By P. J. Casebolt
“When impertinent people, either maliciously or stupidly, endeavor to wrest these secrets from us, we are perfectly justified in using mental reservation, to meet their rude and ill-bred questioning … Mental reservation is allowable only when we are driven into a corner by captious questions about a matter which he knows perfectly, but does not choose to tell the truth” (Manual of Christian Doctrine, 447, as quoted by O.C. Lambert in Catholicism Against Itself, 73).
Similar quotations could be cited by official Catholic sources in attempts to justify their doctrine of mental reservation, and one source even accused the Lord of employing this tactic when he denied knowledge of “that day and that hour” with reference to his return (cf. Mark 13:32). The implication is that the Lord knew when he would return, but “was not at liberty to disclose it.”
Other religious groups have employed their own versions of “mental reservation” in order to propagate their false doctrines, tacitly admitting that if what they are teaching is not the truth, the best way to promote it is not to tell the truth about it. But brethren in the Lord’s church are reviving this doctrine of mental reservation under different disguises, and the end results are the same. “Every way of man is right in his own eyes; but the Lord pondereth the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).
In the early 1950s, the old Seventh Avenue congregation in Columbus, Ohio had a preacher who began delving into the original Greek translations of Acts 2:38. He began to voice some of his observations privately, sprinkled with ambiguous statements from the pulpit. When the elders finally cornered his uncertain sounds (asked the right questions), the preacher admitted that he no longer believed that baptism was for the remission of sins, and had been going through the formality of baptizing people for the past year, saying that he was doing it “for the remission of sins” when he actually didn’t believe what he was doing or saying. After making a few converts and causing trouble in the Lord’s church, he finally identified himself with the Baptists and Presbyterians. He evidently thought he was justified in keeping his true convictions secret (in the pulpit), while advocating them privately.
About the same time, a well known and influential preacher in the Ohio Valley began to teach privately that the church and kingdom were two different things, that the church was established “sometime during the personal ministry of Christ” and that the kingdom was established on Pentecost. Later, after privately making some converts, he also added to his repertoire what is now known as the A.D. 70 doctrine.
A young preacher at Clarksburg, West Virginia began to correspond with the older preacher, and another preacher and I read the correspondence as it developed, and advised the younger preacher in his efforts. When the older preacher was asked why he didn’t teach his doctrine about the church/ kingdom publicly, he replied that the brethren were not yet well educated enough to receive the doctrine. When I and others tried to warn brethren of this new doctrine in the church (but not new in sectarianism), we were accused of trying to damage the reputation of faithful gospel preachers. History speaks for itself. By the time these false teachers started teaching their doctrines publicly, brethren were divided, disciples made, and the carnage of strife and contention continues to this day.
In the 1970s, the doctrine of “unity-in-diversity” became the wedge of division, led by brethren Ketcherside and Garrett. Other disciples of lesser influence and reputation parroted this philosophy into every corner of the brother-hood, privately at first, then publicly as they gained more disciples and influence.
The church where I was preaching had fellowship with a young preacher who seemed to be influenced by this new doctrine (but not new to sectarianism). When we tried to find out what this young brother’s convictions were on unity-in-diversity, and his affiliation with the leaders of the movement, it was an exercise in futility. The young preacher would not come and talk with us himself, but sent an emissary. Our questions were either evaded, or the messenger would simply say, “You’ll have to ask brother about that.” But the brother wouldn’t answer us. I wrote a letter to him, but he still kept his new doctrine secret. When we finally cut off the preacher’s support, the messenger’s family was offended, we were accused of trying to “crucify” an innocent victim, strife and contention prevailed, and similar incidents happened all over the brotherhood. The campaign of private indoctrination and a refusal (at first) of answering questions about their true convictions had succeeded. Brethren were alienated and the church, the spiritual body of Christ, was pierced and divided asunder again.
In the 1980s/1990s, new doctrines on marriage/divorce/ remarriage and the deity of Christ began to gain momentum, and while some of the champions of these doctrines knew what they believed, some of their converts seemed to be more ambiguous in their answers. Now we learn that some brethren have held erroneous positions for months or even years, but have managed to keep their true convictions secret or couched in ambiguous language. Like the Catholics and their doctrine of mental reservation, I guess some brethren feel justified in concealing their true colors from what they consider to be malicious, impertinent, ill-bred, or stupid questions. And some are even attempting to prove by the Bible that it is proper and right to engage in a campaign of deceitfulness.
“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor …” (Eph. 4:25). “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). If we hold a doctrine that we consider to be a part of divinely revealed truth, we should be ready and willing to answer plainly and clearly why we have such hope. If it has nothing to do with our hope, but is merely a personal opinion, we should not be advocating it in the first place.
We renounce Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others who resort to some form of “mental reservation” to propagate and defend their doctrines. But in condemning them, we end up condemning ourselves (Rom. 2:1-3).
Guardian of Truth XLI: 19 p. 19-20
October 2, 1997