Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 23, 1956
NUMBER 41, PAGE 4-5a

That "Fourth Alternative"

F. Y. T.

We urge all our readers to give special attention this week to an excellent article by Earl Fly, "The Fourth Alternative," which appears elsewhere in this journal. Brother Fly deals with a subject of great importance, and one which will affect the peace of God's church in our generation, as well as the happiness and peace of mind of all who love the Lord. To say that the eternal destiny of thousands of souls is also involved is but stating the case in its ultimate application.

Since the days of Alexander Campbell (indeed, since the days of the apostles), Christians have clung tenaciously to two basic ideals. All our long history of controversy with the proponents of error has demonstrated how deeply imbedded these ideals are in the very fabric of our Christian profession. A surrender of either of them is fatal to the Christian religion. The sad story of denominationalism, from Catholicism through Protestantism on to Modernism, is a tragic commentary on what happens when one or the other of these concepts is forsaken. Catholicism in its gradual growth first abandoned one of the ideals, then the other; Protestantism came into being and vigorously championed, for a time, one of the concepts; but through the years gradually returned to the philosophy and thinking of Catholicism. Modernism has lately arisen (within the last two centuries) to champion one idea, but flatly to deny the other.

And what are the two concepts? One is (1) the final authority of the written Word; the other is (2) that that written word can be understood.

Where is the gospel preacher, be he young or old, who has not preached over and over again on these two vital and fundamental teachings? Are not sermons on each of these ideas always present in the preaching program of every faithful preacher? Catholicism grew out of a gradual abandonment of the idea, first that the Bible could be understood, and secondly, that it was authoritative. Believing the common people could not understand the Bible led to the writing of creeds and catechisms. In course of time these humanly devised writings came to be accepted as authoritative. and the authority of the Bible was discredited.

Protestantism under Martin Luther blazed like a comet through the skies for a few years, insisting on the authority of the Bible as the "only rule of faith and practice." But once again Satan got in his work, and even within Luther's own lifetime the creeds of denominationalism began to make their appearance. While sectarian bodies even to our own day pay lip service to the Bible, they have long since abandoned it as being authoritative in matters of religion. Modernism came along to deny emphatically that the Bible is authoritative, but they do insist that it can be understood.

All thoughtful students now recognize that the tragic division within the body of Christ in the last century is directly traceable to a denial of authority on the part of those who introduced the societies and the instrument.

There were many thousands of faithful Christians who in the early years of controversy were honestly confused; they had complete respect for the authority of God's word, but had not yet had time to study the Bible sufficiently to see what it actually taught. When once they had had time to make a thorough study of the Scriptures, their course was clear and simple.

Son, in the present controversy we believe it would be the height of folly for anybody, on either side of the question, to agitate for a division. Indeed, all of us should keep constantly in mind the firm conviction that UNITY, and not division, is the inevitable and certain termination of present controversies If these discussions can be continued sufficiently long to bring forth exactly what God's word teaches on the controversial subject.

That brings us to the second idea: that the Bible can be understood. With that conviction firmly held, faithful Christians will continue to study, to investigate, to discuss. In such discussions there should be unlimited patience and tolerance and sympathy. The very suggestion of any disfellowshipping or division should be repugnant and abhorrent. The "three alternatives" of Brother Woods' view should be discarded for "that fourth alternative" which Brother Fly so ably presents. Brother Woods himself has adopted this "fourth alternative" in his disagreement with brethren Totty, Goodpasture, and Brewer on the matter of church support of Christian colleges. He has adopted it in the matter of those brethren who disagree with him on the war question; he has accepted it with those brethren who disagree with him on Masonry, and probably a dozen other items which might be mentioned. Why, then refuse to adopt it in this other critical and disturbing question?

Let no man deceive himself into thinking that only a "small, insignificant fraction" of the brotherhood is opposed to the institutionalism which is being promoted. If the institutional promoters force a division on the brotherhood, they are going to find themselves in the minority group — decidedly so. For there are thousands of good brethren who honestly believe the institutions are right who will not go along with a group of brethren who are willing to split the church over the question!

Within the past few weeks our advice has been asked by brethren from five different congregations as to whether they should cancel meetings they have booked or not. Three of those congregations have meetings scheduled with Guy N. Woods; two of them with Thomas B. Warren. In each instance we have pleaded with the brethren NOT to cancel these meetings. Whether our advice will be followed or not we do not know. But such cancellations will tend to promote division rather than unity. And with all our heart we believe that a continued prayerful study of these controverted questions will bring UNITY and not division. We could even now name more than one church which a year ago was seriously divided internally over these matters, in which unity, peace, and harmony now prevail.

The Gospel Guardian is making a supreme effort in the forthcoming "Special Issue" to set forth objectively the teachings of the Bible on these controversial issues. We believe this will make a great contribution toward peace and good-will — and we know it will help to enlighten and inform all who read the articles with an open mind. Let us all seek to follow "that fourth alternative," and keep an open mind and a brotherly spirit while these issues are being discussed.