By James P. Needham
Recently, 67 brethren signed a letter to the administration of Florida College opposing the erroneous teaching of one of its faculty members and a brother who appeared on the annual lectureship. These brethren interpret the days of Genesis 1 as long periods of time, maybe millions of years, rather than six contiguous solar days of 24 hours. Rather than repudiate such teaching, the president has skirted the issue and assured us that he does not so view the days of Genesis 1, and the head of the Bible department has said he prefers to believe that the days are solar days, but leaves room for others to interpret them differently (unity-in-diversity). It appears from this that some believe we can’t see the Bible alike. He uncharacteristically proceeds to reflect unfavorably upon the motives of those who signed the letter, calling it a creed, etc. Others of like persuasion have also joined that chorus. Now, to the question, when is a creed a creed? Or when is a creed not a creed?
That depends upon what one means by “creed.” The word is derived from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” One can find this information in any good English Dictionary. But he also will find this modern usage definition: “A brief authoritative formula of religious belief, a set of fundamental beliefs.”
Here is what we have done: We have condemned denominational creeds to the point that the word carries certain prejudicial connotations. So, realizing this, the brethren who called the open letter a creed were appealing to this known prejudice whether or not they realized it. With some anything labeled a creed is bad news. I’ve even known brethren to deny that we have a creed. That is saying we don’t believe anything. It is bad for Christians to pander to prejudice. Prejudice is the lock on the door of a closed mind. This is similar to what has happened to the word “gay.” It is a perfectly good English word, meaning cheerful, or happy. But, it has been used so often to describe the homosexual community, that it is a gross insult to say that one is a gay person.
If the letter is a creed, meaning it contains what is sincerely believed by those who signed it, it is not a creed in the same sense as a denominational creed. It is not authoritative in the sense that it is bound on anyone. A denominational creed is an authoritative document legislated by the organization that contains more or less than the Bible to which one must subscribe to become a member of the organization.
Nobody can truthfully say that the open letter was such a document. It was not legislated by a human organization, and nobody was threatened with expulsion or exclusion for not signing it. It is a creed in the sense of the original meaning of the word, that is, a statement of belief, but it is not a creed in the sense of a denominational creed. Those who signed the open letter did so voluntarily, and those who preferred not to sign it suffered absolutely no negative consequences. This cannot be said of any human creed known to me. There was no human religious organization from which the no signers were excluded as a penalty for not signing. Those who have called the open letter a creed need to answer this question: If the open letter had stated that the signers believed that baptism is for the remission of sins, or that instrumental music in worship is sinful, or that it is sinful for the church to do its work through a human institution, would they have signed it? If they were to do so, would it be a creed in the denominational sense?
A denominational creed is the authoritative official statement of belief of a human organization and sets the conditions of membership; the open letter was a statement of the individuals’ belief who signed it and set no terms of membership, or rejection. Surely, these brethren know the difference between an individual and an organization; if not, where have they been the last 40 years? If the open letter is a creed, let those who make that charge tell us the name of the organization that legislated it and bound it upon its members. Let them also tell us who has been excluded from that organization or suffered other negative consequences for not signing it.
It is extremely sad that a sincere effort to correct a bad situation has received this kind of response. It has only made a bad situation worse by skirting the real issue and tends toward strife and polarization. In the minds of many brethren it has done serious and immediate damage to Florida College. Several good brethren have said they planned for years to send their children to FC, but will not do so under the present circumstances. One family known to me had planned to send their son to FC this year, but now has sent him elsewhere because of this matter. This will be repeated many times over to the detriment of the school. It is difficult for me to understand how the protection of one teacher and his erroneous position is worth the price the school is paying and will pay down the road.
It is saddening to see these good brethren at the school act out of character. It does appear that the winds of change are blowing at FC. Sad indeed! It is not too late to deal with the situation properly, but time is running out. The college is at the crossroads. The choice is theirs and if this matter is not handled properly, Florida College will have a different image in the years to come, and will be deprived of the patronage of many of the good brethren who have been her lifeblood over the years. Calling the open letter a creed is like calling a cat’s tail a leg; that doesn’t make it one.
This whole thing is a tragedy that easily could have been prevented had it been properly handled. I think it is even possible at this late date to stop the bleeding. First, the administration needs to stop trivializing the issue as a tempest in a teapot and much ado about nothing. Second, they need to ask brethren of good will and sound judgment who signed the open letter to come to a meeting and discuss the situation as brethren, and stop the name calling. Third, every effort to portray the signers of the open letter as enemies of the school, out to “get” someone needs to stop. I have confidence that if this is done, it will have a positive effect, and we can put this behind us as a bad chapter in the history of the school.
“Taken out of Context”
One of the first rules of quoting others is “keep it in context.” That means one must not lift a quotation out of its setting and cause the author to say something he neither said nor meant. To deliberately do this is to act dishonestly. To do it honestly may indicate a lack of comprehension or proper analysis. In either case the author is unfairly treated.
There are different ways to take a quotation out of context. (1) By quoting only part of a given passage, leaving off the author’s complete thought or explanation of his meaning. (2) Applying what an author says on one subject to another subject when it may not be applicable. (3) Making an unnecessary inference from what a writer says. There are at least three kinds of inferences: (1) Reasonable, (2) Necessary, and (3) Unnecessary. A reasonable inference often is not necessary. An unnecessary inference often is just a presumption without proof, and a necessary inference is undeniable due to the facts stated.
“Taken out of context” is sometimes a false defense of error, and an effort to divert attention from a given subject and place suspicion upon the person who is quoting. It is easier to charge that a quotation is taken out of context, than to deal forthrightly with the issue at hand. To say that a quotation is taken out of context when it isn’t, is as wrong as taking something out of context. “Taken out of context” is an overused charge that often is a false charge and is used to try to reflect unfavorably upon a writer or speaker and divert attention from the real subject.
In the present controversy over the false teaching concerning Genesis 1 by Shane Scott and Hill Roberts at Florida College, Ferrell Jenkins has used “taken out of context” as part of his defense of these men. Several have quoted from Ferrell’s writings in defense of these brethren, and Ferrell has charged that every quotation from his lecture has been “taken out of context.” He does not bother to prove his charge. He just makes it and passes on. To charge that one has been “taken out of context” obligates one to prove it and explain how it is the case, then declare his true meaning.
If Ferrell’s charge that quotations from his writings are “taken out of context,” this implies that he said something in the articles quoted that denies what he is charged with saying, and this is just not the case, so his charge is false. If the author said something in the article that denies what is quoted, he is guilty of contradicting himself. If that is not the case, then he has not been “taken out of context.” It is incredible and unreasonable to think that everyone who has quoted from Ferrell’s writings on the present controversy has taken him out of context. There is just no way this can be true. If it is, the brethren are a lot less intelligent or more dishonest than I ever have known them to be. I beseech Ferrell to prove his charge or retract it. Is Ferrell willing to deny that he said he believes the six days of creation are literal solar days, but he leaves room for those who take a different position? Where did he say something in context that denies that?
Brother Jenkin’s Double Standard
In Ferrell’s introduction to the transcript of his class held in Puckett auditorium, February 8, 2000, he states, “Several people have quoted from the speech without my permission, but everyone I have seen have the quotations presented out of context” (Emphasis mine, jpn). Then sometime after the above statement was made Ferrell wrote an article entitled “James P. Needham Joins Those Who Don’t Know” (that is, those who don’t know the age of earth, jpn). Then he quotes a paragraph from my article “without my permission.” (Not that I think he needed it.) I about dropped my teeth when I read that incredible statement! I hate double standards, but brother Jenkins obviously has one. How can it be right for him to quote from me “without my permission” but wrong for others to quote from him without his permission? I was unaware of the article in which he quoted me until a friend called it to my attention.
When people practice double standards they are not dealing fairly and squarely with an issue, and appear to manifest a feeling that their writings possess an egocentric superior quality that’s not characteristic of the writings of others. Somehow their writings are sacrosanct, but others are not. Would brother Jenkins be willing to declare that he has never quoted from others without their permission? To those of us who have known and read after him over the years would consider that a travesty on truth. All of us have done it, and brother Jenkins is no exception. I have never thought I needed permission to quote from a brother who has written or spoken publicly. That which is expressed in a public forum is fair game for public review. If a brother doesn’t want his name attached to his teachings, he ought to stop teaching.
There is a certain squeamishness about quoting others and attaching their names to what they have said. This offends some. To avoid practicing a double standard they should also be offended at Paul and Peter, and Christ and other inspired writers for they practiced it freely. As Cled Wallace used to say, we should not have better manners than Christ and the apostles!
Several brethren are saying we need to stop this discussion on this Genesis 1 issue. I agree. I will even go further than that and say it should have been stopped before it started. It can be stopped now that it is started, but it must be stopped in the right way by Ferrell and Colly admitting that they have used poor judgment and have wrongly defended false teaching at Florida College. All the whining and seeking to impugn the motives of the 67 who signed the open letter will not stop those who have at heart the good of the college and its students.
In earlier times a certain journal copyrighted its articles to keep brethren from quoting from and reviewing them. This was considered reprehensible, and the journal took a lot criticism. How things change! Now many brethren are attaching a copyright notice to what they write in journals. For what reason? Will one be prosecuted for quoting from them without permission?
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