A Journey Toward Jesus: 3rd Letter

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A Journey Toward Jesus
–Third Letter

November 17, 1973

Dear Edward,

I truly appreciate the letter I received today. I was surprised by the promptness with which you replied. I certainly wouldn’t expect to answer that soon every time we corresponded, but I got the idea that you cared enough to answer that soon and my letter did not sit on an “unimportant shelf” somewhere to be answered someday when you had nothing else to do. Also, don’t apologize for the length. I especially relish long letters, particularly those concerning God’s Word. One of my passions is reading; I buy a lot of books – so many I couldn’t possibly read them in a very short time. The truth is since I have married and have been away from school, I have gotten “fat” from just sitting, writing and reading!

While I read your letter today and tonight, I jotted down some “impressions” that I thought I’d send along for consideration. They occurred to me as “implications” of the things I understand you to say in your letter. The basic question that rings in my mind, and the one that bothered me the most is that it seems such an approach to salvation renders the need to “teach others after baptism” unneeded. For instance, why bother to teach an “institutional brother” the “truth” on the sponsoring church question? If he is “sincerely wrong,” then in the judgment it won’t matter any how. Why not just leave him alone, thus precluding any problems. When I asked one brother this same question he replied in what I thought was a “nebulous answer” – “He could bear more fruit for Christ.” This to me didn’t have any meaning.

I asked specifically how “knowing the truth on the institutional question” could enable him to “bear more fruit for Christ,” and he could not answer. Perhaps you can clarify what he meant, or possibly disagree with what he said. It seems to me that if one accepted the approach you seem to infer in your letter, that all need for “teaching” would be done away. I do not believe God ever requires men to do something “arbitrarily,” i.e., He has a decided purpose behind all He has commanded. Thus, an answer that “God has commanded us to grow” would not satisfy my present understanding. Do you see what I am trying to say?

It seems to make God conditional before baptism – but afterward tremendously lenient in what He accepts. I do not, in my present understanding, view salvation as conditioned on perfect obedience – we both agree that would be impossible – but rather conditioned upon one’s knowing and doing God’s will in worship, preaching the gospel, good works, etc. By that I mean: I believe every man is capable of understanding God’s will – in worship, “cooperation,” etc. I do not believe, at this juncture, that God requires anything of man that he cannot do; thus he can know proper worship, proper “cooperation,” etc. If he does not know it, it is not because he cannot, but because of presupposition, prejudice, “historical heritage,” special interest, etc. that he “cannot see it.” In other words, he is responsible for, as you say, reading the Bible as if seeing it for the first time.

As a product of his “environment” he is rendered unable to see the truth, but is nevertheless responsible. I do not see it as a matter of “weakness.” I believe one must have the initiative, willingness, “devoutness” to know and understand God’s will. I believe in my heart that if a man really wants to know the truth, he can and will know it. Anticipating a possible objection: I do not see this as “salvation by works or merit.” I see this as an intricate part of God’s scheme of redemption that God has provided man with a mind and a gospel that are compatible, that the mind can grasp God’s will on any subject.

Labeling such “salvation by perfect knowledge” implies that such an understanding as I imply is impossible to attain. I do not see that as the case; at the risk of being accused of believing that “all truths are equally true but not all truths are equally important,” I confess that I believe that there are certain things that man must know and do right or God will not accept him. In such a class I would include

  1. refusing instrumental music;
  2. rejecting “institutionalism”;
  3. rejecting sectarian names, titles, denominational affiliations, and such like.

I know it seems that I am saying that all we need do is “draw up a list of particulars that must be believed” and let it go at that. Perhaps that is the implication of my understanding – but it does not seem so at the moment.

Something else that crosses my mind is that the ideas in your letter seem to contribute to, encourage, and perhaps perpetuate denominationalism. There will always be men who will take unwarranted steps with God’s Word – even sincerely. Somehow I just can’t bring myself to believe that God can, in a sense, “Wink” at denominational names, corruption of worship, social gospelism – even if they are “sincere baptized believers.”

If one were to baptize into Christ a sister who believed in modern-day miracles, tongue-speaking, the right of women to preach publicly (over a man), and (for good measure) that one may partake of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night, should we bother to teach her? If so, why? Because it is essential to salvation? Because it is necessary for growth (?)? Because it is wrong? As long as she “trusts in the vicarious (perfect) life and (perfect) death of Christ” it would not matter particularly what she believed on these scores would it? Please do not think I am trying to be mean or sarcastic or facetious. I am honestly posing these as problems that come to my mind. If, at the end of our attempts to teach her (and all we could do, if I understand your approach, is to appeal to her that it “would be better” if she believed what we were trying to teach her) she persisted in what we might call “error,” would she not be in “no less danger” than if we had never attempted to teach her at all?

If, on the one hand, she was “converted” to “our” view (what we thought the Bible taught), we would have a sister who “agreed with us (i.e. what the Bible taught)” on at least those four points. On the other, if she was not convinced by our attempts to teach her, we would still have a sister – although one that did not agree with us on those four points.

My point is this: Is the only goal of teaching after baptism a “general agreement by brethren” about what the Bible teaches? In other words, “be of the same mind,” not that it matters what that “mind” is – so long as sincerity and trust in the vicarious death of Christ reigns? It appears to me, according to that view, to allow for the perpetuation of denominationalism, the very same denominationalism that came as the result of second and third century apostasies – which the “Restorers” in the nineteenth century desperately tried to eradicate.

Perhaps I am missing some cardinal point, but this seems to me the “fruit” of the approach in your letter. I cannot accept a teaching that would allow, yea sanction, the denominationalism of the type which dishonors Christ, denies His lordship, that we so earnestly exhort the world to escape from. Can we, on the one hand, plead for “Christians only,” and yet “accept the sincere, baptized-for-the-remission-of-sins,” Baptist – who will not relinquish his denominational (party) name, organization, or creed? Can a man continually refer to himself as a “member of the Baptist church,” even though scriptural baptized, and be considered by the Father one who honors Christ? These seem to me to be overwhelming implications of what I understand your letter to say. Please, please correct me where I am wrong.

One point occurs to me in regard to your comments about Leviticus 10. Why was Uzzah later put to death for his “pious act”? I know that is an unfair question – God knows his heart, we don’t. Perhaps you would say that God knew something we didn’t. Perhaps this is the answer. But consider the young prophet in I Kings 13, who was a faithful prophet who sinned in ignorance – trusting the word of the old prophet. The poor young prophet did not know that the old prophet was lying – hence ignorance, but God took his life. Again, one may answer “God knew his heart,” but such answers seem to dodge the issue.

If one can conceivably “misunderstand” necessary implications and apostolic examples, why not commands also? Perhaps you have heard this objection before and have a ready answer, but it still bothers me. Can we say that God will not also save the pious unimmersed who mistakenly trusts in the vicarious perfect life and death of Christ?

It seems when one begins questioning one’s ability to understand, i.e., his ability to see implications, examples, and commands, he opens the door to a multitude of horrors. If we freely admit that we “may be wrong” on this or that, and thus should not necessarily bar another’s participation in an act we “think sinful,” may we not also be wrong on baptism, repentance and other clear points? One might reply, “Oh, but the Bible is ‘so clear’ on baptism, etc.” But is it? Most of “Christendom” denies it, proclaiming vociferously that “baptism is not essential.” Thus, in our “dilemma,” that we “cannot be sure” of anything, can we conscientiously consider the “pious unimmersed” not our brethren?

Perhaps John R. Rice is right about salvation (I speak as a fool) can we scrupulously consider him a false teacher – not our brother? After all, we may be wrong! I hope my point is clear. let me reiterate these are honest doubts and objections, not “programmed responses” from others.

One minor point I’d like to ask about is your use of “faithful unto death.” I agree with what you imply by the term, I think, though I believe that the reference in Revelation is to physical death. “Be ye faithful, even if it means physical death.” I question your seeming use of the term “faith” as only being “faith in Jesus as the perfect sacrifice.” Does faith never have the meaning of faithfulness to the gospel and obeying God? It appears to me that “faith” entails more than just cognizance of the redemptive work of Christ, that it implies obedience to God’s will and being “faithful” in that sense. This I do not believe would be “earning salvation,” or “of works,” any more than baptism is of works. “For when we have done all the Lord has commanded, we are still unprofitable servants. We have done that which was our duty to do.”

One of the things that bothers me the most about brethren’s talk when discussing biblical ideas is the misplaced emphasis on the church – a group of people – rather than on Christ. I appreciate your emphasis on Christ and on what He has done to make it possible for us to be saved, but at this point I cannot accept all that you seem to imply. I truly want to know what God’s terms are for eternal life. I do not want to spend an eternity in a burning hell, separate from my God and Father, Jesus my Savior, and the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate your interest in me and my understanding. My earnest desire is to understand what the Bible teaches. In the end I will not be judged by your words or anyone else’s, but the words that God gave through His Word, the Bible.

It is nearing 2:15 a.m. Friday morning, so I’d better be closing this letter. Please take care. May God bless you in your study and attempt to serve Him.

Love in Christ,

Bruce