By Larry Ray Hafley
I resisted the temptation to entitle this article, “The Smart-Alecks.” I am temperate by nature and my nature won out, but it was close. The Lord’s people in various and sundry places are plagued with self acknowledged knowledgeable men. It used to be that unlearned and ignorant men could preach the gospel plan of salvation and establish a church after the New Testament order. Opposition came from the sects, but they were heathens, and their Sauline persecutions were oxen kicking against the goads. But any self respecting ox soon finds that he does not get a kick out of his kicking, so the denominations left us alone.
But now we have a gospel intelligentsia, a spiritual brain trust. These fellows are making it hard for us boorish preachers of meager mental acumen to simply preach the gospel and urge folks to love it and live it. We are urged to “re-evaluate” our “structured forms” of work and worship and to dally in “dialogue” (a smart guy’s term for the savage and harsh word “debate”) about true grace and meaningful faith. We are encouraged to be tolerant while our bright, young men drink from the wells of denominational concepts and spue forth the same. We are beseeched to smile a lot and seek to be as learned as some tell us they think they are. Until, however, it is proven that preaching the New Testament system makes me as foolish as some tell me it does, I think I will prefer to be foolish rather than wise in my own conceit.
Now, I ain’t got nothing against education nohow. If that plane statement don’t convince you, then it is beyond my ability to learn you any better. I do desire to keep growing in mind and spirit, but I am not so eager to obtain an education that I will consent to study and learn a great deal that is not so in order to say I know something. That much, I do know. I rather enjoy discussing “true grace.” In fact, I enjoy it so much that every time I preach the gospel I talk about it (Acts 20:24; Titus 2:11, 12). As to the structured forms, which need no re-evaluation unless the Holy Spirit wants to rewrite and revise the New Testament, Peter proclaimed such things as congregational government in a real structured fashion, and then he said, “this is the true grace of God wherein we stand” (1 Pet. 5:12). Evaluating true grace is one thing, but I have no disposition or inclination to reevaluate, which means, when you clear the fat away, revamp and expand. No need to exclude me from a re-evaluation exercise as I choose not to show up.
My adamant attitude is indicative of the typical “Church of Christ formalism.” When you are enlightened, you can perceive Pharisaical traditionalism in simple New Testament Christians. If you are content to preach the truth and intent on folks obeying it in an ordered and scriptural manner (Col. 2:6), you probably did not notice my “rigid ritualism” received by tradition from my exclusivist forefathers on the frontier. If you, for example, preach “damnation” even half as much as you sweetly tone the word “salvation,” you also are structured, unenlightened, and intolerant of pious faces that are “searching” to find themselves in the maize of the contemporary religious scene. Welcome to the club.
If the enlightened ones are a curse to be accursed, what shall be done about them? There are obvious steps-study with them, teach them, pray for them (avoid sitting down on the floor and holding hands with them when you do). When you are finished with your endeavors, though, you will remain confined in your narrow-minded, stereotyped “Church of Christ faith,” and most of the wise ones will be oh so much wiser in their ways than before. So, you are not likely to succeed. “But this does not solve the problem of what to do with them,” you protest. Well, you will not have that concern much longer. With a swan song of, “We are forced to leave the Church of Christ branch because of its uncharitable, hostile, bickering intolerance of Christian love to God’s people in all segments of the Christian spectrum,” they will take their leave. Over their shoulder they will yell “grace” and decry your “one true churchism.” They may still profess to personally be opposed to mechanical instruments of music in the worship, but they can tolerate it much better than they can stomach your “incessant, public harangues” against it, so off they will go to write a book telling us why they were conscience led to abandon us. When the book comes out, I will read it if they give me a copy. It will be easier to weep over it than it will be to read in it, for they will be gone, but they will think I am.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:9, pp. 5-6
January 2, 1974