Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 19, 1967
NUMBER 36, PAGE 10b-11a

Issues And Dissent

Owen Cosgrove

(Editor's note: This article appeared in the Firm Foundation of December 6, 1966. If we may be permitted to re-write one single sentence in the article, we can commend it whole-heartedly to our readers. Brother Cosgrove says, "The 'anti-cooperation' movement has increased and is steadily declining." In the interest of accuracy let us revise the unfortunate statement to read: "The 'anti-organization, pro-congregational cooperation' movement has increased and is steadily increasing." With this slight adjustment to truth, we think the article is a fine one, and are happy to pass it on to our readers.)

In every age the church has been beset by "issues. " Naturally any group of people that emphasized doctrine and conviction must face its share of debate and dispute. The church will be ruined if it ever decides to forego controversy. The history of religious movements has shown repeatedly that when religions fail to take the offensive doctrinally, they level off and die. When the church ceases to contend earnestly for the faith it ceases to be what it should and ultimately it will stagnate.

Some Christians have an absolute distaste for any controversy in the church. Had Paul and others felt this way the church would have been completely apostate before the end of the First Century. It might surprise some of our own brethren how much the New Testament speaks of reproof, rebuke, correction, and instruction to keep individuals sound and thereby to keep the church sound and pure.

Brethren have a sacred responsibility to watch out for the faith, to be vigilant, and to help keep the church pure. Even tendencies and trends should be scrutinized for any isms that might threaten the church. When no one dissents, when no one raises any questions, when everyone agrees without reservation--then the church had better be careful. It might be in more trouble than it thinks. We definitt need checks and balances in the Lord's work. We need the balance between youth and age, venture and caution, and freedom and restriction. All of these balances, of course, should rest on divine authority.

Time has proved that some issues among brethren were foolish. Most of these issues now are virtually extinct. The "one cup" issue, the "literature" question, and the "no Bible school" faction have about run their course. The "anti cooperation" movement has increased and is steadily declining. Devoted saints can view with tears the havoc that such issues once caused and could wish that brethren had moved more cautiously to avoid the ravages such questions brought about in some places. How great and timely a little more wisdom and spirituality could have been in avoiding some of the catastrophes they created.

But brethren, however heartsick about those issues, must remember that if battles had not been waged against these things the church could have been destroyed. Furthermore if the fight of the faith had not been waged against instrumental music, the societies, premillennialism, and a thousand other heresies, the church would be in shambles today.

We need peace, understanding, harmony--yes unity. But often these things are secured and maintained only after they have been fought for and defended. Today issues loom before the church that call for eternal vigilance. Brethren have a right to be cautious against modernism, liberalism, intellectualism, and other denominational attitudes in the church.

Brethren may say, "It's a shame that these things ever had to come up." And often they are right. But it would be a far greater shame to allow any foolish doctrine to be spouted and, in the fear that we might destroy one or a few, let these few harm or mislead the church. Dissension in the church is to be deplored, abhorred, and shunned. But it cannot always be settled to the Lord's satisfaction by timidity and deference.

We hope and pray that we are not on the threshold of some new and needless issue that will divide brethren. Our mission is so vast, our time so limited, our need so critical, and our task so vital that we need to pour all of the energies and time we can into saving the world. These humble suggestions are made to help us avoid the tragic distractions of needless and unwarranted polemics:

1. BE CAUTIOUS IN DOCTRINE. When the Jews sought intriguing new religious experimentation, the Lord called them back to the old paths. Impetuous, impulsive attempts to show where the brethren have been so wrong on this or that can be most ill-advised. The church should welcome dissent and investigation, but it helps to know that the dissenter has made a thorough study and knows what he is talking about. Blurting thoughtlessly and going off "half cocked" is constantly warned against in God's Word. We need to preach and practice constantly lessons about the way that is right and cannot be wrong. Let us make every effort to make our doctrine SOUND, and in areas where we are uncertain let us be cautious and quiet.

2. LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD. Faithful brethren are distressed by the rebellion and treason of those who love to castigate the church. The harangues of some against the church, her attitudes, her doctrines, and her methods make some brethren suspicious that some might be losing their faith. It is not pleasant or wholesome to hear the church maligned by just any Tom, Dick, or Harry that can climb up on a soap box. Those who know just how everything ought to be done should get to work and do it. But in the meantime let us uphold the scriptural emphasis: "love the brotherhood," "let brotherly love continue," "be kindly affectioned one to another in brother love," "loving as brethren," etc., etc. The Lord expects His people to be fair, to seek understandings, and to edify one another.

3. SOUND OUT THE RESTORATION PLEA. Our plea for a complete return to the scriptures and unity in Christ on the basis of God's word is the crying need of the world. This plea is not outmoded. It must be preached and taught with fervor, patience, and hope. If the church ever becomes discouraged and disenchanted with this plea, it will go the way of the Disciples, and the sectarians will gladly chant our funeral dirge as we die.

4. FOLLOW CHIRST RATHER THAN MEN. However important it may be to have "big churches," "big projects," and "great preachers," our allegiance must be first to Christ. Men can help us and we can appreciate them, but Christ wants individuals to know and follow Him, History shows that the church has suffered at the hands of "big preachers" with "big ambitions" and the "big head." Let us tell and show the world that in the church, men are only instruments for the Lord's use, but that Christ is all and in all--His glory and authority are what we seek above all things.

5. AVOID SECTARIAN LANGUAGE. Frankly, the church is becoming a hotbed for gimmicks, slogans, and promotional language. Countless expressions are being developed that sound like what one would hear in a "swap shop" at an ecumenical congress. Our jangling of terms completely foreign to God's Word has a hollow ring against our plea, "Let us call Bible things by Bible names..." With "target dates," "countdowns," "kickoffs," "campaigns incorporated," "exoduses" (or should I say "exodi"?), "prayerthons," "prayer cells," "operation: this," and "project: that," some gospel papers have come to look almost like a fire-sale ad for a cheap department store.

Many of these catchy phrases are downright silly, and they place a strain in relations on brethren that already fear an impending onslaught of sectarianism, promotionalism, and carnality with the church.

6. WATCH OUR MOTIVES. What are we trying to do and why? Are we trying to impress the brotherhood or reach the lost? Are we striving for prestige and acclaim or are we trying to be great in influence and service? How much of our outlook stems from pride or jealousy or greed? The church is strengthened in every age as brethren are willing to do deep and humble soul searching. Let our motives be only to please God and to bless Christ's Cause.

7. GO AFTER THE WORLD. The church is made stronger by reaching out and taking the offensive against the world. Rather than trying to be executives in Christ's Kingdom, we need to be foot soldiers. Rather than dwelling on the human frailties of our brethren, let us go out and try to baptize somebody. When the baptistry waters are kept troubled, many other troubles work themselves out.

Our brethren are our friends. The world is our spiritual foe. Let us not be content just to wrestle in the barracks. Let us bravely face our common enemies of sin, ignorance, error, and rebellion. When we strive with infidels, it makes the church seem so much better. When we struggle against false doctrines, the truth seems much more beautiful. The rantings of the world can make the faults of the brethren look so small. We have not won the battle yet. A world is dying at our door step.

Onward then, ye people, Join our happy throng;

Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song;

Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King, This thro' countless ages men and angels sing.

Onward Christian soldiers!

Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus

Going on before.