by James R. Cope
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 2, December 1951.
Reputation and Character
Character is what we are. It is the sum total of qualities that distinguish one person from another. Reputation is what is said about us -- that which others think we are. Character and reputation are sometimes the same: perhaps more often they are different. Others determine our reputation. We determine our character. One's reputation may change with the alteration of private or public approbation of disapproval while one's character may remain constant or vary irrespective of the judgments of others. Before God, we should strive to make our reputation and character the same. God knows what we think, feel, and do -- what we are. We know better than any other mortal our thoughts, emotions, and actions "for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him" (I Corinthians 2:11).
Reputation and Consistency
Men with the loftiest thoughts, deepest emotions, and noblest deeds -- men of jeweled character -- sometimes have their motives questioned, their deeds maligned, and their reputations ruined when conscience demands they state their convictions on issues over which there is a divergence of understanding or teaching. Friendship is often broken and he who was once an ardent supporter becomes a bitter antagonist because of a revised view or a changed position. This loss of reputation may be because former friends cannot conscientiously accept the newly espoused position or it may be that they will not accept it because of the embarrassing situation in which they are left. There may be room for the former; there is nothing but stubbornness and sin in the latter.
In either event, the character of the man who shifts has not been injured provided his change is right and prompted by convictions rather than convenience. God knows the heart and the deed. Why, therefore, should one be concerned or fear what others shall say or do?
Character and Condemnation
No Christian will assume an arrogant attitude in any matter nor will he knowingly compromise the truth. No man with real self-respect will think of himself and his views on every matter as the end of all wisdom, or will he salve his conscience by winking at known evil or obvious departures from the faith. With prayerful attention and interest he will examine every matter as he can and with charitable frankness express his views. More than this no rational and fair person will demand; less than this would be hypocrisy. A faulty conclusion on a particular point does not necessarily destroy a position and a mistake in human thinking does not brand the thinker wholly evil. Yet it is easy for us to "cast the first stone" of condemnation without knowing the principles or premises leading to certain conclusions and at the same time be guilty of grievous error either by withholding comment or pertinent points or giving encouragement to enemies of the truth because of personal dislike for a brother engaged in verbal combat. Such a disposition is not only unchristian, it is cowardly and smells of rotten religious politics.
It comes with poor grace and poorer taste for any man to hold back his influence when vital issues are being discussed and to sit on the sidelines and hurl stones at those engaged in battle. It is, even more, a mark of cowardice and true littleness for such a one to snipe at those who are carrying the fight which he should be carrying. More especially is the latter true if the consideration is born of policy rather than principle. Snipers and personal reputation assassins are twin brothers born of the same mother whose family name is usually "Envy". Neither is commendable. Both are sons of the devil. Honorable men will not stoop to such tactics.
Principle or Policy
Consistency with company is one thing. Consistency with conscience is another. Consistency for popularity's sake is puerile and hypocritical. consistency for conviction's sake is manly and pure. Consistency of policy for personal and policy's sake will in the end be fatal. Consistency for principle's sake will be life eternal. Concern over consistency for what one has said or written previously if revised reason in view of rethinking revelation demands a change if nothing but the spirit of pride and the fear of exposure.
Character and Truth
It is one thing to be unstable. It is another thing to "prove all things" and "hold fast that which is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). It is one thing to be double-minded and wavering; it is something else to "examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith" (II Corinthians 13:5).
As one reviews many of the great leaders of yesteryears he cannot but be impressed by the vigor with which they espoused one point of view at one time in their lives only to find the same Pauline zeal opposing the former view at a later period. Were these men either weak or hypocritical? The answer is best seen in the persecution they suffered at the hands of their brethren after their change. Hypocrites will not suffer vituperous vindictiveness relentlessly, but a conviction will. He who will not revise his views and practice in the light of new learning is a hypocrite. He who makes his practice consistent with his conscientious convictions is a man. Both his views and his practice may be wrong, but such a person is no doubt nearer the kingdom than he who for pride's sake stultifies his conscience though he retains his influence. If changing views or position be a mark of instability, be it said that some of the strongest arguments ever made against the errors of digression are those announced and successfully defended by men who at one time in their religious history were outspoken advocates of digressive tendencies. None of us has heard of these arguments being thrown away because of their origin.
One of the fundamental reasons why the Restoration Movement commended itself to the sober thinkers of the times and progressed as it did was the disposition of its leaders to surrender former views in the light of newly found truths. Once they were convinced of the error they gladly gave it up and espoused the truth learned. True enough they had their verbal battles but many of the fundamental principles upon which the church stood in apostolic days and at the present came to be taught and practiced by the Restorers as these principles were forged into unmistakable clarity in the fires of controversy. Disciples today have gone too far too fast if either they surrender these eternal principles found or forsake the attitude of mind and heart which characterized the search for them.