Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 17, 1955
NUMBER 28, PAGE 4,10b

Tactics And Truth

Robert Atkinson, Searcy, Arkansas

(Editor's note: This article was sent to us by a young gospel preacher who is a student in Harding College. It expresses so clearly the thoughts in the hearts of so many that we take pleasure in giving it editorial space. And have the Gospel Guardian writers always lived up to the standard and ideals here set forth? We believe some have; we know some have not. Hut at least we recognize that Brother Atkinson's article sets forth the right standard; and we seek constantly to keep it before us. Furthermore, if this is the kind of thinking characteristic of the students of Harding College, we congratulate that school. They are doing a far better job of Christian teaching than some may have supposed.)

In the current controversy on church cooperation and benevolent work, the search for truth as a means of settling the issues is running a poor second to the use of dishonorable tactics. It must be admitted that all of the adroit devices in the world are certainly a poor substitute for an understanding of the truth in bringing about the desired end of unity and peace among brethren. But the tactics continue; so by way of illustrating them let us examine an article which contributes nothing to the search for truth but does definitely employ a tactic to force an agreement on the issues.

The article is entitled "Possibly You Have Heard This Also." It consists of a dialogue between "Henry" and "Elmer." "Henry" is the amiable grammarian who defends the viewpoints of the author of the article in question. With flawless speech and out of a "pure" heart, he brands as hobbyists and dedicated church splitters all who dare to disagree with him. On the other hand, "Elmer" is presented as the factious and deluded church member who objects to the quarantining of the located preacher where he worships. Elmer's objections are clothed in double negatives, mispronunciations, improper contractions and other flagrant violations of the English language. It is evident that "Elmer" is not formally educated, and it is made to appear that he should know better than to try to do his own thinking. Poor "Elmer" is just so much putty in the skilled hands of amiable "Henry." There has not been so one-sided a contest since Father Smith Instructs Jackson came off the presses.

Dialogues are often effective ways to teach the truth. Host of them are interesting and instructive, so let us search for the point in the interesting exchange of comments between "Henry" and "Elmer." Apparently it is this: all of the fair minded and intelligent Christians agree with "Henry" while all of the factious and ignorant disagree with him.

I object to the spirit of this dialogue. Thousands of the Lord's people speak in a manner more closely resembling "Elmer" than "Henry." Their speech makes them neither right nor wrong, factious nor forbearing, well informed nor ignorant so far as the Bible is concerned. Whether he intended to or not, the author of the dialogue has contrasted his characters in such a manner that he brings into discredit those brethren of his whose use of the English language does not reflect the advantages of formal schooling.

Furthermore, I object to the point of the dialogue. It attempts to force readers to line up a certain way or be numbered with the ignorant. It is a tactic and a dishonorable one. I deny that it is a mark of ignorance to disagree with "Henry" or with anyone else. I have the right to question and study any proposal or plan which is advocated by anyone. I am not bound to accept a statement or a plan because of its source until that source is shown to be infallible. Infallibility applies to no man living, for the only infallible source which we have is the Bible. Fortunately, we are too far removed from the "Dark Ages" of coercion to bow before any self designated authority. History abundantly shows that truth has too often been suppressed because men have been denied the right or have voluntarily relinquished the right to question and freely discuss issues. But in our time, too many Christians, both young and old, have imbibed too deeply of the spirit of the pioneer preachers to give up those rights. This tactic will fail.

More Tactics

Why are such tactics used? What do they avail? Why can there not be full and friendly discussions of all of the issues now prominent? My convictions are that the sponsoring church method of doing evangelistic work is unscriptural. I believe that these convictions are firmly grounded in scripture, but possibly I am wrong in my understanding of how the work of the church may be done. But surely I will not be taught the truth by tactics. I find no reason to change my mind because I am called a hobby rider and a church splitter and it is implied that I am ignorant. The Jews called Jesus a malefactor (John 18:30) and said that he was the servant of Beelzebub. 'Matt. 12:24) Their saying it did not make it so. They neglected to include their evidence.

Moreover, if I am wrong I will not be taught the truth by reading of the scholastic attainments of others. After the shouting dies down I find many of the accompanying articles to be but ponderous masses of pompous words in search of an argument. I have opportunity to see genuine scholars at work, and I find them pleading for brotherly discussions, placing men with different views on the same faculty, and allowing both sides to be heard at lectureships and meetings. True to their scholarship, they reserve the right to study any question and grant to others the same right.

Further, if I am wrong I will not be taught the truth by being quarantined. I find this tactic administered in the spirit of the inquisition and but little preferable to it. And in such an event, I am reminded of the man who allowed himself to be cast out by some prejudiced religious leaders of his time, because their tactics were feeble in comparison to his love for the Lord. (John 9:34, 35) He was blessed for his stand.

Another common tactic is misrepresentation. Some have said, "You fellows do not believe in cooperation." Others say, "You think that because congregations are autonomous, they cannot cooperate." And some even say, "You do not believe in taking care of widows and orphans." These statements misrepresent. It is as easy to show error in a misrepresentation as it is to demolish a straw man, but no good will be accomplished by either tactic. Let an effort be made to understand the convictions on both sides of these issues, let the issues be truthfully and conscientiously presented, and then let the error be shown.

Think On These Things

Brethren, why is it that when we question another's views, it is often taken as a personal offense. Isn't it still possible for the views of another man or the views and policy of a publication or institution to be questioned without holding a grudge against the man, the paper, or the institution? And isn't it possible for a man to have his views questioned and a paper to have its policies and views criticized without feeling offended and insulted? Surely our skins are not that thin!

Another question — why is it that when a brother admits that he might be wrong in his views, his admission is interpreted to be a sign of weakness or "softness." Some think that he is about to betray his "side." Certainly, it indicates no such thing. Actually every Christian must make such an admission or all of the debates and articles in the world will not solve one single problem. It is time for more candor and less suspicion.

I want to be right and I believe that I am right, but I may be wrong. Coercive tactics will neither lead me to the truth or ground me deeper in the truth. But if I may be encouraged to question and to study, and through friendly debates and sober articles reap the benefits of the studies of men far more capable than myself, I shall not fear for my "position." And if others are encouraged to do the same, I shall not fear for the unity of the church.

There has been too much emphasis on tactics and not enough on truth. Neither side is without its offenders. Why don't we abandon the tactics and revert to a search for the truth, through friendly discussions and articles filled with the spirit and word of Christ, to settle our outstanding problems?

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us. . ." (Eph. 4:31, 32; 5:1, 2)