Principles and Personalities

By Bryan Vinson, Sr.

A proper distinction, action, is necessary in both in thought and all matters wherein truth and error are in combat, between the persons involved and the principles being defended and opposed. Unhappily, the easy and, therefore, the frequently selected course of many is to decide where to stand solely out of regard for who occupies that position, rather than make the necessary effort to examine the principles involved and exercise a righteous decision as determined thereby. This is a fruitful source of parties and sects which has cursed the church through its long and eventful history. Today we see the spirit of partyism running rampant in the church and feelings rather than well defined and clearly established conceptions of truth controlling the actions of many brethren. Too, in an apparent effort to escape the necessity of taking a stand, some are endeavoring to say that no principle of truth is involved in these current matters in dispute, but rather that it is just a personality conflict, a preacher’s fight.” If this be true, then all who are involved therein, regardless of which side they may be on, are in error–grievous error. Consequently, those who so view and appraise the situation are obligated to oppose both sides as touching every one who has taken any side or said or done anything relative thereto. But such is not the case–they are identifying themselves, so far as we have observed, wholly with one side. This inevitably results in self-condemnation by those so contending.

The apostle Paul raised the question as touching the relative position and importance of persons in the remedial system by asking, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth, neither he that watereth; but God gave the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one; and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God; ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (Cor. 3: 5-9 )

This passage certainly relegates to a far inferior position that of persons as distinguished from the truth espoused by those persons. Paul very definitely and purposely sought to so preach, both in respect to style, content and manner as to preclude the formation of faith in human wisdom rather than in the power of God (I Cor. 2:1-5). He knew that what he preached was designed to create faith in the hearts of his hearers, but he sought to so speak and deport himself in the presentation of the gospel as to deprecate himself as learned and eloquent, lest they be led to found their faith in him rather than the gospel, the power of God unto salvation.

There were those who came after him who sought to gain their ends by defaming him and only out of regard for the truth as he preached it, and its preservation in their hearts and lives, did he resort to a defense of himself against their calumnies. He knew that should the enemies of the truth succeed in destroying the confidence of the Corinthians in his Divine Legation as an apostle, then would the gospel he preached be replaced with the pretensions of these false teachers. Hence, the justifiable defense he made of himself, and in so doing apologized for what had the appearance of glorying in himself. As evidence of his complete altruism, we have only to note a statement made to the Philippians. “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some of good will: the one preach Christ of contention; not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds. But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in presence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:15-18).

This passage decidedly reflects awareness that the principles of Divine Truth are to be appraised independent of the character and motives of those who proclaim it; that even though just censure of the motives may be charged against the person or persons, that such does not impeach the truth proclaimed. Conversely, the very best of motives and purity of character does not establish the truth of that which is taught by such persons. Therefore, the proper distinction and discrimination between persons and truth, or personalities and principles is herein evinced. Every effort, therefore, which has and is being made to prejudice people against a given position by slandering those identified with this position, is but a resort to the same tactics of those false teachers who in Corinth inveighed against Paul. And for people to be influenced thereby is to yield to a spirit the very opposite of that expressed by Paul in this statement cited from the Phillipian letter.

When Paul withstood Peter to his face, was this a personality conflict? Now, if rather than withstanding him to his face, he had stabbed him in the back, we would be justified in believing it to be. a personal one rather than a conflict in principle. Paul said Peter was to be blamed for the dissimulation practiced, a case of duplicity; he portrayed himself as believing it fit to eat with Gentiles when the Jews were absent, whereas when the latter were present he desisted there from out of fear of those of the circumcision. In other words, Peter was surrendering a principle out of deference to the feelings and sensibilities of a Judaizing element who were seeking to impose unauthorized requisitions upon the Gentile Christians. Human nature being what it is and always has been, it isn’t unlikely that some were suspicious of Paul’s action as possibly prompted by jealousy of Peter. We are confident this was not true, and, furthermore, that Peter did not regard his upbraiding him as a personal affront. This is indicated by the fraternal, reference made by Peter to Paul in the closing section of his second and last epistle.

Today, in the church, the quickest and surest way to make an enemy of a brother is to suggest that he is, or may be, wrong! Concrete instances could be cited where brethren refuse to eat with or even speak to other brethren. Why? Solely because present brotherhood wide operations are questioned. Verily, the brethren who sit in seats of authority, influence and power, can do no wrong or commit any error! Who has the right to question what the brethren may do? Apparently no one. It may still be all right to suggest that the denominations are wrong because unauthorized in the Word of God, but when the brethren decide to do what they are doing, which is equally destitute of authority, and usually borrowed from the denominations, then it is impious to question it. Through the years gospel preachers have been inviting–even urging–their audiences to point out one item of faith or practice for which they were unable to produce a “thus said the Lord,” with the assurance that failing to do so they would cease to so hold and practice. Now if it even be suggested that some things are being practiced that lack the authority of the scriptures, those so suggesting are maligned and misrepresented. We recently heard a scholar, on a discussion panel, define a bigot as one who resents his position being questioned. Thus the present course of many of the Lord’s people has become one of bigotry.

We can understand how one who realizes the weakness of his position, and yet devoted to it, would rather it be not called in question; but how one supremely devoted to the truth and confident he has it can ever become a bigot is an anomaly, if not an impossibility.

Principles are enduring and truth is imperishable. Men are to be controlled and thereby changed immeasurably for the better by principles, and never principles changed by men. The Principles of Divine Truth are to be inculcated and reverenced by those who benefit thereby, and never subverted or perverted for personal ends and purposes. These present issues, as are all others involving the Will of God and the Salvation of Man, are issues of principles rather than personal differences between the contenders. There is involved the principle of authority in religion. This is the basic principle in all religious issues. “By what authority doest thou these things?” is a timely question, and ever so. All authority is presently possessed by Christ, both in heaven and earth. Hence, in the absence of any authorization from Him there is but one other source to which one can go for what he does as service to God. The principle of truth–“What is Truth?” is pertinent to these present matters of dispute. Does our position rest on the opinions of men or the revealed truth of the gospel? The principle of peace and unity as existing and being preserved among the children of God is also at stake here. Shall we press our self-confessed opinions and acknowledged expedients to the rupturing of the body of Christ, or shall we subordinate all such to the peace and oneness of God’s people?

These principles are all too clearly defined and magnified in the importance attaching to them in the scriptures to be trampled underfoot, and the whole matter be passed off as a mere “preacher’s fuss” or personality conflict.

Truth Magazine VI: 4, pp. 10-12
January 1961