By Tom M. Roberts
Part Three: Spread By Discontent
The popularity of the Unity in Diversity Movement, the New Unity Movement and/or the New Hermeneutic concept so enhanced by the gospel/doctrine (or “word of the cross”) error could not gain a foothold in churches of Christ without a spirit of discontent that is so evident today. Some people absolutely hate doctrine! Their severest criticism is reserved for those who are labeled “brotherhood watchdogs” or “keepers of orthodoxy.” They are tired of “the old paths.” They are not to be bound by rules, regulations, commands, law, or traditions of the past (whether apostolic or not). Faithful obedience is opposed as “salvation by works” and “Pharisaical legalism.” They have yet to learn this truth: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
From dissatisfaction with the eldership, to vocal music, “five-finger salvation,” the Lord’s supper on Sunday only, scriptural baptism, congregational autonomy, male leadership, plain preaching, to every aspect that is a distinctive mark of New Testament Christianity, there are those who despise such, call it “doctrine idolatry,” goose-stepping conformity, and are dedicated to change. Like ancient Israel, we have lifted up our eyes to the (denomi)nations around us and envy them for their women preachers, choirs, gymnasiums, ball teams, positive-only preaching, youth churches, institutions, big numbers and community acceptance.
It is anathema to the New Unity Movement of our generation to be separate as God’s people (2 Cor. 6:17), to speak of the one church (Eph. 4:4; 1:22-23); to preach that anyone is lost without complete gospel obedience (Matt. 28:18-20), to insist on the Lord’s supper only on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), to insist on the “old hermeneutic” of commands, examples and inferences. Though theirs is a magnanimous spirit and love and acceptance to those in sectarian error, the most stringent condemnation is poured out against any brother seeking to “walk in the old paths” (Jer. 6:16).
However, there is a dilemma among those who seek to change the church of Christ into a modern denomination. We have always been a “people of the book.” We have always appealed to “book, chapter and verse” preaching. For centuries, we have blazoned to the sectarians that “we speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.” The dilemma is that if they boldly denounce this past dependence on the whole gospel as unworkable, they will lose credibility among many who yet repeat this, even as a slogan if nothing else.
Change the Definitions
Consequently, a method has been devised whereby they can yet speak of their love of the “gospel” and change their direction even while boasting of a love for Christ. A New Hermeneutic has been defined that retains all of the platitudes of soundness without impeding progress into denominationalism. Its methodology is quite simple: use the same terminology but just change the meaning! Simple but profound. As Paul warned Timothy, this has “a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5).
A form of godliness? How else could we describe those who claim to love the “gospel” but exclude the “doctrine of Christ (2 John 9); who claim to love and cherish Christ but disparage the epistles; who preach “the word of the cross” so long as it doesn’t condemn error; who love the church of Christ but do not want to exclude the Methodists and Episcopalians or other sectarian bodies; who weep copious tears about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ but who reject the application to scriptural baptism?
Yes, use the words, but change the meaning. This provides a cloak of religiosity under which to hide a departure from the faith. Consequently, false teachers cry long and loud about their love of the “gospel,” “the word of the cross,” “the church of Christ,” “fellowship,” and “brotherhood.” But they don’t mean the same things that the inspired writers meant when they used the same terminology.
And it is working. Sadly, it is working. Those of us who object to this deceitful use of biblical terminology are criticized as “watchdogs,” “keepers of orthodoxy,” and loveless clones of “doctrinal idolatry.” We are charged with being the “troublers of Israel” (1 Kgs. 18:17) for asking for book, chapter and verse as proof text. We are accused of destroying fellowship by exposing those who teach error that will cause souls to be lost.
Even those who stand with us in fellowship are often confused by these false charges and feigned words. Perhaps the best of motives are misled by unwitting acceptance of this New Hermeneutic. Subtle doubts are permitted to arise about those who “cry aloud and spare not.” Perhaps they don’t have as much love as others. Perhaps they love the plan and not the Man. Perhaps they put too much emphasis on doctrinal matters. Perhaps they really do extol the church above Christ. Not only T.W. Brents and Alexander Campbell, but now preachers of our generation (we are told) have forgotten what it is to “preach Christ.” They love controversy more than Christ, doctrine more than grace, a fuss more than fellowship. Sound familiar?
It matters little how much we know our own heart and how much we balance our preaching and writing to include the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It no longer counts that our emphasis is upon the whole truth for the complete man of God, guided by Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16:17). No, the rules have been changed. Definitions no longer mean what they did. We have a New Hermeneutic.
Without a doubt, there are doctrines around today that have been bred by infidelity, nurtured by cynicism and spread by discontent. Be very sure that you understand the direction of the “new gospel.” It does not lead to a deeper love of Christ nor does it preach the true gospel of Christ. It is eternally elastic toward error but woefully critical of truth. As Jesus warned, these “gag at a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:24). They are capable of sitting and worshipping with Methodists but incapable of telling them that they are lost. They can worship among brethren who are lost and going to hell in adulterous marriages but who refuse to raise the word of warning as a true watchman should (Ezek. 3:17ff). They allow brethren to preach blatant error on divorce and encourage them by using them in publications and gospel meetings while never confronting their sin. If that is love or gospel, please spare me. How much more should we be like Paul who, to men facing the Judgment like ourselves, said, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32)? He could do that because he could say: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). This is gospel preaching. This is “word of the cross” preaching. May it never vanish from the earth!
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 14, p. 3-4
July 21, 1994