“Sanctified Pugilism” is a term that was used to refer to the attitude and activities of some of the alleged keepers of the faith in the early days of the American Restoration Movement. Those who engaged in this kind of activity were not those who spent their time contending for “the faith”, as per that exhortation in Titus, but engaging in contentious activities that divided brethren and scandalized the cause of Christ.
They saw themselves not as disciples of Christ, but as authoritative when it came to interpreting the scriptures. Mockingly, they would say that we must have a “thus saith the Lord” for authority for everything we do, and then depreciate humble, sincere brethren who did not assent to their opinions or challenged or questioned their conclusions. They saw themselves as the only truly loyal and orthodox Christians.
They were combative and quick to want to debate. Under a guise that a debate would reveal who manifested the truth they engaged in exhibitions not to discern the truth and accept it if encountered, but to champion their party through a castigation and setting down of an opponent.
They took it upon themselves to “police” the brotherhood. Through word of mouth and party journals they would express horror at the belief or effort or practice of any brethren or congregation to go against or be at odds with any of their views. Motivated by a spirit of pride and self-righteousness they declared it would be reprehensible if they did not correct “error” immediately and through public exposure warn unwary brethren of “brethren-in-error” who needed to repent and fall in line. The flagellated brethren were told by the “sanctified pugilists” that they had the most sincere love for them, but more love for the truth. The bottom line though, was that those who refused to acknowledge the asserted correctness of those sophistical gladiators, or toe the line, were ruled to be unworthy of fellowship.
Unfortunately this is still the modus operandi of some editors, evangelists, leaders, ministers, and writers among us today. Under the pretense of devotion to truth they will scandalize brethren and split churches for the sake of power and victory relative to their opinions or the unwritten party creed. In their intemperate zeal they rationalize the principle that the kingdom of God is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. They downplay brotherly kindness and love and mercy and peace to be contentious, thinking all the while that they are beyond error in their thinking or liable to fall into error.