Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity

May 31, 1956,

Christian Unity -- Faith And Opinion (III.)

David Lipscomb The writer makes the classification — "fads and fancies and preference about suppers and organs and pastors and missionary societies."

The position of the writer clearly is that the "fads, fancies and preferences" based wholly on opinion are to be tolerated in the churches of God, in the worship, the organism and the work of the church. It instances fairs and festivals, the organ, the pastor, the missionary society, and rightly calls them, "fads, fancies, preferences, based wholly on opinion." He says these are all outside of the church and its scriptural provisions, and are based upon the opinions and nothing but the opinions of those introducing them, and are to be admitted on the ground that they are mere matters of opinion, and liberty of opinion must be tolerated. It is the opinion of others that these are wrong. These must be allowed the same liberty to act on their opinion as those who think them right. Those holding antagonistic opinions cannot act harmoniously while each is acting on his own opinion. One person has an opinion that the fair or festival is a legitimate way of raising money for the church. Another has an opinion that it is not, but to raise money in that way and to bring it into the church, is to violate and set aside the law of God, it is to bring that which is unclean in the sight of God into, and to profane his sacred temple. Liberty of opinion as advocated, says we must let the former of these hold his festivals and bring his money into the church of God. But all principles of justice demand the other must be equally entitled to liberty of his opinion, and be equally authorized to act on his opinion, and his opinion requires him to oppose bringing that into the church of God which he believes is offensive to God and which desecrates and profanes the temple of God and corrupts the church of which he is a member. He would sin to stand and see the church corrupted without an earnest effort to save it. Contention and strife unending must result. The organ is introduced under plea of liberty of opinion, no one who fellowships the church using it, and especially no one who engages in the song service of the church, can otherwise than worship with and countenance the organ. A man has an opinion that it is a sin to introduce and use it. Its introduction deprives him of his liberty of opinion, and deprives him of his right of serving the Lord in his appointments. So too, of the pastor as distinct from the elders. It is a matter of opinion with some that it is permissible. Others differ yin opinion. Others are of the opinion that such a pastorship is wrong and hurtful to the true interests of the church, and subversive of the order of God. Both cannot have liberty of opinion, in the sense that they make their opinions the basis of action for themselves or for the church. One will have his opinions tyrannized over by the other. It will be none the less tyranny of opinion that a majority, great or small, imposes its opinion as any other or number of others. And this doctrine that liberty of opinion involves the right to act on those opinions where our actions come in contact with, or affect the actions and opinions of others, is the very thing that will continually gender causes and occasions of discord and division. That this is not what Alexander Campbell meant by liberty of opinion, is evident, to any who will think. He argued that Methodists and Baptists could never unite with Presbyterians, as such. The Methodists hold the opinion that the name Methodist and the policy and order of the Methodist church are more effective in reaching the world than other order, hence are acceptable to God. The Baptists hold the opinion that this is not true, but the usages of the Baptist church and the name Baptist are allowable because they baptize and others in their esteem do not. The Presbyterians likewise think their government through the elders justified the name, and it is pleasing to God.

Now one of these can never surrender his opinion to the others in these matters, hence these parties can never unite on the ground occupied by any one. They are all based on opinion. But he claimed that each should hold his opinions as private property, which means each should cease to teach or act on them, or to advocate or hold them in such a way as to interfere with the opinions or affect the actions of others. But all should hold their opinions as private, enforce them on no one — and should act only on the requirements of faith. The things taught plainly in the Bible are matters of faith. On these all can agree, and acting on them, all can act in union and harmony.

It is a matter of opinion that we may call ourselves Baptists or Methodists. If we act on this opinion, it at once forms a Baptist party, a Methodist party, and a Presbyterian party. It is a matter of faith that the followers of Christ are Christians — all can unite on this, and the churches are churches of Christ or God — all believe this; all can unite on it. But this union in faith can be accomplished only by holding our opinions to ourselves or others, especially in points in which our actions come in contact with or affect the actions of others, or in matters in which many act together, and each insisting only on what is taught plainly in the word of God. These positions and arguments constituted such an essential element of Mr. Campbell's plea that all familiar with his writings must recognize them as constituting the basis of his plea for union of all in matters of faith, excluding all opinions of men. Every man has the same liberty of opinion. And one man cannot act on his opinion in his church relations without forcing his opinions upon others and when he does this, these others suffer from tyranny of opinion.

All Christians can unite on the name Christian, for the followers of Christ; and the church of Christ for his church. God's word sanctions it. It is a matter of faith — not of opinion. All followers of God do approve and agree in free-will offerings, voluntary gifts, from willing hearts of God's children to sustain the cause of God. It is of faith. God's word approves this. But when you ask them to accept means drawn from others through fleshly enticements, given for the sake of fleshly enjoyments, this is not of faith. The Scriptures do not authorize it. All agree the elders as pastors should have the oversight of and teach the congregation. This is a matter of faith — God's word teaches it. The one man hired, to act as pastor, has no authority or precedent in the word of God. It is based on opinion. It breeds discord. Singing and making melody in the heart is of faith — God's word requires it. The organ is not a matter of faith. God's word does not require it. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. To use the organ in the worship of God is to enforce the "fad, or fancy, or preference" of opinion in the worship of God, and is to force this opinion on others who oppose it. Those who differ in opinion as to the propriety, to say nothing of the right, to use the organ, are made to suffer the tyranny of opinion. Their opinions will be over-ridden and subjected to the opinions of others.

If all practices, based on mere opinions, whether it be a "fad, or fancy, or preference," are prohibited from the service of the church, if all hold their opinions as private property-and never intrude them upon the church or others, no one will ever suffer from tyranny of opinion. All can unite in matters of faith, and can submit to the laws of God. Union and harmony would then prevail, and strife and discord cease among brethren. But if one man or woman has the right to act in matters in which many or the whole church are concerned, on his opinion, every other one has the same right. Every one has an opinion and a "fad, or fancy, or preference" based on that opinion. And each one introduces it into the church or into its work or worship. What an overgrowth of human "fads, fancies and inventions" would fill and overrun the church of God and leave no place for the ordinances and service of God. What a variety of weeds and briars and thistles and thorns will cumber the garden of our God — and will choke out the seed of the kingdom, the word of God. The church of God "was builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." Every institution is imbued with the spirit of its author. Every fad and fancy and invention of man is imbued with a spirit peculiarly its own, received from its author. When this is introduced into the church of God, the spirit that is received from its author is brought with it into the church of God. Instead of the church being the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, "the temple of God," "an habitation of God through the Spirit," it is made the hold and home of spirits of every hue and character — a hold of every foul bird and unclean beast. Nothing could more quickly and effectually defile the temple of God than to throw open the doors of the church to the admission of every device and invention and opinion of man to be brought into it. It ceases to be composed of a brotherhood of Christians united in the bonds of love, animated by one spirit, walking by the same rule, with one mouth and one voice glorifying God. It becomes at once a loose, latitudinarian, conglomeration of diverse and diverging parties and sects, holding every shade of error, and every grade of unbelief, engaged in unending strife.

The great end and aim of the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, the planting of congregations of Christians, were to bring the world back into a loyal obedience to the Lord God of heaven and earth. In doing this to unite in one body in Christ Jesus all who believe in him as the Savior of men, that they united together as one body under Christ, the living head, might work together for the redemption of the world from sin, and rebellion against God, and for the restoration of the rule and authority of God over the earth.

As a united army, redeemed by the blood of Christ, battling for the honor of God and the salvation of men, is what he provided for and demands of his children. They can be one, he has warned them, only by following his footsteps, doing his will, without opinions or ways of their own, just as he, without will or preference, came to do the will of him that sent him.

"If we walk in the light as he is in the light,

we have fellowship one with another,

and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin."

In doing what he commands us, adding nothing thereto, taking nothing therefrom, we have fellowship with one another, with all the redeemed of earth, and we are cleansed from all sin by the blood of Christ.