by Fanning Yater Tant,
Vanguard Magazine, January 25, 1979
This editorial is being written on my birthday (December 30). I have now attained my three score and ten, and have reached a point in life where I am neither ashamed nor afraid to say some things which would have been ranked heresy at a younger age. And one thing I have no hesitancy in affirming is that “I have a closed mind.” I am not a “truth-seeker” in certain great and tremendously important areas. Will I discuss such questions with one who differs from me? Of course, I will -- but as a teacher of my disputant, not as a “seeker after truth.” I have the truth on these matters; I enjoy it.
I am no longer in any state of mind that allows for doubt or uncertainty. I think this is the trait that ought to characterize every mature Christian. As the years slip by, there should be more and more areas in which our convictions become so firmly rooted that we can join with Paul in saying, “We know,” rather than “We believe” on such things, but have reached – certainty. Luke wrote to Theophilus in order that his friend might have “certainty” concerning the things in which he had been instructed. It is amazing the difference this “certainty” can make in the life of an individual.
The Existence of God
Our generation has a plethora of people who do not believe in God. They are of two kinds—the theoretical, philosophical, quasi-scientific atheist who identifies with the fool of Psalm 14:1 and says, "In his heart, there is no God,” and the professing believer whose practical and emotional life each day proclaims his disbelief in the words he mouths.
I do not have an “open mind” as to the existence of God. The truth of His being and the reality of His existence has been so overwhelmingly established in my heart that I could doubt my own existence as easily as I could question the existence of God. The subject is not debatable. In my university and seminary days, I spent many long hours carefully studying every argument I could find against His existence, arguments from the ancients as well as from current scholars. In essence, there has been no new argument advanced in a thousand years, regardless of the field in which one explores. If someone advances what he considers new evidence to support a non-theistic concept, I believe with a little research I could show him where essentially that very argument was made and answered in the first two or three centuries of the Christian era.
The Divinity of Christ
My mind is equally “closed” as to the Divinity of Jesus Christ. Will I study the subject with an unbelieving Jew? Of course, I will – but as a teacher, not as a truth-seeker. And incidentally, I have yet to meet a truly sincere unbeliever who has carefully read and studied one good book on Christian Evidence! The nature of Christ was a subject of hot debate in the very earliest days of Christianity. Even among those who professed to be followers of Christ, there were some (the Cerinthians or Ebionites) who denied the divinity of Christ, contending that he was wholly human, but was “infused” with the Divine essence in the form of a dove that came upon Him at His baptism and departed from Him on the cross. (They declare that the agonizing cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” was wrung from Jesus when he realized that Divinity had left Him, and He was to die as a mere human being.)
More than a century ago H. P. Liddon, Canon of St. Paul’s and Professor of Exegesis at the University of Oxford, delivered a series of lectures on “The Divinity of Christ (Bampton Lectures, 1566) which has been generally acknowledged as an absolutely impregnable defense of the central truth of Christ’s divinity. He demonstrated beyond all question the falsity of those opposers of the first centuries and the monotonous way in which these old discarded and shop-worn arguments keep cropping up from time to time in a new dress and current form. But they are as false now as when they came from the pens of such pagan philosophers as Celsus, Porphyry, and Hierocles in the early dawn of the faith. I read the writings of such men with the same detached interest which I have in reading Greek mythology -- interesting but obviously absurd.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For we know if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.” (II Corinthians 5:1). Paul had a “closed mind” as to immortality; it was not a speculative or debatable subject with him. Nor with me. I think I am familiar with the objections to such an idea; whether from the realm of pure science or from philosophical assumptions. But the evidence for such is so strong as to amount to a demonstration, indeed, that is exactly what happened in the resurrection of Christ. And on purely philosophical grounds it is far less difficult to accept the idea of a life beyond the grave than to accept the origin of life ex nihilo (out of nothing) in the first place! Will I discuss the idea of immortality with an unbeliever? Of course. But I am not a “truth-seeker,” on this subject; I would view myself as a “truth-believer.” I am happy and relaxed in the certainty of immortality, rather than groping and wondering and hanging in suspense. I share completely the conviction of Washington Gladden, “That somewhere, beyond the stars, Is a Love that is better than fate; When the night unlocks her bars I shall see Him, and I will wait”
There is one other area, a sad one this, in which my mind is very nearly “closed” – not completely so, perhaps, but near enough to it to bring unceasing sorrow of heart. That is the conviction that the great majority of what some have called the “mainline Churches of Christ” will continue right on their present course into full-fledged denominationalism. I do not think any mature student of church history can view the present scene with any understanding at all and come to any other conclusion. I am quite aware of the valiant efforts of such men as Thomas B. Warren, Guy N. Woods, Ira Y Rice, and some others to stem the tide. I think they are doomed to failure. The whole lesson of religious history over thousands of years demonstrates that once an apostasy gets well underway, it never turns back.
Nearly a century ago David Lipscomb wrote on this subject in the Gospel Advocate pointing out the melancholy fact that a “pattern of apostasy” is seen over and over again through all of God’s dealing with His people. There would be alternating periods of faithfulness and apostasy, and every time an apostasy developed, it would sweep the great majority of God’s people into its destructive error. Usually, only a remnant (and sometimes not even that) would emerge holding “to the old paths.” This remnant would gradually grow and become strong again, and when a few generations had passed, and the children of God were once again a great and powerful people -- the same dismal story would be repeated. Lipscomb’s plea was that every reader of the Gospel Advocate determines in his heart to “be a part of the remnant,” I would add to Lipscomb’s plea that every reader of Vanguard not only determine to be “a part of the remnant,” but that you exert every effort within your power (your prayers, your purse, and your personal influence with others) to persuade every Christian you can reach to become like you, “a part of the remnant.”
And so my seventieth birthday draws to a close; the day is far spent, and the night is at hand. On this cold but beautiful winter’s day, I look back across these seventy years only briefly; my real interest is in the years that lie ahead: I face the future, not the past. I ran across a few lines from Robert Frost the other day that fit my mood perfectly, “The woods are lovely, and dark and deep; But I have many miles to go, And promises to keep, Before I sleep.” And I travel those miles, and keep those promises with a “closed mind” --- on some subjects!
And now I leave the typewriter to go to a “surprise birthday party” some of the folks from the church have prepared for me!
(NOTE) The warnings, written by my father over 40 years ago, have certainly come to pass, as we see so many “churches of Christ” today that are using instrumental music in worship, ordaining women as elders, and having women preaching. The old saying that “History repeats itself” has certainly proven to be true. The pattern is seen over and over again in the Old Testament, and continues to this day. We must give need to the words of Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus says the LORD, "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'” – -- Jefferson David Tant