Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Who Is Sound? A Thought from 1916
In 1916, J. N. Armstrong was, among other things, editor of the Gospel Herald. Armstrong had consciously decided to follow the example he had witnessed in both Lipscomb and Harding of allowing open and free discussions in a brotherly manner. From time to time he felt the need to call the brotherhood back to these principles of non-sectarian Christianity.
In 1916 he asked a question as the title to an article: "Who is Sound?" Even in 1916 the term "sound" was a loaded, as well as a coded, word. To be labeled as "unsound" was a practical death sentence on a preacher. Armstrong though believed the way that term was understood was, perhaps, off. One can be faithful he argues while still having differences.
"If Christians are allowed to keep their individualities and permitted to make individual effort and progress in Christian growth, there must be, there will always be, differences among growing and developing children of God."
Looking back to his younger years he notes that some sort of change in the atmosphere has taken place.
"When I was a boy, the disciples were not alarmed by it [i.e. differences]. Bro. Jones does not agree with Bro. Smith, but nobody was alarmed by it. When I entered the Nashville Bible School at Nashville, it was well understood that that Bro. Sewell and Dr. Brents differed on the appointment of elders, on the millennium, and on other questions like them. So it was understood respecting Brethren Lipscomb and Harding, Taylor and Lipscomb and so forth. Each freely discussed his side, or phase, of the controverted point. That anyboyd would consider one 'unsound,' 'disloyal,' or unworthy of the most hearty fellowship never entered one's mind."
With that memory of the freedom and fellowship of the NBS, Armstrong issues this plea
"May I entreat you and your goodness of soul not to think of one of your faithful brethren's being 'unsound' because of his position on any of the differences now among us. The very thought is wicked. Let these differences be discussed fully, freely, and brotherly among us."
Armstrong continues on with a warning that those who refused to follow such a course of action are "factious men." Indeed, Armstrong senses that the real culprite might just be the rise of sectarian spirit within the church.
"I want to beg the readers of this paper to stand for this better ground. Don't tolerate and allow to grow around you the sentiment that would measure soundness by this intolerant, sectarian spirit. The progress of our beloved people and of that brotherly spirit so necessary to the peace of this people will not allow that divisive spirit . . . Let him not be afraid to make known his convictions lest he be called unsound; let us be real brethren, faithful brethren, loyal to one another, in spite of these differences."
Robert Henry Boll thought enough of this article from Gospel Herald to reprint it in full in Word and Work 10 (August 1916), 344.
The gracious, biblical, non-sectarian spirit revealed in this article is the kind I pray and long for in our fellowship today. This vision is what John Mark Hicks and I attempted to communicate in ch. 10 of Kingdom Come. It was likely a minority view in 1916 but it is my prayer that it will be the majority in 2006.
Ut omnes unum sint (John 17.21, Vulgate) ... "that they may all be one." Live the Prayer!!!