Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 16, 1957
NUMBER 3, PAGE 11-12a

"Dangerous Doctrine"

Hershel E. Patton, Shelbyville, Tennessee

In the March 28th issue of the Nashville Banner, Mr. David Lawrence's column bore the title "Dangerous Doctrine." lie began his article in this way: "The end seems to justify the means — and if the Constitution stands in the way, it must be circumvented.

"This is a dangerous doctrine in a democracy and one that the American people will resent to the utmost." Mr. Lawrence then mentions a certain Senator, "Who, though denying any intention to abandon jury trial in America, says frankly that, because Southern juries will not convict in "Civil Rights" cases, some way has to be found to get around them."

While Mr. Lawrence was writing of efforts to circumvent "Trial by jury", in the "civil rights" struggle, what he says in the introduction of his article is, I think, very applicable in the religious realm.

New Testament Christians look upon the New Testament as their "Constitution." We profess a love for it and an abhorrence for any departures therefrom. Yet, there are times when we are confronted with things pleasing, and even good within themselves, which we desire, yet the "Constitution" (New Testament) does not provide for such. Furthermore, the Constitution specifically forbids acting even in the realm of good, without constitutional authority. "I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either GOOD or BAD of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak." (Num. 24:13) "Whoso goeth ONWARD and abideth not in the Doctrine of Christ hath not God" (2 John 9).

Just as some think because some southern juries will not convict in "civil rights" cases, it is right and proper to circumvent the Constitution and establish a system "not by jury trial," so there are those in the religious world who think if the constitutional provisions do not get the desired results a "human system" does, then it is proper to circumvent the Scriptural (Constitution) procedure and get the results some other way. If "the ends justify the means — and if the Constitution stands in the way, it must be circumvented" is "dangerous doctrine," politically, and "resented to the utmost by American people," then would not the same thing, religiously, be "dangerous doctrine" to be "resented to the utmost" by Christian people?

Instrumental music has occupied a rather glorious role in the drama of life. It has proven to be pleasing to the ear, soothing to the nerves, and very profitable in a number of ways. The power it has over emotions, its pleasantness to the ears and poor singing have led to its introduction into Christian worship. The Constitution (New Testament) provides only for vocal music. (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1 Con 14:15) No provision is made for instrumental music in worship by direct command, approved example, or necessary inference. So, in order to have it in worship, men have circumvented the Constitution (New Testament) and brought it in on the ground of an abrogated law or "the end justifies the means — it is pleasant — helps the worship, etc."

The New Testament teaches that the Lord's work is to be financed by regular, purposeful, liberal, and "from the heart" giving. (I Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 2 Cor. 9:7) But, religious people have not followed the Constitution here, hence, financial support has often been meager. To arrive at the desired end, men have circumvented the Constitution and used rummage sales, pie suppers, banquets, begging campaigns among business men, etc.

Dissatisfaction over the apparent lethargy of the church in its work of ministry and evangelism, due to a lack of vision and zeal on the part of some congregations and their elders, has led some to circumvent the Constitution (New Testament), so far as the organization and independence of congregations is concerned, and form Councils, Conventions, Associations, Missionary and Benevolent Societies, etc. for Centralization and the effective doing of church work.

What the Constitution (New Testament) provides along this line and a warning against circumventing it was effectively presented in the Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary of December 15, 1946 — pages 336-341. We copy here a portion or that lesson.

"The word 'autonomy' means `quality or state of being autonomous, right of self-government, a self-governing state.' The 'autonomy' of the church is the right of the church to function as an independent body recognizing only Christ as its head. The Scriptures teach the autonomy of the Church and its right to function independently of any other body on earth. For this reason, churches of Christ recognize no ecclesiastical head on earth, nor do they delegate their rights to any council, synod, 'or conference. There is no higher organization on earth than the local church. The church (with its elders to oversee it, the deacons to serve, and the evangelists to proclaim the word is an independent entity and answerable only to Christ.

" 'For it hath been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem.' (Rom. 15:26.) Paul labored at length in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia. When these brethren heard of the distress that was occasioned in Judea because of a famine in those parts, they determined to send relief. There were many poor saints in Jerusalem at this time. The brethren there had undergone many persecutions and had likely been spoiled of their goods. The Gentile churches had profited by the fact that the Jews had brought the gospel to them, and they determined to repay in part this obligation by sending to their needs in a financial way. Paul explains it thus: 'It hath been their good pleasure; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to minister unto them in carnal things.' (Rom. 15:27.) Concerning this contribution, see 1 Cor. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8:1 and 9:2. For another such contribution for the poor in Jerusalem, see Acts 11:27-30. It should be noted that there was no elaborate organization for the discharge of these charitable functions. The contributions were sent directly to the elders by the churches who raised the offering. This is the New Testament method of functioning. We should be highly suspicious of any scheme that requires the setting up of an organization independent of the church in order to accomplish its work.

"The self-sufficiency of the church in organization, work, worship and every function required of it by the Lord should be emphasized. This lesson is much needed today. Religious secular organizations are always trying to encroach on the functions of the New Testament church, interfere with its obligations, and attempt to discharge some of its functions. The church is the only organization authorized to discharge the responsibilities of the Lord's people. When brethren from organizations independently of the church do the work of the church, however worthy their aims and right their designs, they are engaged in that which is sinful. All ecclesiasticism is wrong. Any movement to force churches of Christ to bow to the behests of any paper. clique, or group in the church is ecclesiasticism. There is a very definite trend in this direction in the brotherhood today. In some of the larger centers groups of preachers meet and formulate an attitude and then demand that the churches support them in such attitude, and if they will not, the churches are stigmatized and accused of holding to false doctrines. Preachers have no right to exercise any such powers over the free churches of Christ. Only the church itself, through its divinely authorized elders, has the right to formulate its policies. And in so doing is answerable only to the Lord. The teachers should impress these principles upon their classes as strongly as possible."

Comments upon the "Generosity of the Philippian Church" in this lesson include the following, "And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need." (Phil. 4:15-16.) Thus, even from the very first of their Christian life, they had nobly and generously given of their means to aid Paul in the preaching of the gospel. After leaving Philippi, Paul went to Thessalonica. (Acts 17) While there the newly founded church in Philippi sent him contributions on at least two occasions. They also aided him later in Corinth. (2 Cor. 11:9.) At a time when no other church felt sufficient interest to assist him, the Philippian brethren were sending once and again to his needs. He speaks of the 'fellowship' with him in the matter of giving and receiving. The word 'fellowship' means partnership, joint participation. Paul felt that the brethren in contributing to his needs, were partners of his in the work he was doing.

"Here, too, we see the simple manner in which the church in Philippi joined with Paul in the work of preaching the gospel. There was no 'missionary society' in evidence, and none was needed; the brethren simply raised the money and sent it directly to Paul. This is the way it should be done today. No organization is needed to accomplish the work the Lord has authorized the church to do. When men become dissatisfied with God's arrangement and set up one of their own, they have already crossed the threshold to apostasy. Let us be satisfied with the Lord's manner of doing things."

Yes, "The end seems to justify the means — and if the Constitution stands in the way, it must be circumvented" is not only a dangerous doctrine in democracy and one to be resented by Americans, but it is also a dangerous doctrine in Christianity and one to be resented by Christians. Isn't it strange that people can see this principle when it has to do with democracy but can not see it with reference to Christianity? Perhaps people do see it, but just do not regard the New Testament as a Constitution that MUST be followed! Is this our trouble? Are we ready to exchange Divine Wisdom for human wisdom?