A Final Exchange with David Mathews

Last month's issue of Watchman Magazine included a written exchange between myself and David Mathews. His article, entitled Slandering the Denominations, contained assertions I believe to be unsubstantiated and untrue. As a result, I wrote a rebuttal piece I titled Slandering the Brethren?

I would encourage the reader to read both of these articles before continuing with this exchange. If you are already familiar with them, then carefully read the following:

In my reply to Mathews, I used questions as a device to point out the inconsistencies and error of his article. The questions were rhetorical in the sense that those who accepted my argumentation would see his error through the questions posited. While not seeking to answer the arguments I made, David did choose to answer the questions. While this was a bit unexpected, we are grateful for his candor, as his answers serve to further expose the poverty of the position he advocates, and the falseness of the charges he makes. His answers are included below in green type, and my own comments follow. It is hoped that this format will be the most effective in presenting the final thoughts in our exchange. We trust that most browser software will recognize the green type, and differentiate. We hope this arrangement meets the approval of our readers.

Hello Stan Cox & the editors of Watchman magazine,

Here is a rough draft of my answers to the questions present in Stan Cox's editorial regarding my essay "Slandering the Denominations." Since the questions were posed to me, I expect that my answers will be included in next month's issue of Watchman Magazine. I welcome any further comments or questions that Stan Cox or anyone else may have, and I find the present conversation intellectually stimulating and beneficial to everyone involved.


David Mathews

Questions & Answers

The first four questions David answered had to do with his statement, "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." It is becoming more popular these days to practice revisionist history, and belittle the accomplishments of the Christians who 150 years ago left denominational creeds to follow only the Lord. Whether David is willing to recognize it or not, he owes much to those who preceded him who sought to establish their faith from the scriptures alone. To denigrate this attempt as the "19th century Christianity of Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone" is disgraceful. These men would take great umbrage in such a characterization of their faith, and rightly so. While in no way perfect, they diligently sought to restore their faith to 1st century standards, not 19th century standards.

David's answer to question one is completely untrue. It is precisely because they did seek to return to the old paths that Campbell, Stone and others are known today. What they did in exhibiting respect for the scriptures set the religious world on its ear. If they were guilty of progressing beyond revelation, David should have showed us where, rather than quibbling. After all, that was what the question was asking, and it remains unanswered.

David's answer to number 2 is rather peculiar, and shows the inconsistency of his position. He advocates here that the reason for division among Christians today is a progression beyond the divinely indicated hermeneutic of command, example and implication. In this he is right. However, he complains when those who progress beyond that hermeneutic are admonished and exposed. He would rather that we be more reasonable with those in error. Listen closely to what they have to say, and treat them kindly. Those who are exposing the error of false teachers are criticized in David's writings. Additionally, David shows his inconsistency in giving this answer, then stating later on in this article, "Who is teaching truth and who is teaching error in the above contentions? No one among us has the authority to arbitrate these controversies and place blame upon the guilty parties. Perhaps the attempt to assign blame and punish the offenders is a barrier to unity, agreement and understanding." You can't have it both ways David. If we are unable to arbitrate the issues that trouble us today; if we are unable to determine who is teaching truth and who is teaching error; if we are unable to place "blame upon the guilty parties"; then who are you to be critical of those who lived 150 years previous?

David is being disingenuous in his answer to question number three. And his arguement serves to prejudice his readers. Paul defended the truth against the Judaizing teachers of his day. In doing so, he did not establish a creed; he defended the truth. Peter refuted the Gnostics and in doing so had nothing to do with the establishment of a creed. When men today defend the truth of God against false teachers, they are not establishing a creed. They are defending the truth. It is amazing to me that those who hold the truth on the institutional issues are the ones today accused of creed making. It is the advocate of that false doctrine who has introduced a doctrine from man, not the defender of truth. The same is true for the marriage, divorce & remarriage issue. There is truth, and there is error. God's word is knowable and understandable. To defend that truth against the false teacher is not equal to establishing a creed. I am offended by David's intimation that there is an "unofficial creed" used to test the orthodoxy of brethren. In reality, there is the truth of the gospel that is used to test the faithfulness of every Christian. If David believes that Christians can hold to error and be acceptable to God, he should have given scripture to defend that position rather than denigrate the attempts of men to defend the truth.

Finally, David's answer to number four intimates that I have an attitude that I expressly disavowed in my article. Read carefully my question. I was not advocating the blind following of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. In fact, in my article I said, "David knows that faithful Christians follow no man, only the Lord Jesus Christ." He knows that my question dealt with their example in the specific area of devotion, as they "zealously attempted to return to God's word alone." I agree that Jesus is our ultimate example. David indicates that I should not look to Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone as examples. Yet scripture clearly reveals that such is not only acceptable, but laudable. Paul said, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). Elijah, a man with a nature like ours, is esteemed as an example to us in prayer (cf. James 5:17). Paul exhorted Timothy to be an example to the believers (1 Timothy 4:12). To intimate that those who laud and follow the example of Campbell and Stone in their attempt to return to God's word alone are in some way failing to emphasize the example of Christ is simply wrong, and David knows it.

Though only they know their hearts, I would submit that those David criticizes in their contentions with false teachers do indeed love their enemy, the stranger and their opponents. I would submit that their motivation is two-fold: 1) A love of truth; and 2) A love of souls, (both the soul of the false teacher, and the souls that might be unduly influenced by his teaching). They may not speak as meekly as David would like, (would David take issue with the mocking of Elijah on Mount Carmel [cf. 1 Kings 18:27], or his execution of the false prophets [cf. 18:40]?), but David has no way of examining their heart.

You might note that the differences mentioned in question number 5 are doctrinal in nature. David says, "Christians should accept those who are not in agreement." He seems to equate acceptance with love. He knows that I intended from that term fellowship. Note the contrast between what David advocates, and what John teaches, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine (the doctrine of Christ), do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11). Those who accept those in error are not loving them. To express love is to "turn a sinner from the error of his way" (James 5:20).

Perhaps David is not aware of the fact that the wording "important doctrinal and moral issues" is the wording of those who advocate toleration of such error. It is not my wording. It is interesting that David uses the terms "diversity of belief" and "disagreements". He does not use the terms "false doctrine" or "error". The sentiment that David pronounces is less palatable when the euphemisms are removed. Notice the following: "Given that Christians are prone to tolerate some degree of error within a congregation, they should display an equal amount of tolerance toward those outside the congregation. Given that Christians are prone to disregard false teaching when they are among brethren in fellowship, an equal amount of favor should exist toward the stranger or opponent who disagrees." This doesn't sound quite as good, does it? In truth, all doctrinal matters and issues are important, and no false doctrine should be tolerated at all! (cf. 2 John 9-11).

As he here makes an observation based upon his view of present behavior among Christians, I will make a similar observation. I am very worried about a change in attitude among Christians toward the truth. I think that David is a very clear advocate of such dangerous attitudes. However, I believe that there are faithful bethren who are and will continue to, as I stated it, "use the word of God to come to a 'unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'..." And they do so with proper attitudes and behavior. The problem in not in the attitude of those who defend the truth, but rather in the admittedly changing attitude of David and those like him.

Again, the answers given from questions 8-10 are disingenuous. David's initial statement is as follows, "'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." This was in the context of criticism not only of such education, but of attitudes, writings, and debating of Christians. To try to paint this as a commentary on the enormity of truth, rather than a criticism of Florida College and congregational Bible classes is not dealing honestly with what was written.

And I take issue with his statements. I do not deny that the subject of "God" necessitates a lifetime of study. However, two years of intensive study in an atmosphere such as that found at Florida College (if the truth is being taught), can accomplish much good. And I know from personal experience the value of Bible classes both on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. To say that such efforts leave an individual almost completely ignorant is categorically untrue. Not to mention the inaccuracy of comparing 2 years with the "milleniums" that intellects and scholars have devoted to a study of these subjects. Unless he means that we have men walking around who are thousands of years old who have spent that time in study the comparison is completely invalid.

Careful David, lest you be accused of judging hearts in your assessment of "attitudes" in controversy. Rather than turning a deaf ear, to successfully refute the false doctrines of the denominationalists, a defender of truth must become intimately familiar with them. That is the point. In so doing, they are able to expose the error for what it is! It is interesting that David claims "most of what Christians say" regarding denominational doctrine is inaccurate. In both of his articles, he never establishes one example of this. It is easy to make unsubstantiated claims.

Again, I will simply ask the reader to compare David's writing with that of Benjamin Franklin elsewhere in this issue. Or any of the articles in this issue. Understand the comparison here made. He asserts that those who write for the denominations (advocates of false doctrine) exceed the writings of Christians both in depth of knowledge and in a love for the scriptures. David, you should be ashamed. And it is disturbing to many that you have no shame in stating this.

Questions 13 through 23 deal with essentially the same subject, and were intended to be examples to show the lack of validity in David's assertions. And so they did. But I was amazed at his responses. We will address these quickly. Before that, you might note that in response 13 and 22 he objects to the terms "conservative" and "non-institutional." However, he used the term "conservative" himself in his first article. (see paragraph 2). And he used the term in the same way as me, simply as a means of identifying the reality of a condition which exists today. Rather than smugly disavowing such a description, he should have avoided the quibble and answered the question.

Again David, you miss the point. You criticize those who criticize others. You are doing the same thing. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" (Romans 2:1).

If that is so, then David should have given concrete examples and teaching concerning what is the "right way" of doing it. It is easy to be critical. I submit that no response to controversy, except for tolerance, would be acceptable to David. This is evident from his writings.

The final questions David answered are again simply numerous examples I used to show the invalid nature of David's objections. I will answer them quickly in the remainder of this article. However, I want you to notice the amazing nature of David's response to question 26. Either he does not understand what the word 'reliable' means, or he has no understanding of scripture. We recognize the need to compare all that is taught by the pattern found in scripture. This is what made the Bereans noble, (cf. Acts 17:11). However, to deny that brethren can be reliable is simply ridiculous. It makes nonsensical the Apostles' instruction to Timothy, "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2).

Of course, I didn't say that. But his statement that no man is a reliable defender of truth would make it unwise, and a "bad act" to seek counsel from anyone. Surely no one would consider it good to seek counsel from one who is unreliable!

Again, that is not what I asked. No one advocates that counsel should be blindly accepted. David is the one who did that in his youth. I criticized him for that. Notice my statement in my first article, "David in his youth had a wrong attitude both toward his brethren and those in error. He trusted in men rather than God." But the question was not answered. If no man is reliable, it would be inappropriate to trust an elder!

We will from time to time accept articles from "liberals" (interesting he used the term when he does not recognize it), and members of the denominations. But when they teach error it will be refuted. But if no one is reliable in defending the truth, then I should not read articles written by anyone!

David, I would like to introduce you to Robertson L. Whiteside. I would encourage you to secure a copy of his commentary of Romans, and read it carefully. It will clearly refute much of the teaching Calvin does in his works. I would also encourage you to be less critical of the Restoration Movement, since you have exhibited such a total ignorance of it. As for reading Calvin's works? I would not encourage anyone to do so unless they are well established in the truth. I suppose David would also encourage throwing our children to the wolves!? No? Well, that is exactly what he does in giving a blanket encouragement to Christians to read from Calvin.

That's not what I said. But class material prepared by brethren is much more likely to be free from error than that found published by the denominations. If David advocates using denominational cirriculum, he is again "throwing our children to the wolves!"

Children to the wolves, again! The Charismatics teach error concerning the Holy Spirit. Premillenialists claim that the Kingdom of God is physical, not spiritual. David, why would you want Christians to poison their minds with false doctrine? (That's a rhetorical question, no need to answer it).

Yes, but the question was, "Who is at fault for this?"

That's the problem with you David. You deal with the denominations as equals. Very simply... they are not. They are "without". They preach "another gospel". They are in "error" and "sin." I do not mean to be flip, but the Bible very clearly indicates that Christians are to distinguish between those who are within and those who are without (cf. 1 Corinthians 5). David seeks to ignore those distinctions.

I was not assigning blame David, I was asking the question. There is fault. Someone is at fault. Sometimes blame is needed David. You can speak disparagingly about those who would "blame someone else." Your brand of tolerance, however, has no scriptural basis. Someone is responsible for the division that exists. It very simply comes down to what the Bible teaches.

David, mentioned that he grew up listening to "conservative" preachers, and reading from periodicals such at the Guardian of Truth. Again, I do not mean to be unkind in pointing out his ignorance, but he exhibits it again in making a parallel between Florida College and the issues of the 1950's. Could it be that he does not know of the difference between a human institution supported out of the treasury of the local church, and one that has no such affiliation? Could it be that David knows that distinction and decided to ignore it as it completely invalidates his parallel? I will repeat my above adomintion, " I would also encourage you to be less critical of [the arguments of non-institutional brethren], since you have exhibited such a total ignorance of [them]."

David's contention that we can not know who is teaching truth and who is teaching error on such subjects as MDR, Fellowship, Deity/Humanity of Jesus, etc. is a slap in the face of the Almighty, intentional or not. God has revealed His will to us. It is understandable. When we defend it as we are exhorted to do, (cf. Jude 3), we are not in any way usurping God's authority. Perhaps David's aversion to "assign (-ing) blame and punish (-ing) the offenders is a barrier" to the unity he claims he so desparately wants!

Concluding Thoughts

These remarks will serve to conclude the exchange David and I have had concerning proper attitudes toward truth and controversy. He has certainly fully established his contentions in this matter, and I am well satisfied with the response I have given him. All are encouraged to read carefully the entire exchange.

David is very good at criticizing brethren, but like so many others has nothing of value to offer. The best he can do is encourage brethren to drink deeply from the font of denominational error. He casts aspersions on able defenders of truth, and encourages even those who may not have the ability to discern to drink from poisoned wells. It is my prayer that his attitude is rather rare. I am afraid it is not. However, if this exchange has served to open the eyes of any who may otherwise have been influenced by such rationalization, then it has been worth the effort in publishing the exchange.

May God bless our readers with discernment in distinguishing truth from error.

e-mail Stan Cox

return to Watchman front page

return to April 1999 index