The Progress of Liberalism

By Roy E. Cogdill

Perhaps none of us like to be called by an epithet even though it may be descriptive, in a technical sense, of our attitude or action. When the Christian Church people “went out from us” it was actually because “they were not of us.” The use of the term “digressive” was common in describing both their attitude and action. In turn, they used the term “non-progressive” to label those who opposed their digression. Some may have been that,. but to oppose “digression” did not make one “non-progressive.” In general it was an epithet intended to discredit and prejudice.

When the present division arose over the churches building and supporting human institutions, the sponsoring church plan of centralized control and oversight and the pooling of resources by the churches, the adjectives “liberal” and “anti” were commonly used to denote attitude and actions. Many times they were mis-used and became mis-representations. Some of us have been represented as “anti-missionary” and “anti-orphan homes” and even “anti-caring for orphan children.” This is all used to arouse prejudice and is a device of the devil. In general, however, the adjectives “liberal” and “conservative” were accurate descriptions of actual attitudes toward the authority of the Scriptures that led to a course of action that separated us and led”us apart. There should be no surprise when such a difference of attitudes toward the scriptures eventually precipitated division.

In the division over instrumental music and the missionary society it was and has continued to be recognized by historians that the cause of the separation was a difference in attitude toward the Word of God. Those who rejected these innovations did so because they believed that the New Testament scriptures constitute a complete and perfect pattern-of Christianity and the Lord’s Church. On the other hand the advocates of these innovations believed the Bible to be a book of principles rather than a book of rules and patterns. In rejecting “pattern authority” they claimed the right to exercise their personal liberty to apply the principles according to their own judgment. There may have been other factors that helped to prepare the way and to further the division when once it began, but fundamentally the chief and proximate cause of such division among God’s people was not social conditions, political differences, or economic status but a difference in attitude toward the Word of God.

This attitude that the Bible is a book of principles which we are at liberty to apply according to our own judgment or .,our own sanctified common sense” begets the concept that there is no positive, complete pattern of authority in New Testament scriptures. In turn, this attitude begets the commonly expressed idea that we do not have to find authority in the Bible for what we either. do or teach. Therefore, human judgment or expediency takes over and we cease to walk by faith. The Bible authorizes by teaching, and what the Bible does not authorize it does not teach. The ultimate conclusion of such thinking is a denial of the sufficiency of the scriptures and claims that we may do (among the churches of Christ) many things for which we neither have nor need any authority, How many times have you heard such an idea advanced by supposed Christians in the last 25 years? Today, from every quarter, we hear that there is no authority, divine in origin, except in a direct precept or command of the Lord. Necessary inference and apostolically approved examples do not bind and some of our young “intellectuals” whose teachings have been under fire, call such principles a “human system of interpretation.” It does not matter to them that throughout the history of what we call the “restoration movement” such principles have been the guide lines of brethren. It does not even matter to them that Jesus limited the teaching of the apostles to the churches, or those whom they baptized, to “whatsoever I have commanded you” and that an apostolically approved example had its roots in what the Lord himself commanded them to teach (Matt. 28:18-20). -Paul said concerning the Lord’s Supper, “I have received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.” To disallow the force of apostolic example is to reject the authority of Christ and it is but a breath of difference from that to outright infidelity. ‘ Such an, attitude is a breeding ground for modernism, a hot bed for unbelief in the inspiration of the scriptures, disregard for and denial of divine authority in its completeness. We would be interested in learning from these self esteemed young scholars just how they think the Bible teaches anything.

We have seen it coming. Those who are aware of what has happened know that it has arrived and churches who call themselves “churches of Christ” are evidencing in what they do and say that these things are a reality in the churches of today. Many of those who are directly responsible for such modernism and infidelity are running around with their shirt-tails out shouting “fire” and they do not have sense enough or the honesty of heart to know who set it.

Many of our “intellectuals” are rapidly moving in the direction of not only repudiating New Testament authority but also toward denial of the divine origin of the scriptures in both word and teaching. This has always been the pattern of apostasy,. Neo-orthodoxy, in the theological world, says, “Oh! we believe the Bible to be the word of God, but we are not willing to recognize it as our -pattern of faith and practice, we must hear the ‘voices’ from within’ and determine for ourselves what is ‘truth and right.” Their religion and impetus to believe and act and be is more subjective, (from within) than objective (from without) – an “I think, I feel” sort of a guide rather than a “thus saith the Lord.”

With this growing sentiment among preachers, elders, and churches who call themselves Christian, there can be no path to follow but that ‘which leads to rebellion against authority and unbelief in the perfection and sufficiency of divine revelation.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:33, p. 2
June 20, 1974