By Mike Willis
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11).
On his second missionary journey, Paul left Philippi where Lydia and the Philippian jailer were converted and went to Thessalonica. Having arrived in the city, Paul entered the synagogue to announce to the Jews the good news that the prophesied Christ had come and established the kingdom of God. For three consecutive Sabbaths, he preached in the synagogue and converted several Jews and many of the God-fearing proselytes, including some of the chief women of the city.
His success stirred the jealousy of the Jews. Rather than taking the Scriptures and showing Paul where he was preaching that which was not true (which was impossible because he was teaching the truth), the Jews in Thessalonica arranged for some of the wicked men of the city to create a disturbance aimed at Paul. Not finding Paul in the house of Jason, they dragged Jason to the rulers of the city and brought false charges against him. The Christians saw that Paul must leave Thessalonica. During the night, they helped Paul leave the city. He went to Berea.
He found a different audience in Berea. These men were “more noble than those in Thessalonica.” Their nobleness did not consist in their birthright, wealth, or position in society. Luke describes what constituted their nobility: they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. True nobility still has these attributes.
True nobility requires a ready mind to receive the word of God. The word of God is not to be forced upon unwilling minds. The Lord himself taught, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6). Sometimes we waste our time trying to reach those who make perfectly obvious that they have no interest in the “pearl of great price.” The Lord’s instructions teach us to turn from such people and search for those who are good and honest in heart. We cannot and should not “cram the gospel down the throats” of those who are not interested.
True nobility requires that we test the message which is taught. That which will free us from sin is the truth (Jn. 8:32). False doctrine and error will lead one away from God. Jesus said, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). We do not want to be “blind followers” of “blind leaders.” Consequently, we must beware of false teachers. Jesus taught us to “beware of false prophets” (Matt. 7:15). John instructed, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).
The Bereans had learned this concept. Consequently, when Paul came to Berea, they listened to his preaching and “tried the spirit” to see if the things taught were so. The truth will shine where such attitudes prevail.
Gospel preachers have publicly announced that the truth has nothing to fear from investigation. If we are preaching something which anyone believes not to be true, we will be glad to listen to what he has to say and search the Scriptures to see if the things which are taught are so. In our quest for the truth, we have gladly provided for such discussions in honorable debate. Honorable men have presented both sides of an issue to give the audience an opportunity to 4 ‘search the Scriptures to see if the things which are taught are so.”
False doctrine cannot survive and thrive where this attitude prevails. False doctrine wants to hide behind the pleasant personality of back slappers with a smile on their face. False doctrine does not want to be investigated in the light of the Scriptures.
Just as we fear false prophets and their false doctrines, we fear those who want to undermine the open investigation of truth. From time to time, we hear someone condemning debates. Many times those who condemn debates have never even attended one to know what occurs in such studies; on other occasions someone has gone to one where poor attitudes were shown. Despite the fact that some debates have occurred in which poor attitudes were displayed Oust as there have been some sermons delivered and classes taught in which poor attitudes were displayed), we would err to throw out all debates because of a few abuses. Debates have served the Lord’s kingdom well in helping honest-hearted men search the Scriptures to see if the things which are taught are so. Many have been converted through the good done in such discussions. When debates were prevalent with denominational preachers, the Lord’s church was one of the fastest growing religious groups in America. Denominationalism soon learned that debates were doing them no good and ceased participating in them.
A New Spirit
A new spirit is growing among us. This spirit fears and hates controversy. This spirit does not want preaching which contrasts the false doctrines of denominationalism with the truths of Scripture. This spirit will not listen when someone challenges the teaching of another. This spirit views opposition to the teaching of certain revered men as a work of the flesh. This spirit is unwilling to provide for open discussion of issues on which brethren differ. This spirit is the seed bed for false doctrine!
In the recent book The Cruciform Church (published by Abilene Christian University Press), C. Leonard Allen explained that some among us “have not intentionally rejected the traditional method (of hermeneutics, that is the restoration plea, mw) but, weary with the pugnacious, debate-all-comers attitude nurtured have found themselves spiritually malnourished, hungry for the things of the Spirit” (19-20). In The Worldly Church (published by Abilene Christian University Press), Allen, Richard T. Hughes, and Michael R. Weed made the same change saying, “Others, having associated a rigourous method with the hard and ugly sectarian spirit that did incalculable damage to our movement for so many years, may now resist a rigorous message of any sort” (2). They continued, “in the old days we often nurtured a rigid dogmatic, sectarian spirit” (7). They added that men were looking for a positive alternative “to the negativism, the sectarian diviseness, the debating, and the argumentative spirit that often dominated the church’s past” (38).
Some among us have described those who expose both the false doctrines which circulate among us and those who teach them as “professional buzzards” who “circle, swoop, and devour.” They have been maligned with loving an argument, being contentious, and self-promoting. They are caricatured as a group who fancy themselves the keepers of the kingdom like the spiritual F.B.I. Men who have exposed the false doctrines on divorce and remarriage taught publicly by well-known preachers have been publicly maligned both orally and in print. The effect of such treatment of brethren is to discourage the spirit of trying the spirits to see whether or not what is taught is the truth.
The devil has succeeded in deluding a number of brethren into thinking that “true nobility” consists in rising above controversy. The devil teaches that “true nobility” means avoiding the brotherhood fights. The devil has persuaded some into thinking that a lower class of brethren engage in debates over such issues as divorce and remarriage, institutionalism, baptism, apostasy, etc. In a former generation, the men who met false teachers in public debate to expose their errors were honored. We respected W. Curtis Porter, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., N.B. Hardeman, Roy E. Cogdill, and a host of others. A man who was unwilling to defend what he preached was not honored among us. But another generation has risen. Men who engage in debates are viewed as factional know-it-alls who are going around looking for a fight. Truly “noble brethren” preach a positive message without engaging in “brotherhood dog fights.” Those brethren who oppose the false doctrines circulated by false teachers among us are to be tolerated, not honored. Papers which expose the false doctrines which are circulating among us and those who teach them are an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. Such magazines are to be hidden from new converts and weak Christians. “Positive” papers which have a policy precluding controversy are preferred by some.
That the devil has succeeded in redefining true nobility is ironic. He has made many believe that true nobility consists in exactly the opposite of what God considers to be the marks and traits of a noble character.
Let us revive the traits of true nobility. Because of our respect for the truth which frees us from sin, let us treasure it above all else. Let us pursue it. Let us examine everything which calls itself truth in the light of the Scriptures. Let us show no respect of persons in “trying the spirits” (1 Jn. 4:1). None of us is infallible.
Let us teach our children to bring their Bibles to church and follow along when the lesson is presented to see if the things which are taught are so. In this manner we can rear noble-minded children who search the Scriptures to see if the things which are taught are so. As these noble minds prevail we prepare the soil in the hearts of our children for the truth to prevail. False doctrine cannot long survive in the hearts of those who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 16, pp. 482, 502-503
August 20, 1992