In Response to Ed Harrell -- #3

by Dudley Ross Spears

          The things affirmed in Ed’s 2nd article are surprising to say the least. He has gone much further away from truth than anyone would have anticipated. This is not only a surprise, it is sad.

          In his fourth paragraph he says that I admit that the question of the covering and pacifism are matters of faith and not matters of opinion. I took neither position. What I said was, if I believed the Bible clearly taught that a woman must have a covering on her head for her worship to be acceptable to God I would have to preach it and eventually withdraw from those who would not abide by it. I could not be still about it. And, if Ed could understand that matters of faith are established only by what God has clearly revealed, and not upon his assessment of the condition of another’s heart, we would have no problem at all.

          Based on Ed’s statement at the Reed Lectures in 1966 I fail to see how he could be still about something he admits is wrong, which involves people in sin, and will eventually damn their souls. He says he still stands by the 1966 statement.

“I am a fanatic of sorts. I am not a dangerous enthusiast. Most members of the Churches of Christ share the American heritage of freedom of religious expression and are fully committed to religious toleration. But I have my zealot side. Any man who believes that he can find literal truth in the Scriptures must also believe that those who do not find the same truth are wrong. What follows is that such people are sinful. The next logical conclusion is that they will go to hell.”

       I wish he would explain how, in light of his declaration that he wants continued fellowship with those who teach what he says is clearly wrong on marriage and divorce. This, he has not done so far in our exchange.

       There are two very important differences in our positions. (l) The word “faith” in Romans 14; (2) the idea that if a person appears to be honest in his dealings with the Scriptures that we may maintain unlimited and indefinite fellowship with him though we believe he is teaching error.

          With regard to the word “faith” in Romans 14 Ed says, “The distinction between ’faith’ and ’the faith’ is an entirely modern strategy that has no basis in biblical exegesis.” Also he said, “I use it precisely as it is used in the text, ’Hast thou faith’?” The context determines the meaning of a word. Ed has completely disregarded and ignored the context of Romans 14 in his blurring of any distinction between faith and opinion. The rest of the statement in verse 22, had Ed quoted it, would have annihilated his position on the word faith. “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God” (Romans 14:22 - emphasis mine DRS). The word “faith” that is under consideration in this passage in another translation says, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God” (Revised Standard Version). How could this be “the faith” that Jude spoke of in Jude 3? — “...contend earnestly for the faith.” It is unthinkable and impossible to “contend earnestly” for “the faith” and at the same time keep it to yourself.

          Ed also is wrong in saying that this is “an entirely modern strategy that has no basis in biblical exegesis.” Now brother Harrell is one of the leading historians in the United States. He surely has some basis for his allegation. But the evidence to the contrary seems rather convincing. Look at what some exegetes of the past have said.

          I. B. Grubbs, was a Christian and a professor of sacred literature in the College of the Bible, Lexington, Kentucky. I have two of the books he wrote. One was entitled Exegetical Analysis of the Epistles, the other, New Commentary On Romans. The copyright of the first was 1893, the second was 1913. We will have to wait and see whether or not Ed considers these dates (and others which will follow) “modern day strategy.”

          On page 156 of his book on Romans brother Grubbs said, “What is the import of the term ‘faith’ in this connection? verses 1 and 2 and compare verse 23.
“It does not have reference to faith in Christ, but faith in the rightfulness of one’s own conduct. Faith in what they did."

          “The statement ‘Whatsoever is not of faith is sin’ was quoted by Augustine as having reference to faith in the gospel - to faith as a fundamental principle and element of Christian life, and this mistake has been repeated in a vast multitude of instances. It is found in Commentaries, sermons, tracts, disquisitions, etc. That it is an error, however, is perfectly clear from a mere glance at the context. ‘He that doubts is condemned if he eat.’ Surely the doubt, the lack of faith in this case is not a doubt or lack of faith as to the gospel, or the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply and alone a distrust or doubt as to the religious propriety of rightfulness of the doubter’s own act” (Commentary on Romans, Page 165).

          “His eating is sinful because not of faith (faith is here used in the abstract sense, and means grounded, undoubting conviction that God approves” (Commentary on ... Romans, J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton [Copyright, 1916], page 532).

          “Here, as in verse 22 faith signifies, not the belief of the gospel, but the persuasion that what one cloth is lawful” (MacKnight On The Epistles, [completed 1795] Volume 1, Page 473).

          “...verse 22. It is not meant of justifying faith (that must not be hid, but manifested by our works), but of a knowledge and persuasion of our Christian liberty in things disputed” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [early to mid 1700s] on Acts - Revelation, Page 481).

          “...verse 22. ‘Hast thou faith?’ The word faith here refers only to the subject under discussion - to the subject of meats, drinks, etc.” (Barnes Notes On Romans [New Testament Notes were written from 1832 - 1851], page 317). A “modern strategy” indeed!

          Ed has not tried to answer the specific arguments that I have made on Romans 14. This whole thing began as a result of his November 1988 article in Christianity Magazine in which he took the position that the divorce question, the war question, weddings in the meeting house, etc., all fit in Romans 14 and should be treated exactly alike as regards fellowship. However, what attempt has he made to try to answer the arguments set forth showing that, according to Romans 14, neither of the persons involved were wrong (whether they were meat eaters or vegetarians)? None! Line after line has been written since February 1989 in an effort to get a response from Ed to these arguments - but to no avail. Is he only interested in using this exchange as an opportunity to present his point of view? Has he no interest in coming to grips with the many arguments that have been used to show that the divorce and remarriage questions do not belong in Romans 14?

          Baptist preachers used to agree to discuss baptism with us and then only talk about passages that teach on faith. Brother Harrell goes to passages that have nothing to do with the subject. He has taken the position that differences over marriage and divorce belong in Romans 14. That’s what started the discussion. He has completely ignored my arguments as to why this cannot be true. Brother Harrell either can come to grips with this question or he cannot. Thus far he hasn’t and no one knows why.

       How is it possible for brother Harrell not to know that the persons in Romans 14 are not guilty of sin because both of them are accepted by God in what they were practicing and believing (verse 3)? How can he not recognize that one or both of the parties in the divorce and remarriage question are guilty of sin. He has said he has “deeply held beliefs” on such questions. He has publicly said he believes brother Homer Hailey’s view is wrong. But he was trying to prove in the November 1988 article in Christianity Magazine that unrestricted fellowship should continue with those who teach error on marriage and divorce. His proof was that we should equate teachers of what he says is wrong on the question of divorce and remarriage with the eating of meats and keeping of days of Romans 14. At the risk of being redundant I say again that neither of those (who did eat or didn’t eat meats) were guilty before God of sin. “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse” (I Corinthians 8:8). I teach that and I am sure you do too. If the divorce and remarriage questions are parallel, will he teach people that neither if they are divorced and are remarried are they the better, nor if they are not divorced and remarried are they the worse? Will he? My prayer is that Ed will see clearly that he has made a serious mistake on this point and either give it up or get his preaching in harmony with his practice.

          There is a correction that must be made. He said, “Dudley challenges me to prove my assertion that it is a truism that I remain in fellowship with people whose belief about certain passages disagrees with mine.” No, the point was that he applied the truism to me. I deny the statement. It seems as if Ed agrees with this only in cases where he determines either the clarity of revelation on an issue, or the quality of honesty in the heart of one who differs with him. While I deny these two specific restrictions of Ed’s, I also affirm that fellowship is not to be instantly destroyed at the point of disagreement in matters of faith..

          In conclusion, fellowship is to be withdrawn from one who teaches error. I suppose the difference we have in this respect is that I find nothing at all in all of Ed’s writings that would require eventual destruction of fellowship with one who teaches what he says is error — as long as Ed is convinced that the person is honest. I believe that regardless of how honest and sincere a person may be, there comes a time when fellowship cannot exist with one who teaches what is contrary to plainly revealed principles of truth — even if he is honest and sincere. I do not set a time limit any more than I set a bound for fellowship. I believe God takes care of both. Who ever goes beyond the doctrine of Christ (II John 9) is out of fellowship with God — we cannot continue fellowship with anyone who “has not God.” It is sin to continue fellowship with one who is out of fellowship with God; it is equally a sin to refuse fellowship with all who are in fellowship with God.

          I hope that Ed will address these specific points in his last installment of this exchange.

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