(Arguments Against the Practice 1)
Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions? (Song 1:7)
Question.—Does the practice of occasional hearing violate the principle of unity which ought to be maintained in the church of Christ?
Answer.—Yes. Scripture speaks of the church as “but one,” Song 6:9; “thy flock” instead of “the flocks” of the companions, Song 1:7. Unity must be considered one of the distinguishing characters of the church of Christ.
The practice of occasional hearing has a direct tendency to destroy the very notion of unity by encouraging these schisms and increasing these flocks contrary to the express commands of the apostle, Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 1:27. By these, and other passages, it appears that the great object of the apostles and the primitive saints in church fellowship was unity of sentiment and design as absolutely necessary to the purity of the gospel church. Thus, we are commanded to cultivate a “unity of the Spirit” in our fellowship, Eph. 4:3. Christ, in his intercessory prayer for his church speaks of a unity that is the mark of his disciples, John 17:21, 22. One practice that encourages all the divisions of the present day, together with all the attendant evils, is that of countenancing any or every new scheme of religion and doctrine set forward by the corrupt and ignorant reasons of men, 2 Cor. 2:17.
Question.—Is the tendency of occasional hearing to encourage them in their corrupt evil courses who teach contrary to the true doctrine and faith of the church?
Answer.—Yes. By our separate profession we declare our belief that they are wrong, Acts 19:9. However, countenancing them, even in the smallest degree, has a direct tendency to strengthen the hands of those of corrupt judgment, Ezek. 13:22.
The countenancing of erroneous teachers, or praying for their success, is recognizing them as sent ambassadors of Christ and saying amen to their error with which they are chargeable, 2 John 10, 11 (“recommend, assure, assert;” λέγετε). It is a great curse to have shepherds which cause their flocks to err; for blind guides lead blind followers into the ditch—even to final ruin, Jer. 23:20-22; Matt. 15:14. It is a long established principle that example has more influence than precept, Hos. 4:9. As we would not be chargeable with the sins of others lest we partake of their judgments, Rev. 18:4; so, we ought to avoid every appearance that encourages their corrupt courses, 1 Thess. 5:22.
Hearing is an act of worship much more solemn than is often recognized. We are to hear as instructed of God. Thus, the import of those words of the centurion of the Italian band, Acts 10:33. In hearing, we present ourselves before God and are, therefore, required to keep our foot with all diligence giving heed that we hear more readily, Eccl. 5:1. Without this, there is no hearing in faith and no profit in what has been heard, Heb. 4:2.
Question.—Is turning aside after the flocks of the companions in opposition to the following verse commanding us to go forth by the footsteps of the flock?
Answer.—Yes. These footsteps we apprehend to be the attainments of the church in former times, Phil. 3:16. These things are left on record for our imitation that we fail not to obtain the promise held forth in the gospel, Rev. 3:11. The divine command with respect to this is clear and unequivocal if we would occupy the safe way in this world, Heb. 6:12; Phil. 3:17.
To assist in distinguishing between sin and duty, truth and error, and to distinguish between the flock of Christ and those of the companions, it has been the practice of the church to retain and bring to view in her subordinate standards the attainments of former times, 2 Tim. 1:13 (“outline, pattern, model;” ὑποτύπωσιν). In this way, the church is the pillar of the truth, 1 Tim. 3:15; showing forth, by her public profession, like an inscribed pillar, the distinct and legible characters of the truth. This forms a test designed to overthrow the devices of those that would creep in unawares, Jude 4; lest a wolf be admitted without warning to the sheep, Matt. 7:15.
The rejection of the subordinate standards is of great injury to the flock of Christ denying the necessity of unity in judgment, Phil. 2:2; 4:2. These former footsteps, or attainments, are brought forward as examples for their imitation, Col. 2:6. It is the character of the true church that she goes forth by these footsteps, Gal. 6:16. She studies the advances of those who were possessed of the Spirit of martyrdom for the cause of Christ and true religion, Zech. 11:4; Rom. 12:16. Those following in the footsteps of the flock will find sufficient reason to not be turned aside in this—the example of the faithful flock does not run in that direction, Song 1:4; Luke 17:23; Phil. 3:12.