This letter has no particular theme. It is my comments on a number of things that cross my mind from day-to-day. It is written reflections of a hodge-podge of subjects. Probably they will give credence to those who have accused me of having a jumbled mind. So be it. Ha!
Foundation Of Faith
Despite the naysayers, there was a foundation of faith that prevailed when this country was founded, and that foundation influenced considerably our society well into the twentieth century. I think a major turning point occurred in the 1960s, and as a result we are currently experiencing major moral turmoil in our country. I attribute much of this to a decline in faith in God and loss of hope. Concomitantly people have lost confidence in big business, education, and government. This in turn is reflected in our crime rate and our relationships. When people don’t have a foundation of faith in God by which to direct their lives, they lose hope and resort to destruction and violence. It is further illustrated in the obscene language and vulgarity that has invaded both our media and everyday conversations. Hopeless people are venting their frustration.
I have no way of measuring how much the divisions, hypocrisy, legalism, and sectarianism have been a factor in our current situation, but I think they have been significant. Jesus indicated we should be united for the sake of the world (John 17:21). In the light of what he said and the present situation we need to treat our shameful divisions and concomitant practices associated with the party spirit with a greater sense of urgency.
Humanism In Disguise
Humanism is a philosophy that emphasizes man’s abilities as over against faith. Man can cope and reason so as to lift himself up by his own bootstraps, so to speak. Then you think about it, legalism is a form of humanism. Legalism is an attempt to earn or gain salvation, either in part or wholly, by following the rules and good work. (Don’t misinterpret me here.) The legalist believes that a person is accepted by God on the basis of his effort. Like humanism, man and his ability are the criteria of success. It is not God reaching down or out to us with graceful arms, but our climbing the ladder to God. Humanism is egocentric and so is legalism, whereas our attitude should be theocentric.
From time to time I have been chided for not being definitive relative to some doctrines, for raising too many questions, and not having answers to a number of questions. I’ve been told to just take what the Bible says; it interprets itself. While there is a facet of this last clause that is true, essentially the brethren who assert this are telling me to accept their interpretation(s). Further, this kind of logic or reasoning makes me more dubious of their premise.
Simply appealing to “what the Bible says” has not been and will never be an end-all to argumentation among brethren. This is simply because none of us read and study the Bible through purely objective eyes and rise perfectly above the number of subjective factors which color our thinking. I agree with what bro. A.L.L. Pinkerton said way back in 1869: “Religious partyism has long been the opprobrium (disgrace) of the Church. The Church will never be united in ‘doctrines’ of any kind. She must be one in Christ Jesus, or divide still more, and remain divided till the Lord shall come.”
There must always be in the believers thought the possibility that his interpretation of the Bible may have not taken into account all data and all factors. A failure to admit or recognize this is spiritual elitism and is the driving force of legalism and sectarianism. Accordingly, such an attitude or spirit that create and sustain divisions based upon dogmatic interpretations of “disputable matters” is contrary to God’s will and detrimental to His people and the world regardless of the credentials of the interpreter(s). Anyway, who is the official interpreter of the Bible for our day and age?
The bottom line is that our assurance of salvation flows from the grace of God, not from our study of the written word, no matter how responsible, sincere, and studious our efforts. We may be right or we may be wrong, but our trust should be in Jesus Christ, not our own abilities. Our unity is in him, not our agreement in interpretations or opinions. Finally, please don’t accuse me of saying that Bible study is not important and that we can’t understand it so as to be a force in and guide to our lives.
Honor Roll List
Sitting on my recliner the other day, relaxing after doing some light reading and contrary to my intention for the time, my mind drifted to something serious. I began to reflect upon the number of preachers associated at one time or another with the one-cup “OPA” brotherhood who had been blackballed, called on the carpet, castigated, “disfellowshipped”, left, threatened, warned, or written up to my knowledge. I reached down and picked up a pen I keep handy and a piece of paper. Within a couple of minutes I had listed thirty-one. I’m sure there are many more, but as I looked at my list I saw for the most part, very ethical, humble, moral, sincere, spiritual, studious believers. Only one had left the faith. Some are/were quite scholarly. From my acquaintance with and knowledge of most of them they are not/were not troublemakers, but shared the results of their studying which at times challenged or questioned our status quo and unwritten creed. As a result some were “driven” out, some left of their own free will, and some shut up for various reasons. If these brethren had been factious they would be deserving of their consequences, but they are/were unity-minded believers. They constitute an honor roll list of believers. It is a shame that we “muzzled” them in one way or another and could not “forbear” them to take full advantage of their example, knowledge and spirituality. What has been done to this honor roll list of believers has revealed the truly factious.
Simple Apostolic Faith
Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration Address” called for the restoration of simple apostolic faith. By the end of the nineteenth century Daniel Sommer’s “Address and Declaration” was indicative of the fact that the American Restoration Movement was going in a different direction, reversing itself, and returning to creeds and assertions of faith and practices of enforced conformity that characterized the Christian landscape that prompted the movement. Brethren were no longer willing to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us” upon a profession of faith in him and a willingness to express that faith in obedience according to one’s understanding. God accepted us upon simple faith in His Son, and that is the basis upon which He continues to accept us. We have added to that precept by requiring that for fellow believers to remain in our fellowship they must confess to belief in our creed relative to “disputable matters” and conform to the deduced concomitant practices or procedures. Rather then simple apostolic faith, the apostle Paul called such a course a “turning away” form the “grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another.”
J. James Albert