Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 20, 1955
NUMBER 24, PAGE 2-3b

The Secret Disciples

Hoyt H. Houchen, San Antonio, Texas

When Jesus was upon earth, he had some secret disciples. Not all of those who were in sympathy with his work were willing to openly announce it. While they knew that Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God, they were not desirous to take an open stand and publicly acknowledge it. This they would not do because they were afraid. They were more concerned about what men thought of them than they were in pleasing God.

Nicodemus was a secret disciple of Christ. (Jno. 3:1, 2). This Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night in private and acknowledged him as a teacher from God. Nicodemus knew the truth. He could not deny the miracles that Jesus had performed and he wanted to tell Jesus in private what was his true sentiment. That he was favorable to Jesus is seen by some later inferences. When the Pharisees rebuked the officers for not bringing Jesus to them, Nicodemus asked in Jno. 7:51, "Doth our law judge a man, except it first hear from himself and know what he doeth?" After Jesus was crucified, Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes. (Jno. 19:39). Although we may assume that Nicodemus sympathized with Jesus, if he ever took a public stand by forthrightly speaking his convictions the divine record does not reveal it.

But there were other rulers among the Jews who were secret disciples. When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he said, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God." He was not alone in knowing this truth — some of his fellow-rulers also knew it. It is recorded in Jno. 12:42, 43: "Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God."

Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of the Lord. He, like others, was afraid. Following the Saviour's crucifixion, John wrote: "And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus." (Jno. 19:38).

As there were secret disciples of Jesus while he was here on earth, there are secret disciples today. There are preachers among us who know the truth in regard to the issues which are facing the church. They know that it is wrong in principle for congregations to do their preaching and benevolent work through centralized brotherhood agencies. Some of these men have told us privately that they are with us on these issues but as yet they have failed to publicly announce their position. Last fall the author of this article went over to Missouri to preach in a meeting. The preacher at that particular church expressed himself as standing opposed to centralized brotherhood arrangements. He also stated his desire that the issue be preached upon during the meeting. However, if there has ever been any public statement from him either by his pen or mouth, it is unknown. This brother sells song books. Some of our brethren know the truth on the various issues facing the church but they want somebody else to do the preaching on it. What will such men say when they face the Lord in the day of judgment?

Not long ago, a well known preacher among us had been understood to say that he stood with us in the battle. When he learned that he had been quoted as saying it, he was quite disturbed and he hastened to inform us that he was being misquoted. This writer asked him to state his position in writing and sign his name to it so that he would not be misquoted. This he refused to do. This scribe then asked him if it would be all right to quote him as not taking a position at all. To this he agreed so we are now quoting him as not taking a position and we are confident that he is not being misquoted. This brother is quite actively engaged in meeting work.

The right side has not always been the popular side with men, but regardless of that the conscientious Christian wants to be sure that he is on the Lord's side. Frequently we are commended by members of the church for our courage to preach the truth, and yet it should be considered to take far more courage not to preach it than it does to preach it. It is the Lord to whom we must give an account in the day of judgment, not men. Every gospel preacher, therefore, should be afraid not to preach the truth.

There are fundamental principles to be learned when one becomes a Christian. When he learns these, he is not to hesitate to put into practice what he has learned. It is a matter of obeying what he knows to be right. The same is true when it comes to the issues of centralized evangelism and benevolence that are confronting the church. There are some primary principles to be learned and when these are known, it should not be any problem to see why some practices among us are wrong. We need to know (1) that the elders of a congregation have the oversight of that congregation and its phases of work and in no other (1 Pet. 5:2), (2) that each congregation is autonomous in its government, (3) that there is no organization larger than the local church, (4) the local church is God's complete and all-sufficient organization to do the work that he requires, and (5) the church universal can act only as each individual congregation does its own God-given work. When these principles are learned, it will not take a magnifying glass to see that such arrangements as the Herald of Truth and church treasury supported benevolent institutions are violations of these principles.

Some of our brethren tell us that they are studying on the issues and therefore they do not as yet wish to take a stand. Of course, if the above basic principles are not known, then every gospel preacher along with every other Christian ought to learn them. But when men will acknowledge the above principles to be true, then what do they have to study to find out that it is unscriptural for the church universal to operate through a centralized agency whether it be an eldership or a board? By the way some of our brethren talk about their study of the issues, it would be thought that the Lord's plan of organization and function of the church is as intricate as an interwoven spider web or as detailed as a long manuscript of fine lawyer's print. We wonder if some of our "studying" brethren are not using the point as an excuse to not take a position. Could it be?

Back in the days when premillennialism was a prominent issue in the church, a few were waging the fight against it. Many preachers were sitting back allowing the few to carry the brunt of battle. When the smoke began to clear and the force of truth began to eminently prevail, the quiet preachers suddenly clamored, "me too." Some of those who talked and wrote about how long they had been on the firing line got their lines crossed. They were on the side line! It is the same old story being repeated on these present day issues and the history of this attitude is not so old but what some of us can easily remember it. Last winter one of our brethren in the publishing business admitted that he was straddling the fence. He confessed it which is more than some are willing to do. The brother did state that the time had come when he had to get off. He knows the truth. We would like to know when the time was that he was to get on the fence in the first place.

The secret disciples among us today are afraid. Some are afraid of their jobs, some are afraid of not being popular, some are afraid that they will not sell their merchandise, and some are afraid of other things. In an exchange of letters with one of the staff writers of the Gospel Advocate, it was obvious that his chief concern was "usefulness." It is feared that the word in his vocabulary is spelled p-o-p-u-l-a-r-i-t-y.

The time has come for men to stand up and be counted. Those who know what is right should make it known. Who is on the Lord's side?