“Now That’s Liberalism!”

By Carl McMurray

The phrase used above was used recently by an elder in the Lord’s church to describe some practices that are becoming all too common in various congregations. His statement during the course of our conversation surprised me for a moment because we were not speaking of centralization and the sponsoring church arrangement. neither were we discussing institutionalism, a socialized gospel, the limited authority of elders nor any other error commonly associated with the term “liberalism”.

The word “liberal” can be defined as an attitude of freedom from authority and, in dealing with the written word, it describes a way of handling Scripture wherein one is not restricted to the literal meaning (definition applied from Funk And Wagnalls).Judging from the arguments put forth by those who have embraced the aforementioned false teaching we can see that the term, used as an adjective describing one’s attitude toward the Scriptures, is an accurate one. While we note those who play fast and loose with God’s word, however, we should give care that the term does not become a label (to prejudice minds as surely as the term “anti”) that is associated only with the above issues. There are things being practiced on a regular basis by some so=called “conservative” or “faithful” churches that would also fall under the definition of liberalism. Calling for authority for centralization or institutionalism does not release one from the authority of other Scriptures.

When a congregation appoints men as overseers who are flatly unqualified upon the assumption, “that it’s better to have them than nobody,” are we not freeing ourselves from God’s authority? On the other hand, when a church exists in a given community for 20 to 30 years, grows to 100 to 200 members, expands or replaces their meeting place, supports several preachers in other places as well as a man full-time in their own locale, etc., and never appoints men as elders, are we not also ignoring God’s divine organization for the church? Are we to believe that in that length of time and with so many Christians there are not two mature, spiritually guided men who meet the qualifications? Or is it that too many Indians want to be chief (officially or unofficially) so no chief will ever be? What of the congregation that has appointed qualified men but some members will not submit to their decisions? Perhaps some even go so far as to criticize and accuse the men or their work, heedless of what God has to say about the matter (note Heb: 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:19). We have even witnessed preachers in one congregation using their bulletin to publicly criticized the decisions made by the elders of another congregation on a matter well within their Scriptural authority to decide upon. When such things go on and may even go uncensored because the guilty ones in the above situations have a “reputation” of faithfulness, what right have we to criticize another’s lack of application of Bible teaching? Are we not ignoring the plain, literal meaning of God’s word as we are engaged in such? This is not said to justify or compare sins, but simply to show that neither sin is any less or greater than the other.

Many congregations are in the habit of not disciplining unruly and disorderly members. Whatever excuses are put forth, it makes one wonder why these instructions were given if God did not intend for us to follow them. What is sad though is that while we reject God’s authority in this, our ignoring of sin, we have the gall to demand authority of others in their error. Beware of hypocrisy (Matt. 7:1-5). This is not to say that we should quit demanding authority. It is to say that we should also “examine ourselves.” From the teenager to the elderly, in some places it seems that if one will attend a majority of the worship services anything (and I do mean anything) will be tolerated. As the good brother said, “Now that’s liberalism.”

And what of the congregation that just does nothing. The preacher is well known, elders are appointed, 2-3 meetings are held per year. They have a name for being alive but the truth is that members don’t care about one another or associate with one another; salvation’s work in the community is almost non-existent. The group pats themselves on the back when their children are the only ones baptized and precious few of them are actually converted to the Lord. Are we not ignoring all the admonitions to diligence, and working, and a rest in the future (not now)? We point out the error of loving passages on faith and ignoring teaching on baptism. Should we not also point out the error of loving the passages on baptism and ignoring teaching on growth, maturity, perfection, and running our race completely? Should we not more seriously consider what it means to put His kingdom and His righteousness first?

Let us not allow the term “liberal” to become a label only applied to the so-called issues. Rejecting Bible authority and ignoring plain Bible teaching is a danger that any one of us can fall prey to. Let us allow our contributions to the Lord’s cause to the only realm in which it can be said that we are “liberal.”

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 3, p. 83
February 3, 1983