April 23, 1975
Your letter came yesterday and the speed of my response is a sign of the urgency I feel in what I am about to say. In other words, consider this letter underlined! I don’t have any fear of your “backing down” when the screw is tightened, in terms of giving in to pressure against your convictions. I do encourage you not to hold any view whatsoever on any subject beyond your own perception that it is true in the light of the Word of God. If you do that, you will be able to stand your ground under pressure, because your faith is in the power of God and not in the wisdom of men. I believe that is the way you’re going now, and want to simply reinforce it on your part. By all means, do not take anything because I say it, or anything that I say farther than you see that it is so, from Scripture. That goes for all of us on all subjects at all times. I will accept your invitation to give you a word of admonition if I ever see you slipping into sectarianism, and I want you to do the same for me.
The nameless fear that perhaps one is wrong will be unnecessary also so long as you do the above. If you commit yourself beyond what you see for yourself from the Word of God, then you might have good reason for fear. But so long as you take one step at a time, and only in the clear and certain light of Scripture, you need never fear, even though you cannot see what is ahead of you. If God is leading, there is no place for fear. Fear, under that circumstance, is lack of faith in God and is sinful. The children of Israel were to march forward wherever the cloud of God led them. But of course they had good reason for fear if they took off across the desert while the cloud was standing still! So just be sure you are following the Word of God on any point, then follow it with no fear whatsoever! God will never be wrong!
If you decide one day that you are mistaken on a given point, you have no great changes to make basically – you still want only to please God. All you need to do is make the minor change in thinking that the newer light has made necessary. We talked about this before, and I would reiterate what I said then. The main thing is this:
- follow God’s Word, and
- you need never be fearful of doing that.
- Tell God how you feel, and ask for His assurance of heart and mind.
Paul said Epaphras was praying for the Colossians that they might stand fully assured in all the will of God (Col. 4). That is a good prayer for us as well.
As to how to present the case for non-sectarian Christianity – that is a good question! Your words were so exactly like my own thoughts of a few years back that I felt a special kinship with your situation. I believe the absolutely correct answer must be to simply preach the Word on all subjects as needed, without becoming a hobby-rider on any. I believe most firmly that it would be a mistake to let over-zealous persons urge you to become obsessed with any given topic – whether it be so-called “issues…… fellowship,” “the name,” or whatever. That is the way things usually go, and it is one reason for the failure in communicating. Jesus Himself said that the disciples were not yet ready to understand everything He had to say to them. People must be taken as they are, and if they are to truly learn, they must be able to accept and understand one step at a time.
I believe therefore the important thing is to fight against the party spirit and sectarian concepts by:
- refusing to advance or perpetuate them through partisan and sectarian remarks and sermons,
- living as a free man in Christ yourself, in the light of what you understand to be the will of God, without making a big issue of what you are doing, and
- as you have opportunity where the person seems receptive and open, teaching privately and/or publicly on whatever topic you feel others need to learn.
All the while, keep your perspective. These are not the only subjects in the world, and you will find, as I did, that with the passing of time various “issues” seem at the moment to be the greatest ones in the world and the very ones every person needs to understand right now! But later you will get over the thrill of new discovery and find a better perspective. I do not mean to play down any truth. I mean simply to say that truth as a whole is what we are interested in, and presenting every man perfect in Christ Jesus, not simply producing a stereotype robot on some particular issue we might feel to be important at the moment.
This also keeps the enemy confused, because he cannot understand how you can live such a sane and balanced Christian life. He only knows how to become overly excited and create bandwagons, and he cannot see how you can hold to what you do without acting as he would act on the same subject. That will blow the mind of the opposition, and perhaps will win him over to the truth better than anything else possibly could. It will also add a lot of believability to your claim all the while to seek only to be a Christian and follow the Lord, not to be a sectarian of any brand.
When you deal with a passage or topic, therefore, which touches on the things you feel the brethren need to learn, work it in or bring it out, without making a big to-do over it, simply sowing seed for perceptive minds to think about at their own speed. This is far more preferable than rushing into something and “snowing” people before they are ready for it. The thing is, they will only accept what they are ready for and understand anyway, so why upset them unnecessarily by rushing things. And this is not dishonest or hypocritical; it is simply using good teaching methods such as the Lord Himself did. If your motives in this were to direct attention to some human party, or to advance your own personal interests, it would be sinful. But since your only desire is to lead them to the Lord and to help them grow in His Word and be simple Christians, it is an honorable goal and being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” to do it. Do not ever be deceitful or misleading; always be truthful; and if somebody puts you on the spot, answer truthfully with humility and grace. But do not think you have to get up and say all you know in one sermon. Jesus never did that, and the apostles did not, either.
As to whether you are being dishonest or a coward or unethical to “conceal” your convictions, that depends on what you mean by “conceal.” If you lie about matters, or pretend and intend to give someone an impression contrary to the truth, then of course that is wrong. If, on the other hand, you mean simply that you do not say everything you feel or think, publicly and at once, your present course is not only justifiable, but the only mature and sensible way to behave.
Don’t think you have to say everything you think. You don’t have to go around telling folks, “Say, I have 38 unusual and novel ideas which I want to lay on you right now!!” To do that would be foolish and childish, and could do no possible good. If you hold ideas simply to be novel and unusual, then it might be good to let people know about it. But if you hold ideas simply because you want to know and please the Lord, it is not necessary to tell everybody all you think; simply work 100% toward causing them also to know and please the Lord.
I hope this will help some on your situation. But don’t take anything because I say it, unless and until it seems to you to be the will of the Lord in the light of your own prayerful study. If you always do only what you see yourself to be right in the Scriptures, you will never have to fear when pressure comes. You can say, “I am what I am by the grace of God, and here is the reason for my belief.” You don’t have to fear defending somebody else (me or otherwise), because you are not any kind of “-ite.” You are a Christian, and need only be true to Christ. I do not assume that you agree with me 100%. There is no need for you to do so, and there is no need for you to feel you must, or to defend me to anybody else farther than your own understanding of truth leads you to do so.
Be cautious about revealing your thoughts to other preachers. I wish now that I had not been so open with one or two myself. There is no need to stir up opposition from any who may later prove to be closeminded and simply eager to bait you, then go off and spread untrue tales and misrepresentations. Thanks to God there are many, many preaching brethren who are honest and are not the way I mention, but you will gradually learn to discern the difference between the two spirits. Nor should you become skeptical and cynical about it – assume a fellow is what he seems to be, until you learn otherwise – but, as Jesus in John 2, the closing verses, realize some of what is “in man,” and do not “entrust yourself” to those who have not proved themselves to be worthy of confidence.
It is so good to hear from you, and to have such long letters which really open up your heart as the last one did. I appreciate you all very much, and look forward to being with you whenever possible. Do be sure to come through here when you come to the state. I will be disappointed if you do not come.
Your brother in HIM,