By Steve Wolfgang
From the time I was a child, I have been impressed by the concept of openness in the pursuit of truth that has been espoused (at least theoretically) by faithful churches and gospel preachers. For as long as I can remember I recall gospel preachers opening sermons with statements something like this: “If anyone can demonstrate from the Bible that I have taught anything not taught in God’s word, I will gladly repent, renounce the error and change my preaching and practice. If what I teach is God’s will as taught ‘in the Bible, it should be accepted and obeyed and not simply ignored.” Some have criticized such statements as a pompous declaration that “we have all the truth and everyone else is wrong,” but I learned from it something quite different-the importance of seeking and being open to God’s truth from whatever source.
One of the things which has been striking to me about the work at Expressway which first attracted me to it and which I appreciate even more in my fourth year.of work here is the attitude of the elders and the brethren generally toward an open search for the truth. Expressway truly has an open pulpit policy. We do not mean by that that any false teacher can walk through the door and “lay us low” and then exit immediately; this is not being “open.” But one-anyone-who is willing to take God’s word and show us wherein he thinks we deviate from that word, is welcome to do so (subject only to the same restrictions that are placed upon the local preachers here-that things be done “decently and in order,” that questions and taping be permitted, and that equal time for response, if necessary, be allowed). The same holds true for this bulletin.
Of course, such openness has been characteristically absent from false teachers of false doctrines. Gospel preachers have forever been confronted with “hit-and-run” tactics and other devious maneuvers from the supporters of error. One comes to expect such conduct as a matter of course so that when an occasional “good and honest heart,” who is sincerely willing to defend what he believes, is found it is a rare thing. Just in my time here at Expressway we have seen such conduct on the part of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, charismatics and others. One comes to expect it arid so it is nothing to merit particular attention; it is “par for the course.”
The sad fact, however, is that this attitude pervades even those who now claim to be “gospel preachers,” and the churches for which they preach. Just since coming to Expressway, we have received “open invitations” from one of the liberal “churches of Christ” in this city, indicating their alleged “openness” to discussion of any religious subject. They will pompously prate about denominational error, write letters to the editor of the Courier-Journal and Times, and generally put on a show of “skinning the sects,” whether they be Mormons or otherwise. They will boldly (?) challenge their denominational friends and neighbors to examine their claims-but when it comes to looking at some of their own inconsistencies they are “too busy,” etc. etc. ad nauseam. These churches which have wed themselves (prostituted might be a better analogy) to human institutions will support colleges where these issues which have divided churches are frequently discussed in purely one-sided discussions on their “lectureships,” etc. yet when the opportunity to discuss with something other than a “straw man” arises, they are suddenly too busy or too pious or too something to “bother” with it. Of course, members at Expressway understand such foolishness because this congregation was formed under such circumstances where brethren closed themselves to open Bible study on both sides of an issue and “quarantined” any who disagreed with their preconceived notions.
What is even sadder, however, is to see brethren (including preachers and elders) in so-called “conservative” or “faithful” churches who are adopting the same sort of attitude. Oh, they may be just as doctrinally “orthodox” as you can get-but they have no concept of why one should be that way, or of the applications of Biblical truth to other issues. Since I have been preaching here, at least one gospel preacher, the son of a well-known “conservative” preacher (who has used his father’s good name to hide his own false teaching) has asked to have his name removed from the mailing list. Now we do not object to one who would rather not read what we write (we do not have the inflated opinion of ourselves that one must read what we write)-but here is a man who will pay good money to read (and who writes for) denominational papers full of false teaching, but who will not read (or will not tell us wherein we err) what is written by faithful brethren. The same is true even of brethren in “faithful” churches here in Louisville-they would rather hide their head in the sand and not even consider what is true. On the other side of this coin, we have had at least two “sound” brethren cut us off their mailing lists because we dared to disagree with what they teach. We have never felt, as these brethren evidently do, that one had to agree with us; but we would ask that one at least “consider what we say” (2 Tim. 2:7) and if they disagree we are open to any constructive criticism.
The problem with such openness is that it seems to scare people. It is alright to mouth such platitudes as the one with which we began this article, as long as you are reasonable sure no one will take you up on it! The problem comes when someone takes us at our word. I have known of some churches where it would truly “disturb the church” if someone were to stand up in the assembly and request book, chapter, and verse for what is being taught from the pulpit! (This is what one of the Expressway elders was told when he visited, by public invitation, an area “conservative” congregation and had the audacity to ask a question)! Think about it-what would the reaction be where you worship? Are we truly interested in finding out what the truth is about any and all subjects, or are we more committed to a “don’t rock the boat”, “Maintain the status quo” attitude that we resent anyone questioning of what we do? We have even gotten to the point that some of us are so closed that such a policy toward openness as is maintained at X-way is a shock even to “conservative” preachers (as with one young second-generation preacher who recently asked us, and was visibly astounded upon receiving an affirmative response: “You mean if a Baptist preacher came into the assembly and then asked to get into the pulpit to teach what he believes the Bible teaches that you’d let him?”). Furthermore, I know of at least one congregation of “faithful brethren” where there are objections to having a debate in the building because “it would let a false teacher in the pulpit.” It certainly seems, as my friend and preaching companion Steve Ballou told me one time (Steve being a member of the church only for the last few years) that you almost have to have your credentials in order, (or, as he put it, your “Church of Christ” pedigree) stamped and current in order to even be able to preach in some places. How close to a denominational concept can you get? And yet we have the gall to condemn our denominational friends for having “closed minds.” I pray thee excuse me from such folly. When we get to the point (and it looks like “we have arrived” indeed) that the above is characteristic of “faithful” churches, and where it would truly disturb us and disrupt our services for one to ask us outright to defend what we believe, then we have crossed the line from a fervent, truth-seeking and truth-exalting Christianity to an insipid denominationalism -f-even though we may wear a “scriptural name.” We may still be doctrinally orthodox and be able to give all the “right answers” for the next generation; but let such an attitude go to seed and grow for a generation and the only thing that will result is another full-scale apostasy resulting in just another denomination. May the good Lord deliver us from all such, and give us strength to “search the scriptures,” (John 5:39) and having found the truth, to defend it, “giving answer to every man that asketh” (1 Peter 3:15).
Truth Magazine XXII: 38, pp. 614-615
September 28, 1978