Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 10, 1970

Free Thinkers

Hoyt H. Houchen

Webster defines a free-thinker as "one that forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority; esp: one who doubts or denies religious dogma" (Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 333). Closely associated with free-thinking is rationalism which is defined by Webster as "reliance on reason as the basis for establishment of religious truth" (Ibid., p. 710).

When men ignore or set aside divine authority, they turn to human reasoning. As an illustration of this fact, religious leaders inquired of Jesus, "By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?" Jesus then propounded a question to his querists: "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men? And they reasoned with themselves. . ." (Emphasis mine), Matt. 21:23-25. They turned to human reasoning.

Free-thinking and rationalism were fashionable in the nineteenth century and from that era there broke out a rash of atheists, infidels, agnostics, skeptics, and deists. The writings and speeches of Robert G. Ingersoll, Thomas Paine and others were abundant. Alexander Campbell met the infidel Robert Owen of Scotland on the polemic platform at Cincinnati, Ohio in 1829. Friedrich Nietzche, a German philosopher, proposed the "God is dead" theory and that Christianity represents "slave morality." Students of history are acquainted with the German rationalists of the eighteenth century.

We are not to suppose that free-thinking is confined to the modern centuries. It is as old as the garden of Eden itself, where Eve was the first free-thinker. She set aside God's positive divine law and turned to human reasoning. God decreed: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:16, 17). The serpent approached Eve and appealed to her reason "and when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat. . ." (Gen. 3:6). Cain was a rationalist or free-thinker. The people of God in the times of the prophets forsook God's law and turned to their own reasoning, religious leaders during the ministry of Christ were free-thinkers as we have already pointed out (see also Mk. 2:6, 8 etc.), and many of the Greek "intellectuals" of Paul's day were free-thinkers (see I Cor. 1:2022); it was God's wisdom versus man's reasoning.

God has endowed man with the ability to think, reason, and understand, but man is not to think independently of what God has authorized. Man is to think in terms of God's expressed will, submitting his thoughts to the terms of that will. This truth is explicitly expressed in such passages as Isa. 55:8, 9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" and Jer. 10:23, "0 Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps."

We have some self-appointed free-thinkers in the church. They apparently think that they are "deep" and so they meet together to study the "deep" things and the result is they find themselves all bogged down in a discussion of things that God has not revealed. Usually, it is a case of the blind leading the blind. Some of them become God's psychiatrists as they attempt to probe His mind for the whys and howl in human experience. Others question the providence of God, and a few who misapply their study of psychology become so confused that prayer has become nothing more than a psychological effect upon the individual who prays. They have turned to human reasoning.

From the free-thinkers among us stem "crack pot" ideas and opinions and these they would bind upon the rest of us. They assume the role of "issue-makers," binding where God has not bound. Radicalism results from human reasoning, most of which is voiced by the inexperienced. What one may honestly believe to be a scriptural contention can very well be an opinion that has "hatched" from free-thinking.

A challenge of our thinking should be most welcome, but all should make real sure that our thinking conforms to what God has revealed, not to what is contrary to that will, a human opinion. Matters of faith are decided by what the Bible teaches. Human opinion is formed upon the basis of reason, independent of Bible authority.

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