Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 6, 1959
NUMBER 13, PAGE 6-7a

The Attitude Of Liberalism

Luther G. Roberts, Salem, Oregon

In the course of the history of the church problems inevitably arise. The same problems have a way of recurring again and again in the struggle of the church against sin in general and false doctrines and innovations of men in particular. One of the problems in the churches of Christ in the first century was liberalism or compromise in doctrine. This was one of the sins severely rebuked by the head of the church, Jesus Christ, in the letters to the seven churches of Asia.

There is a wave of sentimentalism which has invaded the churches of Christ, which cries out against preaching the truth plainly and in a forceful manner born of a genuine conviction that the gospel of Christ is the truth, the power of God unto salvation, and that all that is contrary to it is false. The attitude of compromise and liberalism is prevalent in the churches today. There are members in almost every congregation who want nothing preached except what they call love. If specific false doctrines are mentioned and exposed, if denominational names are called and sins of immorality are condemned specifically, we are told that the preacher is not motivated by love, If Catholicism is refuted by name, you are too hard on the Catholics. If sectarian errors are exposed, you are too hard on the sects and do not have love for your fellowman. This is the same attitude as expressed in the sentiment, "Preach the gospel and let others alone. You could have said that in a way that nobody's feelings would have been hurt." If you teach what the New Testament teaches on obeying the gospel, what it says on worship, and condemn what it does not authorize, and hold the organization of the church as set forth in the doctrine of Christ, you are too narrow, legalistic, and do not have the love of your fellowman in your heart. Actually, what is meant by those who say your not preaching in love is that your exposing false doctrines and teaching that denominational errors and partisan names cannot avail to the salvation of the soul. This is no new problem, it has always been present to some extent, but at certain periods it is more evident than at other times.

During the first part of the 19th century in the Restoration Movement, there was an uncompromising spirit manifested toward-the precepts and doctrines of men. But in the mid-19th century in this movement there arose the attitude of "preaching the gospel and letting others alone," and a disposition not to emphasize the "first principles" of the gospel, and to say nothing about the errors in religion. The spirit of being against debates and not wanting to have discussions of issues before the church became the spirit of the time. This attitude is clearly set forth in an excerpt from an article from the pen of that able writer and exposer of liberalism, the lamented J. W. McGarvey, which we reproduce here:

"I must add to these suggestions, that the dogmas' of sectarianism will never be supplanted by Scriptural truths, without vigorous and persistent discussion of the issues involved. No truth ever was or ever will be propagated by saying nothing about it, nor will silence ever uproot any error. If the friends of truth say nothing about immersion, the people will sprinkle forever. And if you say nothing against the erroneous teaching and practice of your neighbors, they will conclude that you consider the difference between you and them one of mere preference, and not of principle. All the advantage that the Reformation has gained over the opposing sects has been by discussion; and whenever we begin to ignore the questions at issue, our progress will be checked. There was a series of years within the decade that terminated with 1860, in which it had become quite unusual to preach first principles, and brethren were becoming restless, and looking around for every kind of invention to cure the prevalent evil."

In 1931 there appeared a short article of two paragraphs in the Gospel Advocate from the pen of an excellent teacher and preacher, a man of humble disposition and spirit, brother C. P. Poole. This short treatise was entitled, "LIBERALISM AMONG OUR PREACHERS." Even though this was written some 28 years ago, it reads like it was written to describe conditions today, December 1958. Let us notice some of the statements of this writer:

"Liberalism as so used involves mainly the trend of some of our preaching brethren in regard to their compromising attitude toward religious error. It is proper and right to be as liberal as the Bible; but when one goes beyond what is revealed, this is the kind of liberality that is hurtful to the cause. There is no doubt that some of our preaching brethren are assuming an attitude of compromise, as well as being overtly guilty of failing to declare the whole counsel of the revealed word. To clearly set forth some of these problems, one brother argues that we must preach a conservative gospel — that is, let all our teaching be based on love; and, when one is taught this cardinal point, the commandments will be gladly obeyed." (Sounds downright up-to-date. LGR). "Too, one often hears of the first principles being over emphasized, and other statements of kindred nature. It is true that the gospel is constructive; but it is also vitally destructive to all forms of error, if only taught as it should be taught. We ought to love our fellowman; and if we do not, we do not have the Spirit of Christ. But love infers and demands that we teach the truth. This is the acme of genuine love. This is love most beautifully exemplified by His people.

"As a concrete illustration of the above contention, a certain preacher has practically committed himself to some of the preachers of the community that they will not openly censure each other for what each believes and teaches. This is his conception of love and forbearance." (Gospel Advocate, March 26, 1931).

That this same disposition is still prevalent is evident to the casual observer by reading some of the things that have been written by some of the "preaching brethren." A few years ago, the latter part of 1953, brother Pat Hardeman wrote a series of articles in the Preceptor exposing "The Heresy of the 'Heresy of Legalism.' " In this series the attitude of liberalism and compromise was severely exposed and condemned, and it was pointed out that "Anti-legalism" leads to apostasy.

The latest definite evidence of liberalism and the attitude of compromise that prevails in the church today is the book written by brother J. D. Thomas, Professor of Bible in Abilene Christian College. "He received his Ph.D. in New Testament and Early Christian Literature from the Humanities Division of the University of Chicago in 1957." This production, titled "WE BE BRETHREN," is a concrete demonstration of the attitude of liberalism and compromise that now permeates the church, especially among those who have done their work for higher degrees in the Modernistic and atheistic universities and theological school's of religious denominations. Some of these have already left the church for denominationalism of the modernistic stripe. The influence on the church of such literature as this book put out by brother Thomas is frightening to those who love the simple gospel of Christ and the church for which he shed his blood. Such teaching leads inevitably to apostasy from the primitive church and the ancient order of things found in the New Testament.

What is the cure for such a condition as that which exists in the church of the Lord today? There is a cure for those who will accept it. But the terrible thing about the situation is that once an apostasy sets in there is hardly ever any turning back to the truth. Innovations are introduced and when those responsible for such are called upon for the Scripture to support them, it cannot be found, and the liberalist pursues his ways regardless of whether there is Scripture for them or not. He is joined to his idols. The churches of Christ and the individual Christians (what a pity that some of these men with doctor's degrees do not even know the difference in a church and an individual Christian!) who are going to be saved from this apostasy must be saved by clinging to the teaching of the New Testament without compromise; to a "thus saith the Lord" either in precept or apostolic approved example; by following the instruction of the Holy Spirit given through the apostle Peter, "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God." (Pet. 4:11). But let us look at the remedy as proposed by brethren McGarvey and Poole in the articles already quoted.

Brother McGarvey said: "Some were for going back toward orthodoxy; some for more presbyterial organization of the churches; some for abolishing the eldership and substituting a pastorship; and some pronounced the Reformation a failure. Most fortunately, at this juncture brother Lard's caustic and brilliant review of Peter made its appearance, filled with original and happy thrusts at the idols of orthodoxy which some brethren had begun to worship, and with a most triumphant defense of those `first principles' which others learned to despise. It immediately started a new pulse thrilling through the veins of the brethren. A strong reaction in favor of the primitive doctrine and practice was almost immediately apparent, and the course pursued by several of our periodicals has steadily sustained it to the present time. The result has been a degree of progress, both in the increase of numbers and the spiritual growth of the church, unprecedented in our history."

The remedy suggested by brother Poole is this: "We need men, as never before, who will remain loyal to God and his word, regardless of the consequences ... What we need is men of spiritual stamina — not the reed-shaken-in-the-wind kind or the one with the soft voice who is afraid to speak out bravely in defense of the truth of God."

Of course, the sentiments expressed by these two brethren, one dead and the other still living, are true because they are in harmony with the word of God. The only cure for the attitude of liberalism, compromise and apostasy is the pure, simple, unadulterated gospel, the truth, the teaching of Christ, accepted and loyally held and defended.

Here is a later statement of the thing necessary to remain faithful to the teaching of Christ and the apostles:

"However, the solution to the problem is found only in that unfailing prescription which contains infallibly correct solution for all the spiritual and moral problems confronting the Lord's church in this or any other age, i.e., the continued plain, unequivocal, uncompromising preaching and teaching of divine revelation, exposing error and inculcating truth upon every occasion that presents itself." (A Hugh Clark, Gospel Guardian, Vol. 10, No. 19, page 5).

Paul wrote Timothy: "But evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them." (2 Tim. 3:13,14). "Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables." (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

Of course, some, either from improper motive or ignorance, will say this is legalism. But for a thing to be right in God's sight, it must be legal, that is, lawful — that which is according to the law of faith or the law of Christ.