Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 8, 1959
NUMBER 22, PAGE 2-3b

Too Close To The Forest

P. J. Casebolt, Wierton, West Virginia

"Maybe I'm standing so close to the forest that I can't see the trees." This thought-provoking statement was voiced by a brother recently, as we were engaged in a discussion. It could apply to any of us, and to almost any subject, if we will not or cannot see the truth. Some of us may be standing so close to some of the issues that affect us and the church, that we can't see where we've been or where we're going. It may be that we are so close to a thing that we are right in the middle of it, and still don't know where we are. Maybe we don't even care. But for those who do care, consider the following things.

The only way that we can see where we are, and see ourselves as God sees us, is to look into God's mirror, "the perfect law of liberty," (Jas. 1:23-25.) It would do brethren good who are standing so close to Jas. 1:27 that they can't see the truth, to back up a few verses and take another look at it, standing on the vantage point of verse 25! If we can't look into the perfect mirror, and see the institutions we have stuffed into verse 27, and the interpretations some have read into it, then let's trust the mirror. We'll look into it again when we are judged, and what will we behold then?

My father passed away this month, being eighty-six years of age. More than fifty of these years he spent as a preacher for what is known as the Regular Baptist Church. For several days I have been reviewing the activities of my father, and the activities of the Regular Baptists, from the turn of the present century. It is easy for me to see the mistakes of this denomination, as I compare their doctrines and activities with the doctrine of Christ.

Yes, most of us have been standing far enough away from denominationalism to be able to see the errors of that system. But at the same time, the seeds of sectarianism have been sown in our midst, and great trees are springing up. The trees are becoming a forest, and some are standing so close to the forest they can't see the trees. These keep chopping down a tree called Instrumental Music, and half-heartedly whittling at a tree called Missionary Society, while cultivating other trees of the same kind and size. And, the same attitude that allows other innovations, must eventually cause the endorsement of mechanical instruments of music in worship. We already have the Missionary Societies, but just haven't used that ugly designation as yet.

Maybe if we can get brethren to recognize error as they see it in the denominations, they will have sense enough to recognize the same error in Christ's church. Let's try it, anyway. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Union Association of Old Regular Baptists reads as follows:

"From a long series of experiences, we, the churches of________ , being legally baptized upon a profession of our faith in Christ, and convinced of the necessity of a combination of churches in order to form a union and communion among us, and preserve, perpetuate, and maintain a correspondence with each other in our union, we therefore, propose to keep the order and rules of an association, in according to the following plan, or form of government:"

Now, we notice that these Baptists did not try to justify this "association" by the Scriptures. Maybe they knew it would be as hard to find scriptural authority for the association as it would be to find the same for the Baptist Church! Anyway, "a long series of experiences" had taught them to follow this course. These "associations" began as harmless (?) preachers' meetings! Then the preachers began to decide things at these meetings that affected the various congregations. Congregations began sending representatives (delegates) for their own protection, and gradually an organization was formed that some Baptist preachers would have liked to have seen dissolved, but it was too big to dissolve. The tail (the Association), had begun to wag the dog (the local churches).

Here is where some brethren are standing so close to the forest they can't see the trees! And some won't see the trees until a big bad wolf comes roaring out of the forest of digression and subdues them. We are creating monsters in the realm of benevolence, education, and in methods of preaching the gospel that will turn again and rend us, unless we keep them dormant by cutting off their life lines . . . .to the church treasuries.

But, the fellow standing in the cool shade of the forest may vainly try to contend that none of these things mentioned have any "control" over the churches, nor will they have. Maybe not officially, but what do they care whether the control is official or not? Let us stand off and take another look at Sectarianism.

Article 17 of the Constitution referred to above reads as follows:

"The Association shall have power to provide for the general union of the churches, and to preserve an inviolable chain of communion among the same; give the churches all necessary advice in matters of church difficulty; inquire into the cause why any church shall fail to represent at any time in the Association; appropriate the money received to any purpose it may think proper; appoint any members, by their consent, to transact any business it may think necessary; withdraw from any church in the union which may violate any of the rules of the Association, or deviate from the orthodox principles of religion; to admit any orderly minister of our order to a seat with us in the association; and adjourn to any future time and place it may seem convenient."

All the above power was delegated to an Association that originally was to have no power. The Baptist congregations loved to think of themselves as being independent, yet allowed themselves to be enslaved. And, the Association kept saying it had no right to decide matters for congregations, but at the same time could put enough pressure on the congregations to force them to comply with its wishes, or else be excluded.

My father has told me of instances (and I have the evidence), of preachers and congregations being excluded ("quarantined" to us), by the Association. The Association therefore was doing unofficially to the Regular Baptist Church what some of the institutions are unofficially doing to preachers and congregations of the church of Christ. The institutions among us claim that they have no control over preachers and churches, but they and their adherents still quarantine, brand, get appointments canceled, and otherwise exert influence and pressure upon congregations that are supposed to be independent. If they do this in the "green tree", what shall be done in the "dry"?

Suppose that you and I could stand fifty years away from the forest and be allowed to view all the schemes, promotions, etc. at one glance. What would you see? With the records my father left, I can scan the activities of the Regular Baptists in the Ohio Valley from a vantage point that allows a revealing view back to the year 1900 and before. I doubt if my father could see the same picture that I see, because he was "standing too close to the forest."

May the God of our creation help us to see our activities in the light of his word, so that when our works are viewed by the next generation, or by Christ in judgment, we may stand approved. The only way we can keep from getting so close to the forest we can't see the trees, is to stay close to the perfect, unerring counsel of God's divine will. Let us do it.