"---those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29)
The incident which reminded me of this story occurred in the midst of a discussion in a bible class made up entirely of preachers. The discussion centered around the subjects of the church treasury and the Lord’s day contribution as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2. At this point one brother, without so much as the blink of an eye or the crack of a grin, and with a tone admitting of no doubt or uncertainty, sounded forth with the emphatic declaration that “we know that the church in Corinth had a regular Lord’s day contribution even before Paul wrote the First Corinthian letter because of Acts 2:42. For those not familiar with this passage is states: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
Now it is not my purpose to reflect on this brother whom I love, for it might just as well have been I or someone else who made that kind of statement. Nor is it my purpose to discuss and weigh the merits or demerits of this view. That the “fellowship” of Acts 2:42 refers to giving or a financial contribution by the Jerusalem brethren is an opinion which has been held by many capable and esteemed brethren in the past as well as in the present. That it has also been the opinion of some that all “five acts of church worship” are found in that verse (I’m not sure where singing fits in) is also admitted and I’ve never fallen out with a brother over such and idea. But what I want us to see is that the most that can be said for such views is that they are simply opinions, and sometimes not even very good ones, that is, in my opinion! And I grant my brother the right to his opinion, good or bad, but he needs to recognize it as such and not teach or preach it as the very fiat of heaven.
The “Certainty Syndrome”
I fear that as a brotherhood we are afflicted, at least to considerable degree, with what might be described as a “certainty syndrome.” “Certainty” would seem to be the watchword for soundness. This is seen in one of our most common descriptions of errorists as those who are giving forth an “uncertain sound.” This accounts in part, I believe, for the generally unenthusiastic approach to the study of the book of Revelation. Here is a place where only those sorely afflicted with the above-mentioned syndrome are given to bold and positive pronouncements. But that is what we have been conditioned to like, and hence when a study is filled with tentatives and leaves a lot of loose ends hanging, we find it most unsatisfactory, if not downright frustrating. So, understandably, that teacher or preacher who is certain about most everything, i.e., the book of Revelation, Paul’s thorn in the flesh, Sunday night communion, fellowship with brethren with whom we differ, ad infinitum, is considered a bulwark of the faith. And why? Because he tells us precisely what to believe on every point, and that without controversy. With such a climate it is no wonder that young preachers come along with such positiveness, making no distinction between faith and opinion, and often continue to maintain such a posture right on through their preaching life.
The Gospel Is Clear
Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me make it clear that I do not believe that “the faith which was once delivered to the saints” is a mere compilation of tentatives. No, we are not to preach a gospel of “maybes” and “perhaps”! Luke stated that we may “know the certainty of those things in which (we) were instructed.” (Luke 1:4). (emp. mine). Paul said: “I know whom I have believed.” (2 Tim. 1:12). (emp. mine). We too can know, but only as the scriptures instruct! We too can be certain, but only of that which inspiration clearly reveals! And I am also well aware, even by personal observation, that apostasy or the erosion of faith is commonly characterized by the emergence of doubts and uncertainties. However, a distinction needs to be made between the doubts of the embryonic apostate and the doubts that are properly entertained by the faithful disciple. The former questions and entertains doubts about the truthfulness and importance of plain scriptural teaching, whereas the latter only questions that which the scriptures do not conclusively answer. The apostate questions the answer itself! The true Christian questions only where there is a sparsity of data which makes a firm and conclusive conviction impossible.
The Wise Course
As a young preacher I was wisely advise by my father and others that when I was asked for an answer which I did not have, to reply in all condor, “I don’t know.” This is good advice in every field of endeavor, but no where is it of such importance as among those who labor in the word. If the matter under consideration is something revealed in God’s word, then by all means let us get busy and remove our ignorance or uncertainty by diligent study. But even after a lifetime of such study, a considerable number of questions will remain unanswered and unanswerable!
Perhaps a profitable exercise for all of us would be to carefully examine our convictions and to sincerely endeavor to separate the chaff (opinion) from the wheat (faith). Our forefathers made the following plea: “In matters of faith, unity: in matters of opinion, liberty; and in all things, charity.” I believe this is a most noble sentiment and a most worthy undertaking, but until and unless we distinguish between faith and opinion, these are but empty words.
The next time you are asked a question the Bible does not clearly answer, rather than seeking to bombastically bluff your way through, to the detriment of the cause of truth and the depreciation of yourself in the eyes of thinking people, simply and humbly respond: “I don’t know” or “this is only my opinion.”
Above all, don’t “raise your voice and pound on the pulpit”!
By Foy Vinson