Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 3, 1955
NUMBER 42, PAGE 4-6,9b

Who Is "Splitting The Log"?

Roy E. Cogdill

The question of authority — what is authorized and what is not authorized in the scriptures — is as old as Christianity. There has never been an innovation introduced but that those introducing it have sought to justify it by the silence of the Bible. They refuse to recognize or be bound by scriptural principles. Unless a specific prohibition can be found they feel justified to engage in the practice. Others insist that in the absence of authority specifying how. a thing shall be done there is nothing to guide and men are left to their own judgment and ways.

This was the approach of the advocates of instrumental music and the missionary society in the "digressive movement" of the latter part of the 19th century. They argued that the society was simply the church doing its work in the most effective manner; that it was essential for congregations to cooperate in order to do this work, and since the scriptures did not specify the manner in which to preach the gospel, therefore, the society was permissible as the most effective manner of doing so.

This exactly parallels the argument of our brethren today who advocate "brotherhood benevolent institutions" and "brotherhood projects" in the work of evangelism. This has been demonstrated nowhere more vividly than in a recent editorial by the new editor of the Firm Foundation, Brother Reuel Lemmons. In part the editor said: (Firm Foundation, Feb. 1, 1955)

"There are some things specifically condemned in the Bible. It is wrong to do what the Bible condemns. Sin is the transgression of law; and the wages of sin is death. These things that are specifically condemned, we must never do — regardless of the cost.

"There are some things specifically commanded in the Bible. These things we must always do — regardless of the cost — for they are right. Obedience is still better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

"With many there are only these two fields. They are blind to the fact that there is a vast, third field of endeavor. There is an area between the 'forever wrong' and the 'forever right' which we choose to call the realm of the expedient. All things that are lawful are not always expedient. The very existence of the power of free moral agency in man indicates the existence of this realm. There would be no place for either reason or wisdom if this realm did not exist."

From this it is clear that the editor recognizes only three realms of scriptural authority: (1) things specifically condemned, (2) things specifically authorized or commanded, and (3) the realm of expediency. It is in this realm of expediency that he locates the use of instrumental music. Hear him again:

"Many of the activities of men are in this realm. Here is a sphere where principle is given in the law and where human ingenuity is left to work out the mechanics. In this realm opinions may differ; methods may vary; and means may be multiple and yet all the procedures be scriptural.

"Some make the mistake of assuming that God has no law governing this realm, and that, therefore, we are free to do as we please. Some go so far as to say 'where the Bible is silent we are free to act as we see fit? This is not true. God does exercise authority in areas of silence. His very silence regarding the use of anything else save bread and the fruit of the vine on the Lord's table forbids the use of anything else. It is by this very principle that we do not use instrumental music in our worship."

Thus he argues that God's silence governs the realm of expediency or else his words means nothing. Notice the use of "this realm" in the sentences above. What realm? He is talking about the realm of expediency. It is astonishing to think that Brother Lemmons would put the matter of whether or not to use instrumental music in the realm of expediency. "Digressive" brethren have always contended that and most of us thought that our brethren knew better.

Brother Lemmons thinks it a matter of expediency not to use instrumental music in the worship of God because of God's silence on the subject. If that isn't his position, then he didn't state himself clearly and should correct the impression. Surely he knows better and if he doesn't — what a terrible tragedy that the pages of an influential medium like the Firm Foundation should have been turned over to his use and direction.

The use of instrumental music is excluded not as a matter of expediency at all but as a matter of "law" that involves obedience or disobedience — walking by divine or human wisdom and will. God's word specifies the music to be used in His worship and by so specifying it he excludes every other kind of music. This demands respect for those things excluded as well as included and it is the only way specific authority can be respected. We are either satisfied to obey what God has said and leave off what he has not said or we are guilty of disobedience.

Expediency does not operate in the realm of things unlawful. If a thing is unlawful it cannot be a matter of expediency. It is rather a matter of the obedience of faith. The same thing is true if a thing is specifically authorized either in precept, example approved, or necessary inference. There is no area in those things specifically authorized to use expediency or human judgment. We must do the thing specifically authorized or be disobedient. If a thing is unlawful — unauthorized — it must be left off or we are guilty of presumption and stand condemned before God. This lesson is as old as the scriptures. Human judgment does not enter into obedience either in things specifically authorized or those things excluded by the silence of God's word.

In order for a thing to be expedient it must be authorized — it must be lawful. Yet the authority for the thing must be general — include more than one practice or more than one way of doing the thing authorized. When anything comes within the scope of divine authority and yet is not specified, then expediency takes hold. For instance:

The Lord's Supper

A specific command for its observance — "This do in remembrance of me." (1 Cor. 11:25.)

A specific approved example as to the day of its observance — "And upon the first day of the week, we were gathered together to break bread — ." The church at Troas. (Acts 20:7.)

A specific necessary inference as to how often to observe it — "the first day of the week to break bread." That means as regularly as that occasion came — compare "The Sabbath day to keep it holy" commanded to the Jews.

What hour of the first day of the week shall it be observed? In the absence of any specific command, specific approved example, or necessary inference in the scriptures it can be observed any hour that comes within the scope of the commandment — that is, any hour that comes within the first day of the week.

This is a simple lesson and it illustrates the realm of expediency. Expediency does not operate in the realm of the silence of the scriptures or in the realm of those things excluded by specific authority. It operates within the realm of general authority and only there. Until this is learned one will be confused without hope.

But hear the new editor again:

"In the realm of expedience God commands the thing to be done and leaves the means by which it is to be done up to the wisdom of those who carry out the command. God further circumscribes the carrying out of the command by prescribing the principles within whose circumscription the details or mechanics must be worked out. "God commands us to 'go teach.' Some brethren 'drove the wedge that split the log' by insisting that the way they were doing it was the only right way. They divided the body of Christ because they tried to bind their opinions upon good brethren who did not believe in being bound by human opinions."

I presume that Brother Lemmons had the anti-Sunday school brethren in mind here, but it is exactly the argument the advocates of the missionary society make for its justification. In order that we may see that it is, let us hear J. B. Briney in his debate with W. W. Otey in the year 1908 on the instrumental music and missionary society issue. In his first speech on the missionary society question, Brother Briney said:

"What are these societies? I affirm that the use of them is authorized in the New Testament scriptures, and pleasing to God. What are they? They are voluntary organizations com-posed of Christian people who are banded together for the promotion of the cause of Christ. These organizations are made up of men and women with the love of God in their hearts and with a desire under Christ, to advance the interests of His Kingdom. They are acting in the name of the great head of the church, and are engaged in forwarding the interests of His Kingdom. They aim to edify Christian people and turn sinners from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. They are not institutions outside of the church, but organizations within the boundary of this institution. They are channels through which the functions of the church are exercised, and the great purpose of the establishment of the kingdom of God conserved and advanced. "The thing to be done is to go into all of the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. That is the purpose of the church. This obligation was first laid upon the apostles. To them the Savior said, Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, or the age." Now, these men were temporary and their personal work would soon end, and in view of this, the church of Jesus Christ was made the successor to these apostles in so far as this commission is concerned .... Now, my dear friends, I think it is obvious to every mind that in this regard the church cannot act as a whole . . . . It is not an organized body — the church in this general sense, but it embraces all those who believe in and obey our blessed Lord. Now, I repeat that this body of Christ, or the church, in this comprehensive and general sense, cannot act in carrying out this commission, as a whole, that is, the whole church, everybody, cannot arise and go to preach the gospel. Well, now, how is it to be done then? And just here I lay down this principle, and it is to constitute the foundation of nearly my whole argument upon this question. I read as follows: 'When a thing is commanded to be done, and the method of doing it is not prescribed, those commanded are at liberty to use their best judgment in devising ways and means to carry out the command, and they are to act under the principle laid down by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:39-40... "Now, the method, I repeat, of doing this is not specified, and as I said in the first place, ... they are to act under their liberty, to make use of their best judgment and discretion as to the means of accomplishing the end in view."

Now, along with that argument of J. B. Briney in 1908 for the missionary society let us read the contention of the new editor of the Firm Foundation in behalf of the institutional orphan homes built up by brethren to do a part of the work of the church. They also contend that they are not separate organizations but are within the church and its framework and are merely "channels" through which to carry on the work of the church.

Brother Lemmons says this in his editorial:

"God commands us to visit the fatherless. To this command all of us agree. Yet, we find brethren willing to drive another wedge, insisting that their way to do it is the only way it can be done. "God commands us to be 'workers together.' To this command all of us agree. We would also agree that the principle has both a congregational and a universal application. Mutual helpfulness, or 'cooperation' is one of the very foundation principles of the Christian religion. Yet, even in this realm each of us has the urge to make his own opinion law: My brethren have always been adverse to allowing some man's opinion to become their law."

I am sure that thinking brethren will see that Brother Lemmons along with others makes the same arguments to sustain the institutional orphan homes that J. B. Briney and others made long ago to sustain the missionary society. The argument is this:

  1. God has commanded all Christians to visit the fatherless in their affliction. This command is universal.
  2. Mutual helpfulness or cooperation in such work is fundamental in the Christian religion.
  3. The means through which we can operate in taking care of orphans is not specified.
  4. Therefore we are at liberty to do it any way that our own judgment prompts and approves. In opinion there must be liberty.
  5. Any one who would exclude any way or method used in doing such work is a "hobbyist," makes his own opinion law, and "causes division and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine" and should be "marked."

If this isn't the gist of Brother Lemmons editorial, it doesn't have any "gist"; and if it isn't exactly the same contention Briney made for the missionary society — point by point — I invite the new editor to point out to us the distinction. Furthermore I affirm that if it proves Brother Lemmon's point with reference to the church taking care of orphans in institutional, brotherhood, orphan homes or enterprises, then it justifies the missionary society for the same identical reasons.

If Brother Lemmons will show us the fallacy of Briney's argument in support of the missionary society, we will show him that the same fallacy is true of his argument for orphan homes as they exist. If his argument justifies orphan homes as they exist, then he should endorse the missionary society and apologize to the digressives for any opposition he has ever given, if any, to missionary societies and get off the fence and on their side for he stands on the same ground.

But someone says, "what is wrong with the argument?" and it is evident that a lot of our brethren do not know. So let us briefly point out some of the fallacies of the position:

1. The same passage that authorizes the church to care for orphan children prescribes how it is to be done so far as the method or organization through which it is to be done is concerned. We challenge Brother Lemmons to deny that God ever assigned any mission to the church to be done by the church as such without specifying that it should be done through the church. That is all the specification that is needed to limit the work of the church to the activity of congregations, for the congregation is the only organization that God ever gave the church through which to operate.

2. Because God did specify and authorize specifically he congregation as the medium through which the church fulfills its mission in the world, the congregation excludes very other organization on earth for the doing of the work of the church. No other "channel" is provided. This s where both the missionary society and the institutional orphan home violate God's commandments for they provide a "channel" for the work of the church that God has not provided but which He has rather excluded by the specific arrangement of the congregation. To use another channel for doing the work of the church is to be guilty of providing a coordinate to that which God has provided and therefore to add to His word. It is as great a wrong and as disrespectful toward God's word and divine authority as the use of instrumental music, ice cream and cake on the Lord's table, and human church government. We must either stand on God's provisions in church government or yield the whole ground.

3. If Brother Lemmons has an obligation to care for orphan children personally and individually because of their relation to him individually or for some other reason and is unable to do it, any of us might cooperate with him in fulfilling that obligation but when it comes to the church fulfilling its obligation, that is not an individual matter and human opinion is not the guiding principle there but divine authority.

4. No one is trying to specify any "method" by which the congregation takes care of its own orphans. Let them be provided for under the supervision of the elders of the congregation responsible for doing the work and in any way that they see fit to do it that does not violate a principle of righteousness. To represent those of us who oppose "institutional" orphan homes — human organizations through which the church tries to do its work — as being guilty of foisting our judgment upon the elders or anybody else, in the matter of the specific way in which the orphans shall be cared for — is misrepresentation. We are not guilty of any such thing. We insist only that the congregation do its own work, under its own eldership, because that is God's arrangement. Furthermore we believe in "cooperation" either between Christian individuals by helping those who have a greater obligation than they can carry, or between congregations by helping those congregations that have in their own work an obligation of that kind larger than they can bear. We have the example of Jerusalem for this kind of cooperation but Brother Lemmons cannot find the Bible example that authorizes any other method of congregational cooperation therefore any other method is excluded.

5. In opposition against these human institutions which are set up without divine authority to do the work of the churches of Christ, we are not the ones who are guilty of "splitting the log" "causing divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine." Does Brother Lemmons think that those who introduced instrumental music into the worship and missionary societies into the organization of the church of the Lord brought about division or those who opposed them? It would be helpful to him if he would sit down and honestly answer this question to himself. Are we guilty of causing divisions when we oppose false teaching or are those guilty who introduce it? Division always comes by the inventions of men either in matters of doctrine, worship or government. Truth and satisfaction with divine authority is not responsible for it.

6. What about the anti-Sunday school brethren? They go as far astray on the one hand as Brother Lemmons and his institutionalists do on the other. They contend that a thing must be specifically authorized or it is wrong while Brother Lemmons contends that a thing must be specifically prohibited if it is to be opposed. No man has the right to prohibit where God's word does not. But Brother Lemmons needs to remember that neither does any man have the right to grant liberty where God has not granted it.

The guilt for all the disturbance in the church today caused by human institutions lies squarely upon the heads of those who have invented them and foisted them upon the church. Those who sustain them as the work of the church are accessories to the fact. They are "driving the wedge that will split the log" by forcing upon the consciences of all who oppose their "own" inventions for doing the work of the church. They are even willing to admit that it can be done in some other way acceptable to all. But like the instrumental music and missionary society advocates they must have their inventions, even if they can't produce Bible authority for it and if it does disrupt the fellowship of brethren. Is Brother Lemmons willing to say that the institutional orphan home is the only way that orphan children can be cared for? If he isn't, then why is he willing to drive the wedge over a non-essential or a matter of expediency? Paul taught that if a matter of expediency or personal privilege caused his brethren to offend their conscience he would not engage in it. Is Brother Lemmons willing to desist in his practice of circumventing the church by human institutions for the sake of unity? If he isn't, he doesn't think enough of unity to be writing about it.

Such brethren should either retrace their steps to New Testament ground or go all the way into digression. There is certainly no need of their "forming a new denomination" based upon their own "opinions" when there is already one to accommodate them and grant the liberty they yearn for.

Does our new editor of the Firm Foundation propose to add his backing to the dictatorship of the Gospel Advocate and its editorial "Mussolini" in his "spearheading effort" to "mark" or "quarantine" those who oppose their human inventions and institutions? Is he ready to "split the log" over his "opinions" and human innovations? If so, let him have the manhood to say so instead of just implying it.