Vol.XVI No.VII Pg.6
September 1979

Striving For The Ideal

Robert F. Turner

From "Short History of the Christian Church," by John W. Moncrief, we quote some observations that might be food for thought for us all.


"The truth is always far greater than any man's conception of truth. It is greater even than the conception of any school or party. But this simple and evident fact has always been extremely difficult for men to learn. A great man and his followers are prone to think that the truth is all with them, while the error is all with their opponents. These facts make it clear why at times of special historical activity there are always numerous and wide divergences of opinion. Each point of view emphasizes a phase of truth and makes it the center from which all truth must be controlled, and is intolerant towards other points of view which make the same claims. Thus it is that conflicts arise and violence is done to truth itself.

Now, there are few historians today who would claim that Luther or Zwingli or Calvin had all the truth. Indeed, most historians would readily admit that each of them had much error. The inadequacy of Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone is generally felt. Calvin's doctrine of predestination was pushed to excess, and in many other respects the doctrine of these men is open to serious objections.

But nothing is more certain than that differences are never settled until they are settled right. That there should, therefore, be revolt from the positions of all these men was not only to be expected, but it was demanded in the interests of the truth and the common weal. It is not, accordingly, the true spirit of history to speak of these people and their work in the lump as 'sects and heresies accompanying the new movement,' or to treat them with the contempt that they have too often received at the hands of historians. For, if by heresy we mean departure from the truth, all the great leaders of the Reformation were heretics, because all of them departed from the truth in many important particulars.

But it is to be admitted that many of these so-called sects were very extreme — fanatical and revolutionary both in their principles and their actions. They did not see clearly that the true reformer must be able to conceive and hold constantly before him the perfect ideal, but that he must at the same time have the patience and the persistency to bring the world as near to the realization of the ideal as it will come, and then wait for results. This must be the policy until an enlightened conscience is violated. Then the only alternative is conflict at all risks."


Moncrief takes the needed step beyond "patience, appreciating truth that others have, be not contemptuous, etc." No man serves God acceptably who overrides his conscience toward God in his desire to establish "unity in diversity" among men. Do we lack the character and maturity needed to differ respectfully, and continue to hold to Bible-spawned convictions?