One day I had just finished speaking to a group of people on the matter of finding what the Bible teaches and sticking to that, regardless of what others believe or say. After the service a tall, sanctimonious-looking lady approached me and said in subdued tones, "I am one of those who agree with you, but I feel that we ought to forget the things we disagree on and magnify the things on which we agree."
I said, "Sister, that sounds mighty sweet, but if we did that there wouldn't be anything vital left."
"Well," she said, "don't you think we are all going to heaven, no matter what church we belong to? We won't be divided into little groups there, will we?"
I said, "No, not there. But before we get in there we will be divided into two groups. And, according to the Bible, it will depend on whether or not we have been born again as to which group we shall be in, no matter what church we have belonged to. Have you been born again?"
"Well, I have been a member of the church for over thirty years. I guess I ought to be."
"Yes," I said, "you certainly ought to be, but are you?"
"I guess so. I was sprinkled when I was a baby, and confirmed when old enough, and grew up in the church. What else could I do?"
"You could repent of your sins, and trust the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, if you want to do what the Bible says."
"I've never done anything very bad to repent of. I've been a church member and have sung in the choir, taught Sunday-school classes, and been faithful at all the services. I know the catechism, and have done about everything our preacher requires."
"But your preacher isn't the judge in your case."
"Well, he's my pastor, and ought to know. He certainly is brilliant and I'd rather risk his opinion than any other."
"His opinion is not sufficient to stand in the Judgment," I said. "The only thing that will stand there is the Word of God. You had better look and see if your pastor's opinions are founded on that Word or not."
I left her a bit puzzled. But her case is just like that of thousands the world over, who are living a "religious" life without knowing what the Bible teaches on salvation.
There is not anything sure unless the Word of God says it, and there is not anybody right unless they are with that Word. This is a day when you cannot take as final what people think about spiritual matters. The rank and file of church members scarcely know the first principles of what the Bible teaches.
Sunday-school teachers, thousands of them, are airing their views before their classes, discussing social betterment, war, economics, and morals without the slightest understanding of what God's Word says about these things. In part they are doing it, because they are ignorant of the spiritual teaching of Scripture, of its inner meaning."I believe the plan of salvation is as broad as the beliefs of man. If a man believes he has to belong to a church to save him, that is what it takes to save him. If another man believes it takes baptism to save him, that is what is required of him. If another man believes that moral living will save him, it will, and that is what it takes for him. If a man of a religion different from the Christian religion believes sincerely that his religion will save him, it will, and that is what it requires for him."So spoke a minister, a graduate of a leading theological seminary and highly respected by his congregation. One wonders if his wise-ignorance was implanted by his teachers.
"Doesn't what the Bible says have anything to do with the matter?" I asked.
"That is the spirit of the Bible," he replied. "But," I said, "can you point that out to me in the Bible? I would like to see it."
He laughingly replied, "Oh, what's the use? Nobody could convince you anyway. You don't reason things out. You are too literal."
Now there was a "brilliant" preacher, product of an institution whence the churches are expected to think the "best" preachers are to be had, telling his people they could get to heaven any way they believed they could.
Let me state seriously my conviction that the world was never so populated with blind leaders and false teachers as it is today. There are more people today who do not know where they are going, trying to tell others where and how to go, than the world has ever seen.
Jesus so faithfully warned us of them. In Matthew 24:4-5, He said: "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name . . .; and shall deceive many."
Peter also gives serious warning of these blind leaders. In II Peter 2:1-3, the apostle says: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious way; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you."
If you will read all that chapter you will see what the apostle says of these teachers. Many other places in the Bible warn us against being deceived by these teachers.
This trick of deception is as old as the Garden of Eden. It was used by Satan to lead our first parents into sin. In order to deceive we must make things seem to be what they are not. That is exactly what Satan does. He never offends our sense of right by asking us to do something which we know to be terrible. He just helps us reason the thing around until we can justify it on the basis of worldly wisdom. He puts it in nice clothes, paints it up, make it sound good, gives it the respectability of being approved by "forward-looking best" people, and leads us to feel that we must be doing right to accept it.
If such a man should declare himself to be an infidel, no Christian would pay any attention to him. But when he comes in the righteous robes of God's servant, perhaps as a professional seeker and dispenser of learning, speaking sincerely of his convictions, he easily impresses us so much as to gain our confidence, and though his teaching be wrong, it will seem right to us. Many of these false teachers are sincere and earnest, but they are deceived by Satan.
Their sincerity may win us, but it does not change the essential falsity of their teaching. The preacher who said the plan of salvation is as broad as any man believes it to be, was a sincere and amiable man. His trouble was that he had formulated his opinions out of resources of worldly reasoning instead of getting them from the Word of God. And no matter how sincere he may be, if he does not agree with the Word, he cannot be right.
"But," you may say, "the man was conscientious. Isn't it safe to follow one's conscience in matters of this kind?"
Not on your life! That is one of Satan's most treacherous lies. The conscience tells you when you are acting in accord with what you believe, but it does not tell you whether or not your beliefs are right. If the conscience has been trained by the Word of God, then it is safe to follow it. But if it has not, it is never safe to follow conscience alone.
Are all teachers false? No, thank God! He has His faithful and true servants in all walks of life. There are good Sunday-school teachers; there are true preachers of the Word; and they are ordained of God to teach and preach that Word. But it is never safe to follow one without checking his message with the Word itself.
God has providentially made the Bible available everywhere. It is printed in more languages than any other book in the world, and has always been sold and distributed in far larger quantities than any other book. It lies on the tables, in book shelves, and on the desks of almost every home. There is no excuse for men not knowing the way. That Bible was put there, under God that men may read it. There is a right and wrong to everything, and the Bible will make it clear to all who from the heart seek the right. There is positively no excuse for a man to be led astray by false teachers, when the Word is right there for him to read for himself.
One of the few times God ever complimented a group of people in this world was when Paul had been preaching at Thessalonica and had to leave because of opposition. He went over to Berea and began preaching there. And Luke tells us [Acts 17:11] that "These (Bereans) were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the Word of God with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things be so." Think of it! These people took their Bibles and "checked" the preaching of the Apostle Paul, to see if he preached what the prophets had said. The result was inevitable: "Therefore, many of them believed."
The Word of God has a way of making men believe. Christians are even now moving fast into apostasy and the world going to hell, not so much for lack of good intentions, but from inexcusable ignorance of the Word of God. People by the thousands are living "religious" lives, holding important positions in churches, teaching and trying to lead others, when they themselves are in the darkness of this ignorance of the spiritual message of God's Word. They substitute their opinions for their lack of understanding of Spiritual truth. They go on doing "church work," leading those who follow into the darkness that holds them. What can be the result but weakness in our churches and destruction for the lost?
===========[Western Recorder, February 15, 1940. The Western Recorder, is the Kentucky Baptist State paper. - jrd]
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