DON’T EAT THE BONES
T. PIERCE BROWN
Almost 50 years ago when I was doing some work in a Methodist Theological Seminary, brother W. B. West was in theChicagoarea doing some post-doctoral work. I told him I had considered taking some additional studies in the Seminary, but discovered it was filled with modernism and infidelity. He had done much of his advanced work in such situations, and said that he was reminded of a remark by F. B. Srygley, “If you are eating a fish and come to the bones, you simply get the meat off the bones and continue eating.” I replied to him then, “That is true, but if a fish is all bones except its eyeballs, it is probably wiser to fish in different waters.”
The present situation in the Lord’s church reminds me of those circumstances again. It is true that many of our soundest men and greatest scholars have had advanced work under modernists, and are probably better prepared to defeat false doctrines as a result of such encounters. They were able to separate the bones from the fish. Unfortunately, there are many who ate at the same tables who apparently have let the bones get stuck in the throat, or swallowed them whole and have become mortally wounded. To change the figure, there are some doctors who have had patience and fellowship with patients with AIDS, and in their efforts have themselves contracted the disease.
Just last week a relatively new Christian who had been criticized for listening to denominational preaching on the radio asked my advice about it. My advice was that it might have some value, as one listens for false doctrine and gains an insight into how persuasively it may be presented, learning how to meet and defeat it. However, it has a great danger, in that it may be very easy to absorb many false doctrines without being aware of it. I can make no rule that forbids one from listening to false doctrine, but I can only warn of dangers and hope that one is always able to separate the bones from the meat. I knew that when my children and grandchildren climbed trees or went swimming they could break a bone or drown. I did not forbid them to do either, but did try to teach them how to climb trees more safely and to swim with care.
Recently there was a man baptized who had been a severe critic of the Lord and His word for many years, and became an avid reader of scholarly religious material. The problem was that he would read such comments in THE INTERPRETER’S BIBLE as that found on page 7, “The picture given in 1 Cor. 12:14 of the phenomenon of glossolalia is irreconcilable with the Lukan idea of speech in foreign languages.” Because it was written by one who is supposed to be a scholar, he accepted it as true that Luke and Paul contradicted each other, and that both were probably giving only their own opinions about these matters. It was even harder for him to take a statement like that on page 8 and see how false and dangerous it is. The statement with regard to part of 1 Cor. 12 is, “If the utterance is so incoherent as to defy interpretation, the speaker is bidden to `keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God’.” The casual reader might not see that the Bible does not even suggest that the “utterance is so incoherent as to defy interpretation” and that might seem like a small thing to many of us, but a person whose writings are filled with such false and misleading statements is doubly dangerous to a new Christian who is yearning for deeper knowledge of the Bible, and trusts anyone who has scholarly degrees and uses theological language as if he had authority.
I am frank to confess that although I have been reading the Bible for more than 65 years, I do not know how to state any rule about staying away from false doctrine that will work in every case. My mother wanted me to stay away from the water until I learned how to swim. I did not see how I could do that, and when my brother took me out where it was too deep for me to stand on the bottom and turned me loose, I had to swim or sink. I did a little of both, but learned to hold my breath when I would go under. In general, I can say, “Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess.5:21). I can say, “Read everything the Bible has to say about a thing, and try to see how it all fits.” I can say, “Do not trust any man as final authority, even our own brethren.” But if one does not have a basic premise that God’s word is the final authority, and he must continue to study to see that his conclusion fits all God has revealed about the matter, I know of no way I can have any assurance that he will be able to separate the bones from the rest of the fish. I cannot find any authority that allows me to forbid him eating fish.