Principles Are Not Proved By Sentiment

By James R. Cope

One of the most difficult tasks any Christian faces as he seeks to teach the ignorant or unconverted is that of overcoming their personal emotions and sentiments as these factors loom heavily before the minds of those the Christian endeavors to teach and reach with the simple word of God. Almost inevitably we are told of relatives and friends who believe thus and so and are straightway informed of the subject’s feelings toward these persons. Again we are faced with various “experiences,” “feelings of pardon,” and other irrational and emotional reactions which must be overcome if the truth of the gospel is to prevail. We think it terrible that otherwise intelligent people will close their eyes to the light of God’s word by appeals to sentiment and will seek refuge in personalities, persuasions, and practices untaught in the Bible. But must we leave disciples of Christ to find the same emotional reactions?

(1) Premillennialism. Some years ago when the premillennial issue was hot a very common occurrence was to hear the defenders of, apologists for, and sympathizers with R.H. Boll talk about his goodness and piety. This man’s adherents sought refuge behind his piety and prayerful life as if these characteristics immunized the faith of brethren against the gospelless doctrine of premillennialism with all of its speculative implications which he and his disciples pressed upon the churches. His gentleness did not prevent theories concerning a future reign of Christ on earth from dividing churches almost everywhere this materialistic doctrine found rootage. Some of the finest congregations in the land were split asunder because of the doctrine Boll espoused and yet teaches. Many who had known him intimately and walked with him in the common faith in earlier years became exceedingly caustic and critical toward all who sought to show brethren the destructive nature and eventual consequences of the doctrine this man propounded. While many denied believing what Boll taught, they nevertheless held in contempt preachers who warned against him because of the falsehood he preached. Judging by speech and actions, theirs was a sentimental attachment to a man rather than his teaching. But even if this explanation be accepted, their defense of a false teacher had many practical effects of the doctrine itself, for where the apologists’ influence held sway there was ever the possibility that the false teaching himself might enter with his destructive dogma. Even where the teacher did not enter, such an apologetic attitude toward the man himself made for an unhealthy spiritual condition among churches which condition can be diagnosed as a soft, apologetic, compromising attitude toward error generally. Emotions ran away with reason and sentimental attachment dethroned the truth of God. We should remember that all the sympathetic stir in the world in behalf of a teacher can never make what he teaches the truth of God.

(2) Instrumental music. A glance at the controversy over the introduction of mechanical instruments of music in worship shows that many persons who favored the instrument were ruled more by sentiment than reason based upon revelation. “Who could object to such a harmless little instrument as a melodian?” “The swelling sounds of a giant pipe organ stirs our spirits and puts us in a mood for worship which can come from nothing else! ” “Everybody else uses the instrument in their worship and we like it; so why not have it!” “I love the beautiful sound of an organ!” These and similar statements were heard three generations ago as those who ran headstrong over the objectors to the instrument established their shrines. “Never mind about divine authority!” “Do not quibble over trivialities!” “We want our organ and our organ we shall have!

Wild sentiment displaced reason. Unbridled passions spurned the word of God. This was the attitude then. It has occasionally showed up even in our own generation over the same issue. But who is so brazen among those who respect the silence of the New Testament as to justify this emotional display? The first two commandments that God gave ancient Israel prohibited their having another God before Jehovah and the making of graven images, yet when Moses tarried in the mount these were the very first commands Israel trampled under foot. In a fit of frenzy they disregarded Moses, rebelled against God, molded the golden calf, and worshipped before the creature they had devised. It has happened before. It can happen again!

(3) Evangelization. A century ago when the fight over the missionary society was on, those who opposed the society were told that they had no interest in preaching the gospel to the lost. In the Millennial Harbinger (June, 1866) C.L. Loos, an ardent advocate of the human missionary society, was evidently directing his remarks toward Benjamin Franklin, Tolbert Fanning, and David Lipscomb when he wrote:

The evidence from all quarters of our land, and from other lands, demonstrates that this great matter of missions organized associations for cooperative efforts to send the gospel abroad – is really no longer a doubtful question among us; that it is decided and accepted. The whole matter has been thoroughly sifted in the past quarter of a century, and may now be regarded as settled . . . those few who have been of late days persistently and noisely denouncing missionary associations, have by the unsanctified bitterness and rudeness of their attacks, given full evidence of the causes of their opposition – a lack of knowledge, of an enlightened piety and a true spiritual culture. To attempt to teach such men is well-nigh useless, as it is almost hopeless.

In May, 1867, issue of the Harbinger, W.K. Pendleton wrote similarly as follows:

Let men who have missionary work . . . take counsel together . . . and let us not be disturbed, or distracted in our work, by outside railers, who seem to rejoice in nothing so much as their own success in presenting the preaching of the gospel.

David Lipscomb was caricatured as an old woman with a broom trying to sweep back the ocean tide all because he opposed the society as an agency through which churches could do their work.

To the person who understands that the silence of God’s word must be respected as much as its express commands, a sentimental appeal by one who insists on having instrumental music simply because he likes it is completely irrational and absurd. The same person can understand why an apology for the personal piety of a false teacher does not nullify his false teaching. That same individual can see why opposition to a human missionary society to do the work God gave the church to do does not mean that the opposer of the society therefore also opposes preaching to the lost. Yet that same person who will not be swayed by sentiment over the instrument, the society, or a false teacher, may be swept off his feet by some other emotional appeal just as foreign to the teaching of the New Testament.

(4) Schools. In these days when objections are raised to churches supporting schools from their treasuries, some who are ruled more by sentiment than reason, cry out, “Oh, all these folks think about is how they can hurt the schools. They are against Christian education and the colleges! ” We have known where these or similar statements have been made about men who have contributed liberally of their time and money to Christian colleges. It seems never to occur to some people that a sincere criticism can be offered without the one offering it attempting to kill the thing itself or the influence of the person criticized.

(5) Benevolent homes. When objections are filed against churches contributing to independent benevolent institutions such as orphan homes and homes for the aged, this same ungoverned emotionalism explodes with these or similar expressions: “You don’t believe in providing for the aged and infirm!” How irrational! What emotional instability is revealed! How utterly untrue!

(6) Centralization. When a word is sounded in criticism of some of the big-time, brotherhood-wide, high-pressure propaganda campaigns which have become so familiar within recent years, it is not uncommon to find the critic lambasted as being opposed to foreign mission work, church I i co-operation,” and anything else apparently that the promoters decide to promote. Are these brethren on foreign fields who disagree with “centralization” of funds and forces and who have giver, their time and talents to gospel work, “anti-missionary”? Are these who have sacrificed the comforts of America for hardships in Europe and Africa against preaching the gospel to those in darkness? Are they opposed to evangelism abroad? Emotional upheavels by the brethren at home have not deterred them from going ahead in a campaign to save souls and build up the Lord’s church in distant lands. Their unselfish attitude and willingness to serve under adverse conditions should forever stop the mouths of those who say that the critics of centralized control are against preaching the gospel. That same charge was hurled at David Lipscomb when he cried out against the missionary society, but the charge was false then even as it is false now.

Expressions and reactions like these mentioned are indicative of how much some persons are controlled by their personal feelings rather than an intelligent analysis of the word of God. When such reactions occur they are usually an admission of weakness or vulnerability of the cause or position occupied by him who flings the charge. Fairness demands that we say this is not always the case. In some instances persons hurling such wild charges simply have no idea of what the issue is all about. They are honest but honestly ignorant of the point being discussed. They have such a smattering of the biblical principles governing these activities that they fail to grasp the criticisms made.

Perhaps all of us are to a greater or lesser degree controlled by our emotions. It is easy for us to get mad when we should be praying. It is easy to “pop off” when we should be listening with a view to learning. But whatever may be said in defense of emotions, it can never be truthfully said that divine principles are proved by sentiment. (1) They are not proved by uninspired examples or practices. (2) They are not proved by uninspired men. (3) Likewise they are not proved by personal sentiment, feelings, or emotions. Again we insist: let us not forget these fundamental considerations in any study of the organization, work, or worship of the church.

(James R. Cope wrote an informative and incisive series of eight articles on “The Problem of Institutionalism ” in The Preceptor, April through November 1953. The section reprinted above appeared in the September issue.)

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 15, pp. 450, 469-470
August 2, 1990