Abraham Lincoln once said: “Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the greatest invention of the world. Its utility may be conceived by the reflection that to it we owe everything which distinguishes us from savages. Take it from us, and the Bible, all history, all science, all government, all commerce, and nearly all social intercourse, go with it.”
No doubt about it, writing is a powerful tool of communication even though Lincoln may have been hyperbolic in saying it “is the greatest invention of the world.” I have seen this in nearly thirty years I have published the California Letter. Not only in the positive responses from many readers over the years, but more so from the negative reactions of those who disagree with me and misunderstand my purpose or oppose my line of thinking for one reason or another. More yet from those who don’t really read my communicating, but blackball and denounce me anyway. By such they abuse not me, but God’s gift to us of the ability to communicate.
Not bragging, but I guess I am, I try to read the viewpoints of those with whom I disagree on pertinent issues and subjects. This is how we grow and learn. Such was instrumental in my changing from a Pharisaical legalistic Christian to being grace-oriented. Those who don’t want to grow in grace and knowledge, and are content with the status quo, will manifest an intolerant attitude and a closed mind to anything that challenges or confronts or questions their practices or traditions.
I’m a big fan of the news commentator Bill O’Reilly, despite his coming across as abrasive and impatient at times. I have a relative who is very critical of him based upon snippets he has seen of his program. A while back I bought him on of O’Reilly’s books. Several weeks later when he was demeaning O’Reilly I asked him if he had read the book. He replied, “No.” Nuff said.
Certainly the ability to communicate, whether it be oral or writing can be abused or misused. That is why we need to grow in grace and knowledge so as to be discerning and “partakers of the divine nature.”
This past summer my wife and I and our youngest daughter, her husband, and two grandchildren, visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. There was one section devoted to the propaganda of Adolph Hitler and his followers. As I made my way through that section I found myself comparing the tenets of propaganda to the sectarianism in the Churches of Christ. No, I am not saying that those with sectarian attitudes among us are little Hitlers or are so maliciously motivated or perverted and vicious. For the most part I think those caught up in the sectarian attitude in the Churches of Christ are honest, sincere believers who want to obey God and have no desire to be malicious toward others. Nevertheless, they (especially party leaders) manifest tenets of propaganda to serve their purpose(s). Let me elaborate.
Propaganda is biased information spread to shape public opinion and behavior. Biased information is unreasoned with a personal bent or gain in mind. It is prejudiced and intolerant, and smacks of distortion and error. None of us are completely free from bias.
1.) It uses truth, half truths or lies.
Have we ever experienced or seen this in the Churches of Christ? Rhetorical question.
2.) Omits information selectively.
Have we ever experienced or seen this in the Churches of Christ? Same – rhetorical question.
One problem we have with basing our fellowship and relationships upon our knowledge of the Bible is that no one knows it all as it is to be known. Yet some brethren function and operate like they are the fount of knowledge and the official interpreters of God’s written word. Basically being in the fellowship of God’s dear Son is a matter of spiritual paternity, not knowledge of a curriculum for living. The sectarian is puffed up and “knows nothing yet as he ought to know” and he excludes many who love God and are “known by Him.”
3.) Simplified complex issues or ideas.
How many times have you heard brethren say, “We can have unity if we just follow the Bible and the Bible alone.” Most brethren in every faction of the Churches of Christ are striving to follow the Bible yet we are divided into two dozen or more factions. What these brethren are really saying is follow my interpretation of the Bible which they deny is an interpretation.
This simplifying complex issues also has another aspect when it comes to fellowship. They try to take brethren hostage by holding Romans 14 over their heads. Give up your interpretation or practice for the sake of unity as if that interpretation or practice is causing them to stumble. It isn’t, and besides they don’t consider themselves the weak brethren.
Another dodge is to say they are following the safe course and others admit their practice isn’t wrong. For example, instrumental music. Those who use instruments admit singing accapella isn’t wrong, so give them up. One problem with this kind of thinking is that there is no end to the process. The safe course is to have the Lord’s Supper at night in an upper room. The safe course is to greet one another with a holy kiss instead of a handshake. It can go on and on. There are other problems with this dodge as well.
4.) Plays on emotions.
They try to instill fear or make you sadly nostalgic. Those who differ are pictured as bogey men or false teachers who are going to hell and will take you with them, or they have no respect for the authority of the Bible and the traditions of your fathers and forefathers. They are said to make grandpa turn over in his grave. What he taught isn’t good enough for us.
5.) Advertises a cause.
There’s nothing wrong per se with advertising a cause, such as the cause of Christ. The problem here though is that they create confusion about the cause of Christ. They portray the cause of Christ as their personal interpretations or opinions and expect conformity. Such is not the cause of Christ. Many gospel meetings are misnamed because the topics are doctrinal issues rather than preaching Christ.
6.) Attacks opponents.
A favorite strategy is to attack the person relative to his character or past or faux pas, perhaps resorting to making fun or ridiculing rather than really addressing the issues. We see it done all the time in the political arena. Generally it is known as argument ad hominem. It appeals to a person’s feelings or prejudices rather than his intellect.
This type of behavior is one thing that turned me off to debating in the Churches of Christ in the latter half of the twentieth century. Many proponents were more interested in tearing down their opponent and enhancing self rather than seeking truth. In more recent times I have seen it manifested by some of the Al Maxey’s naysayers. Over the years I have been a victim a few times.
7.) Targets Desired Audiences.
A great deal of energy, money, and time is spent by sectarian leaders to see that their followers remain under their direction and power and faithful to the party creed. They want to keep their members isolated from persons who challenge or question or want to re-examine the party creed and practices. Party papers keep the rightness of the party creed in the forefront. So do Bible studies. They don’t want their followers to hear dissenting views. A few years ago my buddy JT and I informed a congregation up in northern California that we would be attending their first annual Bible Study. It had been advertised in the Old Paths Advocate with an open invitation. Promptly we got letters back stating that we were welcome to come and sit, but we couldn’t speak or ask any questions. When I asked why, false accusations were made against me and when I confronted these brethren as to the falsity of their accusations and unscriptural behavior they never responded. I tell you this not to brag in any way, but to show you how sectarianism operates and is wrong.
This letter is not intended to be a diatribe against any particular individual. It is meant to provoke your thinking and make you aware of the tactics of sectarian propagandists. They seek to enslave us and infringe upon our freedom in Christ. We need to be aware and discerning. Now with that propaganda I’ll close.
J. James Albert
P.S. I encourage you to contact brother Don Bounds for a copy of his very insightful treatise on division in our ranks. It is riveting. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org