by Floyd Chappelear
Sentry Magazine, September 1999
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Romans 16:17).
You now have read every passage in the New Testament which exhorts us to "mark" those who cause division. There is one other reference to "marking" but that is to identify (scope out) those who are living righteously (Philippians 3:17). Is "marking" to be pursued? Of course, when properly done.
John "marked" Diotrephes who had truly caused division within the fellowship of which he was a part (II John 9-11). Paul "marked" Hymenaeus and Alexander declaring that he had taken the action which would be called "withdrawing" in I Corinthians 5 (delivered them to Satan). Troublers of a local fellowship need to be marked and dealt with if they continue within that body.
However, we find neither Paul nor John "marking" others merely because there was a disagreement as to what God requires of us (a doctrinal disagreement). John, for instance, did not mark a single Gnostic in his letters, yet he wrote about the problem and warned people of the damning nature of it. Paul never named a Judaizer, marked nary a one, yet look at how much of his work warns against the corrupting influence of the Judaizer's efforts.
Perhaps we would do well to learn from those examples. With all the energy and resources available to us we should examine false doctrines and vanquish them, but be very cautious that we do not fall into a "marking dog" mode in cases where no division is being fostered in the local body. Some, it seems, fall into an attitude of ferocity when they disagree on doctrinal issues with some of their brethren. These become like those described in Galatians 5:15, "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." Indeed, some becoming "marking dogs" whose purpose seems to be to blunt the influence of those with whom they do not share party affiliation. (This is an important point to consider because "marking dogs" will identify only those outside their circle of friends, even if their friends teach the exact same thing as those who are being "marked teach.) '
"Watch Out, He'll Write You Up"
In a recent issue of a subscription journal, a talented and affable brother not only offered the pages of that publication to those who wanted to "mark" others (not affiliated with the paper?), but justified it by appealing to the Scriptures. Numerous passages which charged the faithful to "watch" on behalf of souls were cited. None contextually. Let me list the verses used and urge you to tum to them and read them. Ezekiel 3:17; Matthew 24:42; 26:41; Mark 13:37; Acts 20:31; Hebrews 13:17; II Corinthians 16:13; I Thessalonians 5:6; II Timothy 4:5; and I Peter 4:7.
The reference to Ezekiel 3:17 set the tone and established the purpose. "Watching" is to be the forerunner of "marking;" yet, none of the passages support such a contention. Ezekiel 3 tells the prophet to watch Israel and give warning to the ones in danger of the judgment about their personal sins. He does not tell him to watch someone else and then give warning to a people not affected. No marking of a third person, in other words. If Ezekiel 3 were to be followed, then the person being marked would have to be the one to whom warning was given. Yet, it never seems necessary to contact the one being marked because some nebulous, non-scriptural, concept is held that he is being marked because his teaching or actions are "public" in nature. Isn't that interesting in view of the fact that such a concept is not found in God's word? Let us take a look at the balance of the cited texts.
Matthew 24:42; 26:41 and Mark 13:37 all require us to watch on behalf of ourselves, not someone else. Elders were exhorted to watch among themselves and to respond as Paul did when sin is noted. No "marking" of someone else in Acts 20. As for Hebrews 13:17, were the elders to watch within their flock or that of another and then give warning to their flock? It is obvious that elders have no "overseeing" responsibilities in flocks of which they are not a part. ("Overseeing" and ''marking" have the same root.)
A personal exhortation to watch on behalf of one's self is given in I Corinthians 16:13 and I Thessalonians 5:6. Paul's admonition in II Timothy 4 has to do with Timothy's being on guard that he falls not into the ear-tickling syndrome which he had been warned against. Finally, I Peter 4:7 refers to watching on behalf of one's self.
Not one of these passages tells us to watch one person or group and warn another person or group. The ones watched are the ones being warned. Years ago my dear friend Cecil Willis wrote frequently, marked, and warned brethren about Carl Ketcherside. I asked him what his purpose was. His answer would mimic those being offered by "marking dogs" today. I then began a little survey everywhere I preached. I would ask, "How many of you know Carl Ketcherside? How many have heard him preach? How many have read his paper?" In years of asking these questions, only one person had ever read a word he wrote. One. Now, what was the purpose of "marking" Carl save to grant him notoriety that he would otherwise not have had?
Better than "marking" a man who has no influence among the faithful is the practice of teaching the truth with clarity wherever we go to preach. Brethren will then recognize false doctrine regardless of who teaches it. That may be why Paul and John refrained from "marking" Judaizers and Gnostics. They were more interested in teaching the truth so no matter who proclaimed error the faithful would shy away from the false doctrine.
Let us conclude by noting there is no particular evidence in Scripture that we need to "mark" those who are unknown in a given area and who are not, therefore, causing division within a local church. In fact, I found it distressing that one aged luminary among us has become the focus of much marking in spite of the fact that not one person could name a single fellowship that he had divided prior to, or even after, the feeding frenzy was begun by some zealous "marking dogs." Too, a book with which they may take zealous exception might never have been written had the brother not been forced to do so to set the record straight from his perspective. In this matter, the divisions, which may result, are more the fault of the markers than the brother being marked.
Marking Dogs Are Not Barking Dogs
A friend once pointed out to me that dogs are not treated with much respect in scripture. He is right. While "marking dogs" tend to be biters and devourers of the brethren (Galatians 5:15), those "watchdogs" who will not bark may be even worse. Isaiah described them in these terms: "His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter" (Isaiah 56:10-11). These are such as who "watch" for the sake of their own gain, not because they are truly interested in souls.
"Markers" tend to use the word of God as a rampart from which to cast fiery darts at their perceived enemies rather than as a foundation upon which they might build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 6:16; I Corinthians 3:11-15). Furthermore, they use those scriptures against the enemy but never make application to their friends who are equally in need of censure.
While I have no desire to unfairly characterize any, I have noticed a strange reluctance on the part of those who delight in "marking" others to issue warnings where they might be deemed most needed. Why? Because if they were to cry out against the sins of those who invite them to preach their invitations to return might diminish. These are ear-ticklers who seem to believe that godliness (preaching) is a way of gain (see I Timothy 6:5). Thus, I offer some cases of those whose tongues are strangely unfree to offer warnings where it would seem they are most wont to offer them. In the cases cited, I will not name names. Why? Because in the first place, there is no principle in Scripture by which to justify it and because I have no desire to be numbered among those whose virulent attacks on others is unwarranted. The cases are real, but the names have been left off.
This summer, it was reliably reported that one able brother preached a meeting in Florida in which he castigated the editorial board of Christianity Magazine. I do not know specifically what he said. However, this I do know. On the way home from the meeting he stopped at the home congregation of one of those four good men and was extended the courtesy of being asked to preach. He said nothing there about the errors of the Christianity Magazine staff. Not one word before the audience where he should have been most anxious to preach it, and to the audience most in need of hearing the warnings if his contentions are true. This brother has also been asked if he would like to preach at Annandale (when visiting here some years ago) but he declined the invite; yet, he proclaims far and wide that I am a troubler in Israel. Not only that, but the editor of the journal with which he is associated has preached here several times and has never cried out warnings to our audience. (The first time I was ever ''written up" was by him, and I have been criticized numerous times by him in the interim. Always at a distance, never face to face.)
In the past twenty-five years, he who is well known for his "trends pointing to apostasy" series has preached between I0-15 times where I labor. Not once has he said a word before our audience to warn us. No "marking" here. Does he "mark" me in other places? Yes, he does. In fact, on one occasion he singled me out and identified me specifically as teaching false doctrine. He misrepresented me and what I believe. When I wrote him about it, he lamely replied, "I didn't know you were in the audience." Of course not. He would have said nothing had he known I was there. I am not the only one who can testify of his tactics in this matter.
The author of the article I mentioned earlier has played golf with me on more than one occasion. Never has he pointed out to me what he thinks my errors are. Never. Yes, another once did it where he preaches, when I was not present to correct the error, but that was all right because it was only done before the "ladies class" and not before the whole church. These marking men seem to have little courage when face to face with those they believe to be in error.
It appears to me that "marking dogs" are eager to present their warnings everywhere but where it would be most appropriate to give them. Why? They appear to be ear ticklers who want to stroke their audiences with what their audiences want to hear. I find it amusing to learn that the men most known for preaching the aforementioned series (''Trends Pointing ...") have each preached it in the home congregation of another who preaches it. Then they boast among themselves about how courageous they are in presenting the material. I get the Revelation 3:16 reaction when I hear such deeds characterized as "brave." It is cowardice at its worst. They preach to each other but remain curiously silent when those about whom they are preaching are present. (There have been some notable but rare exceptions.) That is why I predicted some time ago that the author of the infamous questionnaire creed would withdraw the creed a couple of months before he actually did so (but he did not repudiate it as in error and might reintroduce it). I made the prophecy because I knew that as soon as he realized his "side" was greatly outnumbered he would withdraw it. Bullies are usually cowards as well as being bullies.
We Don't Need a "Marking" Journal
I am disturbed that the pages of a particular journal are opened for marking of the brethren when I realize how limited that "marking" would be. Other than a fine article by Donald Ames, where was the outcry when Roy Cogdill proposed that churches contribute to the defense fund of the Akin Foundation? (The editor's strange silence was explained away because he didn't know enough about the Akin Foundation to know if it was wrong for churches to make donations to it. One didn't have to know anything about it to know it was wrong for churches of Christ to contribute to a human organization.) While that journal has no reluctance to "mark" some for their particularly peculiar views on marriage, divorce, and remarriage (M/D/R), who on that staff has similarly marked the one on the board of directors who takes the same view (that an innocent divorcee may subsequently put away the wicked partner who has remarried)? Ed Harrell's application of Romans 14 is much maligned by that journal, but its editor practices what Ed's position required when it comes to fellowshipping others on the staff who disagree on the marriage question and who teach blatant error on the AD 70 doctrine. (I have read the defense of one eager "marker" and it is far stronger than Ed's published viewpoint.)
(Let me offer an aside. Some "mark" Ed because he sees doctrinal and moral issues in Romans 14. Why, it is astonishing to me when some do not see them there. For instance, the War Question is both doctrinal and moral; yet, brethren will fellowship one another based on Romans 14. Are they correct in so doing? Romans 14 is dealing with those who are imperfect and how we are to receive them. Any who think the chapter is dealing with matters of indifference to either God or man probably shouldn't be expounding on the chapter at all. Are we to assume that killing people is a matter of indifference to God? Well, neither is observing days. Paul said he was afraid some were apostate because they observed days in Galatians 4:11.)
We don't need any journal open to criticize brethren who are afforded no opportunity to defend themselves. That is what would exist if the able author's suggestion was followed. We need journals to be open to presenting the truth but which will not allow brethren to be defamed without an opportunity to present what they believe. "Come, let us reason together." Hear both sides. That is what happened in Acts 15 and that is what should be occurring today. In fact, one of my criticisms of Christianity Magazine is that they offer no regular forum for controversy. I have no problem with the "positive" approach which they take, but I believe that they could present opposing viewpoints in the journal on a wide range of topics with each writer providing his material independently of what the other writer offers.
Journals, whether they be print or electronic, evidence a lack of confidence in what they believe when they are reluctant to allow those with whom they disagree to present their views. In point of fact, it looks as if those so keen to mark others do so because they are fearful that the saints might actually consider what is being said and become persuaded of the truth of the ones being marked. Truth has absolutely nothing to fear from open investigation. Those who fear both sides being heard apparently have little confidence in what they personally believe. I hope this "marking dogs" mentality gets laid to rest and done so soon.
What Does the Future Hold?
Several years ago Carl Ketcherside was a nattering nabob of negativism (thanks, Spiro, I've wanted to use that line for thirty years and never had a chance before now). However, he made a transition of unexpected proportions and began to receive into his fellowship almost everything. History suggests that those who are most eager to "mark" others and who make such grandiose claims about what they think Romans 14 teaches will weary of their ever-decreasing circle of influence and will end up pulling a Ketcherside on the brotherhood. They will one day embrace what they now so vehemently abhor. Their inconsistency will weigh heavily against their consciences and they will quickly drift into the liberalism they imagine that they are now opposing. Ketcherside was not alone. Consider Leroy Garrett and others who have had a penchant for "marking" others. They often wear themselves out and will switch in their pursuit of a larger fellowship. Watch that prediction and report back ten years from now.
by Roger Trimm
There are some folks of such a mind
That will not rest until they find
Some brother's fault, some act unkind,
Which they expose for all to see,
With more than ordinary glee,
"Aha, you're just as bad as me!"
Such thinking will, at last, prove true.
In that dark home you're headed to
They all will be as bad as you.