Voices from the Past

Defending The Truth

E.R. Harper
Bible Banner, August 1938

For this opportunity of writing to this paper regularly in defense of the truth I am grateful. While I am not an experienced writer, I shall always try to be clear in my articles, that there may be no misunderstandings concerning any position taken by me. I shall at all times be glad to make myself understood regarding those questions that have to do with the peace and progress of the brotherhood.

The question I have chosen to discuss in this article is that of "defending the truth." It seems to me that in certain sections that we have grown into a condition that is rather alarming and that bids fair to take the church into sectarianism, to accept and fellowship "creeds," and to bid God's speed to the human churches about us. I do not know which constitutes the greater danger--fellowshipping the creeds or making the creeds.

The Right To Oppose Error

Because we oppose and expose error some of us are called "creed makers," "sects," and are branded as the "dividers of the church"; but it is my honest opinion that the so called radicals of the church are the ones who are going to keep pure the blood stream of the church and save it from being "creed bound," in that we will have to submit to all kinds of error on the ground that "every Christian has a right under heaven to preach his convictions." That to me is as much a plank in a man-made "creed" as it would be to say "every man has a right to preach his convictions but not with the support and endorsement of the church." I personally had rather stand with the latter "creed makers" than with the former, for the latter would not commit the church to the support and encouragement of error. Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, and Holiness churches have the right to preach "what under heaven they believe," but they should not have the church back of them. So it is, with all error. We have no right to deny a man liberty, but we do have the right to oppose him without being branded as "creed makers" and "sect formers." We have the right to withdraw from any man, who is teaching error to the disruption of the church, our endorsement and fellowship, until he corrects his errors and comes back to the faith.

Now, the issue is, shall we sit by and see error ride with an unchecked charge against the truth or shall we rise up and defend the truth? In Little Rock, and in most places in Arkansas, we have determined to defend the truth against all forms of unsound doctrine whether it is from without or from within; whether it is old-fashioned sectarianism or the new sectarianism known among us as "Bollism." If either gets root in this state, it will be by men from without the state who have brought it in, and not by those of us native born.

Attitude Toward Teachers of Error

The Bible lesson last Sunday, in a special Bible class, was 1 Tim. 6:3-5: "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself." If this is not a true condition that has been brought about by "Bollism," which is not according to the "words of Jesus Christ," then I would not know how to define it. It has brought about envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings (that we are creed makers, sect formers, destitute of the spirit of Christ, etc.), and from those who have brought such corrupt doctrine into our midst Paul says "withdraw thyself."

Holding the Traditions

In 2 Thess. 2:14-15, Paul says, "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." If this does not teach us to defend the truth, hold it sacred to our hearts, and not to allow error to come in and take possession, then the admonition has no meaning. In the third chapter, verses six and seven, the apostle says, "Now we command you, brethren, (not that you may if you want to, or you may not as it pleases you, but 'we command you) in the name our Lord Jesus Christ, (the highest authority that can be put back of a command), that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us, for yourselves know how ye ought to follow us." This command does not apply merely to wrong conduct, but it applies to every man that went contrary to the traditions taught them by the apostles "by word or epistle."

We are commanded in the passage to stand for the traditions, and hold the traditions. How then can any man say that those of us who are doing this very thing are "creed makers" and "sect formers" and are "responsible for the trouble in the church"? How can a man obey this command and take the position that "every man has the right under heaven to speak his mind" without the criticism and condemnation of the brotherhood when he should leave the traditions? If brother Boll and his friends have not left the truth, then let his defenders accept his theory. If he has left the truth, then let them stop branding those of us who are doing what Paul here commanded us to do, as "the dividers of the church." Let them, if they believe like we do, join us in "standing" for the traditions, and holding" those traditions, and in withdrawing support and fellowship from such errors.

Fellowshipping Error

Why do they fight us if they believe as do we? Does Paul mean for them to withdraw fellowship from, condemn and criticize those who are defending the traditions of the apostles, or are they to withdraw themselves from those who by teaching error are causing the trouble? It should not take a Solomon to see this. Men defend that which they admire and condemn that which they despise. We who oppose "Bollism" are defending the truth. Those who defend brother Boll are upholding error. Those who fight faithful men of the gospel in their defense of the truth whether they mean to or not are fighting the truth. When they uphold men who teach error, who have brought sorrow to the church, who have disrupted the peace of the church by false teaching, they defend not them only, but also their doctrine, and it destroys the "weak brother for whom Christ died." He sees the strong brother eating the meat offered to idols: he does not understand, and eats, accepting "the idol," and it destroys him. So when one opposes and condemns those who defend the truth, against "Bollism," and other forms of error, he is in fellowship with those errors. That is the reason Paul commanded withdrawal from all forms of teaching not in keeping with "the traditions." He knew others might be overcome by such, and lost.

When students are taught that "Bollism" is harmless; that it has nothing to do with the work and worship of the church and the Christian's life; that it is a theory about like that which opposes it is a theory; that after all one may be as true as the other, the minds of those students are prepared for the reception of such error and they in turn go over the country teaching congregations that "Bollism" is nothing, that you may believe it or not, it makes no difference. When that is done error has won and truth has lost.

Stopping Their Mouths

In Arkansas, we are going to come to the defense of the truth, and expose error in any form it may appear. We are going to "earnestly contend for the faith" as Jude admonished. We believe the sound principles given by Paul to Titus (1:9-14) to keep pure the truth, "holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, 'The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.' This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply (this is what the friends of brother Boll say we should not do--that he is too good a man for that) that they may be sound in the faith (the only purpose for our fight against all this error is for the soundness of the faith, but we are branded as personal haters, jealous, envious, etc.); not giving heed to Jewish fables (this future kingdom idea is a Jewish fable, if ever there was one), and commandments of men that turn from the truth."

I, with Paul, believe that when men who have turned from the truth are subverting men and women, it is time to see that their mouths are stopped--that we defend the truth. [Bible Banner, August 1938, p. 12, emphasis mine - sfd]

Editor's Comments

E.R. Harper lived from 1897 to 1986. When he wrote the above article on "Defending The Truth," premillennial error was spreading among churches of Christ. A few observations are in order.

This article shows brother Harper was set for the defense of the gospel in opposing premillennial error, but unfortunatley, he later compromised with institutional error. We must fight error in a bold but humble attitude, considering ourselves lest we also stumble (1 Cor. 9:27; 1 Pet. 3:15).

None of us ever reaches a stage of growth where we are beyond being tempted by sin or seduced by error.

We are told that R.H. Boll was an effective preacher and did much good earlier in life, but then he advocated premillennial error. Some brethren tried to shelter and defend him from exposure because of his good qualities, but no amount of past good deeds can justify a man for teaching error which destroys souls! Peter did much good but that did not shelter him from public rebuke by Paul when Peter compromised with false teachers (Gal. 2). Our past reputation is no shelter for our present sin and error, no matter who we are, and we ought not to allow fleshly ties to cloud our judgment.

Too, Satan is a master at charging his opponents with what he himself is doing. When he first introduces error, it is often on an optional basis but it soon becomes enforced as a human creed which must be accepted or at least tolerated. While Satan is stirring up strife, unjustly accusing men of evil intentions, and establishing a new human creed, he charges all who oppose him with doing those very things. Brother Harper and others were called sectarians, creed makers, and dividers of churches because of their efforts to expose premillennial doctrine and premillennial preachers, but we can now clearly see that the opposite was true.

e-mail this feature editor at SFDeaton@compuserve.com

Return to Watchman Front Page

return to November index