Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 7, 1950

"Wrangling" In The Papers

J. N. Armstrong (Gospel Advocate, 1934)

There is great need to stress the importance of maintaining freedom of speech in the kingdom of God. Intolerance is dangerous to the future growth of the church. Most of us have an aversion to anything except what we ourselves believe and teach, and as a consequence, we are intolerant of the teaching of anything that antagonizes "our doctrine." All progress of truth—scientific truth, political truth, or religious truth—all truth—has always depended on free speech and progressive teachers, men and women who were not afraid to teach their honest convictions, even though it cost life. In other words, fearless teachers of any cause are the essential factors of the growth of that cause, while intolerance is always a chief factor or hindrance to that growth.

Discussions, Debates

But free speech, fearless teaching, always precipitates discussion, debates; for the fearless teacher is always a progressive teacher. It takes no courage to teach the things one's audience already believes. If one has confidence in the audience's acceptance of his lesson, what need has he for special courage? Anybody has courage enough to teach the commonly accepted truths. It is the many who dares to go beyond the accepted teaching that must gather up special courage, yet he is the teacher who pulls the crowd upward and onward to more glorious victory for the cause he supports.

It must not be forgotten that every great truth that we love and are loyal to has been fought through some time, and that the teachers that dared to teach it became through their courage our greatest benefactors. Had they not been fearless in the fight and fought it through at any cost, we would not have it now. The blood of martyrs paid for truths that everybody accepts now. But are there no more truths to be fought through? Are there no more martyrs needed?

Free Speech And The Issues

I am well aware of the fact that free speech has its dangers, and that progressive and fearless teachers have given the world untold trouble. But are we ready to surrender free speech and to deny ourselves of the teachers that are not afraid? Even our deliverance from these objectionable possibilities comes, must come, through free speech and courageous teachers. There is nothing so dangerous to the truths we now love as the doing away with free speech and the disposing of the progressive teachers who are not afraid to teach any conviction they have. If our great-grandchildren enjoy the truth we hold dear, it will be due to free speech and courageous teachers.

But with the blessing of free speech we must accept the inevitable—namely, free, openhanded, and full discussion of every great truth that lives. Our deliverance from our own errors, as well as from the errors of our neighbors and our enemies, will come only through free and unhampered debate. We are hopeless without it. How could the teaching of "one side" of a great question be called "freedom of speech?" Verily the man who holds the opposite must be heard with equal fairness, or it is not free speech. Every paper or journal today that discusses only its side of great issues opposes free speech, and becomes, insofar as its influence goes, a protector of every error and false doctrine it or its writers hold. Every journal, to be safe from its own errors and false teaching, must be an open forum.

I have for years been a strong advocate of every home being a subscriber to several of "our" papers to prevent one-sidedness, to prevent the building up of parties and factions. I know of no other way for one to get a full discussion of important issues now before the church of our Lord.

"Wrangling" In The Papers

If we had a paper that discussed "all sides" freely, would the church read it? "We as a people" are opposed to free and full discussion of matters. True, we know well that every truth we hold of any special importance came to us through heated and prolonged debate, discussion. That truth lives today, and we know it, because of a hard fought battle. But we are opposed to discussions in the papers, in the meetings of God's house, anywhere. Hundreds today take no paper because of the "wrangling" in the papers. I do not believe it is possible to have a full discussion of any great question about which brethren differ without the papers that allow it losing subscribers, and without the discussion being defamed as "wrangling," howsoever careful those conducting the discussion may be to keep free from "personalities" and other objectionable matters.

It is to be deplored, deeply regretted, that in the past some very ugly things have occurred in discussions. But shall we characterize every effort at free discussion a "wrangle" just because of some unfortunate things happening in debates and discussions? Since we are mortals, I think we expect too much of those that engage in the discussions. A part of the cost of free speech is some "wrangling." It is not possible, I think, to be free in discussions and keep ourselves absolutely free from objectionable things. There is so much good and safety in discussions, even-handed discussions, that I believe in their worth, though we may have some wrangling along with it. With the present attitude of the brethren in general to debates and discussions, I believe it would be impossible for us in this age to fight and win any great victory for a future posterity. Take the victory won respecting the truth that baptism is for the remission of sins. The brethren of nowadays would never endorse the battle that won that victory. With our present course, we shall lose even this victory to future posterity, and the battle will have to be fought again.

Like the young married people that disagree in religion and enter a contract never to mention religion, never to discuss their differences in religion, so churches have an unwritten agreement not to disturb the good working order of the congregations by discussions. They demand that the preacher, or speakers, of any meeting "teach the truth and let our differences alone." "We are united here," they say, "are getting along well, and we don't want any trouble." I repeat: we are opposed to healthful discussions.

The Greatest Need Of All

The first thing I should suggest to be done is to educate the brethren on the subject. I believe every congregation should install a positive educational campaign on this line, having for its purpose the taming of the brethren to discussions—wise, healthful discussions of every question regarded by any faithful brethren as important. Let them get used to discussion and quit having "fits" over the appearance of one. Let a congregation take up an important subject and thoroughly discuss it. Let every one who is interested in the subject, and wants to, make a speech. Especially let him speak who differs from the general position held on the subject discussed. He may hold the truth and all the others be wrong. When the subject has been thoroughly discussed, quit it and take up another. Next year review the same ground. In this way a healthy, robust, well-taught church would be the reward.

Let the teachers in these discussions be wise; as far as possible, let them divest themselves of all cocksureness, egotism, and desire for victory; and, instead, let them be filled with humility and a feeling that so long as faithful brethren disagree as to what the Bible teaches on the subject, somebody is wrong and that somebody may be they; stress that they must keep themselves free from personalities; let each count his brother better than himself, and let all esteem one another highly as brethren in Christ, and let the spirit of brotherly love be magnified in and throughout all such discussions; let the breaking of fellowship not be once thought of or mentioned among them. The elimination of error from the holdings of every church depends upon some such course. The truth that a church needs, but has not got, depends much upon such a course. In other words, true advancement, depends upon free, unhampered, evenhanded discussion of truth.

This "open forum" of the church could be a night in the week, at which discussion of any and every subject interesting Christians would be in order. Such a meeting has been our Monday-night meetings in our school work through these many years. We are all afraid of trouble, and we have a right to be. We are told that we should teach only things "essential to salvation," as if there were some things in God's book "non-essential." Imagine a committee going around to David Lipscomb or J. A. Harding and asking about the wisdom of discussing anything that any faithful student in the school wanted to hear!

In those days we "thrashed" a subject as thoroughly as we could by the use of students and teachers, and then often brother Harding, brother Lipscomb, brother Sewell, brother G. G. Taylor, brother Brents, and other special speakers were "drafted" to continue the discussion. Indeed, we were in no way afraid of discussions. A better-taught body of students I have never seen than those students. I never knew any party spirit to grow from this open-handed discussion of all questions.