Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 2, 1956

What Is Wrong With The Method?

W. Clyde Poplin, Santa Rosa, California

Recently I have noted frequent appearance of such statements as this: "The Lord told us to care for the orphans, but he did not tell us how." Or, "The Bible tells us to teach, but it does not tell us how." Then the statement is made that the method is left up to us. And the charge is made that zealous but misguided brethren are quibbling over methods when methods are not legislated, and hence are entirely optional. It appears to me that brethren often talk about "method" when they mean something else.

Now, I do not know any unscriptural method of baptizing. There are a lot of unscriptural things done, and called baptizing. And people are often immersed for unscriptural reasons. Brother Cleon Lyles has some things to say in his "Church Cooperation," the portion that appeared in the November 24 issue of the Gospel Guardian, which indicate to me that Brother Lyles does not know what is meant by the word "method." He says, "Now, what method. Shall we have a baptistry? Shall we do it in a creek? Shall the water be warm? Shall the robes be ready? How shall we do it? He didn't say." I agree that these things are incidental, and not one of them has anything to do with the scripturalness of the baptism. But neither do they have anything to do with method. I once baptized a man who expected me to immerse him forward, rather than backward. That is method, and is alike incidental. It would have been awkward, but not unscriptural.

I do not know any method of teaching the gospel that is unscriptural. There may be some but I have not been able to think of one. Many times have I preached sermons on "Essentials and Incidentals," in which I have declared that the Lord told the apostles to "Go," but that he did not specify the method of transportation. He said teach, but he did not specify the method of teaching. They sometimes taught orally, sometimes by epistle. The method of getting the oral message to the ear of the hearer is incidental. A megaphone could be used without any scriptural violation. Radio facilities may be used, or the voice may be recorded on a disc. Or it may be recorded and released at a later time. This is method.

I do not know how one could use an unscriptural method. But it is easy to see how an unscriptural organization may be used. When the missionary society was formed a number of years ago, and they sent a preacher out to preach the gospel, if that preacher used an unscriptural method I never heard of it. But that he was sent by an unscriptural organization the editor of the Gospel Advocate has not yet denied. If there is anything wrong with the method of teaching employed by the Herald of Truth, it has not come to my knowledge. But I believe there is something wrong with the organization when all the churches are invited to, and many of them do, send their money to one church for that church to do their teaching for them.

If all the churches should agree to establish a headquarters, and elect a president or general overseer, and he in turn should commission one church to do the radio preaching, another to do the foreign mission work, another to do the benevolent work and another to select and send the evangelists to hold the meetings throughout the country, there might not be anything wrong with the methods used, but there would be something wrong with the organization using the methods.

I believe that both Christians and churches can feed and clothe the poor, both children and adults, both saint and sinner. And I do not know any unscriptural method of doing it. There are unscriptural methods of raising money. But I believe that churches can enter, and have entered into unscriptural federations in which to use money that is scripturally raised to do a scriptural work. I have no objection to an orphan home that does not involve unscriptural organization. If we build an orphan home and "put it under" the elders of a certain congregation, or get a certain eldership to agree to "take the oversight" of it, while it is yet a brotherhood project, with all the congregations solicited to send their money to the "overseeing" congregation to be used to support the home, it is as unscriptural as the Herald of Truth or the hypothetical organization suggested earlier in this article. It is unscriptural in organization.

These matters are not questions of method, but of organization. Brother Lyles, in the article already referred to, makes the singing an example. He says: "What kind of songs . . . . I mean how written? How many verses? He didn't say. And when I try to legislate in the matter of method, I do the very thing that . . . . God doesn't allow me to do." Well, of course, the number of verses has nothing to do with method. But suppose one congregation should assume the mission of selecting, preparing, and publishing the songs to be used by all the churches, and of arranging the singing program in all the churches at all the services. They would say, "Send us your money and we will oversee your singing. This is the work of the `Gold Ridge' church, and we are asking our sister congregations to assist us in doing this our work." There probably would not be anything wrong with the method of singing in the churches. But there would be something wrong with the arrogation of authority on the part of the "Gold Ridge" church, and with the surrendering of authority on the part of all the sister congregations who helped her do that work.