Thursday, August 16, 2018
I’m not a Restorationist scholar. Over the 61 years that I have been a member of the church, what brethren taught back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not excite my curiosity. Why should it? I mistakenly assumed that we stood upon their shoulders and parroted their teaching. I fault John Mark Hicks for pulling the curtain back and giving me a peek into that period! I mistakenly believed that those brethren thought and wrote under the slogans, “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent” and “We do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names.” I imagined that such sayings, when believed, would only produce truth. For years I have admonished friends and family, “Don’t accept something as truth because your preacher said it, believe it because you can find it written in scripture.” “Written” was the key word! Sincerity and honesty don’t guarantee truth! Sometimes truth is rejected by sincere and honest people. One may pass on something that he honestly and sincerely believes is true. Even preachers do. I was guilty! I probably still am!!
There are places in the New Testament that mirror the culture of that time. For example, a covering on a woman’s head signified her subjection to her husband and men in general (1 Corinthians 11:6). It doesn’t now. The greeting then was a kiss (Romans 16:16). In our culture, we substitute the handshake. Some commands should be understood from the time and society in which they were made (Matthew 5:41). Traditions flourish in every society. There is nothing sinful about one unless it is held up as a divine command (Matthew 15:9) or contradicts a plain statement in scripture (2 John 1:9). Sometimes, even plain statements must be viewed in the culture in which they were stated! Paul could accommodate himself as easily in one culture as in another (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). When the New Testament era was introduced, the church dragged its feet in spreading the gospel among Gentiles (Acts 10:1-47). That first contact did not go unnoticed nor was it received in a positive way (Acts 11:1-3). Some did not wish to accept Gentiles as Christians without their obedience to Moses’ circumcision (Acts 15:1, 5). Background belief continued to allow fear to drive one apostle into hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-15). His fear and actions influenced others! Work among Gentiles created rumors that were dispelled only by clear cut action (Acts 21:18-26). Tradition can be a virus difficult or impossible to overcome. It still is.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, brethren believed women could not be doctors, teachers, lawyers, or sales clerks without digressing God’s word. R. C. Bell, E.G. Sewell, James A. Harding and a host of others wrote this belief in the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation from 1897 through 1913. They believed that the scriptural place for a woman was in the home. When women desired to vote, they were warned that such desires were against God’s will! Many readers accepted those articles as “gospel.” We know better today, although in the mid-seventies a well-known preacher broadened those earlier views by allowing a woman to work outside the home if she was a school teacher, nurse, or church secretary! He offered no biblical proof for his assertions.
What is universal is that such claims continue to be made and defended. Why is something right or wrong? “Because I say so”!? “Because the preacher said so”!? “Because that’s the way we’ve always believed and practiced”!? “Because that’s what notable brethren taught in the lectureship of a “sound” school”!? Because “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent”? Because “We do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names”?
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12
“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” King James Version