Tom Roberts

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Suspicious Source Material

Editor's Note: You may be surprised to know that the following article was written by brother Roberts July 31, 1977, and first appeared in the West Side Weekly, a local bulletin he edited for the West Side congregation in Ft. Worth, TX. The more things change, the more they remain the same!

I suppose that every preacher of the gospel (as well as most Bible teachers) has a number of shelves full of commentaries, reference books and other material that originated within denominationalism. Such study helps are used to read, compare, study from and, within limits of revealed truth, shed light on difficult matters. The use of this material should not, and does not, suggest approbation of all that is contained in each volume. In fact, denominational material may be used simply to learn what a certain sect teaches on a doctrinal matter. This is a proper and profitable use of such material.

However, there is another use which changes complexion altogether. This involves the use of books, commentaries, articles and bulletins in such a manner that endorses false teaching. Of this, we must beware.

There have been occasions when a gospel preacher changes position on some point of scripture. This in itself, of course, is not wrong. But what is wrong is when this preacher, having changed his mind, fails to state plainly, "I have changed," and, "Here are the scriptures that made me change my mind." Instead there is too often an appeal to suspicious source material — writings of men either inside or outside the church. As far as I am personally concerned, I have more respect for a man who will say, "I have changed," pointing to the Bible for his position even when I disagree with him than the man who will not admit a change or who will quote men and not the Bible.

For instance, I know what position liberals are going to take on certain scriptures dealing with the work and worship of the church. Books have been written and some authors within liberal ranks have become rather (in)famous for their writings defending digressive practices. I read their books to learn their view, accepting that which agrees with the Bible and casting away the chaff that does not agree. But this use does not permit me to recommend their material in such a way to suggest approval of their liberal views. If I should begin to quote from some of the liberal preachers and their writings without indicating disagreement in areas of work and worship I would be misleading.

Further, I would not praise such men, their writings or their preaching in such a blanket or general manner so as to create a climate of endorsement regarding their faithfulness. To do so would cast doubt on my stand for truth or my own understanding of some issues.

What would brethren think of me if I praised liberal preachers, quoted from liberal publications, agreed with their positions on the authority of the scriptures and then imported a liberal preacher into the congregation to preach, endorsing him highly as one of the ablest preachers anywhere? Why, you would be suspicious of me, and with reason! John said (2 John 9-11) that we should not bid God-speed to such people, for to do so makes me become a partaker of their evil. Certainly, brethren would have a right to look twice at my direction of travel in spiritual matters.

Today there are some preachers that are crying all the time that they are "misunderstood" or "abused." Yet they use suspicious source material in their writings; they give hearty endorsements to false teachers; they make an "uncertain sound" in their preaching and then wonder why brethren question their soundness. Verily, they have no one to blame but themselves, but they will not accept the burden of their own guilt. When called into question for a change of doctrine, they will turn on their querist. When asked for book, chapter and verse for their teaching, they will try to turn guilt back upon the other by insinuating that the querist is a "brotherhood watchdog," "a keeper of orthodoxy," or a "meddler in other men's matters."

Does it not seem strange that some rule of thumb gives some a right to preach anything they so desire, using suspicious source references and yet we do not have the right to ask, "Scripture please?" False teachers have always tried to turn the burden of guilt upon those who withstood their digressive practices. So it was in the days of the apostles; so it was in the restoration movement; and so it is today. Their view is, "I have a right to innovate but you have no right to insist on scripture."

This would not be too bad if it didn't fool so many. False teachers lead many astray and play upon friendship and the martyr-complex to win sympathy for their cause. Our answer is to insist upon scripture. Personal attacks and petulant outbursts are not sufficient — we demand nothing short of a "thus saith the Lord." This has always been the position of faithful brethren and it will continue to be. If that makes us a "watchdog" for challenging those who teach error publically and privately, so be it. We stand in scriptural company for we are to "try the spirits for there are many false prophets gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).

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