Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 23, 1964
NUMBER 50, PAGE 8,12b-13a

"Are You Sound?"

Tom M. Roberts

'The whole world is sinful Except thee and me

And I have doubts about thee."

In the last year and a half, numerous churches which would be considered faithful regarding institutionalism have been split. I don't know the circumstances in most cases, yet it is evident even to the most casual observer that many of the churches (faithful on the "issues") that are dividing are doing so over multitudinous questions, many of which have nothing to do with institutionalism. In Texas, for example, there are not a few churches of recent origin whose birth is due, not to the issues, but to various and sundry other matters. Many of these churches which have recently split are the products of older divisions over the issues but now have found that the members could not get along on other matters, and have split again. It is not my intention to explore the causes of these divisions but rather to note that a dangerous attitude prevails among us with regard to "soundness" and what constitutes it. I readily admit that this subject is fraught with many pitfalls of misunderstanding. Many may not see my purpose or some may read wrong conclusions into ambiguous sentences and general questions herein (I'm not an accomplished writer), but few will deny that this subject needs recognition and discussion.

In situations where a congregation has experienced a division, each new group may stand opposed to modernism among the churches yet neither group will recognize the other as a faithful church. Meetings are cancelled, work programs are curtailed, preachers are prohibited from associating with others, etc., and in some cases there is complete confusion as to the real cause of division. Problems arise and brethren, unable or unwilling to find a solution, simply withdraw to a lodge-hall, theatre, old house or garage and start a new congregation. I'm not setting myself to judge the right or wrong of these individual situations but mention them merely to prove my point, i.e., this tendency to split the church is getting to be rather widespread and instead of "being at peace among ourselves," (I Thess. 5:13), we are "biting and devouring."

It is quite a common thing now to hear Christian "A" question Christian "B" relative to Christian "C." "Is he sound?" And this question may refer to any one of dozens of problems. The point is that Christian "A" thinks of his position on each problem as being "sound" and any differing position as being "unsound." Carried to its proper (?) conclusion, Christian "A" withdraws from everyone who differs from him — and you have the situation among us today ....if you don't agree with me on every point, you are not sound and I will take my fellowship and go elsewhere!

Let me name just a few of the many things that I've heard which are (or have been) rending churches in some portions of the country.

1. In California, some contend that all song books must be censored and all song written by women must be removed and never used in public worship because a woman must not be a teacher of men or teach publicly.

2. The "must a woman wear a hat during the assemblies" question knows no local boundaries and continually sets brethren at odds.

3. Some have objected to having prayer before the weekly collection because no N.T. example can be shown where this was ever done.

4. Should the Lord's Supper be permitted on Sunday evening to those who missed it at a morning service?

5. The scope of elder's authority has been discussed to the smallest technicality and each disputant is absolutely sure he is right. Churches are often split over this question.

6. The pros and cons of sending Xmas cards is an annual point of discussion. Some are now urging withdrawal of fellowship over this matter.

7. Should wine or grape juice be used on the Lord's table.

8. Should men in military service take a part in the worship services (a part of the carnal warfare question).

9. Ad infinitum per each locality.

The point here is this: Must I conform to your belief on these and all other questions before I am considered sound? Did Christ not leave any allowance for differing conclusions? (Note: Conclusions are our deductions drawn from evidence. But because our reasoning is human, our conclusions may be faulty, without our intending them to be.) Has Christ not understood this human frailty and provided for it in His will? Will He not forgive if I don't conform exactly to my brethren on every point? Somewhere short of compromise with error there is a place where Christians can differ and still maintain fellowship with Christ and each other. I deny that this is the same doctrine as "unity in diversity," espoused by denominations. I am not teaching a glossing-over of differences, but I know the splintered condition of the church is not what Christ had in mind just prior to His arrest in the garden during His fervent prayer for unity. I believe in putting our beliefs to open discussion and I believe that such discussion is one of the answers to much of our problems. But until such discussions are held and while they are being held, can we not admit to the faint possibility that WE might be wrong and that my brother in Christ has just as much right to his conclusions as I?

And if we do admit this possibility (which most folks do not!), will it not lead me to more tolerance of my brethren and their honest conclusion? If not, then it follows by necessity that we must withdraw from every brother that differs from us on any subject....which is almost the case and I don't believe many will deny it.

Romans 14

Now what does Romans 14 have to do with our situation? Well, along with other passages, quite a bit. Verses 1-3 refer to some brethren who differ, yet God receives both as being right! This is the very point at issue. Some today contend this to be an impossibility. Yet if you read carefully, you will note that a man's "faith" is involved, thus it is not just a matter of opinion. Certainly, it refers to eating meats and we are not troubled with that particular problem today, but the pertinent things are that (1) it was a problem in their day, (2) it was a matter of faith on the part of some, (3) brethren differed on it and, (4) God received both brethren so long as one did not judge or set at nought his brother.

Enlarging Upon The Matter, Paul Was Inspired To Use The Example Of One Man Telling Another Man's Servant What Was Expected Of Him. The Rule Is, Very Simply, That Such A Thing Is Not Allowed. One Man Does Not Tell Another Man's Servant What He Is, Or Is Not, To Do. The Conclusion Drawn In This Chapter By Paul Is That Only The Lord Has The Power To Make His Servant "Stand" (Be Justified) And No One Else. The Same Holds True Among Us. We Can Not Judge (Set At Nought) Our Brethren When It Is Not Our Business To Do So.

"But," someone objects, "the subject under consideration in Roman 14 is the matter of 'scruples' and not matters of faith." This is wrong, in part, because to some these "scruples" have become a matter of faith and God received both of the brethren who differ so long as one does not judge another.

Difference In "Conclusion" And "Thus Saith The Lord"

Is there not a difference in a conclusion drawn from a passage and an inspired teaching set forth by a passage? Is this not where the trouble lies? For instance, we can state with certainty that Mark 16:16 teaches that baptism is for remission of sins and refuse to have company with those who teach otherwise. But there is a difference in a "thus saith the Lord" such as this and the conclusion (however faulty) drawn from the same passage and others that each person must be baptized in running water. Can I not allow a brother to hold this belief, even if I believe it to be a faulty conclusion, and not necessarily withdraw from him? Is it necessary that I "judge" the Lord's servant who believes it to the point of withdrawing from him? However, the tendency is to allow no differing on any subject from that which I hold to be the truth of the matter.

Hasty Conclusions

As I have said, some may understand what I am attempting to say. If you draw a hasty conclusion to this article, you prove yourself guilty of the very tendency under discussion. Simply put, the purpose of this brief article is to show that brethren make no allowance in their thinking for self-error on any point and by their own standard, they arbitrarily judge another's "soundness" and carry it to the point of dividing churches, Again, I recognize there is a difference between compromising with error and "letting each man be assured in his own mind." (v. 5) There should be less of the former and more of the latter. When the distinction between the two is made, and more tolerance is allowed in these matters of scruples, then we will see fewer churches divided because ''I had my doubts about thee...."

— Box 566, Sherman, Texas