Proper Attitudes Towards "Temperate" Or "Moderate" Liberal Brethren
"If we are not careful we will form or bring into being a situation worse by far than the division we seek to rectify."
The caption of this manuscript is somewhat misleading. It implies that one's attitude differs, depending upon degrees of pleasantness and the size of one's mantle of charity. It is the contention of this writer that the right attitude toward brethren in error should be maintained at all times regardless of whether they are moderate or temperate. (Gal. 6:1; 2:2-5, 11-17) We must not lose sight of the fact that all "liberal" brethren are what they are because they went out from among us and have divided churches over orphan homes, Herald of Truth, etc. Even a "moderate" liberal brother is still guilty of having split the log that caused the division. All liberals have gone beyond that which is written. (2 Jno. 9-10) "Who maketh thee to differ?" (I Cor. 4:7) It is not our practice, but the practice of the liberals that is patterned after the wisdom of men. (Jas. 3:13-17)
I do believe that improper attitudes have been evidenced by some on both sides of current issues and that there is room for improvement in many areas. However, before making an attempt to evaluate and comment upon the assigned topic some introductory remarks are essential in order that misunderstanding might be avoided.
Points Of Clarification
1. The fact that this article appears in this special must not be construed so as to conclude that this scribe gives approval or endorsement to other positions taken in this issue. I do appreciate the efforts of this journal in allowing both sides of issues to be printed. (I Jno. 4:1; I Thess. 5:21) Though we may differ regarding some of the doctrinal stands taken by some who have been asked to contribute to this special issue of the Guardian, we all should strive to handle our differences without being disagreeable.
2. I disapprove of the Guardian's former "peace offensive." This article is not an attempt therefore to reinstate this effort or any that are related to it. I am not a visionary who believes that we should play down our differences and emphasize our agreements. I cannot harmonize this concept with the unity that is taught in the Bible. (I Cor. 1:10) We must be set for a defense of the gospel and this defense requires a form of militancy. (Phil. 1:17; 2 Tim. 4:7) God's word still teaches a way that is right and cannot be wrong.
This is not to say that I am opposed to brethren getting together and discussing differences. What I am saying is that with one or two exceptions, unity forums, peace offensives, etc. usually end up accomplishing no good. This writer does not claim to have the answers as to the "what" and the "how" of dissolving differences. But the fruit of present efforts on the part of some have resulted in alienation and hardships. Because of this I feel that the only approach is the individual approach rather than some "organization" type of arrangement. The unity forum type as practiced by Carl Ketcherside and others results in a softening of attitudes towards doctrine (Mission Messenger, "The Fading Fear," November, 1969). In our efforts to acquire unity we must not cease to expose error. The gospel must continue to be taught without fear or favor.
3. This article is not an attempt to present legislation for brethren individually or collectively. Since I do not have all the answers I cannot assume this responsibility. What is presented is merely a demonstration of what I consider to be the proper attitudes one should have toward those in error. Each encounter is somewhat pragmatic, but there will be no worthiness to our accomplishments until brethren as individuals seek right answers to basic questions with which we are faced. Then will we become a voice demonstrating New Testament Christianity, rather than a movement that fails.
4. We must be concerned; we must seek peace and unity. (Heb. 12:14; Eph. 4:3-6) But if we do not exercise caution we might violate our spiritual relationship in the body of Christ. (I Cor. 12:12-13, 18, 27) There is a definite loose, dangerous attitude that is destructive to our common union in Christ and the autonomous nature of collectives of God's people. (I Cor. 10:16-17; I Jno. 1:3-7; Ac. 20:28; I Pet. 5:1-3) Inter-congregational activity appears to be the order of the day. How does this differ from inter-congregational organization? If we are not careful we will form or bring into being a situation worse by far than the division we seek to rectify. This is why this writer stresses individual response within the bounds of the principles of the New Testament.
There are certain dangers associated with a topic such as that about which I am writing. The words of David Lipscomb (Gospel Advocate, 1921) illustrates one of these dangers:
"I have noticed it in men, I have noticed it in papers. When One starts out to be over-sweet tempered, to keep out all humanity, he or it becomes one-sided, unfair and the bitterest and most intolerant of men and papers. They do not show goodness in an honest, open, human, brave way. A paper that starts out to have no controversies, to be overly peaceable, is as sure to be filled with unjust insinuations and innuendoes as that tomorrow's sun will rise. You cannot crush the humanity out of men. Do not look for perfection in human beings nor dispense with the work of God while pretending to be Christians."
These words explain the reason for my reservation concerning the Guardian's recent "peace offensive," and other such movements in the interest of so-called unity. I go on record, however, as having enough confidence in its present owner and editor to believe that they will never let this happen to this fine journal. The Gospel Guardian must never allow itself to be placed in the position of compromise.
The second great danger is that of being misunderstood. In this writing or any other, I do not look upon myself as a self-appointed watchdog. I resent being labeled a "keeper of orthodoxy" by idealists who are so naive as to either overlook or deny liberal elements and loose attitudes toward problems that divide the brotherhood. I do not intend to defend nor uphold any so-called "church of christism," or champion human traditions that may have insidiously made their way into the church. At the same time I will not sit silently by while the church of our Lord is castigated repeatedly as being legalistic, and our preaching narrow-minded. I see certain idealistic minded individuals acting out the very sectarianism they censure. I am weary of their worn out clichs. The real troublers of spiritual Israel (Rom. 2:28-29) are those who are liberal in the sense that they sanction denominational doctrine and practice. Are we to sit on the side-lines and allow the liberals among us to take us in any direction they desire? (2 Jno. 9) God forbid! Past fights for truth and righteousness will have been in vain and future effectiveness destroyed.
In the third place, there is no magic formula for unity to be devised by man. God's plan for unity is in the Book. (I Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 1:13; Tit. 1:9) In our efforts to implement God's arrangement for unity we must be cognizant of the fact that what works in one area will not work in another. Each situation calls for its own peculiar course of action. I am dealing in this writing with attitudes that are right and proper at all times toward all liberals in every situation.
Before any discussion of the topic can take place we must define the terms. By "scriptural" I mean that which conforms to the Bible. By "attitude" I mean "posture, or position of a person . . . state, condition, or conjuncture, as likely to have a certain result. . ." (The New Webster Dictionary of The English Language, P. 54) If we follow this definition then our attitudes govern our actions and conduct. Whatever attitude we have toward those in error will determine our conduct toward them. We cannot begin to investigate ways and means of seeking unity with erring brethren until our attitudes harmonizes with the Scriptures. This brings it down to a personal level. Other brethren may have the improper attitude, but what about your attitude and mine? This is the issue for the moment. This writing will concern itself with three things: Truth, Tolerance and Team-Work.
Proper Attitude Towards Truth
Error exists because of improper attitudes toward truth. "But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, devilish.. . But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (Jas. 3:14-17) Pilate said, "What is truth?" God's Word is truth. (Jno. 17:17) Grace and truth comes by Jesus Christ. (Jno. 1:17) It is the law of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:2) It became such because the Spirit revealed truth through the Apostles. (Jno. 16:12-15; 17:8; Gal. 1:11-12) Since it is incorruptible (I Pet. 1:23), our rejection of it will in no way alter it. (2 Cor. 13:8) This body of truth is sometimes called "the faith" (Jude 3), "word of truth" (Jas. 1:18),"word of God" (I Pet. 1:23), or at other times "gospel" or "doctrine." (I Tim. 1:10-11) We can know truth and walk in it. (2 Jno. 1, 4, 6, 9: 3 Jno. 3) We must not go beyond truth. (2 Jno. 9) It must not be compromised.
Our attitude toward liberal brethren involves the recognition of this God-given standard and the fact that it is the measuring stick or rule for governing the conduct of others. (2 Jno. 5; Gal. 6:14) We cannot improve on it. We must come together on God's standard of truth. Proper attitude is that which desires to see brethren in error come together on truth. "Brethren, if any of you do err from truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." (Jas. 5:19-20) There is no reason why we cannot accept these facts and work out our problems with truth as a guide. Have we lost sight of the concept, "if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God?" (I Pet. 4:11). This attitude reveals the direction our efforts should take us. Here is common ground for agreement within a divisive brotherhood. But every citizen of the kingdom of God must support the truth that governs that kingdom. Most are giving only lip service to this concept. Unity will not come by rhetoric, by fleeing from controversial issues, nor simply wishing for unity. It will come only when we agree to come to terms with great issues that divide us and face them honestly in the light of God's Word. I cannot harmonize some of the present expressions of fellowship among faithful and erring brethren with my Bible.
Each brother in Christ should examine his position in the light of truth and if there is need for reform or structural redesign within the limits of truth, one should adapt oneself to the need. Truth appears to be "forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne." This is why it is easier to tolerate error than to stand against the tide that seems to overwhelm us. There can never be any unity in a Biblical sense until truth becomes the guide line. Unity at the expense of truth is not unity. (2 Cor. 6:15-16) Unity in error is worse than division itself. We must oppose amalgamation, loose federation, tolerance and the idea of unity in diversity. (1 Cor. 1:10) There can be no unity without regard for Bible doctrine and practice. May God hasten the day when a resurgent cry for "back to the Bible" brings us together on God's platform for unity. We must see ourselves united on the basis for truth rather than the sophisticated idealism of men. When snarling, grievous wolves threaten us, we must stand on the truth of God's Word. Our faith may be shipwrecked or even destroyed, but not the truth of God. (I Tim. 1:18-20) Are you really concerned about the division that exists in the brotherhood? Then begin to do something about that division by looking into the mirror of truth. (Jas. 1:25)
Proper Attitude Toward Tolerance
While this sub-heading may appear somewhat contradictory, the fact still remains that there is an area within the bounds of the principles of truth where tolerance can be maintained and truth not sacrificed. I speak with reference to the matter of expediency. Before discussing those scriptures that govern expedients, let us define the term. The New Webster Dictionary defines an expedient as "tending to promote the object proposed; proper under the circumstances . . . means which may be employed to accomplish an end." (P. 309) When God has commanded a thing, some means must be brought into existence to carry it out. The expedient is not a law of God, but is simply an expression denoting that the thing commanded of God is carried out. It is therefore in the realm of human judgement. But before a thing can be expedient, it must first be lawful and authorized by God, either by specific or generic authority. Baptism, for example, is authorized by a positive statement from God. (Mk. 16:16) As long as there is an individual who is a penitent believer, (Ax. 2:37-38) seeking to be immersed (Col. 2:12), any means may be used to carry this out. We may use a running stream, a pool, a baptistery or river. The who and the what of baptism is specified, but we are at liberty to carry this out according to our own judgment. It is at this point that many evidence an improper attitude. Observe the following scriptures:
"All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (I Cor. 6:12)
"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." (I Cor. 10:23)
"Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." (I Cor. 8:13).
Here then is where tolerance enters the picture. If one is unwilling to say that a brother or sister will be lost for not participating in a certain program or act, then we admit that that practice is an optional matter (an expedient). This should never become the basis for strife or division. We should be willing to do what God has authorized in a way which all can agree upon and still remain united. But alas, those who introduced into the work and worship of the church instrumental music, missionary societies, sponsoring church arrangements and institutionalism argue for and defend them as expediencies. At the same time they become matters of fellowship, especially when pressed to the point of division.
If we seek means of communications and unity with brethren then we must be tolerant with those with whom we differ regarding matters of human wisdom (expediency). But remember, the expedient must be lawful, either by generic or specific authority. If we advocate that a thing is simply a matter of "how," then we dare not press it to the point of division. Intolerance in this area is a grave sin of which not a few are guilty.
Proper Attitude Toward Team-Work
In view of the considerations already adduced, this would appear to be a major thrust. This exertion is desperately needed. It has three facets of special significance:
The first is the willingness to prove all things — "to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." (I Peter 3:15, New ASV) This is our most deficient aspect; a forgotten command. We not only have the right to ask each other for authority regarding certain practices, but the obligation. Without realizing it, many have become saturated with the concept that it does not matter what one believes or practices regarding institutionalism, sponsoring church arrangements, etc. If this is true, then Peter's words are meaningless.
There are right ways and wrong ways of proving a thing to be scriptural. We cannot prove that a thing is right by assumption. We must know that it is right according to the scriptures. Supposition likewise has no place in this category. This was the sin of some of the people on Pentecost. (Ac. 2:15; Jno. 21:20-23) Even though certain Jews could not prove a single charge against Paul they accused him of being a mover of sedition and a pestilent fellow. (Ac. 24:5, 15) If we are to have team-work in working out our differences (each individual working concurrently) we must not resort to unfounded accusations. And what about misrepresentations? This certainly has no place in the Christian's investigation. Yet because human nature is as it is, misrepresentations continue.
Webster says that the word "prove" means to "try or ascertain by an experiment; to test; to make trial of; to establish the truth or reality of by reasoning, induction, or evidence..." Jesus set the stage for such action when he raised the question: "the baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or men?" (Matt. 21:25) We test (Lk. 14:19), examine (I Cor. 11:20), or try things (I Jno. 4:1) by turning to the only source of proof that is unerring and infallible, the Word of God. (Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17) We must prove all things. It is not enough to prove some things. All religious parties do some things that are scriptural. If we fall short of proving all things that we do religiously, we are short of the divine command.
The second is willingness to hear all things with unprejudiced minds — "he that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." (Prov. 18:13) Prejudice is a terrible thing. It is intellectual stigmatism that is a perfect combination of conceit and ignorance. "He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool, and he who dares not is a slave." (Drummond) This open-minded attitude not only applies to our practices, but to individuals as well. Jesus said, "doeth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" (Jno. 7:51) Just how far prejudice has affected our attitudes toward each other and toward the Word of God regarding present controversies is something that only God knows. We see evidence of it on every hand.
The third and final characteristic is love for the brethren -- "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor." (Rom. 13:10) "Let love be without dissimulation. . . Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly 'love; in honour preferring one another." (Rom. 12:9-10) By this use of love this writer does not refer to the nicety, the sweetness, or agreeableness that smiles upon error and overlooks sin in the lives of others. I am not talking about a mantle of charity that leads to compromise. The kind of love for brethren that the Bible requires is that which will reprove those in error when reproving needs to be done. (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:2) It demands obedience to all of God's commandments. (I Jno. 5:2-3) I say this to off-set the idea that is prevalent, i.e., that "it is a lack of love that divides us and not doctrinal issues." Those who hold to this philosophy do not practice the love they preach because they really do not understand the term as used in the Bible.
Why is love for the brethren important? Let's face it!! There is indeed a spirit of divisiveness, intolerance and obsession with digression that eliminates the spirit of grace. The number of those who have this spirit is few, but great damage is done. Love demands that we accept all as being sincere in practices, though we believe them to be sincerely wrong. It demands that we judge no motives and deal with the issues at hand, rather than with personalities. Generally speaking we have yet to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. (Ac. 15: 37-40; Col. 4:10)
New Testament Christianity will mot allow us to cut off those with whom we disagree by refusing to deal with differences. We cannot compromise our convictions by seeking unity so badly that we overlook differences and consecrate on points of agreement. We should not boycott each other, but try at all times to maintain communications. This can be done without violation of our convictions that are Bible centered. There are those who are guilty of going beyond that which is written (2 Jno. 9), and yet there is still hope for some of them, as long as they remain teachable. Others have gone so far into apostasy that they must be marked and delivered over to Satan. (Rom. 16:17-18) No matter how far we feel one is steeped in digression, if that person is willing to study with the proper attitude and spirit, we should not refuse to study.
This scribe will talk to anyone at any time about differences that divide us. I cannot and will not bid the teacher of error God-speed. (2 Jno. 10-11) In trying to have the right attitude toward those in error let us not go too far. Some have already withdrawn from the firing line and gone into the plains of compromise. If this is the way to win the battle for truth and righteousness, then I have been misreading my New Testament. We definitely need to revamp our attitudes toward those in error (generally speaking). But our time can be well spent if we concentrate on preaching truth and letting fellowship take care of itself! Most liberals (or institutional minded brethren. Both terms are used accommodatively) could care less about harmony and affinity with so-called Antis. If all had the right attitude then we would all come back to the way that is right and cannot be wrong.
"And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." (Col. 3:12-14)
"And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (Col. 3:17)