Critics of Criticism
by Kenneth E. Thomas
Let me call your attention to some hard realities: These are things that we all wish were not so, but unfortunately always have been and always will be. Many gospel preachers are leading a wholesale apostasy from the faith once delivered. Many local churches of Christ have lost their spiritual moorings and are now floundering on the sandbar of human wisdom and outright false doctrines on a variety of subjects. Elders of local churches who should be "keeping watch for the wolves" and "watching for the souls of the membership" (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28-32; 1 Peter 5:1-4), are sometimes also, along with "their preacher," in the lead towards apostasy.
They use men in meetings and lectureships that they know are not sound in the faith on some doctrinal matters. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I saw what we are now experiencing coming a long time ago and for years have been warning brethren using these very words, "Brethren, we are in the midst of a wholesale apostasy from the faith." Paul wrote almost two thousand years ago to the young preacher, Timothy, that he should:
"...preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they shall not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their cars from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (II Timothy 4:3, 4; See also 1 Timothy 4:16).
To the Ephesian elders Paul said: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. And also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29, 30). "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1).
To contend that there are false teachers that have arisen among us is an understatement. We hear the false doctrines of grace only, instrumental music, premillennialism, denial of the identity of the church and kingdom, Christians in all denominations, perversions of the teaching of baptism, theistic evolution, women taking leading roles, a "new hermeneutics," there is no pattern to follow, no three dispensations and no such thing as two covenants, denying that 2 John 9-11 should be applied to anything other than those who deny the deity of Christ, and even failing to deal with those in the church who, by their doctrinal stance on the nature of Jesus while on earth and even now in heaven, do in fact deny His deity! When some of us point this out, they accuse us of denying His humanity!
But why should those who teach such things still remain among us? They are not of us. They usually go out from us, but nowadays they seek to stay with us and do their dirty work, often behind the scenes. God has provided the way to send them out by discipline. Discipline involves teaching of course then finally withdrawal if they refuse to renounce their errors. Since they think we are the ones needing teaching, there is little chance that they will be turned around. So, why allow them to influence others? Why use them? Why make it appear that they do no harm? It is a lack of love for Truth that they are permitted to remain among us. False teachers are not guiltless, but neither are those who fellowship them. Many act as if Scripture was never written that forbids fellowship with them (Ephesians 5:11), and 2 John 9-11 forbids bidding them Godspeed. Romans 16:17-18 calls for marking them and avoiding them. Galatians 1:6-9 says there is an anathema against all such as pervert the gospel that the apostles taught and that they had received.
For these false teachers to make headway they must silence the voices of' those who contend for the faith and, therefore, criticize their error. They use many methods to do this, we shall speak of some of these things in this study. The easiest and surest way to silence us would be to show from the Scripture that what they are teaching is true, and the criticisms we make are false. But they will not do that. They cannot, but run in fear, from having what they teach and practice examined in light of what the Bible teaches. It is not overly critical, nor an overstatement to say, that truth no longer means anything to many of them. They are usually obsessed with the world's "scholarship," denominations, subjective feelings, and their own self-appointed superiority. Many nowadays are trusting in the so called "church fathers" statements about various issues more than in the revealed will of Christ found in the New Testament (John 16:12-13; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 14:37). If some view taken by the so called "church fathers" doesn't square with what is written in the new testament, regardless of how near the time of Christ these men may have lived, that is only uninspired men's interpretation. We must still do as did the "noble Bereans" of Acts 17:11, "search the scriptures daily whether these things are so."
But they are gaining ground through such means as the pulpit, papers, the classrooms of some Bible colleges and due to the fact that many are now saying we should not divide over such things as -M.D.R., etc. Ketcherside, if he were still alive, would see that his teachings which made a distinction between "gospel" and "doctrine" have been accepted by many of these so called "unity in diversity" brethren. Some of these men are good friends of this scribe.
Too often the person in the pew could care less about such things as that about which I now write! This is sad to me, it means that many "brethren in the pew" because of their lack of interest will sit idly by while these fellows broaden the borders of fellowship to accept about any perversion one can imagine! I should ask, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by"?
THEY "CRY" FOR LOVE
They make their appeal through what they call "love," calling for "unity" as if they were the first angels of light to consider the words. We have no objections, but support love and unity. But not the perverted "love and unity" for which they clamor. What do they love? Where is their love for the truth? Their love is for error and self.
Unity? What do they call unity? And at what price? Shall we compromise truth and agree to disagree and call that the unity for which Christ prayed? They do not seek unity, but they want fellowship in spite of division. They call it "unity in diversity." Unity must be founded on Truth and agreement with Truth (Amos 3:3:1 Corinthians 1:10). They lie when they say they do not want to change doctrine, but only attitudes. Their arrogant attitudes remain the same. It is the doctrine they are changing to accommodate the sinful world, perverting the Gospel of Christ, making fair speeches, subverting whole houses, practicing deception and dishonesty, and
being abusive beyond imagination of those who do not bow to their ways. They march to the drumbeat of human wisdom, denominational error, their emotions and feelings, with a "do your own thing" religion of their own making.
This is a persistent weapon in their arsenal. They affirm a superior intellect. They deny Biblical teaching and adopt human philosophies and theories. No faithful brother of the past is considered a real "scholar." They parade their arbitrarily determined degrees as if that made them somewhat. We wonder where was wisdom and knowledge before their day? Some are forever telling us how long they have been preaching as if that made an unscriptural position scriptural. Brethren, it doesn't! A thing is only scriptural if it may be found taught in the word of Christ (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 3:17; 2 John 9-10).
Some People could strut sitting down. While they profess a greater "spirituality" than the lowly faithful Christian, they claim discerning between right and wrong is to judge. They say we are not in the line drawing business. But shall we not respect the lines God has drawn? When we do, we are not sinfully judging but judging righteous judgment (John 7:24). How loudly they criticize criticism if the criticism is directed toward their false doctrines. By contrast, how sweet these false brethren are to those in error! Why do you suppose the difference if they aren't desirous of changing their doctrinal stance on the plan of salvation, the church, and what constitutes acceptable worship?
THEY SAY COME PERSONALLY AND PRIVATELY FIRST
They would silence their opposition by contending their opponents must-first come to them personally before any criticism can be made. It matters not to them that they are propagating their heresy openly, loudly, publicly, but if you object, you must go into their corner to speak with them privately before refuting the error. That is false doctrine. They pervert and misuse Matthew 18:15-17 for such a stand. That passage deals with personal matters. When one teaches false doctrine publicly, that is not a personal matter. That is a matter of Truth versus error, and that is the business of brethren everywhere.
I have dealt with some liberals personally and privately, and they often lie. They will say one thing privately and then publicly continue their false doctrines or deny what they said in private. Someone once told me when we were dealing with some liberal brethren in a building program when they were less than honest, "you should have known if they would mishandle Christ's word, that they would not be honest in their dealings with you." They do not practice their own doctrine. They will openly castigate their opponents without ever contacting them first about it. They, being liberals, permit themselves a double standard. They make their tirades against the church and faithful brethren openly and publicly. Indeed, "the legs of the lame are unequal." They are a double minded people, and dishonest to the core in many cases.
Do you criticize Catholic doctrine? Have you first gone to the Pope? Do you oppose Mormon doctrines? When are you going to Salt Lake City? What trash many of these fellows speak!
FALSE TEACHERS AND SOFT BRETHREN WHO SYMPATHIZE WITH FALSE TEACHERS BLAME THE DIVISION ON THE FAITHFUL BRETHREN
Division exists, and is growing. But the cause of the division is error and those who teach it. We were united and prospering until liberals became dissatisfied with truth and began their vicious devouring against faithful brethren who contend for the faith once delivered (Jude 3). But, like Ahab did Elijah, they blame God's people for the strife. They whine, "You are going to drive people away." This is like the complaint made against Jesus in John 6. But He did not change His doctrine to suit the whiners.
False doctrine is what causes division, not standing for the truth revealed in Scripture. They do not recognize who the real troublers of spiritual Israel are (1 Kings 18:17; Galatians 6:16). The same charges were made against brethren back in the 1840's when they opposed the instrument of music in our worship assembles as well as the U.C.M.S. The one's who stood against such were said to be the ones who "split the log." It wasn't so then, and it isn't so today! The good thing is, those of us who respect divine authority are indeed united worldwide.
THEY ERECT STRAW MEN
By "straw men" we mean fake and pretended issues and positions that never really existed, and then they engage in the "courageous" destruction of those "straw men." For instance, liberals will accuse the church of driving people to incest, as was done on a lectureship program by Gayle Napier, I read about not too long ago. Rubel Shelly, who also works among the institutional and social gospel brethren, accuses the church of teaching people they can and do work their way to heaven. Some brethren are accused of making women second class citizens because we teach God's word on the role of women in the church. They love to parade what they consider to be the shortcomings and failings of some brethren and with a wide brush paint everybody that same color. But the truth is, they lie, and do so knowingly. Their conscience is seared; they have no respect for right and wrong unless it advances their agenda. What they really want is to displace God's will for their own.
Because some elders fail and some are even bad elders, they propose to invalidate the governmental organization of the church. Because some preachers are immoral, they conclude all are that way. Because everybody does not do everything they ought to do, they conclude everybody is a hypocrite. Because some have tired of the Lord's pattern for worship, they inject a religious "Hee Haw" instead. What they cannot understand is that human failures and weaknesses do not justify changing God's law.
RIDICULING AND NAME CALLING
With their claims of super love, you would think they would never do such a thing; but nobody is as mean and vicious as a liberal in ridiculing faithful brethren and calling them derogatory names. Unless you saddle up with them you are unloving, unscholarly, a Bible thumper, a five stepper, a legalist, traditionalist knucklehead, addict, dull, racist, and a religious fanatic. I remind you, all of this from the pens and pulpits of these "loving liberals." I have been criticized for criticizing many times. These brethren who don't want me to call names have called my name in the context of criticizing me many times! Where's the consistency in that?
They attempt to discredit faithful preachers of the past, especially the pioneer preachers, unless they can use them to their advantage. They cannot distinguish between human tradition and apostolic tradition. Contending that we are under NO LAW, but all grace, everybody that does not accept this is a bigoted legalist. Faithful brethren are used to being called Campbellites by the ignorant of the denominational world, and water dogs, and being the butt of jokes that disparage and impugn good motives. But these "loving liberals," not able to meet the issues nor prove their positions have resorted to this low level of slander, misrepresentation and lies. Whoever suggested that "lying is a necessary quality to be a good liberal" had it just right. Nobody is more evil than a liberal who undermines the church. Liberals are sweet as pie to the denominations and to other liberals, but they are terribly mean and abusive of those of us who "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered" (Jude 3).
NOTHING BINDING EXCEPT...
Some liberals teach that nothing is binding except what is explicitly stated. We ask, "and just where is that law explicitly stated?" They consider their law binding. They deny establishing authority by command and direct statement, approved apostolic examples and necessary inference and implication. The truth is, they have no way to ascertain authority because their philosophy is, "I'm OK, you're 0.K.; everything is beautiful in its own way;" and "just do your own thing in religion."
REJECT THE NECESSITY FOR AUTHORITY
Colossians 3:17 is discarded by them. For instance, trying to inject instruments of music into worship, they have claimed there is no authority for congregational singing, but admit there does not need to be. We are "free" under Christ, evidently to do whatever we like and want. They whine, "it doesn't say not to"; like that gives authority for something they want. Well, let's have pork and beans on the Lord's table. We can on that basis. How about cornbread and sweet milk? If approved apostolic examples aren't binding we have no idea when to partake of the Lord's supper. Without necessary inference, we have no idea as to its frequency!
Doubt is the prelude to denial, and liberals know that. So they plant doubt regarding what the Bible teaches as much as they can. To hear them talk, there is nothing we can know for sure, except that we cannot know anything for sure. They are absolutely sure about that ! This allows for the possibility that anything might be all right, and that is what they want to establish.
NO LAW; ALL GRACE
Grace and law, however, are not mutually exclusive. Grace does not deny law, nor vice versa. Grace is not permissiveness, as if there is no right and wrong Law is a rule established by duly ordained authority. God has His law even now. Who made the law that we are not under law? The liberals made it, even as they denounce all law. We are not under the law of Moses, but we are subject to the law of Christ. Law infringes on their freedom to do as they want. They distort obedience. Some are even denying that there are "three dispensations" and don't like for others of us to speak of two laws, the old and the new. They make distinctions between covenant and testament that are unwarranted trying to promote their twisted views on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. They need the Old Testament liberties on marriage to suit their new views of today. When we suggest that some must live celibate lifestyles or become eunuchs for the kingdom's sake and for their own soul's sake, we are accused of teaching Catholicism. Read (Matthew 5:31-32).
Without a pattern, anything goes. That is their agenda. The Bible, to them is just "God's love letter" to His people rather than a light unto our feet and a guide to our path. Everybody is free to "interpret" the Bible any way they wish and everybody is right whatever they conclude. They do not even know what it means to interpret. It means to get the meaning God gave His
word, and it means something. When we get that meaning, we interpret. Until we get the meaning, we misinterpret. Peter said that those who "twist the Scriptures, do so to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16)!"
This fallacy is the backbone or what they call the "New hermeneutics." Facts, logic, and truth are not important to liberals because they say we cannot understand the Bible alike anyway. Anybody would be insulted if others took their words and made them mean whatever the hearer wanted them to mean without regard for what the speaker said and meant. They say "don't put words in my mouth, and don't attribute a conclusion to my teachings that I disavow." But liberals take that liberty with God's word, and castigate as wicked judges anybody that would deny them the right to do that.
Some deny there is any pattern for worship, church government, plan of salvation the work (functions) of local churches of Christ, anything. Nobody can say what we ought and ought not to do. This reminds us of the days of the Judges when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes," but God was displeased. How they ridicule the "old paths." They are quick to accuse those of us who demand a "thus saith the Lord" of being wed to so called, "church of Christ traditions." I know some brethren are guilty of this from time to time, but liberals paint everyone with the same brush.
Jeremiah described liberals, "For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13).
Not only are the militant and arrogant liberals enemies of the cross, but so are the band of sympathizers of liberal digression who are constantly critical of those who contend for the revealed faith, but seldom, if ever, raise their voices against the error being promoted by false teachers. In fact we now have a new definition of what constitutes one a "false teacher." We are told he can not be called such simply on the basis of what he teaches that is rank error, unless he has a bad attitude! Sympathizers will fellowship them, but those who love the Lord and his truth will "mark them" (Romans 16:17-18).
They seem not to be grieved that liberals are tearing apart the family of God with their heresy. But when you defend the church and the truth it is ordained to uphold, these cowardly sympathizers claim we are "airing our dirty linen" to the world. No, the dirty linen is the trash of the liberals, and we are trying to clean it up before it contaminates any more than it already has. Read your old and new testaments and see how prophets of old, inspired apostles and evangelist dealt with error and those who espoused it. The new testament is filled with the problems that abounded, it is also filled with information as to how faithful brethren fought it to a standstill and warned others concerning the men and the errors which they espoused.
Some are heard to say of liberals, "I don't agree with them but...." Can anybody really believe that? They just as soon agree. They possibly have deceived themselves into thinking their cowardice is justified, but when error is running rampant and you cannot bring yourself to stand against it, you are no good for the cause of Christ. Probably, they have hardened their hearts, compromised their convictions, seared their consciences, sought their fame and fortune, until they are willing to let the will of God be trampled. As one has written, "The greatest mistake any Christian can make is to assume that teachers of error are sincere." I would add that sometimes teachers of error are sincerely mistaken. However, when they are faced with the truth, if they refuse to change and embrace the truth that shows they are indeed dishonest. You can no longer be "honestly mistaken" when you have been exposed to the truth of Christ!
A NEW DENOMINATION
Liberals are creating a new denomination from the ruins of churches of Christ they have led into apostasy. Call it the "Worldly Church," the "Pilgrim Church," the "Family Church," the "Community Church," the "Jubilee Church," the "Marriage Divorce & Remarriage At Will Church," the "No New Law Church," the "Unity In Diversity Church," the "Romans 14 Church," the "Church of Heresy," or still maintain that "the church of Christ meets here," it all comes out the same way. They do not deserve to be identified as churches of Christ. They hold to that name so they can deceive people and take the property away from faithful brethren. I don't know of course when Christ removes their "lampstand" or "candelstick" as churches belonging to Him, but we are assured He will if they do not repent and return to the truth after opportunity is given (Revelation 2:5).
What we are witnessing is like the days when the Christian Church was created from the division caused by liberals. They are guilty of piercing the body of Christ with their swords of error. They crucify Him afresh by their antics and doctrines (Hebrews 6:6). They are not guiltless before God or man, nor are those who condone, endorse, fellowship, and run along with them bidding them Godspeed, or act as if it does not matter.
WE SHALL NOT BE SILENCED!
But faithful brethren, whether few or many, will not be silenced by their wicked wiles and manipulations, sinister plots and lying manners. We shall persist in teaching what the word teaches, opposing whatever is contrary to it, admonishing all men everywhere to do the way and will of God through Christ. How could anybody seriously claim to be a follower of Christ and do otherwise?
I got quite a lot of information and several ideas included in this article from a lecture by James W. Boyd who circulates among what many of us would call "liberal" brethren. I could have used much from a tape I recently received of a sermon by Leroy Brownlow lamenting many departures from the ancient faith, but I contained myself somewhat. The "institutional brethren" are having a time with ultra liberals among them. They have "sowed to the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind." But, "non-institutionalists" are having many of the same problems as well.
There are those who desire peace at the expense of truth and now we are hearing such things as used to be often stated by Carl Ketcherside. The things will ultimately lead to wholesale apostasy among the conservatives, just as it is among the liberals, unless more of us stand up to be counted for Christ and for His divine revealed will. Many are their sympathizers upholding their hands as they make havoc of hundreds of local churches of Christ at home and abroad and lead many astray from the truth that frees.
Will you stand up and be counted or will you criticize those of us who criticize the error that abounds nowadays?
Kenneth E. Thomas