A Word Of Caution
Perhaps I am not the proper one to offer a word of caution concerning any point or practice, but I feel compelled to do so anyway. I am gravely concerned about an attitude and growing practice that I am encountering all over the country. It concerns the matter of pressing and pushing certain items of teaching, which in the final analysis affect only the individual and must be settled by him or her, to the point of dividing churches and creating a lot of unrest. This practice has reached a fairly alarming place among us — even among sound churches and often led by good preachers. It is one thing to preach faithfully and positively what one believes to be the truth on some question, and quite another thing to "draw lines Of fellowship" over it, try to force others to accept it and act upon it or get out; and to reject or accept preachers as "sound and loyal" on the basis of their stand on the particular point.
Let it be understood that I hold no brief or defense for the idea that we should avoid controversial questions or that we refrain from discussing them and contending for what we believe to be the teaching of God's word on any point. Surely the readers of my column in this paper know that I believe in open, free and honorable discussion of any point, question or practice — major or minor! I also believe that sincere, conscientious men will, yea, must, preach or teach what they believe to be the truth on any matter. How can one do otherwise? They are neither ashamed nor afraid of their position; and they do not resent their position being investigated or fully examined. We should know that none of us is infallible and the possibility that we could be wrong on the point under discussion is always there — where honest, thinking people are concerned!
Yet in recent years some of the controversial questions, over which brethren have differed for years, have arisen anew and certain positions (whether true or false is not my point here) are being advocated and pushed — even at times with divisive zeal! Some churches are now squabbling over some of these matters and in several instances divisions and the resulting hatred and ungodliness have come. Efforts are made to "line up" the people for or against the position being zealously pushed. It is not a matter of plainly and forthrightly setting forth what one sincerely believes the Bible teaches on the question. It often goes further than that. Those who do not subscribe to the view and especially those who do not submit to the teaching and all the consequences thereof, are sometimes browbeat, hounded, insulted and examined until they are forced to rise up in opposition or else leave that congregation.
Let me illustrate this with two of the prominent subjects currently causing such disturbance in various areas. One is "the covering question" — whether or not a woman must have some sort of "covering" on her head during public worship. This is an "old problem" being pushed with serious and disturbing results in a few areas. Let me say again here that I am not in this article attempting to discuss the question itself, but only seeking to urge some caution in allowing the intent and zealous advocacy of the question one way or the other to become a dividing wedge. Sometimes this dividing wedge is driven by those who attempt to restrain a person from teaching what he may sincerely believe on the point; or, setting up some "creed" as to what will or will not be taught on the question with the design of forcing everyone to submit to it. Please note that I am saying that the fervent and zealous advocacy of the question one way or the other is what will create the trouble and division. And when I speak of the fervent and zealous advocacy of a position, I do NOT mean nor have reference to a positive and forthright presentation of what one believes on the question! Neither do I mean to question a zealous advocacy of a position one sincerely believes — if that is as far as it goes! The word of caution is needed regarding watching what this spirit may lead to and the "follow through" that often goes along with this zeal. When we want to make a major "issue" out of every point of difference, draw lines, and determine the soundness of men on such questions as this, then I fear what the future holds for us.
Surely we ought to study such questions and no man should hesitate to teach what he believes to be the truth when, in the course of teaching or study, 1 Corinthians 11 is the lesson. After all, that is a part of God's revelation to man. Through the years there have been many sincere, godly, dedicated and scholarly men who have sincerely believed and taught that a woman must have a "covering" on her head during public worship. Yet they never pushed their views to any point of real disturbance; never sought to withdraw from all the women who did not believe nor practice what they advocated; and never sought to mark and brand all those who believed and taught otherwise. At least, if in years gone by, there has been any real disturbance over this matter it has been in such isolated instances that I have not heard of it. And on the other hand it must be noted also that those who did not believe as these men did made no effort to silence or stop them from advocating what they believed; nor did they attempt to brand or mark them. They recognized the difference that was there, each one teaching what he sincerely believed, and then they left it to each individual to make up his or her own mind. Certainly one must teach what he believes to be the truth regarding each question. By all means one should contend for what he believes, but can't we do it (more or less as it has been done by those in days gone by) without being contentious — in the wrong spirit and attitude? Must we press such points by constant hammering until real trouble comes? Should we deem it right and necessary to "divide" from every man who may not share our view on such a question?
Another matter of increasing concern and disturbing potential has to do with divorce and remarriage. This is another "old problem" which has always been with us. In years past it has more or less been handled as has the one above. However, in more recent times more and more trouble is resulting from it due to several causes. One of the causes is the very fervent and zealous advocacy of the idea that all who are (as it is called) "living in adultery" (which means all who have been previously married and were divorced from the first companion without adultery being the ground for the putting away) must separate from the present companion and live a celibate life or else go back to the first companion in order to "straighten up" the situation so that they can be saved. The positive aim forthright presentation of this position by one who believes that the Bible teaches it is not always the end of the matter. It is developed into an "issue" and a test of soundness and even fellowship in a congregation. In some instances, those who do not accept this conclusion are marked, intimidated and abused. Those who have been previously married are held under suspicion, examined, and tried! Those who are "judged" guilty of "living in adultery" are targets for special sermons and at times very unkind treatment. The attempt is at times made to force these people to accept the conclusion of the advocate of this view and also to carry out the decision of this ardent advocate in how to "correct" the situation — "separate from your present companion or else!" This spirit of "or else" is where the caution is needed; or, at least, so it seems to me. To press such a conclusion and hammer on this "or else" to the extent that a church withdraws from a couple who have been married for twenty years, because their "accusers" have adjudged them to be "living in adultery," is enough to cause anyone to realize that we need to exercise some caution in such matters.
Is adultery any worse than murder? Surely not. Yet the "war question" has never led to such disturbance as the above; nor have I ever heard of any preacher or congregation pushing to withdraw from some man because he is in the military service (Is this a "murderous relationship?") and has even taken the life of others in such a cause. Yet there are many sincere, dedicated and scholarly men who sincerely believe that it is contrary to NT teaching for one to enter into combatant service and take the life of others during a war. Sincere brethren have always taught what they believed to be the truth on "the war question," and there have been some pretty sharp "contentions" over it in y ears past; but it was not allowed to disrupt and destroy. There should be no effort made to keep any man from teaching what he believes to be the truth on such points, nor should there be any marking or avoiding when he does. Yet no one should continually "hammer" on any one of these points and try to force everyone to "line up" with his view or else!
This question of remarriage, referred to above, needs and deserves some serious and honest study, but quite apart from any personalities. To be effective, such a discussion must and should be confined solely to the question itself.
To inject personalities, question the honesty or integrity of the advocate of "the opposite view," and to make the acceptance or rejection of a certain view the criterion for soundness is the spirit which will divide and destroy. Surely it must be admitted by all that this is in some ways a "difficult question;" at least, the consequences and deductions which some make and seek to force others to accept are very difficult to be carried out. Can we with absolute certainty deduce and conclude from the teaching of the NT that all who have been previously married and were divorced without adultery being the cause for "putting away," are "living in adultery" (a continuing state or relationship which is adulterous), and must therefore separate from the present companion in order to please God and go to heaven? Even if we think such a deduction and conclusion is absolutely necessary from what is taught; and after preaching what we believe along the line, are we right in trying to force those we may deem "guilty" to accept it and act upon this conclusion whether they believe it or not?
I read and hear quite a lot of talk about this "remarriage question" as the next big "issue" among us. It is the spirit motivating this kind of talk and responsible for this matter possibly looming into such an "issue," which causes me no little concern and leads me to urge these words of caution. Must we agitate and promote this, and all other similar questions, into a wedge which will divide and destroy? Do these questions reach any further than the individual involved? Do they destroy the organization of the church? Do they in any way compare with the "issue" of institutionalism? It is not a matter of teaching what we believe to be the truth on these points or even contending for such in the right kind of discussion; but it is the agitation of these questions to the point of trying to force upon others the acceptance of our particular view of the matter, that will accuse any one, or all, of these questions to flame into some major "issue" over which people will divide and destroy. Surely these words of caution are not out of order and will be properly evaluated with reference to reason for offering such.