'Contending for the Faith'
'My Days and My Ways'
by Robert Roberts
I was told that I ought not to judge, as Christ had forbidden it. My answer was that while we are not to judge in the sense forbidden by Christ (i.e. deciding in advance who are and who are not worthy of eternal life), there is a sense in which we are to judge, as Christ indeed expressly enjoins in saying, "Why do ye not of your own selves judge that which is right", and "beware of false prophets, ye shall know them by their fruits". I contended that we were called upon on our own behalf to decide where fellowship should be given and where it should be withheld.
If this is not a true principle, whence arises the true distinction between the ecclesia and the world? We come out of the world; we separate from the Apostacy; we withdraw from the fellowship of both, and would one and all refuse to resume that fellowship by admitting parties belonging to either class into the ecclesia, and we would even, without dispute, refuse to counten- ance a disobedient brother.
Paul says to the Corinthians (I Epistle v.11), "I have written unto you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat". Again, to the Thessalonians, he says (2 Epistle iii. 14), "if anyone obey not our word by this epistle, have no company with him that he may be ashamed". Again, verse 6, same chapter, "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions he received of us". Again (I Tim. vi. 3), "if any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing…..from such withdraw thyself". Here are plain Apostolic injunctions which cannot be carried out without forming a judgment on the matters involved. For how shall we know when to withdraw from another, unless we concluded that a state of things justifying it exists? And how can we come to this conclusion without observing and considering the matters related to it. The mental act is the very basis of the withdrawal enjoined………..
John had said (2 Ep. 10, 11), "If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, (that is, the truth concerning Christ's manifestation in the flesh), receive him not into your house neither bid him Godspeed: for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds". Paul indicates the same duty in several places. He speaks of certain "false brethren brought in". He says, "to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour". Judaistical believers taught the necessity for being circumcised and observing the law. He says of them, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I would they were even cut off that trouble you" (Gal. vi. 9-12).
There is nothing more conspicuous in Paul's letters to Timothy, than his jealousy of those in the ecclesia, and his opposition to those whose influence was detrimental to the truth. He says, "hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. . . .The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also….Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a canker. . evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned. . . .Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables"
(2 Tim. i. 13; ii. 2, 15-17; iii. 13, 14; iv. 2-4).
The same anxiety about preserving the truth in its purity from the corrupting influence of its loose professors is manifest in his letters to Titus. Defining the qualifications of an elder, he says he must be a man "holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped...a man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject"
(Titus i. 9,11: iii. 10).
To the same purpose are the words of Jude, "It was needful for me to write to you that ye should contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints: for there are certain men crept in unawares", etc. (verses 3, 4). The Aberdeen brethren and the Dowieites themselves had shown their apprehension of these apostolic precepts by separating from the sects and denominations of the orthodox world. It was said that the Dowieites had a great part of the truth: this is not enough. There is no authority for making one part of the truth less important than another. A reception of the truth on one point will not condone its rejection on another.
Can we suppose that the Judaizers had no part of the truth? Did the Gnostics who denied that Christ had come in the flesh, reject the kingdom of God? Did not the unbelieving Jew hold the truth in great part? Yet Paul counselled withdrawal from them all. Nothing short of fidelity to the whole truth can be accepted as a safe policy. "The things concerning the kingdom of God", and "those things that concern our Lord Jesus Christ", in their scriptural amplitude must be the measure and standard of fellowship. Those who go for less than this must be left to themselves; in this they are not judged, they are only subjected to the action of another man's conception of duty, and are left at perfect liberty to organize themselves on whatever they may conceive to be a scriptural basis.
By what means shall a community, based on the truth, preserve the truth in its midst? Obviously by the means indicated by Paul and John, that is, by exacting of all who are in it an implicit adherence to the things, facts, principles, points, tenets, or whatever else they may be called, which go to make up the truth in its entirety, and by refusing to associate with those who oppose or refuse to endorse any of its elements.
Some recommend in opposition to this the employment of argument with those who may be in error. As a preliminary process, common wisdom and humanity would dictate this course; but if an ecclesia is to go no further than argument, how could its existence continue? An effort would doubtless be put forth to reclaim those who are in error; but, where those efforts fail, dissociation by withdrawal is natural and inevitable.
The ecclesia is not a place for argument; it is for worship in agreement. When a man requires to be argued with, his natural place is outside, and if he will not go outside, separation must be enforced by withdrawal on the part of the rest. Division is the inevitable concomitant of an uncompromising adherence to the truth. Peace purchased at the cost of compromise is doubly dangerous. The truth is the standard and must alone be allowed to rule. All doubt ought to be solved in its favour. This is the principle of action to which study will ultimately lead.
The action of separation is not an act of judgment against those from whom we may separate. It is an act of self-vindication, an act by which we discharge a duty and wash our hands of evil. The truth has gradually emerged from the fables in which for centuries it had been lost, and only an inexorable policy on the part of those receiving it will preserve it from a recurrence of the disaster which drove it from among men shortly after the days of the Apostles.
The above article was re-printed
and fully endorsed in
'The Christadelphian', July 1945.
Link to 'Words from Sounder Days'
for more details.