SPIRITUAL CENSORSHIP

Adison Martin

hat are we to think when religious leaders (elders professional preachers, etc.) refuse to allow Christians in their churches to examine views which are different from their own? Maybe their motives are pure. Perhaps they are attempting to squelch what they believe to be spiritual error, or perhaps they seek to protect weaker (in their eyes) Christians from what they believe is false doctrine. Whatever their motives, and laying magnanimity aside, they tread dangerous ground in imposing spiritual censorship.

Is the common Christian no longer capable of rational thought? Does he need someone to tell him what to believe and what to reject? what to hear and what to refuse? what to read and what to avoid? It seems that some religious strongmen would answer these questions affirmatively! They believe, it seems, that Christians need to be coddled, milk-fed, protected and kept forever enslaved as babes. Those elders have commanded Christians in their churches not to read THE EXAMINER. They and their authorized agents (professional preachers) have publicly ridiculed and misrepresented the paper and its editor. And worse, they won't allow dissenting views to be publicly and fully aired in their assemblies.

Has truth become so enfeebled that it fears honest and open examination? Surely, when compared with divergent views, the truth will emerge victorious, unscathed by the critic and untarnished by that which is false. The search for truth does not end at the baptistry, it is a life-long hunger and thirst, a consuming passion to understand spiritual reality. Is that not the reason Christians continue to study? And, when we discuss the scriptures with our religious friends, is it not truth we are seeking? Surely we would not approach Bible study with our preconceptions in place, seeking only to reinforce our present convictions!

There are examples of today's strong arm tactics in the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus was controversial in nature. While teaching at the synagogue in Nazareth, the people became furious at Jesus, drove him out of town and tried to throw him down a cliff (Lk. 4.16-30). Theirs was a tragic loss, for they rejected the one they most needed, the one who had "the words of eternal life" (Jn. 6:68; NIV). A thirst for truth and patience in hearing would have benefited them immensely. Why did they reject Jesus? The text says they did so because they were angry. But why were they angry? They became angry when Jesus' teachings struck at the heart of their shallow religious beliefs.

Jesus continued to teach and he grew no less controversial. The religious leaders feared him, for his popularity threatened their power over the common people, and their political interests (Jn. 11:47-48). They plotted to kill him, but because they feared the people, they could not easily accomplish that (Mk. 11:18). However, in an effort to undermine Jesus and to preserve their control, they agreed to cast His followers out of the synagogue (Jn. 9:20-23). What a sad testimonial to the integrity of those religious leaders! Had Jesus' teachings and claims been false, the more open to scrutiny they were, the sooner his error and pretense would have been exposed. That same principle will hold true today, even regarding those issues raised within THE EXAMINER.

In the early church there existed a man who thought he should control what his brethren read and who they fellowshipped. Diotrephes would have nothing to do with the apostle John. So, when John wrote the church, Diotrephes squelched the message. He maliciously gossiped about John, refused to welcome the brothers, stopped those who wanted to welcome them and put them out of the church (3 Jn. 9-10). Isn't that a shocking attitude to be, displayed by a religious leader? Isn't it typical of the attitudes of modern church leaders, who prevent Christians from openly examining today's religious issues? Surely godly, sincere men who are attempting to imitate Christ can do better!

Jesus welcomed all who came to him, so that he was even accused of welcoming sinners (Lk. 15:1-2). He cordially answered his critics and discussed the scriptures with them (Mt. 19:3-12; 22:15-22; Lk. 20:27-40). He understood that every trick question, every trap his enemies laid, was an opportunity to teach. And the truth he taught, when contrasted with the hypocrisy and duplicity of his enemies, shone the more brightly. We cannot prove that Jesus ever convinced his opponents, but it is certain that the truth he taught had a significant impact on the multitudes who heard him. One thing which the church today needs is men who will imitate the methods of Jesus when their doctrines are questioned, even when their doctrines are questioned publicly in THE EXAMINER. Teach the simple truth. Christians will recognize it and it will prevail, even if critics are never convinced.

When men raise religious questions and issues, and (well-meaning) church leaders smother an honest, open investigation, truth is harmed. Not harmed in that it is no longer true, but harmed in that Christians are deprived of its effect in their lives. Christians are harmed in that they are denied the spiritual growth which accompanies their study of those issues. Christians who study only half an issue are only half as strong as those who study it all. Paul, writing to the Corinthians about the proper use of spiritual gifts, said, "Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults" (1 Cor. 14:20; NIV). We should also be adults in our thinking as we deal with today's religious issues. An open examination of all questions is neither a threat to truth nor to the Christians who engage in it. "Test EVERYTHING. Hold on to the good" (1 Th. 5:21; NIV).