Old Song, New Singers!Of late I have noticed several articles by some younger men having much to say about the grace of God and thundering out against what they are calling "legalism." The tune is very familiar. Every time a man gets tired of the old gospel story, or the appeal to Bible authority becomes trite to him, he discovers wonderful things about the grace of God and makes "legalism" his whipping boy. In case some of these rebels think what they are saying is new, let me give them a history lesson.
In Louisville over twenty years ago James Arthur Warren headed off in the direction of Modernism. He finally ended up in the Disciples. He became exceptionally intellectual. He was critical of gospel preachers who emphasized the plan of salvation and stressed the importance of obedience to the terms of the gospel. They were preaching salvation by works, he said, and obscuring the grace of God. When James R. Cope and Rufus Clifford were called upon by the brethren to help them in this struggle, they were disdainfully referred to as "cornfield preachers" by this intellectual giant. The song he sang was "legalism" and he sang it all the way to the Disciples.
Along about that time, Ralph Wilburn was a teacher at Pepperdine College. He influenced a number of bright young men to go and sit at the feet of infidels to get their degrees. He decided to try and save the church from — you guessed it — "legalism." Critics just were not really smart enough to understand what he meant. A man making shipwreck of the faith on the shores of modernism is eternally misunderstood. You would think that all that advanced wisdom would enable such a one to speak clearly so all could know what he believed and where he stood. While singing "legalism," he too left the church and affiliated with the Disciples. They were not so "legalistic" as to think that the authority of the New Testament had to be respected.
Then, in the early 1950's there were Roy Key and Ernest Beam in the Chicago area. These men went to the University of Chicago to equip themselves to fight infidelity. But they had so much dialogue with the infidels that they forgot about fighting them. Then they made a grand discovery — their brethren were too hidebound, they were "legalists." The old hit tune had become public domain and they sang it loud and long. They persuaded a few other young preachers to join in the chorus and they sang it all the way into total digression. They wound up in the Christian Church. J. P. Sanders, the blind preacher of Rockford, Illinois, got weary of "legalism" and he too learned to sing the marching song of digression and ended up with the Disciples.
Mission magazine is being published by men who are tired of "legalism." One writer sent them an article entitled "The 301 Cubit Ark" in which he lamented that we have become so strict in trying to keep from making the ark one cubit longer than God ordained that we have obscured grace, made law our standard and become spiritual isolationists, thus depriving ourselves of many rich things we could have learned from closer association with the denominations. This was named the "Article of the Year" by Mission.
Now there are some young men who want to continue their fellowship with conservative minded brethren who believe we must respect Bible authority. Some of these have already decided that apostolic examples are not binding and are willing to acknowledge, at least privately, that we are not bound to eat the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. These gentlemen are enlightened ones. I know they are because they say so! They have made an umbrella of the grace of God and wish to broaden it sufficiently to cover every deviation from the truth, which Carl Ketcherside wants to embrace under his mistaken idea of fellowship. According to them, this is far better than "legalism." There it is again. Same old song just new singers, apparently unaware that their new song is not new at all. It is the marching tune for those who are on their way to apostasy.
I have some advice for these young men. First of all, we would like to see you settle down to the business of believing and preaching what the Bible says and opposing what it does not authorize. But the time is at hand for name calling lest other churches be victimized by these unsound young men who want to stay in faithful churches and undermine them like termites in the basement. I, for one, intend to alert brethren everywhere I go to what you are up to. If you intend to try and remain among brethren committed to New Testament authority while secretly working to subvert whole houses, then you had better arm yourselves for you are going to have a fight on your hands such as you never imagined! The time for the clashing of swords may be much nearer than some suppose. There are a few preachers who are a little older who are entirely too sympathetic with some of this foolishness and who have aided and abetted, instead of helping to combat it.
Certainly, none could be saved without the grace of God. The whole divine plan of redemption was envisioned by God, not in consequence of anything man earned or deserved, but as a matter of grace and mercy. But the truth remains that the benefits of that grace are received conditionally. We are saved by grace "through faith" (Eph. 2:8-10). "Grace" includes all that God planned and did, while "faith" includes all that man must do in reaching out to lay hold on offered mercy. There is "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:2). Paul taught that men are "under law to Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21). James spoke of "the royal law" and the "perfect law of liberty" (James 2: 8; 1: 25). We are not under the Law of Moses, nor any of human origin, nor are we to suppose that even compliance with divine law is sufficient to save us apart from its connection with the grace of God, which provided it.
The New Testament teaches that the grace of God saves those who respond in obedience to the will of God. Jesus said the difference between the wise and foolish builders was that the wise one heard and did his word, while the foolish heard and did not his word. The Pentecostals anxiously inquired as to what they must do, and were told (Acts 2:37-38). It is the doer and not the hearer that shall be blessed (James 1: 22-25). There was no freedom from sin without obedience from the heart, nor could one become the servant of God without such (Rom. 6:16-18). Paul said those who "obey not the gospel" will be lost (2 Thess. 1: 6-9).
Paul taught that binding some other law than that of Christ was, in effect, frustrating the grace of God (Gal. 2:21). Righteousness did not come by law keeping. Specifically here, Paul dealt with the effort of some to bind circumcision and other practices of the Mosaic Law. That law had ended. To return to any part of it when Gods grace had provided Christ was to frustrate God's grace and make the advent of Christ useless. The gospel is called "the gospel of the grace of God," but the gospel contains some things to be obeyed. "They have not all obeyed the gospel" (Rom. 10: 16). The grace which brought the gospel that men might be reconciled requires a continuance in the faith and calls for the hope of the reconciled being presented before God as "holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Col. 1:22-23).
To confess great admiration for the grace of God while despising his authority over the church and excusing doctrinal and practical departures from what he authorized is hypocritical. While we should not come to look upon the gospel as the Jew did upon the law of Moses, let us be careful lest in our fear of "legalism" we dismiss the need for Bible authority altogether. If believing that we ought to speak as God's oracles and have a "thus saith the Lord" for what we teach and practice is legalism, then count me guilty. But may I urge the young men who are singing this tune not to be overly proud in thinking they have made up a new song. Both the melody and the lyrics have been around a long time.
— via Truth Magazine, February 1, 1973