“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Heb. 2:20).
Like many another, the above text may have its beauty and force dissipated through a wrong application. Certainly, it was never meant to apply to the field of religious investigation and fact-finding. None denies that there is a silence obtaining today among people who profess themselves to be inspired and directed by the teachings of Jesus. Searching of the Scriptures languishes, religious discussion is frowned upon. Error is whole-skinned and waxes strong amid his worshipers.
The Eclipse of Free Discussion
Unfettered speech constituted a defense of the truth in the first century. The Apostles argued, pleaded, exhorted, rebuked and commanded; as a result the Cause became firmly implanted in the world. The word of reconciliation entrusted to them was in turn committed to faithful men, who taught others also. When Paul spoke of those “whose mouths must be stopped,” we can be sure that his method of closing some blasphemous mouths was not the refusal to talk with their owners, but rather the defeat of them in open controversy, demonstrating that they were not able to withstand the spirit and wisdom by which he spoke. Such was the strength of all who adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour and in open, fearless discussion were the churches made fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free.
The eclipse of free discussion of the apostolic writings in time meant the emergency of the Papacy. To some Christians controversy was “unseemly,” devoid of the “spirit of Christ”, “disturbing” generally. People “refused to make a scene” any longer over growing corruptions in doctrine and practice. Those who continued to do so found themselves members of an ever decreasing minority whose unpopularity increased in inverse ratio. Ultimately all dissent was stifled by main force; “heretics” were ferreted out and their lives made forfeit.
With few exceptions, this state of affairs lasted until the advent of Martin Luther in 1517. Free discussion again became rife ; men stumbled and groped their way toward the Light which had once illumined their path, to the Truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Timidly, however, they were content to abide in denominational half-way houses, and to a later generation was left the complete return to the New Testament order of things, the restoration to the earth of the church which Christ had died to establish.
Restoration the Result of Controversy
This restoration of the church grew out of religious discussion, nothing else. Men and women of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were dissatisfied with the harlot’s children who filled every landscape. They grew sick of mere reformation, saw that no amount of buttressing a building founded on sand could remove the unsightly cracks. The Campbells, Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, many others at sundry times and in divers places, all saw that the solution to the problem of religious differences lay in a return to a “thus saith the Lord” in everything. The more they discussed the matter, the clearer the truth became. Thousands as individuals, many times whole congregations, became convinced that acceptance with God depends upon a strict adherence to that which is written, no less-and no more.
Determined sectarians were not long, however, in entering the lists against the Plea. They held opposition meetings so that their devotees could not conveniently hear plain gospel sermons, forbade their attendance upon any “Campbellite” teaching anytime, anywhere. In answer to the light of sound words they offered the heat of perverse emotions.
The Advocacy Of False Religious Ethics
When not jointly attacking disciples the sects were squaring off against each other, boxing many weary rounds to fruitless “draws,” none packing enough spiritual dynamite to lay the other low, the disciples meantime being edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, multiplying.
Realizing this at length, the denominations dropped their “dukes” to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the new threat to their existence. Observing that discussion was not helping their cause, and that the opposite was true of those who declared themselves to be Christians only, they one by one joined in a conspiracy of silence. After Campbell’s rout of Bishop Purcell, the Roman Catholic hierarchy forbade its members to engage in public debate on religious matters. The Protestants soon aped them when they began to form “councils of churches,” whose purpose was, and remains, the stifling of religious. investigation by the fostering of union meetings and pulpit exchanges; by the extolling of a “common heritage”; by the willingness to let each seeker for salvation “join the church of his choice”; by the establishment of “inter-communion ethics,” chief tenet of which was and again still remains, the elimination of proselytizing among each other’s members. Hardly a town in America is without its council of churches and ministerial alliance to reach this objective.
This is not strange. It is strange, however, for preachers who call themselves evangelists after the New Testament order to become associated with such organizations, and even to be come officers. Surely they have misunderstood our history, or our plea, or the New Testament Scriptures, or all of them, to become so entangled. The unsullied restoration platform agrees as well with membership in a pastors’ union as God with the devil. No gospel preacher can possibly be worthy of the name who, knowing what needs to be said, permits himself to be gagged by such dodges.
The New School of Innovators and Compromisers
In some quarters, this tendency takes another direction. It is the joining in a conspiracy of silence against the open rebuke which needs to be given a new school of innovators: the pious propounders of a theory whose burden is the reestablishment of fleshly Israel in a Palestinian kingdom, wherein Christ shall personally reign a thousand years. Or if not this, then the putting of the cat of a complaisant tolerance of instrumental music into the cage with the canary of doctrinal purity. No amount of hush- -hushing will eradicate the deep-seated evils of which these two manifestations among us are but the outcroppings. The church must in its righteous wrath destroy these errors, or they will destroy the church.
The rank and file of the membership in some places, too, have ceased talking over the religious needs of their neighbors with them. It may not be in Emily Post to discuss politics or religion, but silence on the latter subject when we know our plain duty is damning. It is distressing that some members of the Body even squirm and appear uncomfortable when spiritual topics are introduced in ordinary conversation among professed disciples. They would be more at home discussing the latest happenings in the realm of sport. They assume that their mansion in the sky is eternally reserved for them simply because they took certain “first principle” steps years ago.
“In lazy apathy let Stoics boast
Their virtue fixed: ‘tis fixed as in a frost.”
Finally, brethren—preachers, elders deacons, members all—let us not slander one moment of our precious time by engaging in any kind of a conspiracy of silence, Let us speak when plain words need to be spoken. Silence is not always golden: it may be criminal. In season and out of season, let us contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.