GNATS AND CAMELS
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of us who are considered to be reasonably sound and conservative gospel preachers probably have repeated the motto, “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.”
Many of us who think we observe the motto do not, but try to do what we think the motto means. The motto means to most of us that we do all we do by the authority of Christ, and do not prohibit what Christ authorizes. The thing I want to emphasize now is that we take care that we do not make our little mottoes into creedal statements and bind them upon persons as God’s word. We may approach the situation Jesus described in Matthew 23:24, “Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel!”
For example, we commonly say about the Lord’s church that it is unscriptural to say “My church” or “Your church” for that implies that the church belongs to us, when it really belongs to Christ. What about “My family” or “Your family?” Does that imply that we own the family, or does everyone understand that that we are merely a part of it? Did you ever speak of “My school” or “My country?” The church is the family of God. Is it unscriptural to speak of it as “Our family” in the same sense that our earthly family is ours? Does “My country” imply that I own the country, or merely that I am a part of it?
I still teach that it is more appropriate to speak of the church as the Lord’s church for that emphasizes that it is not some denomination, but the point is that we should not assume that a person is spiritually illiterate or has committed a sin if he refers to the church as “My church.” The same thing is true of many expressions that we may have so long accepted that we assume they were sent down from heaven with God’s anathema upon one who questioned them.
For example, “You cannot join the Lord’s church, for Acts2:47tells us plainly that the Lord added to the church such as were being saved.” We need to continue to emphasize that membership in the Lord’s church and membership in any man made institution is on an entirely different basis, and there is no connection between the two. However it is possible to do what Paul sought to do in Acts 9:26. It says, “And when he was come toJerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Those disciples were the church inJerusalem. Do you not see that when he obeyed the gospel, as recorded in Acts9:18the Lord added him to the church? There was no way he could join the church by some man made rule. Nevertheless, he could join theJerusalemchurch by coming there and being received into fellowship with that particular group. My point is that although we may properly teach that it is generally unwise to use the expression, “Join the church” as it would be understood in a denominational sense, it is possible to use the expression in the sense the Bible uses it without the need of being pronounced unsound or a babe in Christ.
The same principle may be observed with regard to the use of the terms, “pastor” or “bishop.” I consider it unwise to use those biblical terms in many circumstances without an explanation of their proper meaning. If I should say in a general meeting of non-Christians, “This is one of our pastors,” I could be telling the truth and using a proper biblical term in referring to an elder. But I might be misleading the person by deliberately not communicating to him with words he understood. So, although I teach in general that one should speak where the Bible speaks, and call Bible things by Bible names, I do not always do that. Neither does any other preacher of the gospel.
This thought came to my mind when I was in a funeral parlor a few nights ago and a woman who heard my wife say I was a preacher asked, “Are you a reverend Mr. Brown?” I laughingly replied, “The Bible says in Ephesians5:33that the wife is to reverence her husband, so I am to be revered by her, but I am commonly called `brother’.” However, it is no more appropriate for her to call me “brother” than it is “reverend,” for I am not her spiritual brother. Another truth is that the verse in Psalm 111:9 that we usually quote when we teach persons not to call us “Reverend” says, “Holy and reverend is his name.” It is commonly reported among us that term applies to God, and to him alone. That is not so. The term is no more applicable to God alone than “holy” is. It is from the Hebrew term “yare” and is used almost 300 times in the Old Testament. If I am not supposed to use the term because it applies to God, then I cannot be called holy because God is holy. Yet the Bible specifically says, “Like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy” (1 Peter1:15). We have no authority to be set apart by a special designation, such as “Reverend,” but it is not because the term is used only about God. It would be just as unscriptural to designate me as “Holy Brown,” “Saint Brown,” “Awful Brown” or “Brother Brown” if any of those term were used to exalt me to some prominent ecclesiastical position in the Kingdom. The word that is used in Ephesians5:33in the King James version that tells the wife to reverence her husband is the same word used in Colossians 3:22 with regard to God, and means the same thing the Hebrew word in Psalm 111:9 does. The word is most often translated “fear,” but means to have awe or respect for.
My point is that we may strain out gnats and swallow camels by taking some little motto or saying that may have validity in some circumstance and make it into a rule as if God had ordained it. I still teach that it is unwise to speak of “My church” and “Your church” when it will be understood to equate it with some denomination. It is wrong to speak of joining a church when one refers to how he became a member of the Lord’s church. It is wrong to imply that one person joined his denomination, and that in the same way I joined my denomination, theChurchofChristchurch. In fact, any kind of language that places the Lord’s church in the same category with any institution of man is improper. However, that does not mean that every person who uses the expression, “my church” or “join the church” is in error. Let us just make sure we do not strain out (or at) gnats and swallow camels.