By Dick Poplin
During the War Between the States, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army won a decisive victory at Perryville, Kentucky, in October of 1862 over the Union forces, but instead of holding his ground or advancing against his adversary, Bragg chose to withdraw to Tennessee which, he seemed to think, could more easily be held. The end of the year found Bragg facing Union General Rosecrans at Murfreesboro, and the battle that followed again was counted as a victory for the South. But again Bragg retreated to make his stand on the line of Tullahoma, Wartrace and Shelbyville. In the spring when the Union army advanced to meet him, he withdrew toward Chattanooga, always, it seems, searching for a more advantageous place to make a stand.
This is not written as a history lesson on the War Between the States, but to point out that we, like Bragg, can have the means to stand our ground and instead of doing so make a “strategic withdrawal” to what we have been convinced is a more defensible position. Instead of standing firm for the truth we may allow ourselves to be maneuvered into making a retreat to a false position.
We are admonished to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against the enemy of our souls (Eph. 6:11, 13), to watch, stand fast, act like men and be strong (1 Cor. 16:13; Phil. 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:15).
Let us think of the question asked in Luke 18:26, “Who then can be saved?” We might answer something like this: those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, have been baptized for the remission of sins and who follow the word of God in respect to life, work and worship.
That is a position we can stand on, ground which we can hold against the enemy. But some will say it is too narrow. They wish to include those who have been baptized for the remission of sins but use the instrument of music in the worship, support human organizations out of the church treasury, teach premillennialism, and such like. “Let us unite as baptized believers and all work together,” they would say.
Suppose, then, we retreat to the position that God accepts all who have been baptized for the remission of sins whatever their teaching, worship and practice in carrying on the work of the church. It will not be long before someone takes us to task again for our narrow views.
“There are godly people who believe in Jesus Christ who have not been baptized for the remission of sins. Some have been baptized because their sins are forgiven, some to get into a denomination, some have been sprinkled or poured, and some have had nothing they call baptism, but they are sincere people who believe in Christ. Do you say that they will be lost?” they ask.
So we retreat again and accept as saved all those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Then there will be those who are disturbed because we are taking the position that leaves sincere and pious Jews and Unitarians outside the realm of salvation. “Surely,” they will say, “all those who worship Jehovah God as we do, the one true God, will be accepted of Him even though they do not believe in Christ.” Remember all the furor a few years back about the statement that God would not hear the prayer of a Jew? The highest office holder in a large denomination had to take backwater on that statement.
Again we retreat to take in all those who worship the one true God, thinking that now we are in a position we can surely maintain.
But even among those who claim to be Christians, who say they believe in Jesus Christ, there are those who say “Ours is not the only religion.” There are religious people, they will argue, who do not know about Jehovah God, but they worship a god. Surely God will recognize in their misguided worship as reaching out to Him and will accept their sincere worship as well as ours.
We fall back to include the pious Shintoists, Buddhists, Moslems, Confusianists and all the rest. But to some we will still be too narrow. The life is what counts. If a person lives a good life, is honest, treats his neighbor right, he will be acceptable to God even though he might be an agnostic or atheist. God will accept them because of their morality, we often hear.
Surely, then, if we take in the atheists who follow the golden rule, no one will find we are too narrow. Then comes the Universalist who says all men will eventually be saved. “God is too good to send any of his children (all mankind) to eternal punishment.” We withdraw to the ultimate false position. Our backs are to the wall. We have now come to the position that all will be saved.
So we turn again to the Bible and not to what men say about what we believe. The New Testament is our standard of truth. We must test these positions by it.
Will All Men Be Saved?
Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many I say unto you will seek to enter in and shall not be able” (Lk. 13:24). There is a wide and a narrow way (Matt. 7:13, 14). Many are those who go in at the wide gate and follow the broad way that leads to destruction, and few are those who find the narrow way which leads to life eternal. All men will not be saved. The judgment scene in Matt. 25:46 shows that some will be lost. Paul said the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9).
Will all moral men be saved? Cornelius was a good moral man. He had done many alms deeds and even prayed, but Peter was sent to tell him words whereby he and his house would be saved (Acts 11:14). Those who come to God must believe that He is (Heb. 11:6). The moral man who does not believe in God will not be saved.
Can one be saved by believing in and worshipping just any god? There is one God (Eph. 4:6; 1 Cor. 8:4; Deut. 6:4). And one must believe in the one God (Heb. 11:6).
Will those who believe in the one true God be saved? Jesus said, “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). Life is through His name (Jn. 20:30, 31). Again Jesus said, “I am the door, by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (Jn. 10:9). There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12). One must believe in Christ to be saved.
Will those who only believe in Christ be saved? We are not justified by faith alone (Jas. 2:19, 24). Mark 16:16 puts both faith and baptism before salvation and Acts 2:38 puts both repentance and baptism before the remission of sins. In order to be saved one must put Christ on in baptism (Gal. 3:27), and be baptized into His death where the benefit of the blood shed for the remission of sins is found (Rom. 6:3).
Is it enough just to believe and be baptized? “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). In the name of the Lord means that we must do all by His authority. We must have authority for whatever we do. If we are doing many things, as some have said, for which we have no authority, we ought to stop it.
Jesus said, “And why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Paul pointed out many things in his first letter to the church at Corinth which were to be corrected. Five of the seven churches of Asia were given strong warnings by the Lord (Rev. 2, 3). One was told to repent or she would have her candlestick removed. Another was told to repent or He would come quickly and fight against her with the sword of His mouth.
John said, “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
There is no authority for mechanical instruments of music in the worship. We are commanded to sing (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). There is no authority for societies through which to do the work of the church, no organization above the local church, no authority for sponsoring churches or centralized elderships or “brotherhood” projects. There is no authority for churches to provide recreation and entertainment for their members.
We are not to retreat from the truth, but to stand. It is better never to retreat in the beginning. Lost ground is hard to recapture. When General John B. Hood took over the Army of Tennessee in Atlanta, after others had retreated that far, he tried to swing around and retake Nashville, but after disastrous battles at Franklin and Nashville he was forced to turn back. The war was already lost. Many think that if Bragg had seized the advantage he had in Kentucky history might have been different. Whether that would have been best for the nation is beside the point. The point is that we as Christians should not retreat from the truth or we may lose the war. It is hard to regain lost ground.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 10, pp. 305-306
May 19, 1983