Note: Stan Cox has written a review of David Mathews' article. Please read this article, then click here to read Stan's review.

Slandering the Denominations

David Mathews

"He who digs a pit will fall into it, and whoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent." (Ecclesiastes 10:8-9 NKJV)

For so many years I sought no contact with those among us which are labeled (or label themselves) "liberal" because they represented error, transgression and apostasy. Not willing to contaminate myself with false doctrine, I was not willing to read Gospel Advocate or visit a "liberal" congregation or treat a "liberal" Christian as a brother. My attitude toward these people differed very little from my attitude toward the denominations, though a little anger, sorrow or bitterness was mixed in because the "liberals" were perceived as traitors to the cause and now enemies of the church which Christ established and the truth which is found in the Bible. Lingering memories of the split in the church were taught by those who experienced the conflict, and their own bitterness about the behavior of some was taught to myself and many others. Separation and isolation over several decades instilled a tangible feeling of "us" verses "them." None among us would speak about the "liberals" except to complain about their excesses or accuse them of sin or engage them in debate so that refutation of their error would follow. Contemplation of their condition led to speculation about what could motivate them to continue in error -- was it ignorance, obstinance, or deception? Not even a hint of these faults were present among the "conservatives" or the congregations which I associated myself with. No potential existed that error or apostasy could occur among those which I trusted from my youth. The best motives were found within the leaders of the "conservatives" and they successfully resisted error and honestly sought the truth. I could read magazines such as the Guardian of Truth with confidence knowing that all these people adhered to the truth and maintained almost total agreement. I could attend a college such as Florida College knowing that it has the truth and teaches it accurately. I would listen only to those who were included among the authentic Christians because they knew the truth, taught the truth and protected the truth. If only more people would follow these error and division would not exist ...

Sad indeed is the naivete of youth and confidence grounded in ignorance. "All this I have proved by wisdom. I said, 'I will be wise'; but it was far from me. As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?" (Ecclesiastes 7:23-24). Adherents to the truth in the New Testament never considered themselves "conservative" nor was that title ever used as a means of distinguishing truth from error. Those who proudly proclaim that they follow "first century Christianity" often have not progressed beyond the 19th century Christianity of Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. Listening attentively to the respected teachers of truth revealed serious and substantial differences in their teachings which hinted at even deeper divisions among those in fellowship. Congregations of believers were divided by distrust and fellow brethren treated each other as strangers or enemies. "Christian" education revealed that two years of diligent study left the believers remaining in almost total ignorance about God, the Bible, the truth and almost everything else. But the educated were proud, some seeking to exalt their new-found knowledge in challenging the denominations and others guilty of sin even as they proclaimed their own righteousness. Magazine articles formerly considered accurate and reliable were revealed as shallow and incomplete when faced with the knowledge of thousands of years of religious history and the depth of knowledge found in the denominations. It seemed absurd to answer a question demanding mankind's attention for thousands of years within three pages of text. Knowledge that the "liberals" and the denominations were aware of our favorite Scriptures and arguments was disconcerting because these were formerly considered as inevitably destroying the error of these groups. Not only was the error not defeated, but these people incorporated the Scriptures within their religion and solved the problems which were posited by our own arguments. When certainty is lost mourning must follow, but woe unto those who have no certainty and no wisdom.

"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good." (Romans 12:9). When evil is spoken of another without giving that other an opportunity to answer, slander is almost inevitable. People become sloppy in their thoughts, lazy in their presentation of another, or so intent upon protecting their listeners or readers that they feel compelled to present another in as negative a manner as possible. Often when like-minded people begin talking about those outside their fellowship, they will only mention negative qualities or the errors which those others espouse or practice. People naturally assume the worst motives for the thoughts, words and actions of opponents. Enemies are often portrayed as vile, reprehensible people or befuddled, ignorant people. The religious thoughts and actions of those outside are discounted and their spirituality or love for God is minimized. Nothing good may follow from their religion and whatever good they do is attributable to some vile motive which takes precedence and even overwhelms the good. Actually listening to those outside is discouraged because listening may lead the Christian to change. Therefore all contact with the "liberals" or the denominations must follow the same confrontational pattern: Accusations of error, demand for debate and satisfaction when the conversation ends in anger.

"The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him." (Proverbs 18:17). When conversation between two sides in opposition is prevented, some people take satisfaction in claiming that no debate or discussion occurred because the other side was intimidated by the truth or fearful of refutation. Such satisfaction has no place because when our opponents are not given an opportunity to speak openly and honestly about their beliefs, we may be the ones who remain in error and needful of correction. These people may have more complete knowledge than we have, they may possess some wisdom which we have not yet found, or they may live as a Christian in a manner which we have neglected. Nothing good will come from insulting and disparaging our foes. They will wisely reject our example of hate and anger and dismiss our message even if it is correct. Dismissing these people and their teachings in a disrespectful manner is hypocritical among those who demand that others attentively listen to our message.

"He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him." (Proverbs 18:13). What do the "liberals" practice? What do the denominations teach? Christians speak so boldly and eloquently about the faults of others, their ignorance, their depravity. No one seems to realize that these people are not so different from ourself, and we are not perfect. They read the Scriptures and seek to follow them. They are intelligent and sincere. They strive to love God and live as a Christian. If you seek for truth among them, your effort will not fail. If you seek for virtues among them, you will find them virtuous. While you arrogantly ignore the teachings of those outside, you will only preserve your own ignorance. Ignorant people can insult others easily enough, but their criticism is futile when false accusations are made against their motives, thoughts, words and actions. False accusations do not provide compelling motivation for conversion and they will inevitably lead to the cessation of communication. Once you create a defensive, emotional feeling in your opponent you will cloud his judgement and prevent objective consideration of your message. The truth is lost by our own error. Yet we remain proud and happy to offend.

"You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?" (Romans 2:21). Fallible Christians must concede that they are not perfect. If you seek to teach anyone else, you must learn as much as possible about that other person's beliefs and practices so that you may tailor your message specifically to his needs. Under no condition is it proper to insult, disparage or slander anyone else. Even those who severely criticize you are worthy of love, respect and forgiveness. When truth and virtue are found among the lost, Christians must honor these without fail. Christians must make an effort to listen attentively to what other people teach and objectively determine the merits of their message. Christians must humbly recognize their own potential for error and accept correction from others, even those outside the faith. Christians must regard no individual, publication or institution as perfect or a reliable defender of the truth. By doing all these, Christians will progress beyond the present sad state of division and carnality which characterizes our communication with others.

To go to Stan Cox's review of this article, entitled "Slandering the Brethren?", click here

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