by Floyd Chappelear
Sentry Magazine, December 2001
The Scripture says that there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This is a theme I have been preaching for the twenty-seven years that this little journal has been published. None of the "trends toward apostasy" which are operating among us are new. In fact, the problem of the most denominational thinkers among us are the ones who have the greatest difficulty of recognizing it in themselves.
As an example, we call attention to the creed writing tendency of one among us. Did the idea of fashioning a creed originate with him? Anyone who has ever heard of the Apostles Creed, that of the Nicene council, or any other knows the answer to that. However, the feeble defense that it wasn't a creed at all, but it was simply a questionnaire (that many interpreted as a creed improperly, it is said) which does not smack of creedalism. Frankly, the same kind of thinking that led to the institutional problem among us was manifested by those who formed or endorsed the creed. Again, I have been insisting for years that there is precious little difference in the thinking of many prominent brethren in the 1940s and 50s and the thinking of some these days.
However, let us reconsider the matter of the creedal questionnaire and the thinking of brethren some 50 years ago. The following is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in the Gospel Guardian on September 6, 1956. One who reads it will marvel at the similarity of the thinking of creed writers then and those who fashion such today. Specifically, why would anyone send a questionnaire to brethren who are well known and who established their reputations for fealty to the word years before? Because the creed makers have a sectarian attitude toward the church and feel that they need something more than the Bible "to determine who is walking in the old paths" (the very term used in the cover letter to justify sending the document out in the first place). Now, you are encouraged to read A. Hugh Clark's article published half a century ago.
As an aside, it is noteworthy to observe that Clark preached in a church that today subscribes to creed making.
My Defense to Them that Examine Me
by A. Hugh Clark
The words of Paul that make the caption of this article are forensic in nature. Paul considered himself as having been arraigned before a legal tribunal and so questioned as to make it necessary for him to make an answer. The attitude of the Corinthians toward the apostle, in the light of his established integrity, based upon service even among these very Corinthians, was ridiculous in the extreme.
But, as it was then, so it has ever been, and is now, it seems. No matter how long a gospel preacher may have served his day and generation, nor what has been his record for moral uprightness and fair dealing, loyalty to the truth, lack of ill, judgment, or in the providence of God the measure of peace and success that have attended his work with the churches where he has lived and labored; there are some among us who, emboldened by the continual agitation and express instructions of certain who conceive themselves to be ecclesiastical overlords and who happen to be in positions advantageous to the dissemination of their evil influence, seek to intimidate or else eliminate everyone who will not submit both to their examination and to their tyranny. And the pity and pathos of the situation is that many of these so acting among the churches are well-meaning men who have been led to believe that in so doing they are only discharging their God-given duties, that they are protecting the church over which they serve as bishops.
[The modern 28 query questionnaire was fashioned by a preacher, but he initially claimed it had been the product of the elders where he preached. fdc]
The tragedy of this folly on the part of all responsible, its devisors and its perpetrators, is deeper and darker than any the classic poets ever wrote, and well deserves to be likened to the tragedy of blood and heartbreak attendant upon the demise of ancient Israel. And, again, I say, only an immediate return on the part of all to the virtues of real Christianity, as taught in the New Testament, and exemplified in the lives of Christ and the apostles can save many of us from hell and the church from catastrophe.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for the Special Issue of The Gospel Guardian, in which I pleaded with all the earnestness of my soul for, that disposition on the part of brethren everywhere which would make possible a sincere, conscientious study and investigation of the word of the Lord, as it pertains to those practices among us which are everywhere in question. And upon which, as I said in, the article mentioned, the brethren are much more evenly divided in judgment than many would like to concede or even to think.
I beg leave here, for reasons which will be obvious later, to quote the paragraph next to the last in this article, in which I said:
"Any man, or group of men, in any church, or among all the churches, undertaking to throttle, this investigation and seeking after truth, and thus to force certain convictions on either an individual, a congregation, or on the church in general, in the very nature of the case is arbitrary in attitude, and is therefore, out of order. Truth is invincible; error cannot contain it; it must be given its freedom or it will break through to find it."
Shortly after this article was published, in complete disregard of its agonizing plea and wholly devoid of the spirit which it was my intention to inculcate, I received a letter from a group of elders in a church where I was supposed to do the preaching in a gospel meeting in the month of August, in which, after some words complimentary of the article in general they said:
"Since we have invited you to be with the ----- church in a gospel meeting in August, now just a few weeks away, we feel that an understanding must be reached on some points raised in the article in question .... We, therefore, would like for you to write us your views about the matters of church support of orphan homes, cooperative mission work, and the Herald of Truth radio and television programs, and particularly what your attitude would be about discussing these matters in the meeting in question."
Now, I was not unacquainted with the position of the elders of this church regarding these matters about which they wrote. I knew that only recently one of the most capable, studious, consecrated, God-fearing gospel preachers in the entire brotherhood had, with his lovely wife and two children, loaded his household effects and moved from their midst, not because there was dissatisfaction with his work, not that he had made a 'hobby' of the issues, as some are wont to accuse, not that he had failed in any way regarding his duties, but because of incompatibility growing out of these matters which, by them, were forced into the church and its work. The preacher was not asked to resign but had he remained he would have been forced into such menial, servile, slavish submission as would have completely emasculated the pulpit of all power, sacrificed his personal integrity, destroyed his self-respect, and reduced him to a mere puppet, saying his lines which were either dictated or censored by others, and moving only as and when the powers pulled the strings!
Does anybody think that God intended for elders in a church to be clothed with any such dictatorial powers like this? Or that evangelistic, gospel preachers, should occupy any such position as this in his church? I, for one, do not; and, as always, utterly refuse to be cast in any such roll. Such is a prostitution of both offices (services) in the church, and constitutes one of the first departures of the second century resulting ultimately in the great apostasy which followed. Ignatius, who was martyred early in the second century A.D., and whom tradition says was a disciple of the apostle John, said: "Ye should also be subject to the presbyters, as to the apostles of Jesus Christ," He further said: "See that ye follow the presbyters as ye would the apostles." Irenaeus, who was born about 120 A.D. made this statement: "Wherefore it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto, God and Christ." Thus presbyters or bishops were made absolute over the church, and the initial departure was effected.
The pulpits of the churches must be left free under Christ, unfettered by human restrictions, whether coming from the pew, the elders, or any other earthly source. And any preacher who will capitulate and serve under any other circumstances, either in local work or in a protracted meeting, is a hireling, a time-serving professionalist lacking even the character of real manhood much less the stature of a gospel preacher.
This is not rebellion against the order of God for the government of His churches, as someone will doubtless charge. No man has greater esteem and regard for elders than I do, and having myself, served in that capacity also, I know something of their work and their problems. But true elders in churches of Christ do not rule by dictatorial authority vested in an "office" called "The Eldership." They rule by the faithful use of God's word, in which they themselves, are experts, apt in teaching, and which is the only authority for the government of preachers, elders, and all other Christians. Paul speaks of a qualified elder as, "Holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers" (Titus 1:9). And this is the way the mouths of false teachers are to be stopped; not by an "Official Fiat" of "The Officers" of the church.
One is reminded by the things taking place in the church today of a like circumstance in the history of Judah in the days of Isaiah the prophet when Judah sought the counsel of their own inclinations, had predetermined to make a league with Egypt; they, therefore "refused and sought not Divine counsel, but, said, "Said to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isaiah 30). We wonder how many there are who adopt and act upon the same principle in the church today? How many are there who, when tempted to adopt the customary, turn to the questionable but seemingly advantageous (expedient?), how many with steady clearness of moral vision look personally and straight at the word of God before determining their course? It is so much easier, for the present, to go along; to silence the mouths of the timid by "Official interdiction." And, with the timid, it is so much easier just to conform, to make the expected and usual genuflections and comply. But the end of all such can be only shame, confusion, defeat, condemnation.
My answer to these brethren who wrote, therefore, is contained in the following letter which I quote; and such is and will be my answer to any others if there be others, who contemplate writing such a letter to me.
I am glad that you have received and read the special issue of the Gospel Guardian. I tried hard in the article which I wrote to express the only solution I can see for the problems and difficulties on which the church has fallen in our times.
I take it however, that the ingratiating things you had to say concerning the article, in the beginning of your letter, were said merely for the sake of diplomacy; for with the whole intent and purpose of the article, your entire letter works up to violent disagreement. And the request of the last paragraph of the letter does not even veil your already well formed intent and purpose, notwithstanding the fact, as I said in my article, that for more than forty years I have faithfully preached the gospel from the forks of the road to the largest churches we have in the world, in local work and in gospel meetings. And, though I still preach the same things now I have always preached, and in the same way I have always preached them, I am thus threatened, unless I spit in the face of my own intelligence, sacrifice my self-respect and integrity, and submit being gagged by the same sort of ecclessiastic rule enforced by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and among us stemming from the editors of certain religious papers.
All I have to say is that my views of the organization, operation, and work of the church of our Lord, are contained in and fully expressed by a little book called the New Testament, which I believe with an my heart to be infallible in its every statement; moreover, to it I am fully committed and wholly dedicated. And further, I have never stood before an audience except with this book in my head and in my hand, and with a conscience untrammeled by the doctrines, commandments, and interdictions of men, recognizing no lordship over my faith and my teaching save the Lordship of Him who is the only Head of the church, and amenable to no judgment save the judgment of Him from whose rule there is no appeal. And from this position I will not retreat even though it cost me my life.
I suggest now, that you read my article again, and this time please without prejudice, paying especial attention to that paragraph next to the last, and you will see 'how unnecessary your letter really was.
A. Hugh Clark.