Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 6, 1951

The Way We Did It

Robert F. Turner, Prescott, Arizona

(Editor's Note: This article is taken from "Son-light" the very excellent regional journal published in Phoenix, Arizona, by brethren Robert Turner, Harry Pickup, Jr., and J. D. Rothwell. Brother Turner sent us the article along with some highly commendatory comments on our review of the Cecil N. Wright articles. We believe this article strikes at a dangerous weakness which seems to be growing among the churches of Christ: the appeal to tradition. We must never be wedded to a practice or an idea simply because Campbell, or Lipscomb, or McGarvey thought such and such about it. Let our appeal be always to the Bible—having respect, of course, for what godly men of the past have said, but never taking them as final authority.)

To a great extent we are all creatures of environment, pattern, and precedent. If we "did it that way" before, and achieved our apparent end, we are more than likely to try it "that way" again. This may be an excellent system for solving material problems where human instrumentality and reasoning alone are involved. But when our problems are of a divine nature, having to do with the worship and service of God, "the way we did it" has not the same authority as "the way God wants it done." To answer present problems by citing "the way we did it," is to assume that our past actions were perfect. We thus "measure ourselves by ourselves" and are not wise. (2 Cor. 10:12)

We are quick to criticize the denominationalist for adherence to doctrines or practices because of human precedent. We insist that divine authority must provide the answers. We plead with him to have such a love for the truth that he will "lay aside prejudices." Yet when some of our own practices are questioned some will say, "This is the way we did it in Oklahoma—or Tennessee—" blithely unaware that we are employing the same kind of argument (?) we condemned the denominationalist for using. Where is our own "love for the truth"?

Many brethren seem to feel that if we were to admit that we could ever be wrong we would destroy our claim of New Testament church identity. This is short-sightedness. Churches of N. T. times were wrong, and some admitted it. (Cf. 2 Cor.) Love for the truth, and a continual appeal to the Word of God as our authority is our surest proof of identity with the N. T. church; while satisfaction with "the way we've been doing it," and lengthy statements of what "the church teaches" may be definite signs of creed-bound minds. The church doesn't teach anything—i.e., is not the source of any doctrine. The church is God's agent, to carry God's truth (the written, confirmed truth of the Bible) to the world.

Suppose Martin Luther had depended upon the precedent of his past generation as his authority? Or, closer to home, suppose Alexander Campbell had been content to "do it like we've been doing it"? The restoration began only when individuals had the courage to sever human creedal ties, and place their trust completely in the Word of God. The restoration movement can continue in this generation only by our keeping that spirit alive. If "the way we did it" in the past cannot stand the light of Bible investigation, then let it fall. It is far better to admit a failure of the past, and correct it now; than to allow foolish pride to drag our present efforts through the same mistake.

Alexander Campbell once wrote: "Often have I said, and often have I written, that truth, truth eternal and divine, is now, and long has been with me the pearl of great price. To her I will, with the blessing of God, sacrifice everything. But on no alter will I offer her a victim. If I have lost sight of her, God who searcheth the hearts knows I have not done it intentionally. With my whole heart I have sought the truth, and I know that I have found it." It is a significant fact that Alexander Campbell, after making this wonderful statement, became enmeshed in a "missionary society" system not found in the N. T.

Some will ask, "Can we never know the truth of a certainty"? Luke (and other inspired men) wrote "that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed." (Luke 1:4) There is stability in God's unchanging word, and truth is available, accessible, to those who will "seek" and "knock" according to God's directions; but truth will surely be lost to those who rely upon human precedent, or fail to reckon with the slowly encroaching, ever present danger of apostasy. Certainly men have known the truth, and do know the truth. However, one generation may know the truth, and conform their practices to truth; only to have the second generation continue the practices without really knowing (appreciating the full significance of) the reasons for those practices. Being satisfied with "the way we've been doing it," they fail to study the New Testament principles involved. By the time the third generation takes over, with plans for modernizing and bringing the church "up to date," they meet only the opposition of a few who explain "the way we did it." That way may have been true and right, but lacking sound Bible reasons, the proponents of that way will find it difficult to halt digression.

Frequently a preacher says, "I want the truth. Show, me where I am wrong, by divine authority, and I will change"! These must not be idle words. Unless we really mean that, and remain ever ready to re-examine our practices and teaching in the light of God's word, we class ourselves, in part, with the Bible-waving mass hypnotist of modern "non-denominationalism" who cries, "Back to the Bible"! —all the while teaching premillennialism, "mourner-bench religion," and other false doctrines.

"The way we did it" and "the way we are doing it" are not sufficient proofs of TRUTH. Jesus said, (John 17:17) that God's word is truth.