Strange Worries

(By Andy Alexander, see addendum for update, dm)

      Paul wrote of "strange sounds" which confuse rather than give clear instruction (1 Cor. 14:7-8). He was amazed that some were so rapidly drifting away from the truth of the gospel (Gal. 1:6-8). A prominent brother was rebuked for compromising with false teachers in order to avoid the pain of separation from them (Gal. 2:11-14). We are amazed today at some strange worries and warnings expressed by brethren. Well known men are charting a course which compromises and dilutes the gospel of Christ. Brother Dee Bowman recently printed an article entitled "I Worry About Us Sometimes" in the March/April 1998 Christianity Magazine on page two. While we bear him no ill will, we are amazed at the strange worries of brother Bowman and the strange concepts they express. Let us analyze them in the light of God's Word.

     Two Mind-Sets. Brother Bowman outlines four major worries on his mind: "arrogance that comes with the restoration motif," too many warnings "about apostasy," becoming "issue-oriented," and over-emphasis on "restoring the New Testament church." He fears we have lost sight of more "practical" concerns such as "right attitude." Teaching the right attitude is essential, but it has become a mantra in Christianity Magazine to complain that emphasis on restoration, apostasy, issues, and the church
overshadows preaching Christ, right attitudes, and practical concerns.

     Digressives have chanted this mantra for years. Why do respected brethren now echo it? It amounts to saying our preaching is filled with too much Scripture--too many appeals for Bible authority, overuse of Bible passages condemning sin and error, constant discussions about the meaning and application of biblical texts?in short, too much Scripture! Those who agree with this mantra may find an article on "Strange Warnings" further evidence confirming their worst fears. Our assessment of Dee’s article in the light of Scripture may be greeted by such remarks as, "If you had a better attitude, you would not write this," "Just preach Christ, not issues," and, "Teach on practical things, not these warnings about apostasy." In speaking of "two distinct mind-sets" developing among brethren, Connie W. Adams recently noted, "Attitudes form long before the consequences of such changes become evident....One mind-set calls for a softening toward error. That is reflected in the changed content of much of the preaching and writing being done. It is seen in the changed view of controversy and its utility in determining or upholding truth."

     "There is another mind-set which continues to hold to the pattern of sound words in whatever is taught and practiced and which sees no fault in asking for clarification, or scriptural authority, or in opposing what is contrary to ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). Those of this mind-set continue to preach and write with their finger on the passage for what they have to say and will tell you where to find it" (Adams, "Intro.," Understanding the Controversy, by R. Halbrook, p. 6-7).

     Strange Worry About Restoration.   Brother Bowman worries about "a kind of arrogance that comes with the restoration motif, a kind of air of superiority that accompanies the knowledge that you can turn to the Bible and show what you’re doing has the imprimatur of God. We need to be careful that we don’t become a know-it-all, merely equipped with the scripture for every need, the passage for every problem." Then he said passages should be used properly, which is true, just as it is true we must avoid the "air of
superiority" of a "know-it-all." But, he took a wrong turn in claiming such an attitude "comes with" the restoration plea which centers on appealing to Bible authority for all we do ("the imprimatur of God").

     The restoration plea is nothing more or less than New Testament Christianity, the original teaching of Christ recorded in Scripture. "Arrogance" and an "air of superiority" did not "come with" or originate in that first-century teaching, and do not come with it today. The "restoration motif" severely condemns such an air or attitude. Christ promised to reveal "all truth," prayed for his followers to be sanctified and united in "the truth," and sent them into the world to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Jn. 16:13; 17:17-21; Mk. 16:15). Jesus gave us "all things pertaining unto life and godliness," completely equipped us "unto all good works," and commanded us to "speak as the oracles of God" (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 4:11). In all things, at all times, we must remember the inspired Word (2 Pet. 1:12-15; 3:1-2).

The spirit of constant appeal to Scripture, "the restoration motif," is one of humility and reverence toward God. It says, "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). Arrogance does not "come with" this plea, arrogance departs from it. Enemies of truth claim this plea overemphasizes Bible authority, the church, apostasy, and doctrinal issues to the neglect of Christ, right attitudes, and practical concerns. So we are told with an air of superiority. Nothing breeds arrogance like sin and error (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

     Dee’s strange worry fits well with an earlier letter on guidelines for articles in Christianity Magazine discouraging the use of too much Scripture. The letter bearing the Christianity Magazine letterhead said, "We hope to reach the ‘average Christian.’ Each article is thus to be short and limited to one major point. Do not tell us all you know, but what you know most surely. Generally speaking, two or three passages should provide a sufficient base for such articles—perhaps even one" (copy of complete letter available). We don’t know whether any of the editors use that letter now, but none have spoken out against it and brother Bowman’s first "worry" harmonizes with the letter’s sentiment.

     Is it the editorial view of Christianity Magazine that the average Christian’s comprehension level is so low that he cannot learn from more than one passage of Scripture per article, or not over two or three at the most? It is evident that some preachers already have applied this philosophy to their sermons. One wonders if the "average Christian" will ever progress past mediocrity with preachers worrying and warning about the danger of too much Bible content and appeal to Scripture in articles and sermons.

     The apostles had some concerns in the first century, but not about the overuse of Scripture. Paul commanded Timothy to "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). The converts in Acts 2 "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" and the apostles were not worried about them losing their faith because they had a Scripture for every need. We are commanded to have authority for all that we do in word or deed (Col. 3:17).

     Strange Worry Versus Bible Warning.   A second worry of brother Bowman is that too many warnings are being issued today. This is strange when we consider how many warnings are found in the Bible! He may be worried about this because many of the warnings that are being issued by conscientious brethren today are about Christianity Magazine and the false teaching that it upholds. The editors of the magazine (Dee Bowman, Ed Harrell, Sewell Hall, Brent Lewis, and Paul Earnhart) all support the false theory put forth by brother Harrell that congregations can fellowship those guilty of moral and doctrinal error based upon Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 (16 articles appearing in Christianity Magazine in 1989 and 1990). This is evident from the fact that these articles were reprinted as a booklet for wider distribution by Christianity Magazine in 1998, which required the approval of the editors.

     The strange worry of brother Bowman is this, "I worry that we have become so preoccupied with making predictions about what’s going to happen that we become distracted about what’s taking place right now. I think it’s fine to warn about apostasy—and it’s foolish to not try and prepare for it as best we can, but let’s face it—we don’t really know when and how it will come and why and what it will be. We may think we do, but we don’t. And our preoccupation with what we think it will be can get us blind-sided if we’re not careful. We best pay attention to today and let the Christians of tomorrow take care of their business in its own time (Matthew 6:34)." Read brother Bowman’s statement two or three times and let what he is saying sink in before you read further in this article.

     Brother Bowman’s worry contradicts the many warnings given in the New Testament. "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:28-31). Paul sounded out warnings on a regular basis and he commands us to follow his example (Phil. 4:9). One reason Paul sounded these warnings was to obey God who gave him these words to speak and another was because he loved the brethren and was concerned about the church in the future.

     Peter writes, "As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen" (2 Pet. 3:16-18). Peter, like Paul, was concerned about the future of the church and he knew that the present activities in the church had an effect on the future. Peter knew he was going the way of all the earth soon when he wrote his second epistle, and he wanted to remind his brethren of God’s word in order to strengthen them (2 Pet. 1:12-15). Were Paul and Peter so preoccupied with the future of the church that they were distracted about what was taking place in the present? It seems that Paul and Peter were concerned that the present had an effect on the future!

     Also, brother Bowman misused one of the two passages he used in his article. At least, he practiced what the earlier letter said about the number of Scriptures ideal for an article. He uses Matthew 6:34 and implies that sounding warnings about future apostasy in the church violates Jesus’ command not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. If this use of Matthew 6:34 is correct, Paul sinned when he constantly warned the Ephesian elders about a coming apostasy, and every other gospel preacher in the first century who constantly warned about future departures from the truth also sinned. The prophets of God in the Old Testament often warned of future apostasy and God’s punishment of apostasy. Should we rebuke them for being "preoccupied with making predictions about what's going to happen?" Matthew 6:34 teaches us not to worry about things over which we have no control. It does not refer to false teachers, false teachings, and future apostasies. We are taught to guard against these things by teaching the truth and warning the brethren about them.

     Another reason for brother Bowman’s worry about warnings against apostasy is that "we don’t really know when and how it will come and why and what it will be." Given that mentality, parents would never warn their children about any danger because they "really don’t know when and how it will come and why and what it will be." God’s prophets in the Old Testament did not know the answers to these questions, but they continued to sound warnings. Jesus Christ did not know the time of the final Judgment, but He sounded a warning loud and clear (Matt. 24:36-44). The world of the ungodly will make fun of us today for sounding words of warning, but we are to continue to call men to repentance lest they be lost for eternity (2 Pet. 3).

     We ought to be concerned for our children and grandchildren. They are among "the Christians of tomorrow." Should we not be concerned enough about them to warn them often about false teachers, false doctrines, and heresies in our day that could plague them in their day? These false doctrines that take hold in our day because of our unwillingness to expose them, will wreak havoc in the church tomorrow.

     Strange and Dangerous.   The mindset that brother Bowman exhibits in this article on his worries is strange and dangerous. We need preachers who will constantly appeal to God’s Word in their preaching and sound warnings to the brethren day and night (Acts 20:31). The feel-good preaching and teaching of Max Lucado is taking hold today and it needs to be exposed. Christianity Magazine’s policy of no name-calling, Scripture-lite articles, and no controversy is damaging to the faith. In spite of the editors' best
intentions, they are charting a course they will regret if they live long enough to see its results. Such concepts involve a tendency toward softness and compromise. We are not saying that every article and every author in Christianity Magazine embrace these concepts, nor that the danger is limited to any one paper or preacher. One thing is certain: Such concepts do not represent the Bible way (Matt. 16:6; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14; 3 John 9).

     When the pure, unadulterated gospel is taught, controversy will ensue because of the never-ending battle between God and Satan for the souls of men. It happened in the First Century and it will happen in the Twenty-first if we follow the examples of the faithful preachers in the New Testament. There is not a more controversial book on the face of this earth than the Bible because it calls men into complete submission to the will of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Let’s not bow to the elite of our day and the pressures of a worldly society to deliver less Scripture and less controversy. Let’s just obey God and "Preach the Word in season and out of season," always "speaking the truth in love" (2 Thess. 4:1-5; Eph. 4:15).  (Christianity Magazine is a major player in the dissemination of the unity-in-diversity doctrine among none institutional churches of Christ.  Andy has made some valid and timely points, Don Martin.  Be sure to read, "Christianity Magazine, a Closer Look ," click on to visit.)

     Addendum: The preceding material was published to Bible Truths during May of 1999.  There was focus and pressure placed on Christianity Magazine by a number  during the remainder of 1999.  The December 1999 issue of Christianity Magazine was the last issue published.  However, the magazine experienced a life span of sixteen years and effected much doctrinal compromise among non-institutional churches of Christ.  There will be another magazine to take the place of Christianity Magazine, no doubt.  The errors advanced by C.M. remain active and continue to adversely influence the minds of many, especially the younger.   Be sure to read, "Romans 14, An Overview" , Don Martin.