By Peter McPherson
The words “pervert,” “subvert” and “convert” sound alike, but they have different meanings. Let’s study each of these terms.
“Pervert” means “to turn away… to distort, twist… to transform into something of an opposite character” (W.E. Vine). Jesus was charged with “perverting” the nation, and forbidding to give “tribute to Caesar” (Lk. 23:2,14). Such a charge was manufactured and thus false. Elymas, on the other hand, was a true perverter. Paul interrogated him thus: “wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:8-11).
Perverters On The Prowl
“Error does not just float around up there in the air disassociated from its propagators” was a solid and sound bit of advice that was penned to me in a personal letter from Cecil Willis a number of years ago when I questioned the “spirit” of Truth Magazine. This is not to say that 1 agree with “the way everything has been said,” or to be so naive as to think that perhaps “someone else couldn’t have said it better.” But now it is questionable to me that the policy of generalities “as the manner of some is” (Heb. 10:25) is more effective than the policy of being specific as was Nathan when he said “thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). That perverters of the gospel do so intentionally or unintentionally is not the real issue, but the real issue is that they are teaching error. When false theologies are advanced and advocated, when they are set forth as a system of religion and attract a following, when they are made a plank in the platforms of the Unity, then both the error and the errorists must be reproved and rebuked (Eph. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Perverting the Purpose of Baptism
Most all denominations of men teach that baptism is nonessential to salvation. Yet the Bible clearly teaches that baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). But since many of these denominations do immerse people in water for various reasons, some of our brethren want to extend to them “fellowship.” To be specific Carl Ketcherside is one such advocator. To do so plainly rejects the purpose of Bible baptism as of any importance, and thus “the right ways of the Lord” are “perverted.”
Perverting the Plan of Grace
Though it will be denied by many of those so charged, there are still those who teach that God’s grace is unconditional. When it is admitted that a child of God can go to heaven, even with one sin on his soul, it then is admitted that God’s grace is unconditional. Yet His grace is conditional (Titus 2:11-14; Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Cor. 6:1; I Cor. 15:10; Gal. 5:4). I have heard it said that since we are members of the body of Christ, then we have the automatic cleansing blood of Christ flowing through the spiritual body cleansing and carrying off impurities. That position is based upon the human body comparison in 1 Cor. 12 to the bodv of Christ, but it is taking the figures used past their intended projection, and thus cannot be said by “faith” for “faith comes… by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Any position on God’s forgiving grace that does not take into consideration His conditions of that forgiveness is obviously false. Conditions for forgiveness of a Christian’s sins are acknowledgment of them, repentance concerning them, confession to God on behalf of them, and prayer for forgiveness (Matt. 6:12; Acts 8:22-24; 1 John 1:7-9; 1 Thess. 1:7). Known and unknown sins are acknowledged by asking God to “forgive us our trespasses” (Matt. 6:12). The church at Galatia had its “grace perverters” (Gal. 1:6-10; 5:1-4), and they have appeared in the church again and again. We have “some” today. The error is “abounding”!
Perverting the Plain Organization
In the place of local church autonomy revealed in the Bible (Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23; 1 Pet. 5:1-2), brethren have set up inter-church relations and activities such as the Sponsoring church concept, wherein one church becomes a brotherhood receiving station. They build and maintain human organizations by contributions from the local treasuries of the Lord. All such arrangements are sheer perversions of the plain and simple plan. Many give in to the big promotional brethren to avoid “the offence of the cross” (Gal. 5:11). They cannot tolerate the pressures that come to bear upon one standing firm with a “thus saith the Lord.” It is sad to see some who “suffered so many things” (Gal. 3:4), such as being labeled trouble-makers, anti’s, orphan haters, church splitters etc., now giving in, switching rather than fighting, to avoid “resist(ing) unto blood, striving against sin.” (Heb. 12:4).
“Subvert” means “to pack up baggage. . hence, from a military point of view, to dismantle a town, to plunder; is used metaphorically in Acts 15:24 of unsettling or subverting the souls of believers” (Vine). The following passages mention subverters and their tactics (Acts 15:24; 2 Tim. 2:14; Titus 1:11; 3:11).
Subverters “Unsettle” Souls
Subverters tear down what others hold to without giving them a sure foundation to build upon. That is what some brethren are doing when they give a long list of the divisions among “all segments of the Restoration Movement.” They offer no alternative, except “every man do that which is right in his own eyes”. . nothing but anarchy.
They set forth nothing positive and concrete. Only they subvert and unsettle babes in Christ and weaken the faith of precious souls (Matt. 13:12; Matt. 18:6). Advertising such accumulative teeny-weenie or biggy-wiggie problems solves nothing; it only adds one more to the list. That list is for the subverting of souls and for the making ready of the Ketcherside “fellowship everyone and everything” doctrine, or else it will have that result anyway! It will have the same effect ‘upon the weak as would the atheist’s compilation of freak storms, of damaging earthquakes and of levelling hurricanes have on the doubting, the ignorant and the unlearned (2 Pet. 3:15).
Such tactics as publishing a human compilation of divisions, real or imagined, and parading them before the churches of Christ is thoughtless subverting. What if someone in the New Testament days got together a long list of the Corinthian church problems and divisions and placed them in the public square with the question: “Are you generally conservative or liberal?” (cf. Article by Wm. Wallace, Gospel Guardian Vol. 26, No. 1, May 2, 1974, pp. 6-7). Now the New Testament does give the error manifested not only at Corinth but in the other localities as well. But more than that those churches are told in no uncertain terms to clear up their messes. They are instructed to “repent… or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place.” (Rev. 2:5; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 Cor. 14:37). God apparently gave those churches and individuals in error a time limit in which to get right!
What impression is left by the itemized list? For us to giveup the restoration idea? To accept every position and doctrine that comes along and that anyone wants to advance? What possible good could that list accomplish? Whatever problems and divisions that do exist today among the churches of Christ need not be braggingly or disgustingly highly heralded but diligently discussed. We are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). We must always look to the pattern and remember that there is the ideal for us to reach for, both as an individual child of God (Phil. 8-9; 1 Cor. 11:1) and as a congregation (Rev. 3:7-13; Philippians). Anything other than this is to fall far short of the truth. Many of the so-called differences are matters of personal conscience and are in the province of human judgment which God allows. (Rom. 14) And Wallace knows this too. Then why did he not make this clear and greatly shorten that list? Again I say, he is unsettling souls. Others are matters of disciple growth and development (Matt. 25:15; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18; Heb. 5:12-14); many do not affect the congregation as such (the collective resources) and thus can be tolerated without cleavage, and some are false theological views that will damn both the blind leaders and their followers (Matt. 13:14; Acts 3:17; Lk. 12:47,48; 2 Thess. 1:8).
“Convert” simply means “to turn” (Vine). It does not always denote the actual total process of regeneration. In Matthew 18:3 where the King James Version has “unless ye be converted,” the idea is not unless ye be regenerated or born again as per gospel obedience. In that text the disciples had a false notion about the coming kingdom and positions in it (Mk. 9:33-37; 10:35-45). Jesus told them that they had better get the idea of who is “the greatest” out of their heads. They had “to turn”! If they were going to be in the kingdom and be a part of His plan, they had to change their attitudes a whole lot.
Whenever we learn new Bible truths and come to maturity concerning various spiritual topics, we have to change our attitudes and practices to conform to these new truths. We have “to turn.” The Christian that is not studying the Bible is not learning and thus cannot grow. He will not change very often. He will not have fresh convictions from the word and thus he will not be changed too much. Among other things the Bible has been given to us “for correction” (2 Tim. 3:16). When we are corrected on “this” or “that” and then we change our course of action, we have turned… have been converted. This is a sign of spiritual maturity, not weakness, when we learn and turn.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:42, p. 9-10
August 29, 1974