By James W. Adams
In my first full time local work in Vivian, Louisiana during 1935-37, Gertrude and I, being romantic newlyweds, listened with great appreciation to a beautiful, popular love song which was sung constantly over the radio. It was popularized by a Bing Crosby recording, but we heard it sung mostly by a woman singer by the name of Lee, and she gave to it a haunting beauty that lingers yet in our minds after all these years. It was called, “Red Sails in the Sunset.”
A few days ago, I ran across a statement from the pen of a nineteenth century, English preacher by the name of Alexander Foote which brought “our song” back to memory. He said, “Of all the passions that possess mankind, the love of novelty rules most the mind; in search of this from realm to realm we roam, our fleets come fraught with every folly home. ” His figurative description of the results of an inordinate love for novelty suggested “Red Sails in the Sunset” as an appropriate title for this article.
Red is a symbol of danger. Couple this with Foote’s observation that the “fleets” of the love of novelty roam the world in search of the new and different and come home “fraught with ever folly,” and you have the thrust of this article. Among conservative Christians today (encouraged by preachers) ~there is a growing affinity for the new and different and a commensurate lack of enthusiasm for just plain old Jerusalem gospel. We are caught up in the backwash of the “Social Gospel,” but perish the thought that we should acknowledge it. When I observe that large crowds will gather to hear a discussion of current social problems ninety percent of which is psychology, sociology, and human opinion supported by generous citations of secular authorities in these fields and ten percent Scripture to give it doctrinal respectability, and embarrassingly small crowds gather to hear a Bible discussion of the great fundamentals of God’s eternal scheme for the redemption of sinners, the correctness of the observation made above (i.e., “we are caught up in the backwash of the Social Gospel”) is incontrovertible.
That we are to be governed by the Bible in social relationships is not denied, consequently, the fact that it is our duty to teach every Bible principle relating to them I accept without argument. However, there is a vast difference between preaching what the Scriptures teach on these matters, and discussing them and seeking solutions of problems in this realm from the standpoint of human philosophy, psychology, and sociology. For example, it is the duty of the “older women to teach the younger women to be keepers at home” (Tit. 2:4,5). No one denies that this is a work in which a church as such may engage. Yet, this does not justify a church as such arranging, advertising, and conducting a course in “home economics.” A church must teach people to “maintain good works for necessary uses” (Tit. 3:14) and “to labor, working with their hands the thing which is good, that they may have to give to them that have need” (Eph. 4:28), but this does not authorize a church to arrange, advertise, and conduct courses in carpentry, plumbing, and secretarial science. It would seem that conservative brethren, of all people, should recognize this, but it appears they do not!
I commonly hear such expressions as: “Church of Christ doctrine; Church of Christ tradition; we need to project a new image of the church or change the image of the church; continuous cleansing; all of us are brethren in error, hence we should broaden our acceptance and participation in religion to include the pious among the denominations; a church is not an organic functional entity; any act peculiar to being a Christian may be performed by both the individual or a church.” These are but a few of the novel concepts vocalized foreign to the Scriptures. There are many more that space forbids mentioning, all of which, in my judgment, constitute “red sails” of Novelty’s “fleet” bringing home from the far reaches of the ocean of religious confusion about us cargoes of “folly” that may well presage the “sunset” of our efforts to maintain simple, uncorrupted, New Testament Christianity in faith and practice.
On one of the pages of a book in my library, “The New Dictionary of Thoughts,” I wrote some years ago, “Somewhere between the chains of mere human tradition and the charms of novelty lies the certainty of truth.” This is not true because I wrote it, but I wrote it because it is true. Things are not right because they are old and traditional, neither are they wrong. It is just as true that things are not wrong because they are new, but neither are they right. Things are right or wrong in religion to the extent that they are in harmony or out of harmony with revealed truth contained in the Scriptures.
The young woman of the song to which reference has been made prayed earnestly that “red sails in the sunset might bring her lover home safe.” We should, conversely speaking, watch and pray lest the “red sails” of Novelty’s ships load us down with the self-destructive “folly” of the wild fanaticism, rampant emotionalism, and open fellowship of socially evolving, modern Christendom and derail us from the safe tracts of a “Thus saith the Lord.”
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 13, pp. 385, 407
July 7, 1988