by Floyd Chappelear
Sentry Magazine, September 2001
I don't like labels. I don't like pigeon-holing people. There are many reasons. but the chief among them is they rarely convey the message that the label is intended to articulate. Let me provide you with some f'rinstances. The word "Liberal" in the political sense would tend to convey the idea that one is for more government control over our lives. Its opposite, "Conservative," should mean that one is in favor of less government. However, if one were measuring the political fortunes of any formerly Communist country it is the conservatives who want to return to government domination whereas the liberals are favoring a more open society. This is because the two terms are value-free lexicographically.
Even in the spiritual arena, the two words have little value. Let's give another f'rinstance. Some would consider the no-class position one of being ultra-conservative. I don't think so. I really believe it is part of a liberal approach to scripture. That is, it seeks to establish authority on the basis of human reasoning and not scriptural principles themselves. Not all would agree with me on this, but that is neither here nor there.
Some brethren once argued in rather large numbers that there is no permission to divorce and remarry at all. Their view grew out of the perception that Matthew 19 (the "exception" passage) is given before the cross and that after the cross there is no exception given at all. Those who hold that view would tend to regard those of us who do not hold it as being "liberal" in our approach. "Conservative" and "liberal" are values-free.
The Biblical Conundrum
There are many things that are not delineated in Scripture which many of us think should be. They remain among the Biblical mysteries which we explain by saying they are the "secret" things that belong to God (Deuteronomy 29:29) Among these are the matters pertaining to Judaizing teachers. First, of course, is the fact that there are none named. Nada. None. We, however, cannot seem to deal with doctrines of error without naming brethren in what appears to be an attempt to alienate others from them. Little of that is found in Scripture. When brethren call forth examples they must cite the exceptions, not the rule. Jesus never named a Sadducee or Pharisee other than on a very few occasions (i.e, the high priest, a Sadducee, was named). The same can be said about Paul in spite of the fact that a couple are named. Most are not.
John says much about the Gnosticism of his day but names nary a one. However, what is even more puzzling to me is the fact that the pigeon-hole isn't identified either. Judaizing and Gnosticism are words not found in the Word of God. We might do well to learn from this. Truth and error are clearly identified in Scripture. pigeon-holes are not.
I Haven't Learned
Having said the foregoing I will now demonstrate that I may not have learned the lesson. I am going to fashion a pigeon-hole, but will not try to name anyone who will fit within it. At the same time, I hope to make it clear that the pigeon-hole is so that we can avoid finding ourselves comfortable in it. The new term? "Non-institutional liberals."
These are brethren who oppose institutions but are not content to leave the church as God formed it -- a collection of saved people. NI-liberals view the church as a collection of congregations operating under the same umbrella. Somehow these churches have coalesced into a non-cohesive entity. In other words, they speak of congregations being independent of one another but cannot conceive of them remaining apart from one another. Pressure is brought to bear by agents of one collectivity (which may even be a gospel paper or college) on those who are members of another (usually a local church). If the one disagrees with the choice one might make for a gospel meeting speaker those in opposition have been known to rise up and picket the independent church (it has happened) or, at least, write letters or articles condemning it for its choice. (The Internet is especially useful for such endeavors.)
The attempt to fashion a creed, touted by many and defended by none, was nothing short of an act characteristic of NI-liberalism. It was asserted that we need to know who is walking in the old paths and who is not; the creed satisfied that demand (or, at least to some).
The Rebaptism Controversy
In the I9" century there was a controversy as to whether or not people being baptized by those associated with the Missionary Society advocates would have to be rebaptized. While the issue seems silly in its 19th-century context, it is being asserted today with completely straight faces. Anyone baptized and in fellowship with the "Christian Church" must assuredly be rebaptized should he join forces with us. It won't be long before the same demand will be made by those who have had fellowship with institutionally minded churches of Christ.
Brethren, let us remember some important things. chief of which is this: Baptism is not a church ordinance. What some organizations may do as a result of one's being scripturally baptized has no effect on its efficacy. Let me make that clear: If we regard the immersed as a member of a local church because of it, such is no more an addition than if some group adds him to the fellowship of those who use pianos. How men react to one baptized in obedience to the commands of God adds nothing to the truth concerning what the Bible teaches about baptism.
This issue, along with others, is to be added to that mountain of evidence piling up before us that there is non-institutional liberalism growing among us. Fellowship is determined by fealty to our predilections rather than by what the Bible actually teaches.