By Tom M. Robert
One of the wonderful things about the preaching of Jesus (in addition to its wisdom, grace, perfection and relevance) was that it was always open and aboveboard, public in nature, not hidden in back rooms and secret conclaves. Knowing that he had the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68), Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom openly to the multitudes: “. . . I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing” (John 18:20). In his journeys, Jesus “went through the cities and villages, teaching . . .” (Luke 18:22) in such a fashion that multitudes heard him (Mark 2:13).
From the beginning, Jesus in- tended that the message of grace be free, uninhibited, unbound, and unfettered by human authority. No man or group of men has the right to limit the spread of the gospel; it has been certified by Jesus’ authority as the son of God and com- missioned to the world (Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49). It is an eternal message, to all men of every race. It cannot be fettered by creeds. Its authority cannot be diminished by synods and councils. Translation committees cannot alter the original inscriptions. Private interpretation, in which efforts to teach “another gospel” are waged, are condemned (Gal. 1:6-9). Private and secret groups which seek to subvert or change the definition of truth and who often invoke secrecy and personal privilege will be exposed. Cloaks of darkness cannot hide the light of the gospel.
The message of the cross was not given to a select few within the sanctum sanctorum, to be reserved for the “clergy” and kept from the “laity.” John related that “the common people heard him gladly” (John 12:37). Even on those occasions when Jesus taught his disciples (apostles) privately, it was to give them understanding so the mes- sage could be fully declared later. “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops” (Matt. 10:27). The parables, though concealing truth from prejudiced hearts, were open to those seeking to know the truth. Jesus, when asked why he used parables, explained:
Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand . . . but blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear (Matt. 13:11-16).
The apostle Paul made mention of some minds that were blinded to truth, but it was of their own doing, not the re- sult of the message: “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). In fact, it is God who “commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). The same God who commanded physical light to spring into being (Gen. 1:3) is the same God who sheds spiritual light throughout the world by the power of his word. Without physical light, life on earth would die; without spiritual light, mankind will perish in sin. It is unthinkable that anyone would try to keep people in darkness from the light of the gospel of Christ. Yet, in reality, there are those who attempt to hinder the free knowledge of truth.
Certain religions establish a “clergy” and “laity” dis- tinction that is foreign to New Testament Christianity. “Clergy” refers to an ecclesiastical hierarchy imposed on religious bodies by which some men are elevated in rank above others. “Laity” defines the rest of people who are ranked beneath the authority of the clergymen. Not only is this system foreign to New Testament Christianity, it is antithetical to it. The New Testament teaches a brotherhood of believers in which each Christian is a holy priest (1 Pet. 2:4-10). Only Jesus is a high-priest over other priests (Heb. 7:20-27). The only structure given to the church of the Lord is that revealed in Philippians 1:2: “bishops, deacons and saints.” A “bishop” is a spiritual overseer (also called an elder, presbyter, and shepherd: 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 14:23; 20:17-38). The work of a bishop is a place of service, not an office of rank. How different is the life of Jesus Christ (who is our High Priest and Chief Shepherd) from those who wear expensive garments of silk and tapestry, with jewels on their fingers and tiaras of diamonds on their head, demanding rank, superior- ity, privilege, and prestige. In contrast, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and taught that “those who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be servant of all” (Luke 22:24-26).
But the greater danger lies not in the elevation of men to superior rank in religion; these clergymen demand the right to interpret scripture for the lesser laity, “let’s just keep this among us boys!” Declaring that they stand between God and the lower laity, the clergy claim the right to give or withhold Scripture as part of the sacerdotal system of exclusive priesthood. Note this excerpt from an address by the cardinals of Rome to Pope Pius III, which is preserved in the National Library of Paris, folio No. 1068, Vol. 2, 650-651 (via The Sower, Vol. 5, No. 1, Yuma, AZ):
Of all the advice that we can offer your holiness we must open your eyes well and use all possible force in the mat- ter, namely, to permit the reading of the gospel as little as possible in all the countries under your jurisdiction. Let the very little part of the gospel suffice which is usually read in mass, and let no one be permitted to read more. So long as people will be content with the small amount, your interest will prosper; but as soon as the people want to read more, your interest will fail. The Bible is the book, which more than any other, has raised against us the tumults and tempests by which we have almost perished. In fact, if one compares the teaching of the Bible with what takes place in our churches, he will soon find discord, and will realize that our teachings are often different from the Bible, and oftener still, contrary to it.
Not only do they lay claim to control the Scriptures, but they also lay claim to the right to dispense grace as representatives of Christ. Thus, “sacraments” are given or restricted, depending on the decision of the clergy, “the good ol’ boys.” By this sacerdotal system, millions are held in spiritual bondage for fear of losing “grace” through displeasing the clergy who stand between them and God.
Not to allow Catholics to get one step ahead of them, Protestant churches likewise use the “just among us boys” error in its creedal systems. No denomination can exist without a creed. Thus, denominations form synods, coun- cils, committees, and conferences which formulate the creeds distinctive to that particular religious body. Creeds form barriers from one denomination to another and to be a part of a specific denomination, one must accept the authority of the creed which denominates that body. The Methodist Discipline makes Methodists, not Baptists; the Lutheran Catechism makes Lutherans, not Catholics; the writings of Mary Baker Eddy make Christian Scientists, not Unitarians; the Watch Tower Society makes Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Episcopalians; the Book of Mormon (and other writings of Joseph Smith, et al.) makes Mormons, not Sabbatarians, etc.
Jesus condemned human creeds: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matt. 15:8-9).
The apostle Paul condemned division (“denominational- ism” means “division”) when he said, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). He further rebuked that church for allowing division based upon following certain men: “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say that, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (vv. 11-13).
How long will it take us to learn that “just among us boys” is an attitude that violates the will of Christ, causes division, permits creeds to multiply and destroys the unity of believers. What right does any man or group of men have to decide among themselves what doc- trines to bind upon others?
Among Churches of Christ
Are those of us who are members of the church of Christ immune from this syndrome that seems so much a part of human practice? By no means! Just as the apostles themselves had bad attitudes about themselves and about their superiority, we can fall prey to the “good ol’ boy” system of thinking. “Just among us boys” describes an attitude of heart that elevates a few above others, that expects privacy and privilege to excuse their error, that extends special treatment to those “within the club” and expects reciprocation. Those as- sociated with Truth Magazine are not beyond this failing if we fail to watch ourselves. If we become so enamored of ourselves that we expect anyone to accept what we say simply because we say it, we have been bitten with the “bug.” If we should come to believe that we speak for the brotherhood, or a segment thereof (which we do not, nor do we seek to do so; each writer speaks only for him or herself), we have the “virus” of spiritual elitism that leads to denominationalism. If we should come to expect prefer- ential treatment from others so that we are above criticism or biblical review, we have fallen ill to the syndrome. If we think we are the “inner circle” of the sanctum sanctorum, expecting privacy to cover our error, we are as guilty as the Pope of Rome, the Lutheran Synod or the Baptist General Convention of promoting denominationalism. Let there be no mistake: “just among us boys” is another word or phrase that denotes an attitude that compromises truth, seeks to cover sinful beliefs and doctrines, and expels from the “in- ner circle” of religious superiority those who disagree.
“Just among us boys” describes those who whisper and gossip among themselves about those who oppose them but who will refuse like cowards to discuss and debate like concerned brethren. “The boys” have been known to whisper around and get gospel meetings canceled, seek to stop a church from hiring a certain preacher with whom they disagree, and tear down a reputation of a fellow Christian without once discussing an issue or meeting face to face with the brother in question.
“The boys” will demand their right to teach error pub- licly and then hide behind Matthew 18 if one does not come to them personally before exposing their sin. Of course, they expect the privilege to expose individuals with whom they disagree without going to them (those in the institutional churches, Christian Churches, denominational bodies, etc.).
“The boys” will expect the right to go across the coun- try and around the world teaching error but will criticize those who oppose them as self-seeking opportunists who are trying to make a name for themselves, who are jealous, who do not respect congregational autonomy and who lack brotherly love.
“The boys” demand the right to teach error and remain in fellowship with brethren everywhere. The “brothers” of “the boys” are willing to extend fellowship to those who teach error in direct contradiction of Scriptures: 2 John 9-11; Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:6-9, etc. You see, it is not enough to avoid evil practices (Rom. 1:18-31). The Scripture also condemns those who “approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). Yet there are those “among the boys” who teach egregious error about adulterous marriages and their “brothers” are willing to associate with them, use them in gospel meetings, support them, and condemn those who oppose their error.
“The boys” have an attitude that they can spread error across the Internet among discussion groups yet plead special privilege or “privacy” and demand that no one be allowed to review their error. After being chastised by one brother quite severely for “violating his privacy” by quoting from his material in a discussion group on the Internet, I was vindicated after the fact by that entire discussion being sold publicly on a CD in a bookstore. It is a strange definition of “privacy” to discuss issues among hundreds and claim immunity as a private discussion. As a child, most of us played a game of “Tag” and would say, “King’s X” if we wanted to be immune from being “tagged.” “The boys” want to use “King’s X” after teaching error because they don’t want to be tagged! Others of this mind-set will teach a group of young men or a Bible class in a home and urge them to “keep our discussions private.” They especially don’t like tape recorders. Tape recorders have an uncanny way of being exact about what has been taught!
“The boys” want to be treated with dignity, love, and gentleness. They decry the spirit by which one brother reviews another’s error. But their desire to be treated with dignity, love, and gentleness (which is usually afforded them) is returned by caustic criticism toward “journal- istic jingoism,” “watchdogs,” “buzzards,” brotherhood supervisors,” etc. One thing is clear: let a brother teach that an adulterous marriage is okay and he will be treated with dignity, love, and gentleness by his “brothers.” But let someone expose the error of adulterous marriages and those who are willing to fellowship that error and he will be boiled in oil!
“The boys” like to “toss out an idea” and be seen as “original thinkers” who are tired of the old “church of Christ traditions” and want to introduce something new. It is often heard, when these “new ideas” are being explored that we are just “thinking out loud to see where this will go” and asking for input from other original thinkers as “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17). Of course, when they meet a fellow with a “forehead like adamant” (Ezek. 3:9), they become mighty unhappy!
“The boys” want to spread their doctrine of fellowship with error, compromise and unity in diversity in every way possible: a network of religious papers, college campuses, gospel meetings, private discussion groups, via the Inter- net, and house to house. But they don’t want to extend the same privilege to those who oppose them. Those who oppose them have bad attitudes, ulterior motives, are dis- honest, are not trustworthy, have a network, and do all this without love. Yet I have noticed that any amount of love, however great and real, is never enough for the man who is determined to teach error. Love him as you will. When you oppose him, you don’t love him, in his estimation. Isn’t is exceedingly strange that false teachers are always so full of love, and those who oppose false teachers are so full of hate? Did you notice this oddity? Folks, it is not a lack of love that is our problem. Did Paul not love the brother in Corinth that was to be disciplined? Did Paul not love Peter when he withstood him to the face? Did Jesus not love the apostles when he rebuked them for wanting special seats in the kingdom? One of the biggest lies ever told by the Devil (and used by false teachers) is that it is a lack of love that motivates every person that opposes error! But one thing is sure: I love my brethren too much to keep my mouth shut and let them teach error without hearing about it. I love truth too much to keep silent. I love the church too much to allow it to be led into digression without some effort on my part.
In short, “the boys” don’t like to be questioned, chal- lenged, put to the test. They want the right to go about “hither, thither and yon” teaching what they like to whom- ever they like without having to face the consequence of their actions. The Pope would like to spread Catholicism without examination, too. But with dignity, love, and gentleness, we will oppose him.
The right attitude to be found in gospel preaching is that demonstrated by Jesus. Teach the truth plainly. Put it on the housetops. Spread it to the world. Yes, preach the gospel from a heart full of love, but don’t be more dignified that the Savior. Don’t be more timid than the inspired writers. “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:5-6).