“Liberal”: What Does That Mean?

By Bobby Holmes

Not long ago I was talking with one of the elders of the large, “liberal” church of Christ in the city of Duncanville, Texas where I live. I was inviting him to be in attendance at the “Dallas, Texas” meeting, in July of last year. (This was a meeting that was made up of several speakers from “both sides” of the “liberal” churches and the “conservative” churches and conducted July 12-14, 1990. This elder acknowledged that the church where he served did indeed have a gym and that they used it. In fact, he said, “We use it a lot. ” He went on to say that he could not understand why people referred to them as “liberals.” I believe that he was honest in his statement and thus the purpose of this article. I intend to try to set up some studies with him personally on the subject, but for now I would like to address the subject that the title of this article suggests.

According to Webster, the definition of “liberal” is as follows: 4. Not restricted to the literal meaning; not strict (i.e. a liberal interpretation of the Bible). 5. Tolerant of views differing from one’s own; broad-meaning; specify, not orthodox or conventional. 7. Favoring reform or progress, as in religion, education, etc. ” With these thoughts in mind, let us look into the word of God and notice some examples of some that were, indeed, liberal according to the true definition.

The first one we take note of is King Saul as recorded in 1 Samuel 15. God had directed him to “utterly destroy all that they have. . . ” including old and young of both animal and human alike (v. 3). It is obvious that Saul fell into the category of the definition of “liberal” when we look again at it as given by Webster. Saul did not restrict himself to “the literal meaning” of what God had said or restrict himself to “the literal meaning” of what God had said. He was “broad-minded” in his views concerning God’s directive. He stated in verse 13, “And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed (be) thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord. ” Saul did not feel compelled to do exactly as God had directed. After all, would not the animals he brought back be used as sacrifices unto God? (Read the entire account 1 Sam. 15:1-35.) Samuel’s bottom line reply to Saul is noted in verses 22-23. “And Samuelsaid, Hath the Lord (as great) delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey (is) better than sacrifice, (and) to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion (is as) the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness (is as) iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from (being) king.” It is clear to see that Saul had become “liberal” and the curse that came on him as the result of his actions.

The next one we note is the example of Nadab and Abilm, recorded in Leviticus 10:1-7. They had clear instructions concerning the source of the fire (Lev. 16:12). They became “liberal” in their thinking. They “reasoned” that as long as they got the job done, what difference did it make where they got the fire. They didn’t take the word of the Lord to be “literal” in its meaning. (Note again the full definition of “liberal” according to the dictionary and you will see that it fits them perfectly. There are many, many more we could give as examples, but space does not permit.)

Let us notice some avenues into “liberalism.”

A. A wrong attitude toward the Bible. Evidence of this is seen in the expression of some that say, “We don’t need Scripture for everything we do. ” However, if we really believe God’s word to be just that, God’s word, we will take heed to the things he tells us. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, (do) all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). (Note also 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Matt. 17:-15; 28:18; Lk. 6:46; Jn. 12:48). These Scriptures prove we must have a “thus saith the Lord” for everything we do in religion. To be otherwise, one becomes “liberal” in the real meaning of the word.

B. A wrong attitude toward the church. Many cry for the church to provide recreation for the youth (and older people too), but, the Lord’s church is not social in nature. Jesus did not die on the cruel cross of calvary so that people might be provided recreation and all manner of social activities, but that souls can be saved (1 Tim. 3:14-15). “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Christians need to learn this valuable lesson. The church is to be the “pillar and ground of the truth.” That is spiritual in nature. If you are a member of a church that has within its budget, the funding of social activities out of the treasury, you need to ask the leaders of that church where is the Bible authority for it. I’ll state again what I have preached for some thirty-seven years now. With what one is converted, that is what he is converted to. If one is converted with the social gospel (fun, food, and frolic), then that is what he is converted to. Take that away and you lose him. On the other hand, if one is converted with the gospel, he is converted to the gospel and to the Lord and nothing will change that fact. People that are converted with a “soda pop and sandwich ” have to be kept with “candy bars and ice cream. ” (Read also Eph. 3:8-11,21.) The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a divine institution, purchased with the precious blood of Jesus and those who try to turn it into a social thing have a materialistic view of that which is spiritual and are “liberal.”

C. A wrong attitude toward worship. Some churches have “children’s church” in which they “practice” taking the Lord’s supper. This is supposed to have them educated so that when they become “Christians, ” they will “know how it is done.” Many times I hear of churches celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, etc. in their worship services. Where does this fit into God’s plan for spiritual things in worship? Some are bringing in their choirs that are simply forms of entertainment in song. Again I ask, where is the authority? These are but a few things that answer the question, “Liberal, What Does That Mean?” Let us take heed to 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove our own selves. . .

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 10, pp. 302-303
May 16, 1991