the christadelphian waymark

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When Bible teaching is compared with Church teaching, it can be seen that Christendom at large is astray from the Bible. For further information regarding the saving truths of Scripture, read the articles opposite.

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A "POINT OF VIEW"

It is part of the humanistic society in which we sojourn, that all men and women have “human rights” - which includes the “right of conviction” to believe what they will. This, by the very nature of things, involves the notion that men and women who believe different things from ourselves are not “wrong”, just “different”. That we each look at one truth, but from different aspects, or “points of view” - and because we each see different facets to each other and not the overall whole, any apparent discrepancies exist because of our limited “view” not because we are right, and others are wrong (or vice versa).

A popular illustration of this principle is seen in Lillian Quigley’s book The Blind Men and the Elephant. She retells the ancient Buddhist fable of six blind men who visit the palace of the Rajah and encounter an elephant for the first time.As each touches the animal with his hands, he announces his discoveries:

“The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. "How smooth! An elephant is like a wall."The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant."How round! An elephant is like a snake."The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant."How sharp!An elephant is like a spear."The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant."How tall! An elephant is like a tree."The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant."How wide! An elephant is like a fan."The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant."How thin! An elephant is like a rope."

An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was the correct one.The Rajah, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony. "The elephant is a big animal," he said."Each man touched only one part.You must put all the parts together to find out what an elephant is like."

Enlightened by the Rajah's wisdom, the blind men reached agreement. "Each one of us knows only a part. To find out the whole truth we must put all the parts together."

However attractive the logic of this story may seem to some, it’s flaws when applied to matters of religion are clear:

1. If at best we each only know one part of the Elephant, who can see the whole animal to tell us we are only looking at a part, and not the whole thing?

2. The logic only works in this story if each individual examines his or her part in isolation from the whole. Whereas in religious circles, the various parties draw different conclusions regarding the same parts of the Elephant. Take for example the Atoning work of Christ: churches teach he died as a substitute for us, whereas Christadelphians teach that he was a representative man. So in this single issue, it is not the case that the church is validly viewing a different part of the elephant, rather the argument is regarding the particulars of the same part.

2. In the story, each man is assumed to be correct in his understanding of the part he touches - whereas in reality, such correctness is highly questionable - it is by Revelation, not by searching that God is found (Job 11:7).

3. The characters examining the Elephant are solely left to their own devices to determine the truth of the part they examine, and each man is assumed to be correct in his understanding of that part he touches. The facts of the case, however, are that rather than being left to our own abilities to find the Truth about the Deity (Job 11:7), we have been provided with instruction in Scripture. The Bible claim is to be the immutable Word of the Living God, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). So then, the story of a man using his abilities to learn an isolated, single, and small aspect of the truth concerning the Elephant breaks down: a closer analogy would be for men to instead listen to one who has seen all the pieces describe the whole to them.

Several times, the present writer has heard this story of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” from the platform, to describe how men come to God with “different points of view,” all equally valid and acceptable. Other times, a similar message is presented, not using this story, but drawing on the same principles as the story is supposed to illustrate. When describing their various opinions on a given matter, it is becoming increasingly common for brethren and sisters to speak of their “point of view”, with opposing ideas being called “a different point of view”. Though the children’s story above may not be always cited, similar principles are brought to bear to teach the same thing.

THE TESTIMONY OF MAN

One particularly clear example of this mode of thought can be seen from an article entitled: Thinking About the Atonement by Nigel Bernard in The Testimony Magazine for June 2002. In his article concerning differing opinions on the Atonement, the writer states:

“Just as the children of Israel could approach the brazen serpent on the pole from different angles (Num. 21:7-9), so we too can have different perspectives. Sometimes, instead of “looking unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), we look beyond the pole to a brother in the distance whose view seems far removed from our own, but who may be no further away than ourselves from the pole” (Emphasis ours—CAM)

Later in the same article, the writer categorises those who he considers to have such “certain views”:

“(for example, Andrewism, Stricklerism) or particular doctrines (for example, Alienation theory, Clean Flesh theory)”.

The problem is immediately apparent: what our earlier brethren classed and opposed as “false doctrine”, Nigel Bernard claims are “certain views,” which are valid even though their “view” is “far removed from our own” perception. Moreover, in his article, the writer categorises those who reject his “view” (by opposing what our earlier brethren regarded as threats to the Truth), as those who make a man “an offender for a word” (Isa. 29:21– but see context). There is a difference between what Nigel Bernard claims, and The Blind Men and the Elephant, in that in his comparison the same object is considered as a whole, as opposed to each party comprehending only a part. However, this basic issue is taught by both: that folk can have differing points of view, with none of them being any more invalid or inferior to each other—even though an opposing “view” might be “far removed” from what we personally perceive as being Revealed Truth.

But what saith the Word? Does the Bible support Nigel Bernard’s claim that there are various legitimate and different “views”, or “perspectives” that a man can have?

THE TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE

The Bible does use the language of Seeing or Not Seeing, in the context of receiving the principles of the Truth. So Messiah spoke of the Pharisees:

“Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Mat. 15:140.

Also in Matthew 23, five times Messiah speaks of “the blind”. Again, the inspired Apostle Paul speaks of Israel:

“… blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25)

Notice the absolute terms employed by the Spirit in each of these places: there are no differing “views” as Nigel Bernard would have us believe. In fact, there is not a single instance in Scripture where alternative “views” are even hinted at. So far as the Bible is concerned, there are only two states: 1) Seeing, 2) Blindness. And by the very nature of things, a blind man cannot see—by definition therefore, he cannot have a “view” on anything!

The Master also speaks of those who can “see”, by contrast to those who shut their eyes at the Truth:

“… this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears:, for they hear…” (Mat. 13:15-16).

According to Nigel Bernard, it is possible for men to have different “views” on the Atonement—even if they are radically different to each other—and for any to question any one of those “views” is to make a man “an offender for a word”. According to Jesus Christ however, those who close their eyes cannot see a thing. Being “blind” (even when wilfully so), they can have no sight, or “view” at all.

A passage that might be thought to have a bearing on the matter is in Matthew chapter 7:

“… why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Mat. 7:3-5).

This passage is plainly to do with clarity of spiritual vision. However, here, it is not a case of individuals each viewing a different angle of a given thing, which when put together form a complete picture. Rather it is a question of having an overall deficiency of sight—or in other words, an inability to perceive—described by the Master as “blindness” and by the Apostle as “blindness in part” depending on the extent of the deficiency. Both brethren in the parable have a spiritual sight deficiency, no matter what angle they choose for their “viewpoint”.

CONCLUSIONS

Surrounded by the humanistic philosophies of men, it is difficult for us to keep our garments from being spotted by the flesh (Jude 23). When we see our brother espouse doctrines not taught by Scripture, it is no kindness to him to allege that his belief is simply an alternative “view”, albeit being “far removed from our own.” It is not loving to watch him become blown about by every wind of doctrine, without stepping in at some point, seeking to save him with fear, pulling him out of the fire (Jude 23). In our society, robustness of speech is often decried as being “unloving” “intolerant”, and even “arrogant”. But it is written: “if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God …” (1 Pet. 4:11). We must not water down the plain and forthright language of Scripture to make it more palatable to the flesh. Rather, we should bring ourselves to conform to it’s precepts and teaching.

We have no regard for the “views” of those who “speak not according to the word”, (Isa. 8:20) however great they may be in the sight of men, for in scriptural terms, their delusions are not “different viewpoints”, or “perspectives”, but “damnable heresies” (2Pet 2:1), and they themselves “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2Tim 3:8). Of such wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mat 7:15), the Master’s Apostle was inspired to write, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9) - with these words we concur, despite their perceived “politically incorrectness” in the sight of the unenlightened. Many would wince at the use of such phrases as these to describe “other Christians,” but the simple fact is that this is the way that Yahweh “views” the situation. And as we have shown, Scripture simply does not accommodate either the story of The Blind Men and the Elephant, or the Testimony of Nigel Bernard.

Christopher Maddocks

 

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