, the elders themselves decided to discontinue using this particular expedient as the format for asking Bible questions. They do not believe it is sinful to ask Bible questions as one of several methods to learn what men are teaching, but have taken this step in an effort to pursue peace and unity among brethren. This church is just as determined as ever to support only men whose teaching and life are true to the Word of God in so far as we can determine it. We are not wedded to any one expediency as the exclusive means of making that determination. Our discontinuing the use of this particular method of gathering information should confirm that this format for asking Bible questions was never used as the standard of truth. The elders will continue to be diligent in learning what men considered for support are teaching, and will reserve the right to ask Bible questions which they believe pertinent in any situation.
This decision reflects in part the kind and helpful suggestions of brother H.E. Phillips, which I relayed to the elders after visiting with him for about four hours. If everyone manifested his spirit when such differences of judgment arise, many problems could be discussed and resolved in a brotherly way without a public uproar. We regret that our local effort became a public issue and that misunderstandings and friction have occurred in some quarters over this matter. We appreciate brethren who have checked with us about various reports they heard and who have offered their input pro and con by approaching us about it, thus giving us a chance to clarify the situation rather than making it a matter of public dispute.
I fully agree with this decision by the elders. We are continuing to strive “together for the faith of the gospel” with “one mind” and “one spirit” (Phil. 1:27). In fact, we just completed one of the most successful vacation Bible schools and gospel meetings ever with 150-180 attending each service morning and evening, followed by 207 on the following Sunday, our highest attendance at a regular service. We are pressing forward with peace and unity in the same gospel labors for which this church has been noted all through the years, and shall continue to do so with the Lord’s help.
The news has been circulated that we have received a few debate challenges in recent months. We have responded courteously in private to each challenge. There are no plans to make a public response to such challenges because no debate is needed, and we do not wish to wrangle over the matter. Whatever judgmental differences and sincere concerns may be expressed pro and con about this format for asking Bible questions, the following facts are crystal clear and not disputed by any of the parties to this discussion. 1. The Word of God alone is the perfect, final, and all-sufficient standard of authority (2 Tim. 3:16-17). 2. All human creeds and all forms of human creeds are unscriptural and sinful (Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:3). 3. Elders are authorized to ask questions of men considered for the local work including gospel meetings or for support elsewhere, and the format or procedure for asking such questions is a matter of expediency to be decided independently by each autonomous church (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Pet. 5:2-3; Heb. 13:17; 1 Jn. 4:1-6). As has always been true, we leave each church to make its own decision about how to proceed in such matters. These things being true, there are no doctrinal differences to debate.
The time has come for this matter to be put behind us and to get on with our work. This announcement may not satisfy everyone, but we hope it will serve the following purposes: reflect our commitment to pursue scriptural peace and unity among brethren, remove the format of Bible questions as a topic of concern among brethren, and explain why we do not plan to pursue debate proposals. “Let there be no strife.” (This article not only reflects the sentiments of the elders but also is submitted with their direct approval.)
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 17, p. 19
September 1, 1994