RECIPE FOR A DEAD CREED
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“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV 2011). ” “ I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b).
"However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth" (Essay on Liberty by John Stuart Mills).
Can a church "hold the truth" without knowing the truth? It seems paradoxical that it should be announced to a church who prides herself as holding the truth (in contrast with other religious bodies) that a special class will be conducted in August for them to learn "enough" truth so they may teach others. This has happened and may be happening in your congregation.
A "preacher of the gospel" argues that he does not believe in arguing (debate). "Why debate those trouble makers who cannot be shown anything; it only hurts your position." This has also happened.
The above quotation from the writings of John Stuart Mill, political philosopher of the 19th century, strikes in my opinion at those would-be guardians of truth and liberty in Christ among us today. In times when lovers of freedom in America fear the encroachment on our free press, speech, and religion, I wonder if that fear has not been misdirected to foreigners while among our own some have moved swiftly and cunningly to steal away our cherished freedom under the pretense of preservation of the "pure doctrine."
One does not have to be an avid reader to observe the many suppressions of discussion within our religious papers; preachers and college teachers fired at the "drop of the hat" over their questioning the mainstream dogma; the pulpit and building controlled by a few (usually one) whom no one dare try; public speeches censored or the speaker rejected and "excommunicated" and labeled by the "faithful brethren" without full hearing. Illustrations could be quoted but they are too well known to warrant proof here. It is sufficient to comment that it is apparent that the protectors of the doctrine are more willing to have a "dead dogma" than a "living truth."
In 1938 Arthur Koestler, invited to talk to a communist society in Paris, was asked by a representative of the Communist Party to show his speech text and "to discuss it informally" before the meeting. Koestier refused. Koestier was allowed to make that speech, but that was the last time he was permitted to speak before the Party. In many churches among us today preachers are asked to show their text before delivery and on refusal are not granted the generosity afforded Koestier by the Communist Party!
AN INFALLIBLE CHURCH?
Has the church progressed so far in the Truth to have become infallible in and of herself; and therefore, there remains no reason to discuss the doctrine? Or has our dogma literally become a "dead creed," not a "living truth," and its proponents happy to have it that way? It is certainly convenient for those who would, to lie down on ivory beds and be idle (Amos 6).
But Jesus has said, "I came not to bring peace, but a sword. There must be divisions among you that my disciples may be manifest" (Matt. 10:34). Does this sound as if Jesus expected his followers to be recognized without contention? It is written, "Contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Webster defines "contend": "to strive in opposition; vie; dispute or debate; assert." Again, it is written, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (I Peter 3:15).
The Bereans were noble because they tested the apostle Paul for themselves; they "searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). In order to live, Truth must be discussed; yes, Truth must be debated! The denominational churches discovered long ago that their cause suffered when tested in debate. Consequently most of them do not care to debate today. The Truth is hidden from their assemblies, and the members do not understand fully, if at all, their own dogmas, and why their leaders believe what they do.
In comparison we find that today the door to inquiry is closed to many of our assemblies; it is closed to those that would "contend for the faith," "give an answer," or investigate the doctrine. Indeed, these churches are SAFE. But safe from what? Have they not excluded at the minimum the nourishment for that which they think they have? What remains of truth must die, if it lived at all.
In conclusion, one can only be sanctified by God through His truth (His word, John 17:17); one must contend and debate for that truth. No matter how convinced we are that we have that truth, we must "fully, frequently, and fearlessly" discuss it, so that we will have the "living truth" and not a dead creed.
Gaylon L. West
Searching the Scriptures (Archives) Volume 6, September 1965, Number 9
Note: I want to express my gratitude to God for the late H.E. Philips who was good enough to not only print this article but to patiently sit and talk to a novice student of God's Word.
THROW OUT THE LIFELINE