“There is a great need to stress the importance of maintaining freedom of speech in the kingdom of God. Intolerance is dangerous to the future growth of the church . . . All progress of truth – scientific truth, political truth, or religious truth – all truth - has always depended on free speech and progressive teachers who were not afraid to teach their honest convictions.” (J. N. Armstrong, For Freedom)
"The fatal error of all reformers, has been that they have too hastily concluded that they knew the whole truth, and have settled back upon the same principles of proscription, intolerance and persecution, against which they so strongly remonstrated.” (John Rogers, Christian Messenger, 1830)
Stoned-Campbell Thoughts in the Rear View Mirror
Stoned-Campbell Thoughts in the Rear View Mirror
It seems certain to me that one of the biggest hindrances to shalom in God's church is the notion that we have arrived at an infallible understanding of truth ... even "revealed" truth. Comments on my recent blog post, Of Popes in the Belly" point to a considerable rift in attitudes toward each other and the text and thus serves as the inspiration for this particular post. I argued in my book with John Mark Hicks, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding that freedom is a gift from God to his children and it flows in our veins and DNA through the Stone-Campbell tradition ... especially the Nashville Bible School Tradition. Spiritual arrogance breeds war, disunity and kills the desire to learn. This plea surfaces a number of times from various writers within the sphere of the NBST. I thought I would share, briefly, three more this morning.
The first comes again from the pen of J. N. Armstrong. On July 9, 1914 in the Gospel Herald (pp. 3-4). Armstrong penned a piece called "Gnat-Strainers and Camel Swallowers." The opening paragraph is a "mouthful" to say the least:
"A man may be very correct in his doctrine, may teach a perfect gospel, may dot every 'i' and cross every 't' in his faithfulness in teaching what is written: he may be a good man and be able to say as the rich young ruler: 'All these I have kept from my youth up,' and still not be the Lord's servant."
How could this be? Well Armstrong argues that biblical Christianity is not simply about getting forms correct and observance of ordinances. There is a "spirit that must permeate and saturate the lives of those keeping the forms, lest the keeping be an abomination in our Master's sight."
With a lengthy review of the history of
, with emphasis given to such passages as Isaiah 1.11-15 and 29.13,24 and Hosea 6.6 and finally Mt 23.23, Armstrong believes we need to heed the warning. He says Israel
"I wonder if we are not repeating the sins of
. Are we neglecting the 'weightier matters.' Have we gone and learned what God meant when he said: 'I desire goodness and not sacrifice?' (Hosea 6:6). How many of us are straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel? How many of us have been guilty of gagging over a gnat until we have destroyed the comfort and peace of the whole congregation, while at the same time we were gulping down camels? Let us not forget that there are small and large, lighter and weightier matters of the law." Israel
Another voice is that of Samuel Parker Pittman. Pittman was first a student at the NBS and then, like Boll, became an instructor. Indeed Harding baptized Pittman in 1886. S.P.P became a quiet channel for the NBST as the 20th century progressed. Pittman rarely crossed swords but in 1919 he did register a protest about the way some things were going in the Churches of Christ. He wrote a piece called "What's the Matter?" for the May 22 GA. He begins the essay with a review of the degeneration of the church into centralization of power in the Roman papacy. He praises Luther for his courage in speaking up. He thanks the "learned" John Calvin and the dissenters in the English Reformation. He then states:
"The caption of this article is, 'What's the Matter?' What is the matter with what? With the movement started so auspiciously by the Campbells and others? Why, the trouble is not in the movement, nor in the men who inaugurated it. The trouble has been with us, who have espoused the movement, while refusing to wear the name of this great reformer and while denying that we are his followers (it would be better if some did follow him more scrupulously than they do)."
So what is wrong with the generation Pittman is addressing? He explains:
"In our belief that 'we are right,' that we occupy 'infallibly safe grounds,' we are prone to become (have become) narrow, bigoted, intolerant. It is not the novice alone who is this; it is the more experienced brother, whose life and influence should be a benediction. I deplore the attitude of our older brethren who feel that they are the arbiters of the faith of the younger, who feel called upon to condemn in bitter terms the mistakes they may make, and who are ready to ostracize those who cry for a deepr spirituality, because they are guilty of some doctrinal irregularity."
Since my post has grown considerably I will perhaps add the letter from a "Young Preacher" later. It is a fascinating letter though.