By O. C. Birdwell, Jr.
Most of the problems that exist in the religious world are with us as a result of people following after men. The practice is not new, nor confined to this century. Men in ages past have turned unto man for instruction and guidance even when God’s will was revealed and plain. One such individual was a young prophet (1 Kings 13) who came out of Judah unto Bethel and cried out against Jeroboam and the altar saying, “Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.” Later, when Jeroboam invited the prophet unto his house to refresh himself, we learn that God had commanded his servant saying, “Eat no bread, nor drink water nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.” Since the young prophet related this to Jeroboam, we know that he clearly understood God’s command; and that the command was explicit. Is it possible to disobey a command so simple and plain? Yes, it was then, and it is now. Especially is this true if we depend upon and follow the false instructions and leadership of man, as did this young prophet. After he left Jeroboam, and old prophet approached him with the impressive story that an angel appeared to him with instructions that would change God’s previous commands. The young prophet believed the old man was speaking the truth (possibly because the man was old, claimed to be an old prophet, and seemed pious and truthful), went back to Bethel with him, ate and drank there, and died as a result of following man and not God.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul admonishes, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Again he says, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:9.) The gospel Paul preached was the gospel of Christ, and Paul would have man accept and follow that gospel although the one preaching it might be a castaway and lost. If Paul’s wishes were heeded there would be no splits and divisions in religion, but all would be able to understand and obey the Bible alike because they would follow no man but Jesus, and defend no doctrine except the doctrine of Christ. But Paul’s instructions have not been heeded; therefore many doctrines are preached, many men are followed in religious matters, and God is displeased.
Having seen that God is displeased when men reject His commands, and that the New Testament forbids our following after man, let us consider some men who have been followed and the resulting conditions.
The German Reformation of the sixteenth century was largely due to the work of one man–Martin Luther. Others of lesser repute played a tireless role, and much was done prior to Luther’s time that laid the groundwork for him and greatly aided his efforts. Yet, very little visible progress was made until ninety-five propositions for discussion were placed by Luther on the door of the church building in Wittenburg. All who oppose the dominance and false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church should appreciate Luther’s work. Indeed he was a great and noble character. But does this mean that Luther ought to be followed in religion? In rebellion against Catholic totalitarian power, many did not go back to the New Testament and follow Christ, but they concluded that Luther was such a great man and had done so much for them that they would follow him instead. Of course, in following Luther they thought they were following Christ; but apparently they did not take enough time thoroughly to examine the scriptures to see if such was the case. Even Luther, in formulating his belief, did not go directly to the scriptures, but he depended on Augustine (354-430 A.D.), an uninspired man, more than any other individual. This placed at least two men and their own private interpretations between followers of Luther and the teaching of Christ. The result has been that in our day millions, while protesting Catholic sin and corruption, are far from New Testament Christianity. Following Luther’s leadership they teach faith only, a doctrine that is foreign to the New Testament, and hold many other positions that are just as contrary to the scriptures. If men had looked beyond Luther to the inspired scriptures, this problem would not exist.
Another great man to whom we are much indebted is Alexander Campbell. Campbell lived in the nineteenth century and possibly as much or more, than any other man was responsible for the preaching of the pure gospel during the first half of that century. As was the case with Luther, many thought Campbell was so scholarly and such a Bible student that whatever position he took must be right. A case in point is the missionary society of 1849. At least on some occasions prior to the forming of this human organization to do the work of the church, Campbell had pleaded for the all-sufficiency of the church to do its work. This would, of course, exclude human organizations such as the missionary society. Campbell, nevertheless, accepted the presidency of the society and promoted its use and growth. That many accepted the society solely because Campbell thought it was right is not doubted. Where are the men today who have followed Campbell and his associates? After the missionary society came instrumental music, and the parade of one false practice after another, all introduced by the same authority–some man said. “I like this and if you follow me and have fellowship with me you must accept it.” Look at the liberal Christian churches of today and you will see the results.
It has already been suggested that the practice of following men is not confined to one century. The young prophet r ejected God and followed the old prophet; men followed Luther instead of Christ: Christians of the century just past depended on Campbell for guidance instead of the Word of God. The same thing is happening today with the same sad and lamented results. Men seem to hold positions on vital Bible subjects merely because some preacher, elder friend or relative happens to see it that way. God has ever been displeased with such and the results have always been chaotic. Examples that follow show this to be true.
Division exists among some churches of Christ today because of Carl Ketcherside’s new doctrine (many others are also teaching it) that there are Christians in all the denominational bodies, and that we should ‘fellowship” them all. If these brethren had not been following Ketcherside on other matters, and had not exalted him to a position of ruler and giver of the law, there would be no special problem with his liberalism. People would simply study the scriptures, see that what he is teaching is false, and reject it. The same would be true of others.
In 1938, E. R. Harper said: “A congregation has no right to build anything larger than it is able to support….” Many con1gregations that believed this then would under no circumstances allow it to be taught now. Why? Obviously because brother Harper has changed positions and they are followers of Harper. Consequently, they reject the truth that he taught in 1938 because he has rejected it, and freely accept false teaching for the same reason.
In 1939, Guy N. Woods said: “This writer has ever been unable to appreciate the logic of those who affect to see grave danger in Missionary Societies, but scruple not to form a similar organization for the purpose of caring for orphans and teaching young men to be gospel preachers. ” Some of the same people who believed this and allowed it to be taught then have spasms when the same thing is taught now. Why? Because Guy Woods and others teach exactly opposite to what was taught in 1939, and men are following Woods and other preachers rather than the Bible. The result has been contention, division, heartache, and possibly the loss of souls for eternity.
The only hope for man is to look beyond present day religious teachers. Campbell. Luther, and all other men who may have been great, unto Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith;” follow His New Testament, speak where it speaks, remain silent where it is silent, obey every command, and enjoy the blessed promises after awhile. This is my prayer for all people.
Truth Magazine VI: 11, pp. 9-10