By Cled E. Wallace
The everlasting and inevitable conflict between truth and error, right and wrong, goes on. It would be heavenly if all knew, believed, and lived the truth, error were banished from the earth, and universal peace prevailed. Such has not been since sin entered into the world, and there is no evidence that such a happy state is imminent. Our Lord said: “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law: and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:34-39). Jesus knew that there would be bitter conflict and the need of loyalty and courage on the part of his followers in resisting men and movements organized for the propagation of error.
Desirable, But Impossible
It would be far less painful and heartbreaking if the conflict could proceed in a purely impersonal way. But such has never been and cannot be. Issues and movements are too closely identified with men. Men come to personify the issues that inflame them. It becomes impossible to fight error without at the same time fighting the men in whom the error is incarnated. The conflict between Jesus and the apostles of false doctrine in his day was bitter and personal. They early recognized him as the embodiment of principles they would not compromise with. He was set for their destruction as leaders of the people. He mentioned them by name, called them wolves in sheep’s clothing, whited sepulchers, sons of hell, fools and blind, blind guides, hypocrites, and warned the people pointedly to beware of their teaching. His fight against error necessitated a fight on the chief protagonists of error. The organized enemies of Jesus were neither dumb nor dull. In his most impersonal teaching “they perceived that he spake of them.” They in their turn asked him questions, ridiculed and mocked him, tried to debate with him, and finally in despair killed him. It was a fight to the finish. The resurrection raised the banner of truth on high, but the conflict goes on.
It is a foolish notion that a heretical movement in the church, or out, can be fought in a purely impersonal way. Some seem to think that a death stroke can be administered to the movement and leave the man or men who are the life of it unscathed. It is the killing one of the Siamese twins without affecting the health of the other. It cannot be done. Too tender a solicitation for such men is in itself an evidence of too great a toleration for the movement. An apology for false teachers is an apology for th7eir false teaching. Try to fix it any other way without making a complete wreck of the principles of logic! The least that can be done to logic by such a course is to beg the question, declare that the movement is not serious enough in its nature or consequences to oppose. And that will start a fight on another issue. A fence sitter in no man’s land in a major conflict would never have invited a light from heaven on the road to Damascus.
Compromise Is Deadly
Christ and his apostles were kindly men where kindliness was a virtue, but they were terrible men when the great movement they were identified with was opposed or threatened by compromise. Paul, the kindly preacher, turning the light of truth into the darkened heart of Sergius Paulus, becomes transformed into divine fury when Elymas sought to turn the proconsul from the faith. He “fastened his eyes on him, and said, O full of all guile and all villany, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” Softies in religion usually wave this aside by saying that Paul was inspired and could read the hearts of men, which we cannot do. That does not dispose of the main point that fighting false movements cannot be effectively done by ignoring or apologizing for false teachers. Besides, I have never seen a serious effort to prove that it requires any inspiration to identify a perverter of the right ways of the Lord. Such an assumption is some more logic for you! Imagine Paul saying to Sergius Paulus: “Our friend Elymas possibly has good intentions. But that he is wrong I shall now at length present to you. You will please give consideration to ______” Ugh! If Paul were living today, he would have to tone down his personalities to get into some of the papers. It is, of course, both scriptural and sensible to temper criticism to the seriousness of the offense, but only cowardice will seek to always make it impersonal.
This man Paul creats admiration and astonishment in about equal measure. His methods are surely sound. The cause of Christ needed safeguarding in Crete. Leaders were needed who held “to the faithful word which is according to the teaching,” and they must “be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers. ” There were men there who were “unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped.” Paul assured Titus, whom he left in Crete to set in order the things that were wanting, that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, idle gluttons,” and that he must “reprove them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Does anybody seriously think that a soft-walking, soft-talking, sweet-spirited compromiser, such as breaks out in some of “our” papers today, could have carried out Paul’s commission in Crete?
The Case of Paul and Barnabas
Paul and Peter and Barnabas were friends. They were more than friends – they were brethren in Christ. A situation arose were Peter and Barnabas were identified with a movement that threatened to disrupt the church. What did personal friendship have to do with such a situation? Simply nothing. Friendship was not the issue and had nothing to do with the issues. Paul did not recall the fact that he and Barnabas had faced the dangers of the Pisidian highlands together and make an impersonal fight on a disruptive movement. He saw clearly that Peter and Barnabas “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel.” He “resisted” them “to the face” because they “stood condemned.” He rebuked them before the whole church, not because he loved strife, but because the welfare of the church demanded it. He was fighting for Christ and against his friends, because they chose a course which was hostile to the cause of Christ. And he was right in so doing. There is abundance of Scripture to support a gospel paper in a vigorous and aggressive policy in dealing with the problems and perils that threaten the peace and loyalty of the church today.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 2, pp. 33, 55
January 19, 1989