I've been thinking lately about Secret Agents, Negatives and Phoney Names.
The brothership has been warned to "Watch out for undercover agents!" It seems to me that some folks around the country are seeing undercover agents in places where there aren't even any places!
There are folks who are warning that secret agents of Charles Holt and The Examiner are creeping in unawares in churches all over the country, trying to create confusion, division and havoc. Is that fact? Is it happening? Could it happen?
It's time we unmasked and told the unvarnished truth.
Is anyone watching? Come close now so I can whisper.
The truth is there is no one working secretly nor undercover! It has been said that most of us would not know how to keep a secret if we knew one.
There aren't any secret agents out there in your congregation. These folks who believe they see agents undercover may be getting paranoid. Or, it could be that they are seeing some folks who sometimes hide their thoughts and activities because they are afraid of their church leaders. Generally, these want to stay in an organized church, but are afraid of reprisals. Many tend to stay quiet to keep from being asked to leave. These folks are neither secret nor agents of anyone. Just saints.
Does the following sound familiar?
The man's parents said these things, because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders had already agreed that if anyone said that Jesus was the Messiah, that person would be thrown out of the synagogue. - John 9:20-23.
The Jewish leaders - mostly the Pharisees - had made up some of their own religious rules. Some of their rules had to do with all kinds of things that were purely their own opinions, not the commands of God. Forbidding people to say that Jesus is the Messiah. Washing hands. Gleaning on the Sabbath. Tithing tiny spices, while leaving their needy parents to starve. Neat, practical things like that. To them, there was nothing worse than breaking the rules of the Pharisees. They would throw a tradition-breaker right out of the synagogue and into the street among the un-synagogued.
Some have even noticed that not all of the Pharisees are dead. No indeed. Many are alive and well. As Jesus warned, the influence of the Pharisees permeates - like leavening - and has reached across the thousands of miles of oceans and down through almost 2,000 years to influence many of our precious brothers and sisters living today.
Does it surprise you that some of our own religious leaders may be modern Pharisees? That many who say "No book but the Bible!" and "No creed but Christ!" have made up some books and creeds too? Of course, they are not written in creed format like the Lutherans and the Presbyterians do it. These creeds are in the tract rack. Such as: The Use of the Church Building. Can Churches Cooperate. The Use of "God's Money" From The "Church Treasury." Instrumental Music. The Name of the Church. How Do Elders Rule? Are these teachings the modern tradition of the Pharisees which we may not break?
You may not be aware of it, but I attest to you that for asking questions in a Bible study about some sacred church traditions, many of your beloved brothers and sisters have been: Shunned; Withdrawn From; or asked to "Just Leave." They've been Ostracized; Criticized; and Circumscribed. You name it. It is happening somewhere in America as you read this.
To me, the interesting part is that these folks are not secret agents. They are not "under cover." They were not recruited and sent to spy nor to create havoc and unrest in the "local" church. In most cases, these honest and good folks have never even heard of Charles Holt nor The Examiner. They were asking these questions and offering these opinions from their own thinking and study. They were following Christ...but they were breaking the rules of the modern Pharisees. Typically, these people have not heard of Holt until after they have been "thrown out of the synagogue (church)" and have become very discouraged. It is only then that someone puts a copy of this paper in their hands.
It seems to me that it is very difficult for some of our modern church "elderhoods" to realize that, indeed, there are good, righteous, honest, humble souls who are seeking the truth on their own. They are seeking to know what God has revealed, not what the current church traditions are. When these honest "seekers" ask questions whose answers do not coincide with modern church doctrine and tradition, it appears that the easiest way to deal with them is to call them "dupes" of someone else. Call them undercover agents. Do not seek truth with them! Cut them out of the flock! Throw them out of the synagogue!
Does that seem strange to you? Does that sound anything like "the mind of Christ?"
Others have recently said that Charles Holt, Dusty Owens, Bob West and others whose writings have appeared in these pages are wolves, trying to disguise themselves as sheep. That they are trying to hide what they are doing while they try to devour the sheep.
I invite you to judge for yourself: Does that sound like what you've heard from Charles Holt? Dusty Owens? Bob West? Theophilus? Have they tried to disguise themselves as something they are not? If they are trying to hide what they are doing, they certainly chose a strange place to hide, don't you agree? In the pages of an international publication-right out where everyone can see them. It's impossible to hide that way. Especially in a paper with such a large circulation. Does that sound like someone trying to disguise their intentions as a wolf among sheep? Come on, now!
In fact, we have all placed our intentions right out front for everyone to see. Is that deceptive?
I can attest by first-hand knowledge that those I know who are attempting to re-examine our traditions and compare them to Truth, are producing the fruit of the Spirit as enumerated in Galatians 5. In almost 40 years as a member of the "conservative" Church of Christ church, I have never seen it to this degree. These men and women exemplify "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." For asking questions and offering to study, some of these folks have been asked to leave churches for no "scriptural" reasons. Is that the way it should be? Does Diotrephes still live? Apparently he has many twins, all over America, who believe they have the divine right to kick sincere folks like these out of the church.
Many of these modern "seekers" have in fact "nailed their own human nature to a cross, along with its feelings and selfish desires" and are following the Spirit. Many have sacrificed family, friends, and loved ones in restoration churches, to be simple followers after the Spirit with all humility.
The fruits they are producing are without question the fruits of the Spirit. These are full-fledged, thoroughbred sheep, not wolves in sheep's clothing.
It seems to me that those who are crying "Wolf" need to be more concerned about wolves in shepherd's clothing!
Didn't Jesus himself say:
Ask, and it will be given to you;
Search, and you will find;
Knock, and it will be opened to you?
More and more people are Asking, Searching and Knocking. It's a thrill to Receive from God; to Find treasures in his word; to have doors of untold opportunities Opened in front of me. That rarely happened to me before I began to Ask, Search and Knock. That's what The Examiner attempts to encourage. Is Examining something to be feared? Is Asking wrong? Is our Searching to be hidden? Should our Knocking be discouraged? Should these be Punished?
Let me encourage you to pursue God's will with all the vigor at your disposal. Truth can be found if we search for it. Castigating writers and calling each other unfounded, inflammatory names will only obscure truth, not help to find it. Didn't Paul say, "Examine everything carefully, hold fast that which is good?" God will surely bless you if you do. Examine things with us. God will be served!
Others-some of whom are supporters of this effort - have said that there is too much "negative" teaching in these pages. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I assume that it means there's too much criticism of error and doctrines of men, and not enough talk about "positives."
I would like to address that concern. In his letters, Paul was mostly negative. Most of what he wrote was to correct errors, not to commend positive actions and attitudes. Paul was sometimes very caustic. Often he dipped his pen into the ink of biting sarcasm and heavy irony. He was even criticized for being too harsh in what he wrote. But don't forget, he wrote as the Spirit directed him!
Consider Jesus' own teaching. Sometimes, he was positive. He was gentle and understanding with those humble, sincere people who were seeking truth: the Samaritan woman at the well; the woman taken in adultery; the man Jesus healed in the synagogue; Zaccheus. The list is longer. He dealt with them patiently, lovingly, gently.
Sometimes he was negative. Contrast how he dealt with the religious leaders-the people who were supposed to know the will of God, who were well educated in the Law, who were teachers of the Law, and who had assumed positions of authority and leadership over other people. He called the Pharisees stiff-necked (hard-headed?) and uncircumcised (heathen). Children of the devil (strong language!). White-washed tombs. That's a fairly poetic rendering of rotting, stinking filth, painted over to disguise its ugliness. What could he hayed called them that was worse? That's about as negative as one can get. You'll find other places where he almost always dealt severely - even harshly - with religious leaders who mislead.
Close your eyes and try to picture what he did in the temple.
He saw men, sitting at tables with stacks of money in front of them, surrounded by a menagerie of clean animals, acceptable for sacrifice. Passover was near, and the city was full of devout Jews from out of town. For the sake of convenience and common sense, Law said that anyone traveling a long distance to sacrifice in the temple, could convert the first of his fruits, flocks, vines, etc., to cash; carry the money to Jerusalem; and purchase something to be sacrificed.
These men in the temple were not providing a simple service to devout travelers. No, they were gouging them. Taking advantage. Bilking. They were making an exorbitant profit from those who were helpless to do anything about it. While pretending to perform a sincere, religious service to God, they were in fact "ripping off" the faithful.
Remember how our Lord reacted? Consumed with zeal (later, his disciples remembered the prophecy: "Zeal for your house will consume me."), he made a scourge - which was recognized as a sign of authority and judgment - went directly to their tables. Most likely they were quite astonished when He scattered their money, turned over the tables of the moneychangers and the chairs of the dove dealers. Then, with scourge in hand, He drove the whole menagerie - the sellers, the moneychangers and all the animals - out of God's house.
His actions were such that the chief priests and the teachers of the law were so angry that they started trying to kill him. They were afraid of him, not only for his actions, but because he amazed and was popular with the masses.
You can open your eyes now.
Now, was he serious? Were his actions and words negative? Was he right, doing what he did?
Notice that he didn't talk with them gently and quietly about what they should be doing. The Pharisees and the moneychangers already knew what was right. Changing the money and selling the doves was a necessity under the Law, but in their greed, they were substituting their own rules and taking unfair advantage of the sincere, humble people of God.
I believe they got the message. Do you agree?
It seems to me that there is a place for both kinds of teaching and writing. Pray that we can all scourge the hides off of religious leaders who ought to know better. But also pray that we each may hold out a gentle hand to help the many who sincerely seek, ask and knock. And pray for the wisdom to know when to do which.
Some also are bothered by the use of pen names by some of our writers. I am disappointed that pen names disturb some readers so much.
Does it concern you to read unsigned articles in your newspaper? An encyclopedia? Does it make them any less true?
Does it upset you that some of the writers during the restoration era used pen names? Do you consider them "silly?" Or have you never read the journals edited by Campbell and others. Both Alexander and Thomas Campbell and Walter Scott occasionally wrote under assumed names. Pen names are more common in some issues of their papers than real ones. Did that ever concern you? Did that make them dishonest? Deceitful? Were they trying to hide? Did it turn the truth into error?
Consider one of the great fathers of our country who wrote as "Mrs. Silence Dogwood." You know him better as the "Richard" of Poor Richard's Almanac. Did you ever think any less of Benjamin Franklin for doing that? Did it make his wisdom any less wise?(1)
How about the book of Hebrews? Who wrote it? Does it bother you that you don't know and you cannot find out? Does it detract from the truth it contains?
How about the book of Job? Same questions. Song of Solomon?
Why do some of our writers use pen names? One major reason is that many of us are unimportant, unknowns. Who would ever listen to a writer whose name they didn't know or who didn't have a "reputation?" Many people believe every word of an article if they are impressed with the reputation of the writer. Others disregard what a writer might say if the writer has no reputation at all - is a nobody.
On the other hand, many others automatically hurry to disagree with anything a writer says, just because of his reputation (as some do those who write in this paper, see what I mean?). It works both ways.
Some use pen names because they are women and, after all, some of our brothers-and sisters- would never believe that a woman could ever have anything worthwhile to say about matters of the spirit. Don't you know some people like that?
Before submitting articles myself, I gave serious consideration about whether or not I also should use a pen name. Who knows me? What kind of a reputation do I have? In fact, I am an unknown. A nobody. No reputation. What I think doesn't count for much. That doesn't bruise my ego at all. I just want to contribute whatever I can toward the spiritual welfare of my brothers and sisters. So I debated with myself for a long time about whether or not to use a nom de plume.
I finally decided.
When I write about non-controversial, deep-thinking, significant subjects, I use the name Art Thompson. However, when I am feeling a bit more scholar]y, I write as Dusty Owens or Stanley Paher. A little sober, I become Bob West (I'm even starting to do a plausible copy of Theophilus. See some of my work elsewhere in this issue).
When I feel like writing about a serious subject in a humorous vein, I become Gaylon Embrey. When challenging how we traditionally interpret scripture, I am Ryan Ross. When discussing translation and interpretation of words from the original languages, I call myself Stanley Morris. Appalled at the abuses and organizational structure among God's people, I sign as Norman Parks. When I feel like stating great truth in few words, I use my James Finley pen. And when I am feeling really frustrated with our man-made system and want to convey its error firmly and without any possibility of equivocation -I write as Charles A. Holt.
So you see, there really are good reasons for pen names. I write the entire paper and don't want anyone else to know!
With my feeble attempts at humor aside, and in all seriousness and soberness, please don't throw out Truth when it appears here just because you don't know who wrote it. If it serves a purpose, I am sure some would reveal themselves to you if you write to them in care of the paper.
When I am writing as Charles Holt, I sometimes say, "Why can't we disagree without being disagreeable?" I believe we can do that. I hope you have taken my remarks in the spirit that I mean them. I don't mean to sound smart-alecky, nor condescending. I've been told that sometimes I do. If so, I am sorry. I also sometimes display a little off-beat sense of humor. But, I am vitally interested only in our souls and the souls we may reach. I am deadly serious about that.
Please be an "examiner," and an asker and a seeker with us. Heaven waits for those who are!
Notes: 1 See: Philip Jackson, Letter to the Editor , p. 6, The Examiner, Vol. 1, Number 6, November, 1986.