(Arguments Against the Practice 3)
Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions? (Song 1:7)
Question.—Is the practice of occasional hearing offensive to Christian brethren, who are endeavoring conscientiously to walk according to the footsteps of the flock, and whose edification we are bound to promote?
Answer.—Yes. Should we suppose this merely a matter of indifference, as is generally assumed, then the command of the apostle falls in our favor. What is a matter of indifference to one must be yielded to another when the latter holds such a matter of conscience, Rom. 15:1, 2. It was a matter of indifference with the apostle to eat meat that had been in the idol’s temple, 1 Cor. 8:4. But, because this was offensive to the conscience of weak brethren who were emboldened to eat from mere example without knowledge, the apostle, unwillingly to contribute to the destruction of those for whom Christ died, declared he would eat no meat while he lived, 1 Cor. 8:7-13. Christ himself declares the great criminality of those who offer offense to any that belong to him, Matt. 18:6.
Now, this all considers the matter under consideration a point of indifference which we do not admit. The practice is contrary to the apostle’s command, 1 Cor. 14:26. It is evident that instead of promoting the good and edification of our neighbor occasional hearing acts the very reverse, 1 Cor. 10:23, 24; Isa. 57:14. To the extent that our countenancing false teachers, erroneous teaching, corrupt worship or corrupt constitutions of church government, encourages our neighbor to remain in these connections, we “give offense” to the brethren by being in that way an occasion to their falling into sin, 1 Cor. 10:32; Lev. 19:14.
Question.—Is occasional hearing calculated to promote practical and experimental religion?
Answer.—No. If this were true, we would expect those most frequent in the practice to be those most concerned with the claims of true religion, Matt. 7:16. For example, are they the most concerned for Sabbath keeping or most regular in matters of family religion? Lack of stedfastness evidences instability which itself is contrary to growth and progress in true religion, Jas. 1:8; Gen. 49:4. This, in turn, leads to further corruption of belief and practice, 2 Pet. 3:16.
Again, this should come as no surprise to those who read Scripture; Christ’s presence and blessing is promised only to his own flock, not that of the companions, Matt. 28:20. Without the divine blessing the senses may be gratified, the affections stirred and even the understanding informed without any change or conversion being wrought in the heart, Gal. 3:2. Whilst it may be admitted that those who ignorantly make a sanctified use of those means before them might find some profit, 1 Cor. 3:7; yet, such blessing is withheld from those disturbed souls that have itching ears who are often led into fables, 2 Tim. 4:3, 4.
Question.—Is occasional hearing contrary to the express commands and declarations of Scripture, including that expressed in Song 1:7?
Answer.—Yes. The language of Song 1:7 expresses a strong aversion to the practice of occasional hearing. The church is therein portrayed as well aware that to do so would be at the expense of forsaking the Beloved.
The gist of the Scripture supports the concern expressed in this passage. Christ himself warns against indiscriminate hearing both of persons and doctrines (τί), Mark 4:24. If this were a matter indifferent, there would not need be a prohibition. The warning against being turned aside is lest we be ensnared by the subtlety of men who adjudge themselves worthy of teaching apart from a knowledge of true religion, Eph. 4:14. Hence, the danger is held forth by the apostle, Heb. 13:9.
Again, we are commanded by the apostle to withdraw from all who profess the true religion, whether or not they hold such in reality, if they are chargeable with doing so in a way that is disorderly, 2 Thess. 3:6. This “disorderly” walking is “not after the tradition (κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν)” received of the apostles. Now, if this is enjoined in the lesser case, of the individual, how much more in the case of a church, when the majority of her officers and members are erroneous and disorderly in their faith, worship, discipline and government? Thus, we are not to turn aside after the companions but they are to return to their duty and go forth by the footsteps of the flock, Jer. 15:19.
Again, we have an express injunction not to attend; for if we may not hear, we must not attend, Prov. 19:27. Furthermore, Scripture assigns a very good reason for this, Isa. 9:16. For this reason, we are to withdraw from all church communions founded on error and defection from the truth, for their public administrations are merely subservient to those ends, Matt. 15:14.
Turning aside leads to offense and offense to division, Rom. 16:17. Yet, the prudent man foresees these consequences and escapes, Prov. 27:12. It is the mark of the fool to gad about after idle and erroneous words, Prov. 14:15. It is those that justify corruptions in doctrine and practice that render a state of separation necessary, Rom. 16:17, 18. This charge falls upon those not walking according to the footsteps of the flock. Just as the bearing wall that remains standing is not to blame for the collapse of the house, so they are not chargeable with division who remain standing when others fall away, Matt. 18:7; 2 Thess. 3:14, 15.
We are commanded to earnestly contend for the faith, Jude 3. By secession we profess that those from whom we separate either omit articles of faith for which we are enjoined to contend or hold articles inconsistent with that faith, Phil. 3:16.