Christian Unity: How Promoted, How Destroyed (Part 2)
The apostles in their teachings, everywhere and at all times, condemned and wanted against division and strife within the churches as the cause of weakness and inefficiency, of corruption and defilement — that unfitted them for temples of the Holy Spirit, that disabled them from saving their own members and from proving a savor of life to the world. Christ warned, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
If they were not to speak in matters of religion without Bible authority, much less could they act without scripture direction. This meant no one could teach or practice anything in religion not clearly taught in the Bible. All would do what the Bible required, and would ask of no one to do or to submit to what it did not require. This bound all to the word of God — to what was commanded by the Lord. It bound them to do all that was taught, it bound them to reject everything in religion, not taught in the word of God, as the Savior taught it must come. For a time, the effort at union on this basis seemed to work well. Men and women, from all churches in Christendom and from no church, came together on this basis, and laying aside all theories and practices not required by the word of God, diligently sought to learn what that word required, and guided by the things taught in the Bible, they walked in harmony, love, and success without precedent in modern times, crowned their labors in calling men and women to Christ.
Of late years, this unity of faith and harmony of action have been much disturbed. Divisions and discords, threatening the disruption of church and Christian fellowship, have entered in and have well-nigh destroyed the peace, and much weakened the efforts of those seeking to unite all worshipers of God in the unity of the faith, and in the bonds of love. This is a dire and fatal disaster to befall an effort so full of promise of good to man, and of honor to the Lord and Master. Can we find the cause of this disaster?
From the beginning there have been two classes in the church. One disposed to strictly construe the Bible and to cling close to its teaching. This class, in all questions that arise, asks, “What does the word of God require?” And they restrain their practices and service within the requirements of the divine word.
The other class, interpreting the word of God more liberally or loosely, asks, “Is it forbidden?” What is not forbidden, they claim the right to practice. A little thought will show the one class walks by the requirements of the Bible. The other class walks in the wisdom of men. These do the things suggested by that wisdom, unless it is specifically forbidden by the word of God. The practices of one class necessarily spring from God and his holy word. No practice can be accepted with this class, that does not come from God, and that is not required by his holy word. God is the author of all religious service with this class. The other class looks largely to its own wisdom and the wisdom of men for authority and for guidance in things of religion, and anything man's wisdom approves may be used in religion unless specifically forbidden by the word of God. These paths rapidly diverge. And those walking in these diverging paths cannot walk together. They cannot live in unity and harmony.
These diverse ways of regarding the services of religion led to the first division among Christians. They have in all ages of the church led to divisions. In the days of Luther, the question of infant baptism was raised. He asked, “Where is it forbidden?” and because it was not forbidden, he retained it. The same question came up with the Campbells, father and son. They adopted the rule to practice only what was required. The son said to the father, “Infant baptism is not required in the scriptures.” He responded, “It must go then.” Under Luther’s rule, he and Melanchthon were forced to advise Philip of Hesse that bigamy is allowed, because it is not specially prohibited.
Under this rule many gross and hurtful perversions of the truth, as well as many sinful and corrupting practices, may be brought into the church because they are not “specially prohibited in the scriptures.” This principle of interpretation releases men from a close adherence to the will of God as revealed in the Bible, and gives wide license to the introduction of human wisdom as the rule in the church and the life of a Christian. The substitution of human wisdom for the will of God subverts the church from the ends for which it was instituted.