Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 2, 1956
NUMBER 13, PAGE 8-9a

This Young Man Needs Help

Robert F. Turner, Gladewater, Texas

Several years ago he was a serious student of Lutheran doctrine; intent, determined to "preach the gospel." (These were his very words.) His parents were conscientious adherents of the Lutheran faith, as were his grandparents. They were of the strict "reformer" school, with high moral principles and zealous evangelistic spirit. They were very proud of "their boy" as he boarded the train for the theological seminary.

The boy — let's call him Ned — had read the story of Martin Luther, as provided in the library of his home church. He had listened with awe and admiration to the minister's lectures on the Protestant Reformation, had seen the Martin Luther movie — several times — and these had but fanned the flame kindled earlier by his home environment. He had been a leader in his denomination's youth movements, and he approached his college studies now with firm dedication.

Ned was working his way through seminary, and his job — soda-jerk in a downtown drug store — brought him in contact with another zealous young man. Bill was a student in a different college — not called a "seminary," but one which placed emphasis upon Bible study, and offered special training for "preacher boys." Yes, Bill too planned to "preach the gospel," and it was inevitable that these two boys would have many long talks together.

Ned found it difficult to understand Bill. The dogmatic assertions about "one church," "plan of salvation," "you can't join the church," — sometimes such statements would cause him to think Bill an incurable fanatic. It seemed Bill's desire to argue was most unreasonable, and perhaps would have terminated the friendship of two boys less zealous. But despite their wide differences the boys had something in common that held them together. As Ned wrote to his mother, "Bill is not Lutheran, but he has many of the characteristics we admire. He is very sincere, even though he seems to lose his 'temper at times. He reads his Bible a lot, and is always trying to 'prove' something by some passage of scripture. Grandpa would like him for this. He praises Luther for his work of reform, but seems to think less of the Reformation than of some movement he calls Restoration."

The "restoration" — Ned couldn't forget that. Was it possible that the New Testament really held a sufficient pattern of the early church to admit duplication? Could one become a Christian in the pure, primary sense — a Christian like the early Christians — a member of the church of the Lord, as described in the Word of God? The thought intrigued and challenged him. And so Ned had thought, and studied; argued with Bill, thought and studied.

Ned loved and respected his parents. It was difficult for him to even imagine himself questioning their religious teaching. Ironically, however, it was the teaching of his mother that caused Ned to break through this barrier to independent thinking. She had told him the story of Martin Luther many times, and impressed him with Luther's bravery in thinking and speaking his personal convictions. His kin, his friends, his very way of life — all had been forsaken in his determination to find truth in God's Word. And now, Ned reasoned, should not all men have this same noble spirit? "Truth could not suffer by investigation," Bill had said. And Ned agreed. Impartial and unbiased study of God's Word could only produce truth — and if Lutheran doctrine was right, it would shine more brightly. It was difficult to believe that he could possibly find Lutheran doctrine out of accord with the scriptures.

It was then that Ned's teachers entered the picture. Ned's independent studies of the Bible were slowly but surely freeing him from the limitations of creed-bound religion. This new freedom first became apparent in his class in "Catechism," when Ned questioned an article of the Augsburg Confession, and cited several passages of scripture. The instructor had looked upon him with astonishment, then remarked coolly, "We will learn the confession, not judge it." To Ned these words were like a Papal bull, daring him to question established dogma. He did not reply to the teacher, but inwardly he determined to question the whole catechism, point by point, judging it by the Word of God.

Scarcely a week passed that Ned did not raise some question in class. When the instructor found that these could not be ignored, nor scorned, he began to cite scriptures of his own. 'But this only led to further investigation on the part of the class, and to further questions. Finally two distinct "camps" or "schools" became apparent. Ned, and a few inquisitive fellow-students were seeking to determine the teachings of the scriptures on the subjects broached by the catechism; while the instructor and most of the other students were intent on upholding the time-honored position of the catechism — by scripture if possible, but by sophistry, appeal to human traditions, and ridicule of the questioner if necessary. With each new discussion Ned was further convinced that denominational pride and position meant more to this seminary than objective study of the Bible. The school board, the clergy, church publications, and the dead weight of precedent — these were solid obstacles to the kind of Bible investigation Ned felt necessary.

The social and economic pressures were applied. One day as Ned came into his classroom he noticed a group of students clustered about the instructor's desk, engaged in animated discussion. 'One boy was saying, "What right has he to question our creed?" And another, "Why, our church has always — " and he ended his statement abruptly when he saw Ned. For a moment the room became quiet, then the boys shuffled their feet, and began to drift apart. Ned's face flushed, and he felt an almost uncontrollable desire to shout, "Out with it! Why do you whisper behind my back? Why do you not answer my questions with the Bible?" But even as the words begged for utterance, he realized how useless they would be. And so he slowly turned, and went to his seat. Now he began to understand why his circle of friends had gradually diminished.

Perhaps this also explained some things the manager of the drug store had said the day before. As they were cleaning the fountain he has asked, "Ned, are you having any trouble with the students and teachers out at the college?" And then, before Ned could answer, he had continued, "You know, you were given this job because the owner of the store is Lutheran, and he likes to help the theological students at the school. You have a great future Ned, if you can just settle down. A fellow has to learn to get along with people in order to get along in religion — or business."

So this was it! He was "crack-pot" in the eyes of his fellow students, a "nuisance" to his teachers, a "liability" in the business world, and a "deserter" of his family and his home religion; all because he dared to think for himself, and spoke his convictions. And underneath all these things there was a "great cause" — his faith in the inspired Word of God. His parents had planted this faith, his teachers had encouraged it. Now they blamed him for applying it.

Ned remembered an incident in the trial of Martin Luther, often cited by his grandfather. De Vio, the cardinal who had come to hear Luther recant, had said, "The pope has power and authority over all things." To which Luther had quickly replied, "Except scripture!" How "Gramp" would chuckle as he told this incident. But now Ned was thinking of the application of this principle to present-day Lutheran doctrine. It was noble and right to appeal to the scriptures as the final authority when discussing Roman Catholicism; but within their own ranks it seemed that "big preachers," "church publications," and "the way we've been doing it" carried more weight than anything else.

Finally, Ned placed the whole story before Bill. Reluctant at first to confess the weakness he had found in his denomination, he finally realized that this could no longer be hidden. His character was too fine, his inherent honesty too great, to conceal his disgust. And as Bill listened the early feeling of triumph gave way to a feeling of admiration. Here was one who had the true spirit of restoration; one who loved truth, and had the courage to search for and embrace it. How fine it would be to have him as a fellow-Christian, a member of the church of Christ. Bill also felt just a little bit of pride, as he remembered his early conversations with Ned. He had taught Ned the truth — perhaps he could even personally baptize him.

Then Ned asked the question, "Bill, do members of the church of Christ ever differ in their conclusions concerning some Bible topic?"

The question startled Bill, but only for a moment. "Of course," he replied. "No one is perfect. Some mistakes are bound to be made, and we will differ so long as we are human."

"Certainly," agreed Ned. "But what I really want to know is your manner of solving these differences. Do you appeal to the scriptures as the final authority? Do you really 'Speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent'?"

"Why, of course we do!" said Bill, with some emphasis. But he dropped his head, avoiding the direct gaze of his friend. He experienced a slight twinge of conscience — perhaps of guilt. He was thinking of the young "preacher boy" in his own class, who had raised a question about the support of an evangelist. He remembered the cool, clipped reply of the teacher, the low snickers that ran through the room, the stage-whispered "Sommerite!"

"It's just too good to be true," Ned was saying. "Think of it! People who will follow the New Testament pattern for work, worship, government, and all the other characteristics of the N.T. church. No pressure tactics, no "big paper" policies of quarantine, no tradition-bound creedalism."

Bill seemed to hear his own voice, as from a great distance, saying, "We simply study the scriptures — carefully and prayerfully, and let them answer our problems. In matters of faith we must be one, for there is one faith. In matters of opinion, we must show charity toward all."

And after Ned left his room, Bill continued to sit on the side of the bed with his head in his hands. He thought, and thought — and thought about it.