By David E. Discus
Lately, there seems to be more and more evidence that many of the followers of the liberal persuasion are becoming quite apprehensive about the direction that liberalism is taking. Some would like to scale back some of the trends in their liberal activity, but they are at a loss to know how to go about it. Of course they could make a complete about face and stop it all but this would be out of the question. This would make “Antis” out of them and everyone knows that this is a dirty word. It is starting to dawn on them that they have created a monster which is leading them into complete apostasy, if it has not already done so. It is as if they are on run away roller coaster and they would like to stop it and get off.
Recently, this correspondent acquired a copy of a monthly bulletin from a local congregation which strongly supports liberalism. In it was a very impressive article entitled Dangers and Advice. It was written by a preacher who has been advocating liberality around Chattanooga for many years. Much of the discourse dealt with some of the same problems we of the conservative persuasion have been cautioning them about all along. The article had some sound scriptural advice and would fit very nicely in some of our conservative papers as far as it went. The only problem was that this author shunned to declare all the counsel (Acts 20:27) and stopped short of calling attention to some of the major causes of the dilemma they now find themselves in.
The article started out by quoting our beloved old modern patriarch, brother N.B. Hardeman, on his fear of the direction that the church was heading 50-55 years ago. (Be aware that this was before liberalism had gained any sort of a foothold. – DED) According to the article, when asked what dangers he saw in the Church in his day, brother Hardeman replied:
1. A lack of Bible knowledge and a light regard with what it says.
2. A tendency to make the church a social club or entertainment center.
3. A disposition to compromise the truth and discourage sound preaching.
4. A love for the praise of men more than the praise of God, lest they should be put out of someone’s social circle.
Using these four points as a basis, our liberal author commented on how the church seemed to be drifting toward apostasy by trying to be like all the nations (1 Sam. 8:20). He said “we” are getting away from the simplicity of the Bible, and preachers are doing more lecturing instead of preaching. He pointed out that worldliness in the church is wide spread, and that emphasis on entertainment was turning it into a social club.
It is evident that this author is not fully informed about brother Hardeman’s position on liberalism. It has been this writer’s understanding that he opposed any sort of organization that collected funds from other congregations and Christians to do the work that the Bible assigned to the local congregation and/or its members. This would include such things as a sponsoring congregation, Board of Elders, or any structure doing work reserved for the local church and its members. It was his belief that there is no scriptural precedent for these things. Also, that it gives the individual a false sense of security that he has fulfilled his responsibilities as a Christian, when he drops his contribution into the collection plate.
About 150 years ago, the Church of Christ and the Christian Church divided over what most people consider the instrumental music question. What has not been as well publicized, was this concept of a centralized headquarters designed to collect and dispurse funds for missionary work (Reference – Christian Missionary Society). It is hard to understand why institutional people cannot see that this is nothing more than history repeating itself. On the other hand, maybe it is to be expected. It is rumored that some “ultra-liberals” are now advocating a merger with the Christian Church.
Brother Hardeman expressed a fear that the day would come when Christian colleges would accept and/or solicit congregational funds. That day has arrived. In fact as you look at the many institutional practices today it seems that most anything goes. As indicated above, the institutional element is rapidly becoming just like any other denomination.
Just as in all digressive movements, the changes did not come all at once. Rather, they occurred slowly at first but gathered speed over the years. It all began with the seemingly innocent concept of the Herald of Truth and today it has evolved into a multimillion dollar boondoggle of one nation under God. Once the barriers were broken down there was no stopping the movement. It will continue to gather momentum until what is claimed to be the church that Christ built will no longer resemble New Testament specifications. Could this be the “lack of Bible knowledge and a light regard with what it says” that brother Hardeman had in mind? Or is it his “disposition to compromise the truth and discourage sound doctrine”?
Our author quoted brother Hardeman as saying there was a tendency to make the church into a social club or entertainment center. Yet in the same bulletin in which is article appeared, the number of announcements of social events for the congregation exceeded the announcements about worship services. It is doubtful that he was even aware of this inconsistency. This writer does not wish to sound vindictive nor to single out any specific congregation, but this particular example just happened to be readily available. It is highly typical of the situation as it exists among institutional churches today.
Items number 3 and 4 of the quotes from brother Hardeman should present little cause for friction between conservatives and liberals. It seems conservative brethren are just as guilty as liberals. Both groups have members who tend to compromise the truth and discourage sound preaching, and both have their share of individuals who seek the praise of men rather than the praise of God. This is a common problem about which neither group can afford to point an accusing finger. Rather they ought to be quick to welcome suggestions that would improve the situation. Most conservative advocates, who have ignored the praise of men and spoken out against liberalism, certainly know what it means to be put out of the social circle of the liberals. This was/and is a powerful ploy used against anyone who refused(s) to go along with the concepts of liberality. In fact it was this attitude that gave rise to the demeaning term “anti.” Brother Hardeman’s fear was justified. Social pressure did become a powerful tool that caused untold numbers of Christians to walk the primrose path of liberalism.
The author of Dangers and Signs ended his article with the old plea that we go back to the Bible and the Bible alone. That we speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where it is silent. This is indeed very excellent advice. However, if he applies the Bible and the Bible alone to the concepts of Liberalism, he is going to have to remain silent. He will not find any scriptural justification for his liberal activity. This has always been (and still is) a major argument of the people who oppose liberalism.
If, indeed, the assumption that the liberal persuasion is becoming apprehensive about their movement, it is curious that they have not come forward with any ideas as to how solve the problems. Do they suggest that some of their practices be discontinued? If so which ones or how many? Do they plan any cut backs on social functions or organizations supplementing the local congregation? Just what would they be willing to concede? It is indeed strange that we never hear any concrete suggestions that would help to alleviate their problems. Like the Bereans of old, would they be willing to receive the word with all readiness of mind and search the scriptures daily to see whether these things are so (Acts 17:11)?
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 16, pp. 501-503
August 20, 1992