By Ron Halbrook
Every passage instructing elders to guard the church authorizes them to ask questions by generic authority, just as the elders here did (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Their questions are no more creedalistic than literature nor sectarian than classes. Every passage instructing the church to proclaim the gospel authorizes literature and classes by generic authority (1 Thess. 1:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:14-15). They are lawful and expedient. Questions, literature, and classes can be abused in creedalistic, sectarian ways, but such is not the practice of brethren. The charge is made but proof is lacking. Brother Turner, the elders, and I agree on literature and classes, and are very close on questions. We agree expediencies are authorized but not specified.
We all agree “there is Bible authority for asking questions” and giving Bible answers in Acts 20:28-32, 1 Peter 5:1-4, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 1 John 4:1-6, Acts 15:2,7, and 1 Peter 3:15 ” none . . . doubt it.” The elders here acted on that authority. “Try the spirits” (1 Jn. 4:1). Try means “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize” (Thayer). Brother Turner agrees these texts and terms authorize questions but disagrees with our elders only on the method. We cannot be far apart.
Brother Turner grants (1) the “content” of the questions is biblical, (2) he could give Bible “answers” to each, and (3) the format of 28 “questions does not make them creedal.” What are his objections? (1-2) They were “duplicated” and “sent to” all the men we support. “Try the spirits” applies to all who teach, but when and how are expediencies. The cover letter explained,
With all 19 (sic, 21) men responding, it will be obvious that no one is suspect or singled out and no one is excepted or left out. We have known some of you for years and never met others, but we know none of you wants us to leave the impression that we “think of men above that which is written” in any case (1 Cor. 4:6).
Two reasons were given for this even-handed effort. Error is affecting men “whom we have all known and loved”; no one is exempt from this danger. The elders wanted “to educate brethren here about such dangers” and demonstrate their determination to do “everything possible to guard against such dangers.” They expected this process to “confirm” that “every” man we support upholds truth on these dangers.
Brother Turner fears it is creedal to question except when we suspect error, but if the question is a human creed in one case, it is in another. A human creed is an “authoritative doctrinal formula” conceived by man not a Bible question, no matter who asks or answers the question! Questions asked of both sound and unsound men, even when the querist knows the answer and expects to receive that answer, may demonstrate or confirm a point (Gen. 3:9; Isa. 6:8; Jer. 1:11-13; 24:1-3; Matt. 21:24-25; Lk. 7:42-43; 10:36-37; Jn. 21:15; Acts 26:27; 1 Cor. 9:1-14; Gal. 2:1-10; 3:1-5; 4:16). When Paul met other Apostles “in conference,” this interview “added nothing” but con-firmed the unity of the apostolic message as the Apostles prepared to debate false teachers. Questions exchanged in the debate helped to expose error (Gal. 2:1-10; Acts 15:7). Questions can expose error or confirm and demonstrate unity in the truth without creedal tendencies.
Brother Turner objects (3) that the questions are used to help determine whether men “walk in the old paths” “on the subjects specified” we should test “by the total inspired message.” Human creeds, sects, heresies, and factions are built on “only a part of total revelation … true Christians rally around Christ, meaning the total teaching of Christ.” The 6 issues specified in 1-2 Timothy and the 11 in 1 Corinthians are only “part of the whole truth,” but we should test by “the total truth.” We agree 100% on all this! Our elders asked questions within the context of total truth. To test by the total truth includes testing at any point of departure from truth because any sin or digression endangers the total truth (Jn. 16:13; 1 Jn. 3:4; Jas. 2:1-13, v. 10; 2 Jn. 9; Rev. 22:18-19). Specific issues and questions must be considered if we are to maintain all truth.
How can elders asking about specific points be interpreted as reducing soundness and truth to those few points in a creedal way when the question sheet itself forcefully repudiates such a tendency?! “Our purpose is not to create a creed . . . the New Testament itself reveals the pattern of sound words, and we can neither add to it nor subtract from it. Neither do we consider this list final or exhaustive.” We recognized and repudiated “the essence of creedalism.”
Brother Turner objects (4) to saying “men who are drifting would resent and would refuse to answer these simple Bible questions, but men who uphold the truth are always glad to `give an answer’ speaking `as the oracles of God’ on any Bible subject (1 Pet. 3:15; 4:11).” When Jesus asked questions, the Jews resented it and refused to answer, being “filled with madness” and communing “one with another what they might do to Jesus” (Matt. 21:23-27; 22:46; Lk. 6:6-11).Edward Fudge, Charles Holt, and others who drifted reacted similarly to Bible questions. Jesus refused to answer when asked to cast pearls before swine, but otherwise answered as the Apostles did and taught us to do (Matt. 7:6; 26:67-68; Lk. 23:9; Acts 15:2,7; 1 Pet. 3:15). No one is above question no matter what his stature (1 Cor. 4:6).
If one felt he had a reason not to answer, or wanted to state his views in another way, the elders left the door open on the question sheet for explanation and discussion. This permits differences of judgment on format or wording. The elders cancelled no one’s support or meeting (but one cancelled us over our protest just for asking). That not only “sounds good,” it is the truth! Not even a slight creedal tendency is present.
Do the questions reflect my “special interests”? No, they reflect a decade of discussions with the elders on better ways to review our work. Others share such concerns as the elders noted: “These are questions which are commonly discussed among brethren from time to time.”
Brother Turner’s advice on “selecting preachers” is the process our elders use. Reflecting on past experiences and recent issues, they simply found a more effective way to “ask questions.” The questions were submitted to eachman because the truths covered apply “to all alike.” The elders thought anyone “willing to measure and remeasure his beliefs by the total truth” would be glad to answer any Bible question within the context of the total truth. If Turner’s advice is taken without written questions, it too will be (1-2) “duplicated” and applied alike to all, (3) used to judge whether men “walk in the old paths,” and (4) resented by “men who are drifting.” Does Turner’s advice walk and quack “like a duck”? Do oaks grow from this acorn?
What will happen when brother Turner’s process casts doubts on someone’s soundness? The suspect will charge that unfavorable reports “from others you trust” are ungodly gossip by men who bite and devour.He will resent the “questions growing out of investigation” as human creeds (citing Schaff, Rice, Apostles’ Creed). When Turner explains the difference between Bible questions and human creeds, he will be met with charges of straw men, walking and quacking like a duck, the essence of creedalism, impugning motives, causing friction, creating sects, and ignoring the totality of truth. As brother Turner would answer his critics, so I answer his criticisms. The passages and principles he would cite are the very ones I cite. As he would try to balance truth and love, so I try. That is how close we are.
Should we omit literature, classes, and written questions to satisfy objectors? The path to peace on expediencies is clear: “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth” (Rom. 14:3). “None . . . doubt” we may ask questions; the format is a judgment made by each autonomous church.
Brother Turner and I end with love for each other and truth, ready to resist the rising tide of compromise on divorce, fellowship, and all error (1 Pet. 1:22; Eph. 4:14-15). “We be brethren,” testing the best methods to uphold truth and oppose error (Gen. 13:8; 2 Jn. 9-11).
1. Questions test of doctrinal conformity.
2. It is a standard more, less, and other than the Bible.
3. It is a creed.
4. Sent to men whose soundness was known.
5. It is divisive.
6. Fellowship hinges on how one answers the questions.
7. It is a standard for ministerial qualifications.
8. 28 questions were duplicated.
9. Sent to 21 men.
10.Questions are used by other churches.
1. “The questions . . . to clarify what you believe Bible teaches on a number of matters.”
2. “The New Testament itself reveals the pattern of sound words, and we can neither add to it nor subtract from it.”
3. “Our purpose … not to create a creed . . . we recognize that the New Testament . reveals the pattern of sound words . . . we can neither add to it nor subtract from it.”
4. “It will be obvious that no one is singled out . . . no one is left out.” (Where is Bible rule: ask suspects only?)
5. Reason to divide is departure from truth (2 Jn. 9-11). None cancelled for not answering. Offered to pay expenses to discuss objections. We do not cause division by asking what a person teaches (1 Jn. 4:1,6).
6. Fellowship hangs on whether one teaches pattern of sound words. The questions focus on what one says Bible teaches, what doctrine he brings (2 Tim. 1:13; 2 Jn. 9-11).
7. The Bible is the standard for worthiness of man for support. The questions focus on doctrine a man brings (2 Tim. 3:16-4:5).
8. Would oral questions be okay, or uncopied written ones? (What passage gives the rule?)
9. At what number is it a sin? (passages?)
10.If only one church used them, are they a creed? Two? Each church decides when, how to ask (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Jn. 4:1).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 11, p. 22-23
June 2, 1994