Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 11, 1960
NUMBER 14, PAGE 12-13a

Current Controversies - A Suggestion And A Plea

James F. Thompson, Lexington, Kentucky

Editors note: A letter submitted with this article tells us Brother Thompson has sent the same article to the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate. We suggest a careful and earnest reading of what he has to say. We hardly understand how the Herald of Truth could scripturally operate as he has suggested, but perhaps further clarification would reveal some say.)

Current Controversies — A Suggestion And A Plea

The purpose of this article is an ambitious one indeed. It is to try to do something which will help to stem the tide of division which is sweeping the body of Christ even as these words are being written. The devil has made great progress among us especially in the past three or four years. We are not ignorant of his devices (II Cor. 2:11) and we know that division is one of them. He must be gleeful indeed as he surveys the carnage which he has wrought in so many congregations with this weapon. He must be prevented from having his way with us and we can reply only on ourselves to accomplish this.

This article was not solicited by the editor of this paper. Further, it was not written in order to support a particular position with regard to the issues in controversy. It was written to put forth a suggestion for unity on which the writer believes that both sides can agree and to plead for calmness and saner use of both tongues and pens by both sides in the controversy. So that there may be no doubt of this in the reader's mind, let it be known that, after considerable study of the issues in the light of New Testament teaching, the writer finds himself in disagreement with some of the most important points made by both sides in the controversy.

It is perhaps necessary that some who are not prominent as writers, debaters or preachers take it upon themselves to work publicly for a reversal of the trend toward division. We seem to have come to the point at which statements from those who are prominent in the controversy and whose positions are well known are often rejected without any consideration by those not in agreement with them. If this is the case, then further statements from these people will serve mainly to solidly present beliefs whether based on study or on prejudice. The arguments have been stated and restated many times and the possibility of any substantial agreement on the issues seems remote.

A Suggestion Prayerfully Offered

In cases of division in which there is no common ground, neither side can be expected to "give in" to the other when conscience will not permit them to do so. However, in the division over both instrumental music and missionary societies, there was common ground on which all could in good conscience stand and, thus, the schisms could have been avoided. This opportunity to prevent the division was largely ignored by those in favor of instruments and societies as we are quick to point out when in discussions with them. The writer believes that in the present difficulty there is again common ground on which most if not all can stand with clear conscience. If this is the case and we do not meet on such ground, then be it said to our everlasting shame that we let stiff-necked, sinful pride — nothing more and nothing less — keep us apart. If we go to the judgment with this on our consciences, our plight will be sad indeed when we hear those awful words, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

Those who believe that the benevolent and evangelistic arrangements in question are scriptural also generally believe that they are simply methods of discharging our prescribed duties to the poor, the widowed, the fatherless, and the untaught and that they are within the scope of the commands which set forth these duties and so are scriptural. Those who believe that these arrangements are unscriptural believe that the church has set up separate organizations similar to the missionary society to do her work. The writer believes that it would be consistent with the positions of both sides if (1) the homes and the Herald of Truth continued to exist but relied for support on contributions from individuals and (2) the Highland Avenue church in Abilene, Texas separated itself from the management of the Herald of Truth. This could be done by turning it over to the management of a non-profit corporation set up for the purpose and guided by a group of brethren. In this way both the homes and the program could continue to serve the same purpose but would be effectively separated from the church. There is no apparent reason why they should function less effectively than at present and the question of centralized control of the resources of many churches could not possibly arise. The money contributed would be that of individuals rather than churches. Also there seems to be no reason why the support from individuals should be any less than from churches. This change should certainly result in more support if those on both sides of the controversy are as zealous for good works as they claim to be. Certainly a large number of individuals would contribute who now do not.

Such a change cannot be brought about by the reaching of universal agreement that it should be done, for no such agreement can be reached and if it could, the means of reaching it would not be scriptural. It can be done if (1) individual christians send their own contributions to wherever they want them to go, (2) elders of individual congregations simply remove these items from church budgets and announce that henceforth contributions will be on an individual basis and (3) those in control of the homes and the Herald of Truth request that the changes be made.

If the arrangements in question are in fact unscriptural, then of course they must be changed. If they are scriptural, the changes suggested here would mean that some brethren would be giving up the liberty of contributing to them through the church in order to avoid offending the conscience of their brethren. The brethren in the Highland congregation would be turning over to others the program on which they have labored for years. However, there is ample authority for such in Romans 14 and I Cor. 8. and brethren who are willing to forego such liberties for this reason certainly deserve the love and appreciation of those whom they have refrained from offending.

Some may regard such a change as a drastic remedy. Perhaps it is: perhaps not. If it is it need only be pointed out that the disease which now afflicts us is more terrible than any of the diseases which can destroy only the flesh. If we can avoid schism, we shall certainly feel the wrath of God if we do not do so. There is no place in Heaven for those who practice enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions and parties as there is also no place there for those who practice fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, drunkenness and revelings. All alike are works of the flesh, not of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:19-21.) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control: against such there is no law." (Gal. 5:22.)

Any person or group on either side who can without violating conscience take some measure to alleviate our difficulties and who does not do so is surely guilty of enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions and parties. He has aided and abetted the devil in fostering such. He has worked against God and has thus condemned himself.

A Plea For Calmness And Understanding

This creeping division is not only over the question of whether or not church financial support of orphan homes and the Herald of Truth is in accord with God's word. It is also, to our shame, over hard words and hurt feelings on the part of those holding to one or the other sides of the arguments.

It is to be hoped that the readers of this paper do not need lessons on the undesirability of division in the body of Christ. That it is contrary to God's will is abundantly shown by I Cor. 1:10, John 17, and numerous other passages from the Word. Fully as sinful as the division itself are some of the attitudes which have helped to bring it about. Brethren, in their zeal to support arguments which they believe to be correct, have apparently forgotten the teachings of James 3. Others, in pride perhaps, seem to have forgotten the teachings of Eph. 4:32 and Col. 3:18. Charges of "hobbyism" have been hurled, in anger it is feared. Labels such as antis, promoters, non-cooperators and institutionalists which are divisive, hence sinful, in their nature have been pinned to brethren on the "other" side by those on both sides.

The writer believes that we all need to face the fact that the vast majority of those on both sides are sincere brethren in Christ who would not willingly serve as agents of the devil and who have no desire to dictate to others. Both sides contend for their positions on the issues because they believe them to be in accord with the word of God. By stopping the widespread practice of imputing impure motives to brethren with whom we disagree, we can take a long step toward arresting the progress of the division. In fact, this must be the first step for we cannot be united unless this is done. Regardless of how impure or even malicious we may believe another's motives to be, usually nothing but harm results from expression of such beliefs. It is to be feared that we have come so far that many are anxious to believe the worst rather than the best about brethren with whom they disagree. We need to do our best to root out such feelings from our hearts rather than to nurture them there.

In addition each of us needs to be extremely careful of what we do and say in order to avoid misunderstandings which may further the division. Careless words can be fully as harmful as malicious ones. If we can avoid both misunderstandings and malice the controversy can be turned from the devil's advantage to the Lord's advantage. However, avoiding these will require the utmost in care and self-discipline. We must watch ourselves closely and walk circumspectly in order to avoid giving the devil the advantage over us. It will require the best that is in each of us. If anyone gives less than his best, we are handicapped and the devil's chances are improved.

If the present writer is incorrect in believing that the above suggestion is consistent with the positions of both sides then let us turn our attention to the problem of finding some common ground if such exists. If it does not, then let us renew the discussion in a spirit of "Speak Lord; for thy servant heareth." Let no one be satisfied with less than the truth.

Brethren, I beg you to think on these things.