Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 26, 1958

When Does "Wrong" Become Sinful And Dangerous?

Asa M. Plyler, Jasper, Alabama

This question is prompted by some teaching that has been going the rounds in late months. From the pulpit and the press we have heard the statement: "We are doing nothing more than we have been doing throughout the years past, and which the brotherhood has practiced in general. The only difference is we are doing it on a larger scale. Does a thing become wrong because it is big?"

To back up this argument, and as an effort to try to justify the huge Orphan Homes being operated by various boards of directors, these brethren point to the Fanning Orphan School, established by the widow of Tolbert Fanning in 1884. This was a school for girls — orphan girls. I would not insult the intelligence of my brethren by suggesting that preachers and elders are not able to see the difference between a school of this kind and the homes that are now operated for the brotherhood to support.

To justify the "sponsoring church" arrangements, reference is made to the Hardeman Tabernacle Meetings held in Nashville, Tennessee, back in the twenties, and to the Music Hall meeting in Houston, Texas, in the forties, also to the Blytheville, Arkansas, radio program. All these things, they tell us, are comparable to the Herald of Truth arrangement of the Highland Church in Abilene, Texas.

That there are some similarities in all these things no one would deny. But there are also similarities between a mouse and a mule — even more than there are between the above mentioned programs. But there are certain things that make a mouse a mouse, and certain things that make a mule a mule. And these things are peculiar to each.

Now, that several churches did cooperate in the above mentioned meetings is true. And the local elders (in some instances) did have charge and oversight of the work. They received help and support from other congregations, and did pay the expenses of the meetings held. Other meetings like these have been held occasionally in other cities. How then do they differ from the Herald of Truth program conducted by the Highland Church?

There are some fundamental differences, but before we get to them, let us take a look at some incidental differences. For one thing, the money spent in meetings of the past was used to pay for preaching the gospel and the necessary incidentals involved in this. There was no continuing ecclesiastical machinery set up or involved to absorb thousands of dollars and to be perpetuated on a permanent basis. Whatever organization they had was for the specific purpose of holding the meeting, and ceased when the meeting was over. (Whether this was right or wrong I am not now arguing.) But in the Herald of Truth association there IS an ecclesiastical set-up which is being perpetuated year in and year out. This "machinery" absorbs thousands upon thousands of the dollars which are sent in by various churches for preaching the gospel. From an early report of theirs I glean these facts: It has a Treasury and a Treasurer: three men paid $150.00 per week each; three secretaries paid $45.00 per week each; eight typist and bookkeepers paid $42.50 per week each; an announcer paid $25.00 per week. This is from a statement several years old. If this organization has developed like most human organizations, it is no doubt much bigger by now — with more employees, more secretaries, more offices, and bigger salaries all around. Now, this is only a part of the set-up; and I mention this only because it is obvious enough for all to see.

I suppose that no one would want to affirm that what we have practical because we have practiced it; yet this is precisely what is being done in efforts to defend the practices now in question. If tradition makes a thing right, then every religious group in the world can prove that they are right. They all have their traditions. Any attempt made by any group of men to appeal to former practices as authority is simple proof that no God-given authority exists. To try to justify what we are now doing by an appeal to what the "brotherhood" has done in past years is the height of folly. "For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (II Cor. 10:12.)

Nearly all of us have practiced things in the past which we later have abandoned. Some of us still remember when a gospel preacher used to go out to conduct a meeting for a congregation, and usually found no funds on hand for support of the meeting, at the last service the brethren would get together and make up some personal support for the preacher. And the preacher's support would he dependent largely on that last service of the meeting. Was that right, or wrong? If it was right, then we have abandoned the right. and now practice that which is wrong because it is different. if it was wrong, then we have in the past practiced that which we later came to believe to be wrong. In either event, tradition was not authority. And some of us can still remember when what was known as "the right hand of fellowship" was common practice. Again, when the individual communion cups were introduced nearly fifty years ago, some well meaning brethren fought this with all their strength, and then later came to the conclusion that there was no violation of Bible authority involved. The "right" or "wrong" of a thing can be determined only by what the Bible says, and not by any practices of the past.

This raised the question: "Is a thing wrong because it is Big"? This question would teach by implication and inference that a thing is not wrong because it is big, but would be just as wrong (if it is wrong) when it is small. I now propose to show that there are areas in which the very size of a thing determines what it really is, and whether it is right or wrong, harmless or dangerous. And the Bible teaches this. Consider Paul's instruction to Timothy:

"Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." (I Tim. 5:23.) Here a LITTLE wine is recommended by an inspired man for a specific purpose. Yet another use of wine is condemned in these words: "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." (Prov. 20:1.) See also Ephesians 5:18, and I Timothy 3:3. Now, let me ask, is the use of wine wrong because it is BIG?

Jesus on one occasion with his disciples gathered food in a corn field on the sabbath day, and contrary to sabbath law. He defended this by showing that there was another law which was higher than the sabbath law. David had entered the house of God and did eat the shewbread which it was not lawful for him to eat. (Matt. 12.) But Jesus did not defend the general practice of sabbath-breaking. Again, in Luke 14 Jesus healed a man on the sabbath day. The Jews all considered this a violation of the sabbath. But Jesus showed them that even they would lift an ox or an ass from the pit on a sabbath day. These scriptures suggest that a thing may be potentially wrong, yet under certain conditions and for a limited time may be permitted. It is only when it becomes BIG, and permanent and generally practiced that it must be foregone.

The same is true with reference to some of the pet projects in which our brethren are now engaging. They began at a time, and in a way in which we were not wise enough to see the wrong and the harm that would come from them in the course of their development. A thing may be harmless and of no consequence in its infancy, yet dangerous and deadly in its ultimate maturity. Some of the most deadly poisons known to man are used even in medicine to counteract disease. A few drops of such a medicine will relieve pain, prolong life; but a whole bottle of it would bring instant and certain death.

Again, we are prone to overlook small things, even though we may realize that they are wrong. Rather than appear critical or fault-finding we tolerate them, hoping that in time they will gradually fade out. Some time ago, by an awkward move of my hand, I happened to touch my fountain pen to the cuff of my white shirt. A small dot of ink was left just about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Well, I watched that ink speck each time the shirt was washed; the shirt is about worn out now, but the ink spot is still there. No one has ever noticed it except my wife; and she wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't called her attention to it.

But suppose that ink-spot had been as large as a handkerchief! Then it would have been "good-bye" shirt, for I could not have worn the garment except to work in the fields. Does the size of a thing have anything to do with it whether it is good or bad?

Brother A. and Brother B. are traveling across the country together. They stop for drink and food when needed, and take it time about in paying the bill. On the third day of their journey they stop for a meal, and it happens to be Brother B's time to pay. And that he does. And then suddenly he decides they need a new automobile in which to continue their journey, so he buys the car — and insists that the $2,000.00 bill must be paid by A! It is A's time to pay, since B says he paid for the last meal.

Does the size of a thing have anything to do with whether it is right or wrong ?

Every boy in the country has seen a whirlwind; small indeed it is as it travels along the road side, across the pasture, and through the fields, pulling up a small stream of dust and leaves from the earth and scattering them high in the air. It is small, no more than five or ten feet in diameter; its speed is no more than ten or twelve miles per hour, and certainly it is not dangerous. But suppose you look out across the landscape and you see another "whirlwind" coming. Its diameter is one thousand feet; its speed is ninety miles an hour, and it is taking everything in its path away. Trees, barns, and houses are lifted from the earth as though they were no more than the leaves of the trees. The roar of this monster is like a mighty armada of jet airplanes; and the cries of the wounded and dying are heard beneath its terrible rumble. It is now a matter of life and death; what will you do? Does the SIZE of this whirlwind make any difference?

I know a man who operates a kennel farm. If one of his dogs gets too noisy with his howling, this man steps out and tells him in language that a dog can understand, to get quiet. If this does not stop the howling, the man takes his BB gun and pops the dog with a couple of small BB shot. Well, if the size of a thing does not matter, why should not this man take his .30-30 rifle and shoot the dog with it? Or can a thing be wrong and hurtful and dangerous just because it is big?

Yes, a doctrine or a practice may have within it the potentiality for wrong, digression, and apostasy while in its infancy, and we may never be able to discern this until time develops the thing. And in the growth or development we see the deadly evil. This has been true of every departure from the truth known to the church. The SIZE of a thing can sometimes reveal its sinfulness — a revelation impossible until the SIZE made it manifest.