(Considering Some Scripture Passages Adduced For the Practice)
Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions? (Song 1:7)
Question.—But aren’t there a number of passages from Scripture that support the practice of occasional hearing?
Answer.—There are a number of passages advocates of occasional hearing have brought forward.
First, there is that place, “sow beside all waters,” Isa. 32:20. This place cannot affect the question because: 1.) It designs nothing more than a diligent use of ordinances according to divine appointment, Phil. 2:12. 2.) Sowing pertains to preaching, Luke 8:5; and the apostle rejoiced that Christ was preached though of envy, because, though the motives be wrong, the gospel might be a blessed means to some who nonetheless hear it, Phil. 1:18.
Second, there is that account of Christ reproving his disciples for being offended at one who cast out devils, but did not follow him, Mark 9:38-40. However, unless it be argued that the man held some different articles of faith, or order of worship, this in no way supports occasional hearing. It is most likely that this question arose regarding one of John’s disciples, who believed in Christ, but, as then, still followed a different discipline though not a different doctrine or worship, Matt. 9:14.
Third, there is that command of Christ, to “observe and do” what the Pharisees bid, Matt. 23:2, 3. But this place is not of everyone diligently enough marked. For it is to be noted, out of other places, that the writings of Moses, and of the Prophets, were read by piecemeal in the Synagogues, Acts 15:21; 13:15. The record of this is, even at this day, noted by the chapter divisions in the Hebrew Bible. Now, unto this pure and sincere reading, was added an interpretation, Neh. 8:3, 8; which by Christ’s time was full of leaven, Mark 8:15. Many of which points in Matthew are plentifully confuted by Christ, Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28, 31-34, 38, 39, 43, 44. Therefore Christ commanded those things to be heard out of the Pulpit, which were by custom, sincerely recited out of Moses and the Prophets, in the synagogues; but the leaven, wherewith they did corrupt, the purity of doctrine, to be avoided, Matt. 23:23; Deut. 17:9-12.
Fourth, the Apostle admonishes that we “prove all things” and retain that part which is profitable, 1 Thess. 5:21. Yet, it must be noted that this passage, while commanding all to hear with discrimination, does not contradict those passages forbidding to hear known erroneous teachers, Prov. 19:27.
Fifth, we are required “to try the spirits,” 1 John 4:1. Yet, the best way to discover the rule for making this trial is not hearing erroneous teachers but through the meditation of those things which are true, Phil. 4:8. Again, so far from enjoining occasional hearing, this rule requires that we are conversant in the truth of the word of God so that we avoid false teachers, 1 Tim. 6:3-5. By going to hear we may be led to think better or worse than they deserve, by the talents of him whom we hear; we may hear a point of truth handled very orthodoxly and be deceived; or, we may hear the truth attacked in such a way as to be misled, 1 Cor. 15:33.
Additionally, we ought to consider that supposing the word is purely taught, but the worship is mixed with human inventions, and the ministry of it is in stated opposition to a pointed testimony to the present truth, Gal. 2:18; how can we in that case attend upon it without giving up with that, since we are called to hold fast that which is good, Rev. 3:3?
We must always keep in mind that Jesus gives us three very weighty cautions concerning hearing; what we should hear, Mark 4:24; how we should hear, Luke 8:18; and whom we shall hear, Rom. 10:14. Since the character of whom is dictated by the doctrine, Jer. 23:21, 22; we must be careful to hear only those to whom we have reason to believe the true doctrine is entrusted, cf. Acts 20:27.