By Marc Smith
Psalms 77:5, “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.”
I have observed a thing that is true of recent history. One might study a particular piece of ground, let us say an 800 acre tract of land purchased 100 years ago. When the original owner died he left the land to be divided between his four surviving children. They each get a 200 acre portion. When each of these dies, having an average of four children each, the land is again divided till all now have title to 50 acres each. When they die and pass it on, their children receive just a few acres each and so on with generation after generation till the land disappears into tract homes or small lots that have only value as residential sites. The land no longer retains its original possibilities as a farm, ranch, or for timber.
This was not the way things were done in Israel under the Old Law. The Bible tells us the land of Canaan was divided by the authority of God to the conquerors, the Israelites, as God had promised. The land was given in portions to various tribes and families who were to hand it down to the eldest son only. There were very rigid guide-lines governing this inheritance and genealogies were studiously and pains-takingly kept up with in order to ascertain true ownership through the generations. Markers, universally of stone because stone is a stable sub-stance, were set at the boundaries of these family plots. These are referred to as “landmarks.” Landmarks were extremely important then, to know where to gaze sheep, pasture herds of all kinds, build pens, dwellings, walls, vineyards, etc. If landmarks were moved arbitrarily, confusion would abound.
The Danger of Removing the Ancient Landmarks
“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). “Remove not the old land mark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless” (Prov. 23:10).
The Israelites were commanded under the Old Law not to remove the landmarks (Deut. 19:14; 27:17). Why? All sinful activity brings about confusion.
Read from Job 24:1-9, 19-25. Those who remove land-marks have no regard for order and authority. The sinner is a transgressor of the order and authority of God, the lawgiver himself. Again we note that confusion is the consequence of the one who removes the spiritual land-marks. The very nature of God is goodness, righteousness, and by those attributes all that is good and right in the physical and spiritual realms. Confusion is neither good nor righteous, therefore cannot be of God. 2 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
Is There Danger in Removing “Ancient Landmarks” For Us Today?
The landmarks which were set by our fathers very often bother us. We may honestly feel that because of our fear of blindly following traditions set by the uninformed or the uneducated without our own investigation of biblical authority we may be following a false spiritual road. Or we may simply be rebelling against our fathers regardless of whether or not their “land-marks” are scriptural.
It is true that every generation wants to think its own ways are superior to the ways of the generation that has gone before them. Youth view traditionalism as a mortal enemy. But the truth is that the vitality and youthful energy of the upcoming generation is a good thing, by and large, if guided correctly, and stagnation and decay are swept away by it. This is a natural occurrence evidenced by all of creation. The Creator planned for and intends for renewal to bring needed growth and a new attitude that is so characteristic of youth, an attitude of untested zeal.
But every generation as it comes up and takes its place must look for spiritual balance. Youth is usually not very adept at finding balance or moderation. Remember the warning given in Proverbs 22:28, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” ” Notice: God ordained the borders of the properties and men were to mark them and keep them. “… which thy fathers have set.” What must a new generation, only now arising, do about “land-marks” of a spiritual kind when warned so severely not to remove them?
While we Christians are certainly to question the reasons for our faith and learn for ourselves the evidences that will prove our faith and make it our own, it is never wise to completely get rid of established practices simply because our forefathers practiced and believed them. Has it never occurred to us that the reasons why they have held to many positions over the years might just be that they through much labor, mishap, experience of many years, suffering, and sometimes through trial and error arrived at the most workable solutions even if it cost them deeply and personally a great deal? Positions held by our fathers on all kinds of “issues” are like this. Name one issue that has not been thoroughly expounded, application sought and practiced. That would be a difficult task indeed. Since the positions held by our fathers are not hasty and ill informed, why do many feel like they must start all over again by first destroying these “landmarks”?
Sound doctrine, contrary to what many may think, has necessary “traditions” to be upheld. Loyalty to any man is just not a part of it. All there is really, is just taking a stand for the truth even if it is the same truth as a hundred generations before us have held. We admire and follow the attitude personified by the Bereans who were pronounced “more noble.” Why? Because they “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” ” These people were making their faith their own in doing this, not just blindly accepting what they were told, even if by the apostles. But in seeking the balance of Scripture, notice Paul’s strong admonition in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or by our epistle.” ” Our beliefs and then necessarily our spiritual practices must first come from God. If our fathers practiced God’s will, we must not change these traditions or landmarks simply because they are old or, in our eyes, outmoded.
The Problem With Wanting to be “Progressive”
“Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God; he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son” (2 In. 9). To “go onward” is in the Greek, proago or to progress. We can clearly see that this means that anyone who progresses onward is not “abiding” in the teaching of Christ and leaves God behind. Traveling onward and away from the guidance of God’s word is like the sinner removing the ancient landmarks. It causes confusion and chaos, is therefore not of God, and causes men to lose their souls.
For ages men have sought to justify all the change in the name of being progressive. Religious movements of all kinds have used this excuse for anything goes and the Lord’s church has suffered plenty through the years because of this unwise misconception. 2 John 9 teaches us that progress is good only when it is in the direction of Christ, and not away from him.
The serious child of God can come to only one conclusion regarding the concept of being “progressive.” In spiritual matters it is far preferable to be “non-progressive,” particularly in not going beyond what the Lord has said. Any movement which is away from the teaching of Christ is progress in the wrong direction, and results in the loss of God himself.
Just what has so-called “progress” gotten us anyway? The tremendous confusion called “denominationalism” is what progress has brought. We can also chalk up the division among churches of Christ to a misguided desire to be progressive at any cost. The justification of the so-called “progressives” has always been, “At least we’re doing something!” They never seem to care that they are doing “something” without God!
Let’s just consider what we have gotten from those who desire to “go onward” and “not abide” with God:
Among those who rush to “shoot first and ask questions later,” our brethren who are not bothered too much with scriptural authority just so “they are doing something,” the “liberal” churches of Christ, the spectre of “Modernism” is scything through them taking many casualties. They are running back to the Bible to find out how to justify instrumental music in worship and to see if they can explain away the Bible reasons why women cannot take a usurping part in worship and leadership. Concerned brethren are disturbed by people clapping during worship and spontaneously singing solos, etc. These troubled souls need the Bible but years ago they laid it aside to open the door to any “program” in the name of “change” or in the name of blind compassion for the orphans or widows of the world. Now they know so little about what God’s plan in these areas actually is that they cannot defend even baptism for remission of sins! This is the paradox of the “tradition-bound liberal brethren.” They “progressed” and left God behind and in leaving him behind they lost the light of truth which is the only power to guide us in spiritual matters. May they come back to God and give up the “progress” that is error.
Fundamental subjects are plaguing many today like the popular notion that the Lord’s church must keep pace with society in issues like women’s rights, social and psycho-logical welfare, etc.
We are now faced with those whom we formerly thought of as “conservative” or “sound,” that is, we thought they wanted to hold a scripturally accurate view not affected by the pressures of our times, now asserting that divorce can be had for any reason and that one can remarry as often as he may wish. Every case of divorce and remarriage can be justified somehow by certain “progressive thinkers among us.” And that this has been God’s wish all along. The sophistry of this point is that those who claim these things loudly assert that no matter how you have heard it or interpreted this before, if you disagree with them on this point you are pathetically ignorant and unenlightened. You are in fact “a traditionalist.” The only real excuse as to why formerly sound brethren will take such an ungodly position as this is that they have become affected by progressivism. A sad thing to consider is that there are some who really do it because of loyalty to older preachers they look up to and admire and with whom they are willing to jump off the cliff of no scriptural authority. And again the only thing that can come from something like this is impure churches unable to deal with disciplinary needs, more unqualified men seeking to become elders, and the perception that they are not taking a stand when God does! The fruit of such beliefs will only be more confusion and God is not the author of confusion but of peace so it cannot be God. Cannot these brethren see their inconsistency?
In Matthew 12:30, Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me.” He also said, “believe in God, believe also in me,” and, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:1,6). When will those who wish to do everything so that they might be progressive learn that Christ is not just “a” way but he is “the way” ? Stop removing the ancient landmarks because there is confusion in the land.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 1 p. 21-23
January 5, 1995