Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 28, 1956

"We Be Brethren"

Roy Key, Maywood, Illinois

The Gospel Guardian is to be commended for its special issue on behalf of Christian unity in this hour of peril. This is a time for moderation and not radicalism, a time for calm and sober deliberation, for charity and much prayer. It is not a time for name-calling, belittling and contempt. The Father's heart breaks when His children separate and the Family is shattered.

Brother Clark's "plea" should be carefully weighed by us all. We do need more time to study, to do the careful thinking that cannot be done in the midst of inflamed passion and fear. Our editors rest under a greater weight of responsibility at this critical moment when so much is at stake. God help them in this hour that they may not prematurely cut off the conversation that should lead us into greater oneness. God help them that they may use those men in discussions of the issues whose passion for the preservation of the Family is as strong as their passion for correctness in doctrine or for having their own way.

As one who has been in the midst of misunderstanding...I know how easy it is to fail to come to grips with the main issue and to flail away at an error which nobody really holds. Yet, when we are standing for what we believe firmly to be right, we must stand there, "so help us God"! This utter sense of the necessity for standing with God, alone if necessary, has gotten many of us into trouble. Surely, this is part of what it means to bear the Cross. But as one who has had to pay for what he considered fidelity to truth, I would like to add my voice to this marvelous "Plea" of Brother Clark.

Brethren, we can't change one another except by moral persuasion and spiritual power which comes from the truth itself. It cannot be by an irresponsible hurting of epithets. I can try my very best to show you that I care for you, want to be your brother and work at your side, am willing to take your abuse and bear misunderstanding, rather than sever our relationship in Christ. You can show me that you believe not only in that part of the Bible which says, "Mark them which cause divisions," but that you are willing to work and pray to see that none of us in weakness actually "causes divisions," and that you just as truly believe in the God and Bible which enjoin, "Forbearing one another in love."

There are six of us in my home, differing in intellectual attainment and ability, in conviction, in temperament, in size, in age, in spiritual growth, and a thousand other ways. 'On the surface it would seem strange that we even stay together. But there's a secret to it, we care about one another. God meant for there to be families, places where we not only see one another's faults, but love one another in spite of them and stay and grow up together. Two things keep us from flying apart because of all these differences, love and responsibility.

It goes without saying that unity in Christ is God's purpose for us all, His great "Eternal Purpose." Where we work for that brotherhood we work with His will.

Where we work for disunity we fight against God. How sad one day when His light shines full upon us and we see that it is our brother we clutch by the throat! Christ died to break down middle walls of partition of all sorts, and we destroy one another in the feverish attempt to build them up again.

If you read this and retort contemptuously, "Maudlin emotionalism!" then God open your eyes and melt your heart! If you say, "I would cut off my arm before I would divide the Body of Christ; I would die rather than parcel out my Lord; but what are we to do when we see a practice or spirit in the Church which we honestly believe compromises the will of God?" then I can say, "Listen to this plea to forbear one another in Christian love, at least for a season, at least until more study is done, before an uncrossable gulf is dug, before the door swings shut with the finality of death."

God's Church will not perish, even though I do fail to rid it of all its error before the sun rises in the morning. I must not take myself so seriously and His kingdom so lightly. Brethren, the Church was here before we were, and will remain when we are forgotten. And one thing we must not overlook in the attempt to restore it to its ancient purity of faith and practice is that one essential feature of its apostolic nature is its unity. We can talk about the "true" Church till we are blue in the face, but we cannot make one sect without making two. I am literally afraid to be one who consciously draws the line. I know that I can have it drawn against me in situations over which I have no control. Still I share in the terrible guilt of this rending of the Lord's Body, and I pray for the forgiveness of us all. But I do not see how I could sleep at night, nor talk of love, unity, forbearance, nor even the Church's ancient purity, and participate in this terrible schism.

As we consider the problem of "institutionalism," as well as our other problems which we think compromise the word of God, let us recognize that division is a denial of the very nature of the Church, a repudiation of what it is essentially. It is easy to be irresponsible. Only a deep concern and a mature sense of responsibility will help us to see the complexity of the problem, that we may proceed with caution in handling it.

I am incapable of giving an easy answer to the problem, for I am sure that institutionalism is a perennial danger. Therefore, those who cry out against it and attempt to point out manifestations of it are, I am certain, fighting for something valid that all of us need to see and hold fast. Yet, I am equally persuaded that those who oppose the present fight are in some true sense fighting for Christian liberty and against a growing tendency to legislate where God has not. Never is there a real battle between consecrated and dedicated Christians but that there is right and wrong on both sides. The part of humility is to try with one's whole heart to see the truth in the opposing arguments, to learn from one another, and immediately put what we learn into practice.

I appreciated Brother Hailey's way of studying, stating his conclusions, yet refraining from dogmatism. A statement that he made on another occasion is one that deserves much consideration by brethren everywhere, for it is basic and raises a problem that must be solved before we know what to do with many questions.

"I don't always know when the way apostles did a thing becomes binding as the way that it must always be done. I wish somebody in the brotherhood that is not a hothead and a fanatic out on some fringe of this thing would do some real constructive thinking and writing on it. When is an apostolic precedent or the way a thing was done, when does that become binding as a law by which it must be done?"

Doubtless, Brother Hailey was attempting to follow his own suggestion in this issue, as were Brethren Patton and Farish.

However, let no one of us who thinks that he has thought the matter through sufficiently be swift to impose his conclusions upon others who do not see his logic. Any theory of Christian fellowship which does not take into consideration the differences in our logical powers cannot be true. We might consider a new Proposition 6 of The Declaration and Address:

6. That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God's holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see ,that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God ...

As I study many of the writings on both sides of the question I am made to wonder time and again, if we press upon one another as tests of fellowship our logical deductions and inferences, how can we escape the conclusion that we are forcing many, many Christian brethren to stand "in the wisdom of men," not "the power of God"? We must not declare to the world that the will of God is so complicated that one with an I.Q. of less than 150 cannot possibly be a faithful Christian.

This is not to say that intricate questions ought not to concern us. God expects us to use all the rational powers we have, but He does not expect us to divide from all those who occupy a spiritual or intellectual level either higher or lower than our own. Since we all know this, let's not let lovelessness keep us from adding it as another factor to an already quite complicated problem.