by Glenn Conjurske
One of the popular misconceptions which has apparently had a firm hold
upon the church for a long time is the notion that the apostles were inspired
is, that they were somehow infallible, preserved from all error in doctrine
or practice. Statements of this doctrine, or incidental allusions to inspired
apostles, are common in the writings of the church.
An article entitled Authority of the Apostles in The American
Baptist Magazine for 1834 says, Infallible inspiration was also
necessary to qualify persons for that office. John 16:13. They had not
only to explain the true sense and spirit of the Old Testament, but also
to give forth the New Testament revelation to the world, which was to
be the unalterable standard of faith and practice in all succeeding generations.
Luke 24:27. Acts 26:22,23, and ch. 28:23. 1 Pet. 1:25. It was therefore
necessary that they should be secured against all mistakes, by the unerring
dictates of the Spirit of truth. Accordingly, Christ both promised, and
actually bestowed upon them, the Holy Spirit, to teach them all things;
to bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever he had said unto
them; to guide them into all truth, and to show them things to come. John
16:13,26. Their doctrine must also be received, not as the word of man,
but, as it truly is, the word of God, 1 Thess. 2:13; and is that by which
we are to distinguish the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. 1
Joseph Travis says, If ever St. Paul was called to the ministry,
so was Stephen Olin: with this difference, that the former was inspired
A. A. Hodge says, How far, precisely, the inspiration of the Apostles
extended we cannot tell. But it extended to all their teaching (whosoever
heareth you heareth me) and to much of their official action.
Here then, we have three statements, from a Baptist, a Methodist, and
a Presbyterian, ascribing inspiration or infallibility to the apostles.
The third is willing to impose some limits upon that inspiration, so that
it does not extend to everything the apostles ever did, but still he affirms
the fact, and applies it to all their teaching.
Now to be short, I believe the notion of inspired apostles is not only
false, but very dangerous also. I no more believe in the infallibility
of the apostles than I do the infallibility of the pope. Such a doctrine
is nowhere to be found in the Bible, but just the reverse. Who could dream
of thinking Peter inspired or infallible when Paul said, I withstood
him to the face, because he was to be blamed?
Paul further affirms that Peter walked not uprightly according to
the truth of the gospel? (Gal. 2:11 & 14). On that occasion,
Paul said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest
after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou
the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Verse 14). This plainly indicates
that Peter was wrong in both his teaching and his official action. He
compelled the Gentiles to live as the Jews, and vacillated himself, according
to who was present.
Both his teaching and his action, then, were to be tried by truth
and reason, and not merely assumed to be infallibly correct. Nor were
they to be tried only by another apostle
----though that would suffice
to prove the apostles fallible ----but tried by all the people.
Paul said these things to Peter before them all, with the
obvious intent that they all should judge of the matter.
But Paul erred also. The author of Galatians and Hebrews took a Jewish
vow, and would have offered a Jewish sacrifice, had not Providence prevented
him. What he wrote is inspired and infallible. What he thought,
felt, preached, and did were not so.
We do not believe the apostles, in their ordinary life and ministry, were
any more inspired than any man of God in any age. It may be they had more
understanding than some of us do, it may be they had more zeal and love
and holiness, but they were no more infallible.
The Bible doctrine of inspiration does not apply to the apostles, but
to the Scriptures. All Scripture is inspired of God.
The scripture is what is written. To that the doctrine
of inspiration applies, and not to those who wrote it. We know that the
writers of the Old Testament, as Moses, David, and Solomon, erred greatly.
If it is held that the apostles were inspired in fulfillment
of the promises of Christ, and particularly in order that they might write
the New Testament, I merely call attention to the fact that most of the
apostles never wrote a line of Scripture, while some who did write Scripture,
as Mark and Luke, were not apostles. But this matters nothing. The books
are inspired, not the writers of them.
Observe too, the doctrine of inspiration concerns the final result, the
books themselves, and not the process by which they were written. Of the
latter we know little or nothing, nor do we know that the same
process was always in use while the different books were written, or even
in all parts of the same book. For two centuries the liberals and
modernists have troubled their heads about the process of
inspiration, but the Bible doctrine of inspiration does not concern itself
with the process, but the result. To place inspiration in the process
by which the books were given is a departure from the doctrine of the
Bible, and a step in the direction of the worse error of placing it in
the writers. We do not believe the writers were inspired, not even while
they were engaged in writing the Bible. They may have had wrong thoughts
wrong notions ----indulged wrong emotions ----Paul may have
been impatient with a slow amanuensis ----John may have had hard
thoughts of Diotrephes ----at the very time they were engaged in
writing the books of the New Testament. The doctrine of inspiration does
not secure them from this. It secures the books from everything
false, but not their authors.
But this notion of inspired apostles is not only false, but,
in the wrong hands, very dangerous also. It draws men away from the written
Scriptures, which actually are inspired and infallible, to a supposed
and fictitious infallibility in the apostles, and so sends them hunting
in the early church fathers for some records or relics of
what the apostles said or did. This is really the root principle of the
Romanists, who a millennium and a half ago were debating the proper date
of Easter (!!), on the basis of the supposed example of the supposedly
infallible apostles. Whatever the adherents of this principle can find,
or think they find, in the early church is immediately
assumed to represent the example of the apostles, and exalted to the place
of authority, by which the Scriptures must be interpreted. This is great
folly, on two counts.
First, it is foolish to assume that the practice of the early church
is in any sense a true representation of the practice of the apostles,
and when the early church is so defined as to include the
first three centuries of Christianity, the folly is extreme. Who would
dream today, but two centuries after the death of Wesley, of taking
the present Methodist church as a true representation of the doctrines
and practice of John Wesley? It would be difficult to imagine a proposition
more foolish than this. Yet this is just the folly of those who think
to find the doctrine and practice of the apostles in the early church.
But more. Even if we could admit that the early church gives
us a true picture of the practice of the apostles themselves, and even
if it could be proved beyond doubt what the practice of the early church
was, and even if the early fathers did not contradict each other, and
even if it could be assumed or proved that the apostles always agreed
with each other, still I absolutely deny that this is any basis for
our faith or practice. The apostles did not know everything, nor understand
everything, and we utterly decline to make their understanding the measure
of our own. They may have known ten times more than we do, and yet for
all that we may understand things which they did not. We may learn things
from the apostles' own writings which the apostles themselves did not
know. They could record the sayings and doings of Christ without understanding
everything in them. I do not trouble myself whether all the apostles understood
the doctrine of the rapture. If what is written necessitates it,
this is all we need. We know from Peter's explicit testimony that the
Old Testament prophets did not understand all that they wrote themselves
not understand the two comings of Christ ----but searched their
own writings for the understanding which eluded them. The New Testament
is inspired by the same Spirit, and certainly contains more than its human
We know as an absolute certainty from the Scriptures themselves that the
apostles erred. We know therefore that they were not inspired
or infallible. What they wrote is perfect and infallible, and this
is our all-sufficient guide. To the law and to the testimony: if
they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light
in them. (Isaiah 8:20). Those who direct us to apostolic example,
or to apostolic tradition, or to the early church as
the repository of that tradition
----those who make this the rule
of our faith, or the rule by which to interpret the rule ----have
no light in them. This is Romanism, not Bible Christianity.
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
----I beg the reader to observe that the preceding article
has been upon my mind for some time, and that it was written before the
book review which follows, and before the book under review was read.
Nevertheless, the two are closely allied, and the article will serve as
a fitting introduction to the following review.
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- --
by Glenn Conjurske
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- --
Common Sense, by David W. Bercot
Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing Company, 1992.
I intend to make this review as short and sweet as the case will allow,
but I fear that will neither be very short nor very sweet.
I rarely read a modern book. I know what to expect from the modern church.
Yet my mind remains open
----I condemn nothing merely because it
is modern ----and once in a while I allow someone to persuade me
to read a modern book. I am usually sorry for it ----sorry that
I have wasted my time, and sorry that I must risk giving offence to the
friend who persuaded me to read it. But since I have performed my chore,
and read this book, my readers shall at any rate have some benefit from
The book is entitled Common Sense, and subtitled A New Approach
to Understanding Scripture. The common sense looks good, but we
fear that any man who advocates a new approach at this date
must be possessed of an uncommon degree of pride. What need have we of
any new approach, unless the whole church has missed its way
till now? But Bercot's approach is not new. It may be new to evangelical
Protestants, but it is the essence of Puseyism and of Romanism.
As for common sense, I myself for many years have advocated common sense
as one of the primary qualifications for the proper interpretation of
Scripture, but I find that this author means something entirely different
by common sense than I do. I mean taking the Scriptures in their
common and natural meaning, and rejecting the unnatural, the foolish,
the technical, the hair-brained, and the far-fetched. He means
setting aside the Scriptures as our actual authority, and replacing them
with the writings of the early church. For make no mistake
about it, the purpose of this book is to destroy the authority of Scripture.
I do not say this is the author's conscious intent, but he takes great
pains to accomplish it.
I knew a little something of David Bercot before I read this book. I knew
that his primary principle was to subject the authority of Scripture to
the writings of the early church. But even knowing this I
was really unprepared for the evil which I found in this book. I am sure
that I have read it with the same sort of feelings with which John Burgon
read the Essays and Reviews, and if I review Common Sense in the
same style in which he reviewed that book, I really know not how to help
it. Though it is my purpose to exercise all the restraint I am capable
of, I very much fear that I will not be able to review this book at all
without using some hard speech. I certainly believe it to be one of the
most deleterious books I have read in my life
----evil in its principles,
and pernicious in its tendencies. I am well aware that there are many
conservative Christians scattered across this land, including some whom
I count my friends, who are much taken with the doctrines of David Bercot.
It is for their sake that I speak. How or why they admire
this man's teaching is hard for me to tell, but I suppose some of them
are tired of the worldliness of the modern church, and turn to the
early church for something more spiritual. I suppose this to
be the case with Bercot himself, but he has very little spiritual
understanding, as is manifest on nearly every page of this book, and all
his labor is to get out of the frying pan into the fire. He leaps from
the ditch on one side of the path to a deeper ditch on the other side.
Hyperspirituality, including all the seeds of the monastic asceticism
of later ages, was the bane of the early church, and this
has a peculiar appeal to those who are hyperspiritual themselves, or who
are merely sick of the prevailing carnality of the present day. Others
may be ensnared only because they find in Bercot a new line of argument
in support of some pet doctrines of their own, such as that of women's
head coverings, which occupies a large place in this book ----precisely
as many Baptists will eagerly embrace anything which translates âáðôßæù
as immerse, no matter how unsound or unspiritual it may be
in general. But whatever their reasons, those who follow Bercot are deceived ----deceived
into giving up the foundation in an attempt to save the building.
I write to wake them up. It may be that I am an old-time jangling alarm
clock, and no pleasant, new-fangled radio alarm. I may not awake them
by gentle degrees, with soft, sweet, classical music. This is not my style.
I ring the fire bell, and really know not how to do otherwise. If I can
but waken them, I am content, and hope they will be so also.
The book begins with some excellent remarks on honesty in the interpretation
of Scripture, but even here I find some evil omens. The Reformation is
blamed for the many divisions of the church, while the Church of Rome
is commended for its unity, despite its shortcomings. This
continues throughout the book. The Reformers are mentioned only to depreciate
them, and Protestantism is continually blamed and slighted. We know that
there is plenty to censure in the Reformers, but Bercot censures the wrong
----and all his censures of Protestantism are in fact oblique
thrusts at the Scriptures.
Most of the book is devoted to proving the inadequacy and insufficiency
of the Bible. Having proved this, as he thinks, he quickly sets up and
knocks down several simplistic solutions to the imagined difficulty, and
then takes us directly to The Horse's Mouth, namely, the writings
of the early church. He is enamored with the unity of the Church
of Rome, and blames all the divisions of Protestantism, not upon the perversity
or ignorance of men, but upon the deficiency of Scripture. The reason,
he says on page 30, that Bible-believing Protestants and evangelicals
are so divided today is not because the Reformation eventually was derailed.
No, it's because the Reformation was never on the right track to start
The reason I say this is that, almost to a man, the Reformers failed
to recognize (or refused to admit) that most passages in Scripture are
capable of being interpreted in more than one way. Instead, the Reformers
steadfastly maintained that Scripture is quite clear and unambiguous.
Persons who did not interpret Scripture the way any particular Reformer
did were simply 'enemies of God who refused to accept what Scripture plainly
teaches.' (The bold type throughout this review is added by myself.)
The author's point in this, which he reiterates in numerous ways throughout
the book, is that the Scriptures in themselves are inadequate because
of their inveterate ambiguity, and that we must therefore have an authoritative
interpreter of them, which he finds in the early church.
He goes on to quote Luther in denunciation of those who hide their unbelief
behind the supposed obscurity of Scripture, and condemns Luther
for so speaking. Somehow the Reformers never came to grips with
the obvious: If the Scriptures were 'all-clear' and 'all-plain,' then
why were the Reformers themselves unable to agree on what Scriptures teach?
Why did the Reformation, with its slogan of 'Sola Scriptura,' create such
a patchwork of conflicting denominations and sects? (pg. 31.)
All the fault is laid upon the Scriptures, and upon the principle
of adhering to Scripture alone, while the interpreters are
presumed to be as sincere and competent and humble and holy as angels.
This is Bercot's invariable method.
He insists that This Is Not an Attack on Scripture, but we
think with an old proverb that he who defends himself without being accused
is guilty. He continues to build his case against the adequacy of Scripture
by discoursing at length on the insufficiency of human language, which
he repeatedly calls unclear, inexact, ambiguous,
etc. But human language is a figment of the imagination of
the modernists. Language is not human, but divine. God spoke before
man was created, and created man with the ability to speak himself, and
to understand God's speech. God spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden,
and they understood him. And they doubtless spoke to each other
in the same language in which God spoke to them. They did not use one
human language, and another which was divine. That language has come down
to us unaltered in its essential nature. God yet speaks to us today (in
the Scriptures), in language which is not merely human, but
the creation of God, and which is perfectly adequate to convey the
message of God to our souls. Bercot denies this, but his position
is nothing other than a plank from the platform of modernism, and it is
precisely an attack on Scripture. Of what use is an inspired
Bible which is unintelligible? He confesses the inspiration of Scripture,
but denies its adequacy, in order that he may draw us away to another
authority, the early church, in the adequacy of which he most
obviously believes. Thus the word of God is displaced by the word of man.
And at this point, in spite of all his professed intellectual, spiritual,
and theological honesty, he wrests the Scriptures in order to maintain
his false position. He says, (pg. 33), Of course, the Holy Spirit's
means of communication are infinite. But God chose to communicate His
truths through our finite human languages, just as He has chosen imperfect
humans to be His co-workers. So then the Holy Spirit's infinite
means of communication go for nothing, and it does not seem quite honest
to affirm it in one sentence, only to practically nullify it in the next.
This is only keeping up appearances. And by the way, his habitual speaking
of humans instead of men indicates no influence of primitive
Christianity, but rather of modern liberalism.
But the worst is yet to come. He continues, After Paul had been
caught up into Paradise, he said the things he heard were 'inexpressible'
in human language (2 Cor. 12:4). Perhaps many of God's other truths
are inexpressible in our languages. He is of course referring
to those truths which are revealed in the Bible (for his theme is not
the unrevealed secrets of God, but the inadequacy of Scripture),
and by inexpressible he evidently means unable to be
intelligibly or adequately expressed.
But, in the first place, Paul said no such thing as that what he heard
was 'inexpressible' in human language. This is wresting his
plain meaning. Inexpressible he takes from the New American
Standard Version, but in human language is his own imagination.
If those words which Paul heard were inexpressible,
how did he hear them? The Greek word (Tññçôïò,
used only here) is defined by Liddell and Scott as 1. unspoken,
2. that cannot be spoken or expressed, inexpressible, and 3. not
to be spoken, not to be divulged, etc. The third sense is the only
one admissible here. The context requires it. Those words which
Paul heard were neither unspoken nor inexpressible.
He heard them, but was not allowed to repeat them, for the
verse continues, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
The thing was possible, but not permitted. But in place of unspeakable
words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter, Mr. Bercot puts
'inexpressible' in human language, thrusting into Paul's mouth
what Paul never said or thought, and what is certainly not true.
He expatiates further on the ambiguity and inadequacy of human language,
saying (pg. 34) that Virtually every word in the English language
has more than one meaning, as if that had anything to do with the
subject. For example, he continues, my dictionary gives
forty-four different meanings for the word 'hand.' Yet for all that
there is not a single place in the Bible where the word hand
will give the least difficulty to the simple. Bercot is only casting dust
in the air, and in the worst of causes, to destroy men's faith in the
adequacy of Scripture. We grant that there are some things in the Bible
which are unclear and ambiguous, but this is the very smallest part of
----certainly not the character of the whole Bible,
as Bercot makes it out to be.
But supposing the Scriptures are as obscure as Bercot contends, can he
pretend that the fathers are clearer? Whatever limitations are imposed
upon the Bible by the ambiguity of language, those same limitations must
be found in the fathers. The editor of Irenæus says, After
the text has been settled, according to the best judgment which can be
formed, the work of translation remains; and that is, in this case, a
matter of no small difficulty. Irenæus, even in the original Greek,
is often a very obscure writer. At times he expresses himself with remarkable
clearness and terseness; but, upon the whole, his style is very involved
and prolix. And the Latin version [in which alone much of his work exists]
adds to these difficulties of the original, by being itself of the most
barbarous character. In fact, it is often necessary to make a conjectural
re-translation of it into Greek, in order to obtain some inkling of what
the author wrote.
And it is to such stuff as this that we are to turn in order to clear
up the obscurity of Scripture!
He follows his discursion on the insufficiency of human language
with Other Reasons Why Scripture is Unclear, saying (pp. 34-35),
The ambiguity of human languages would be enough by itself to create
ambiguity in Scripture. However, the problem is further complicated by
the fact that our Bible is a collection of works written during a span
of about 1500 years, by about forty different men. The New Testament alone
was written by at least eight different writers over a period of about
fifty years. The majority of the New Testament works are letters, often
written to a specific person or congregation.
It should come as no surprise, then, that we sometimes find that
the literal language of one part of Scripture contradicts the literal
language of another portion of Scripture. Perhaps the classic example
is the comparison of Ephesians 2:8, 9 with James 2:24.
Here we see nothing other than the well known tactics, and the very arguments,
of the modernists, laboring to discredit the adequacy of Scripture.
Bercot always dwells on the human element in Scripture,
and always leaves God out of the reckoning.
Having established, as he thinks, the inadequacy of Scripture,
he proposes three methods by which he assumes people commonly deal with
the problem. They are all simplistic, namely interpreting the unclear
texts by the clear ones, interpreting the minority by the majority, or
interpreting all by etymology. He sets all these aside, rightly enough,
but what does he put in their place? Not spiritual wisdom, not the teaching
of the Holy Ghost. He seems to know nothing of the existence of any such
things, and if he does know, it would be directly in the teeth of his
thesis to acknowledge them. He rather conducts us to the church fathers,
which he rather prefers to call the disciples of the apostles. The Corinthians,
he says, would have understood Paul better than we do. They had already
heard his oral teaching. Where they did not understand him, they
would have asked his meaning. What he failed to write in his epistles,
they knew by personal contact with him, and by observation of his ways.
Those ways were established among them, and passed on to the following
generations. In the writings of the early church, then, all
will be made plain. To them we must turn for the truth, which the Bible
of itself cannot give us.
Of all this we can only say, This is nothing other than the long established
and well known position of Romanism, by which the authority of the
Scriptures is undermined, and the authority of the Church
put in its place. The only difference between Bercot and the actual Romanists
is that he puts the supposedly pure early church where
they put the obviously corrupt church of later times. But the purest
and best church in history has no business where Bercot puts it, and beside
that, the early church was not nearly so pure as he imagines.
But be that as it may, the direct and only possible tendency of his doctrine
is to destroy the authority of the Bible. All must be read through the
colored spectacles of the early church. He condemns those
who dare to suppose that the early church was wrong in any
----thus showing us plainly that to his mind the early
church is the actual authority. He quotes the claims of the
church fathers to their unity in adhering to the traditions
of the apostles, but this is notoriously false. He exalts Tertullian
very high, but declines to tell us that Tertullian held that marriage
was of the same essence as fornication, that it was evil for a man
to touch a woman, and that married couples ought to live together
in abstinence. Is this holding in purity the teaching of the apostles?
Can a man who has so far departed from the doctrine of the Bible
in a matter so plain as this be trusted in anything else? Can a
church which admits the teaching of such a man be trusted?
Mr. Bercot cites his experience as a lawyer to convince us that we may
not trust to secondary sources for the interpretation of Scripture.
We cannot rely upon commentaries, Bible dictionaries, study Bibles, church
history books, or any such thing. They are far removed from the actual
sources of authority, (pg. 57), by which he does not
refer to the Scriptures, but to the writings of the early church.
Referring (pg. 58) to what he holds to be a false interpretation, he laments,
it is not based on any historical evidence whatsoever from the
writings of the early Church. It is someone's sheer conjecture. Yet
it is more readily believed than is the actual light that the primary
sources shed on this subject. This is as pernicious as it is
false. On this principle Christ should have said Search the Talmud,
or Search the traditions of the elders, certainly not Search
But Mr. Bercot is evidently a shallow thinker, and in a number of places
he actually refutes himself. In repudiating secondary sources he
says (pg. 53), To illustrate, the primary sources for the teachings
of John Wesley are the actual writings and sermons of John Wesley.
If you want to be absolutely certain about what John Wesley taught,
you must go to his actual writings and sermons. Now, if someone
were to read those writings and sermons, and then write a book about them,
his or her book would be a secondary source.
So say I also. This is one of the few things in this book which I can
approve. But observe, it directly destroys Bercot's own position. Why
does he send us to the actual writings of Wesley? Why does he not
send us to the following generations of Methodists? Or, to view
the matter from the other side, why does he not tell us, If you
want to be absolutely certain about what the apostle Paul taught,
you must go to his own actual writings? This would be consistent.
This we would be glad to call Common Sense. But here we have uncovered
the real root of Bercot's system, and it is nothing but unbelief in the
Scriptures. If you wish to know the doctrine of John Wesley, go directly
to Wesley's writings, but if you wish to know the doctrine of Paul, go
to the early church
----to the disciples of the disciples
of the disciples of Paul, for two centuries after his death. John Wesley's
writings are clear and lucid and adequate, to make you absolutely
certain about what John Wesley taught, but Paul's writings
are unclear and ambiguous and inadequate, and to
be sure of what Paul taught, we must go to the following generations ----to
the writings of the early church, which are evidently as clear
and adequate as those of John Wesley. Here is Mr. Bercot's foundation,
and it consists of nothing other than MISERABLE UNBELIEF. The purpose
of this book is to instill that same unbelief in his readers. If Mr. Bercot
had simple faith in the written word of God, the book under review would
not exist. And if he had the sagacity ----the Common Sense,
if you will ----to consistently apply the principle which he here
lays down, he would plainly see that the writings of the early church
are not primary sources at all, but are nothing other than
the secondary sources which he bids us repudiate.
But there is something deeper here, which I dealt with briefly in the
accompanying article on Inspired Apostles. Mr. Bercot has
two separate lines of argument, mingled together throughout the book.
One is the inadequacy of Scripture because of the ambiguity of human
language. The other is the inadequacy of Scripture on the ground
that it does not include all that we need to know. He wishes us to take
our standard from what the apostles did and thought and said, but which
was never written in the New Testament. But we have neither right
nor need to do so. We believe in the sufficiency of Scripture,
as the only rule of faith and practice. If Paul did not write
it, it is no concern of ours whether he did it or said it.
The New Testament is the word of God, and adequate for every
exigency of the church for all time. This is what Bercot denies.
But Bercot refutes his own position again, in saying (pg. 65), The
record reveals that the early churches all understood Paul to be talking
about a cloth veil, not long hair. The only thing that wasn't clear to
some of the early Christians was whether or not Paul's instructions apply
to all females or only to married women. The reason is that the Greek
word gyne, used by Paul, can mean 'a female' or it can mean 'a
married woman.' But what in the name of common sense can the ambiguity
of the Greek word have to do with the matter? Bercot's contention
whole system ----is that the early church knew what Paul
meant, because they had observed his practice, or could ask
his explanation. Why then had they not observed whether all the
women, or only the married ones, were covered in the congregations under
Paul's personal supervision? There could have been no need even to ask
him concerning this, as it would have been perfectly obvious to all who
were present. They certainly knew who was married, and a glance of the
eye would have told them who was covered. Why then did the early
church not know it? And if they were ignorant on this point,
which must have been perfectly obvious to anyone who was present where
Paul preached and planted churches, what security do we have that they
knew anything else aright? The plain fact is, this single historical example
of the ignorance of the early church, as cited by Bercot
himself, entirely overturns his whole system. It is the full proof that
the early church struggled with the ambiguity of the term,
as they found it written in Paul's epistle, the same as we must
do today, and that they had no such first-hand knowledge to resolve
the difficulty as Mr. Bercot would have us believe.
But I must proceed. Mr. Bercot's attack on the adequacy of Scripture continues.
Not only is the Bible which we have unintelligible because of the ambiguity
of human language, not only does it fail to record the apostolic
traditions which we stand in need of, and can get only from the
early church, but the Old Testament which we have is based upon
a faulty text, and does not contain all the books which are inspired and
canonical. As to the first, he cites the use of the Septuagint by the
apostles and the early church, and implies that this is the true text
of Scripture, rather than the Hebrew text which underlies our Bible. Most
of what he says on the Septuagint is either simply false or so simplistic
as to be practically false. He says, for example, on pg. 79, that the
apostles and the early church preferred the Septuagint over
the Hebrew text. This is false. They used the Septuagint for the
same reason that we use the English Bible, because it was Greek, and Greek
was their language. This was no deliberate choice of textual critics.
He says (pp. 80-81), What I did not realize until recently was that
the Hebrew Masoretic text does not say, 'the virgin shall be with
child.' It says, 'the young woman shall be with child.' No wonder
the apostles and their disciples chose the Septuagint over the Masoretic
Unless you use the Revised Standard Version, if you look up Isaiah
7:14 in your Old Testament, you will probably find that it reads 'virgin'
instead of 'young woman.' That's because translators have fudged on their
use of the Masoretic text in order to conform to the cardinal Christian
doctrine of the virgin birth. But how honest is that? Can we ignore the
Septuagint and treat it as 'a translation full of errors,' but then when
one of those 'errors' supports a major Christian doctrine, go over and
borrow from it? Are we really seeking truth when we do that?
This is all fiction and fantasy, and as unjust as it is untrue. Such statements
can scarcely be too strongly reprobated, indicating as they do not only
the most slipshod ignorance of the facts, but also the most careless disregard
of the truth, all augmented by an eagerness to condemn historic Protestantism,
and especially the Protestant use of the Bible. Mr. Bercot's proceedings
are of one and the same sort as those of Gail Riplinger.
But observe, the Septuagint in this place does not represent any
divergent Hebrew text. It reads virgin for the same reason
the King James Version does, because they were both translated from
the same Hebrew text, and neither of them fudged anything.
But Mr. Bercot eagerly grasps at anything which will make for his own
mistaken cause, and, after the manner of a lawyer, turns everything in
favor of his own case, with but little regard for truth or its bearings.
But there is something worse in his tale about the virgin. It betrays
his real animus, which is always to slight or discredit the Bible
language, its text, its translators, its canon, or whatever else concerns
it ----and in order to this miserable end he employs many arguments
which are as false as his thesis. He and his admirers will doubtless say
that I misunderstand or misrepresent him in this. Nay. Let him now retract
and repudiate all of his subtle arguments against the adequacy
and integrity of Scripture, and the case may be altered, but while he
holds his ground, I hold mine.
He proceeds to the Apocrypha, affirming (pg. 89) of the early church that
they almost universally accepted the Apocrypha as inspired,
implying that we ought to do so also. If the Book of Wisdom,
he asks (pg. 87), is the work of a mere human author, how did that
author obtain such spiritual insight? On this, however, he would
by no means be dogmatic, yet says (pg. 88), I think it is
quite likely that the Apostle Paul was expressly stating that these works
were inspired of God when he wrote Timothy, 'All Scripture is inspired
by God,' etc. But why will he by no means be dogmatic?
If he is the dispenser of the great light of heaven, unknown or unwanted
for the past five centuries by the Protestantism which he continually
slights, let him speak as a prophet of God
----boldly and dogmatically.
If he cannot do so, let him put away his pen till he has some convictions,
or the courage of his convictions. Has he no fear of God? How does
he dare teach things so destructive of men's faith in the Bible, if he
is not sure they are true? If he is sure of them, why does he thus insinuate
them, after the manner of the modernists, instead of boldly teaching them?
On page 90 he says, with his usual flourish of rhetoric, Do we Protestants
realize what we have been doing? In the selection of our Old Testament
canon and text, we have been siding with the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees
'brood of vipers' ----against our faithful Christian brothers and
sisters of the first and second centuries. What bitter irony! Maybe it
is we who are the blind guides! This is all myth and reverie, and
foolishness to boot, and we Protestants are not intimidated
by such imputations. He assumes that the early church
regarded the Apocrypha as Scripture, because some of them quote from it.
Do I then regard John Wesley and John Burgon as Scripture? Let him prove
what he asserts, by plain statements from the early church
that they held the Apocrypha to be inspired of God. But even if he can
prove that, this is nothing to us. The early fathers were mistaken in
many other things besides. We know that some in the early church
received the inane Shepherd of Hermas as Scripture, while others
rejected Second and Third John, Second Peter, and Revelation. If
they received the Apocrypha also, this is but one more instance in which
they were wrong.
In the next chapter he continues his attack on the adequacy of the Bible,
by drawing a sharp (and mostly fictitious) contrast between eastern
and western thinking, or eastern thinking and western
rationalism(!), as he is pleased to call it (pg. 95). The Bible
is not suited to the western mind, and if we are to accurately
understand Scripture, we must learn to think as easterners. (pg.
96.) This might appear at first glance to argue some deficiency in us,
but it is really one more slight cast upon Scripture. After Bercot's invariable
manner, it exalts the human element in Scripture at the expense of the
divine, and accuses the Almighty of giving us a book which is unintelligible
to half the race. Our eyes, he says (pg. 96), are safely
closed to the eastern way of thinking that is woven all throughout the
pages of the New Testament
----not by any moral fault
in us, but merely because we are westerners. This does not impugn us,
but Scripture ----and the God who gave it. Unfortunately,
he says, the New Testament writings were addressed to them
[the easterners] ----not to us. (pg. 99.) This is false,
and an attack upon the wisdom and goodness of God, as well as the adequacy
of Scripture. The Scriptures are addressed to us, to the human race without
distinction ----as much to us as to any easterner. We grant that
moral delinquency may close our eyes to Scripture, but it is no
moral fault to be born west of the Atlantic ocean. But Bercot is determined
to prove the inadequacy of Scripture, by every argument he can concoct.
We are, of course, to learn to think as easterners by reading
the church fathers. They are always sufficient, where the Bible
Bercot, with a cunning which I cannot admire, insists that we all do
hold tradition in addition to the Bible, such as that concerning the authorship
of the Gospels, and the contents of the canon of Scripture. We can grant
what he says on the authorship of the Gospels, without yielding an inch
to his system. On the canon, however, we demur. We do not hold the canon
merely by tradition. The word of God carries its own marks of divinity
within itself, and we do not stand merely upon the testimony of the early
church. But Bercot says (pg. 111), What's more, if we are going
to reject the testimony of the early Christians, we need to question our
whole New Testament canon. Some Christians have the mistaken impression
that at the close of the apostolic age the apostles handed the Church
a bound collection of writings called the 'New Testament,' containing
all of the books we have in our New Testament. But that's not what happened.
Rather, the early Christian congregations separately collected together
the various letters and narrative accounts written by the apostles and
disciples. The apostles never told the Church which writings to accept
and which to reject. The early Christians had to decide for themselves
which writings were genuinely from the apostles and which were not
was no easy task. Our New Testament today is based upon the lists compiled
by the early Christians. We heavily rely upon their testimony.
This statement is full of confusion and error. Bercot neglects to tell
us that there was difference of opinion in the early church concerning
the authorship of some of the books, and a great deal of difference concerning
which books were inspired and canonical
----and the earlier the
church, the greater the disagreement. As for deciding which books were
genuinely from the apostles, this is confusion. Their task was to
determine which books were from God, and we know very well that
some New Testament books which were not written by apostles are yet inspired
of God. But further, what Bercot says here stands directly against
his own position. Throughout the book he has told us that we are to
turn to the early church to learn what was delivered to them by the
apostles, but here he tells us explicitly that the apostles delivered
nothing concerning the canon of the New Testament. Still we must trust
to the early church. It is the early church! because there we may
learn what the apostles established, and the early church! again,
to learn the truth where the apostles established nothing, but by all
means the early church! This is infatuation. The fact is, the early
church was obliged to determine the canon by spiritual judgement, in
the absence of any apostolic instruction on the subject. They were
thus in exactly the same position that we are.
He next appeals to the Bible itself to establish its inadequacy, saying
(pg. 120), if we don't add something to written Scripture,
we are being disobedient to Scripture. This he supports by quoting
II Thes. 2:15 (from the NASV), to hold the traditions which you
were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
Those traditions, of course, we must learn from the
Christians of the first two centuries. But we repudiate the whole scheme.
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, of course he admonished them
to hold fast what he had taught them. Most of the New Testament
had not then been written. But Paul never exhorts anybody to follow what
they heard from the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of the
disciples of the apostles. After my departing, he says,
shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the
flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse
things, to draw away disciples after them. All this took place
not only during the first two centuries after Paul's departing,
but even during the first generation
----and all of these
grievous wolves and perverse men claiming apostolic sanction for their
doctrines. Paul's solution to this is no apostolic tradition,
but I commend you to GOD, and to the WORD OF HIS GRACE.
Here is the safety of the church, and not in any uncertain tradition.
He next attacks the adequacy of Scripture from the supposed inadequacy
of translations, saying (pg. 126), And, to one degree or
another, all translations are interpretations. And they aren't unbiased
interpretations. We wonder why he didn't think of this when he
was so highly commending the Septuagint. He says some good things
on the perversity of certain modern translations, but grants that the
difficulty may be minimized by using a good, literal translation. His
prejudice will not allow him to stop there, however, and he adds (pg.
129), In fact, even if you were fluent in koine Greek and
could read the Greek text yourself, you would still be adding a good bit
of your own translational interpretations to the text of Scripture. There's
no way around it. This is certainly false, and in fact an assertion
that nobody has the honesty which he (quite rightly)
insists we must have in order to understand the Bible. He begins with
an argument which has a grain of truth in it, that no version is entirely
free from interpretation, though, as usual, he magnifies the difficulty
all out of proportion to its reality, and then, with a cunning which scarcely
appears upright, transfers the inflated difficulty from the translations
to the original. He is determined at all hazards to destroy men's
faith in the adequacy of Scripture. His doctrines destroy the foundations
of faith and of Christianity. All his arguments we have heard before,
but not from orthodox Christians, but from Romanists and
He next insists that we all do add to Scripture, whether we know
it or not, if we use a study Bible, or listen to sermons!
none of us therefore actually stand on the Bible alone.
But this is only shallow confusion, and indicates how destitute he really
is of any understanding of the matter. We take the Bible alone as our
all-sufficient authority, by which we judge all ministry
and all historical example. To equate the hearing of sermons with adding
tradition to the Bible is either intentional dishonesty or deep-seated
He next refers to a number of customs of the early church
annual commemoration of the resurrection, the painting or carving of crosses
on houses or churches, making the sign of the cross on the forehead, the
use of the fish symbol, etc. ----and then makes the amazing confession,
I am convinced that most of these things ----but probably
not all of them ----were indeed handed down by the apostles.
(pg. 124.) We are equally convinced that a man who
honestly believes that such inane tomfoolery as the fish symbol and the
sign of the cross are apostolic really knows nothing whatever of
spiritual Christianity. But of more importance is his confession that
probably not all the customs of the early church are apostolic.
This really destroys his foundation, and the more so when he affirms that
we have no means to distinguish the true from the false. He continues,
(pp. 124-125), I doubt that every single custom of the second century
Church was handed down by the apostles. I would guess that a few of their
customs were man-made. The problem is that we have no way of separating
the human tradition from the apostolic. So, personally, I think the
wisest course is to observe all of their customs ----unless there's
a Scriptural reason not to. That's because most of their customs are probably
part of the authentic apostolic tradition that we are all commanded to
follow. We are not commanded to follow any such tradition.
This is not Christianity, but popery. It is not certainty, but uncertainty.
His feet are in the quagmire, and he wants ours there also.
On page 152 he appeals to another of the favorite arguments of the Romanists,
in quoting the promise of Christ, I will build my church, and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against it. His use of this text,
however, is precisely the misinterpretation and misuse of
it which has been the bulwark of Romanism for centuries. Bercot has absolutely
no right to confine the application of the verse to the
early church. This is wresting Scripture. Whatever the promise secures,
it secures it to the whole church, of all time, and not merely to the
first two or three centuries. If it secures the purity of the church,
as Bercot and the papists think, then it secures the purity of the church
today, and not merely of the first two centuries. If
it does not secure the purity of the church today, then it does
not secure the purity of the church at all
----no more in
the first century than in the twenty-first. But Bercot's misinterpretation
and misapplication actually refutes itself. On his plan the promise of
Christ succeeded gloriously for two or three centuries, and then failed
entirely, while the gates of hell prevailed against the church.
Such interpretation, I say, refutes itself.
He labors, with sophistry enough, to prove that the early church was pure.
If this were all, we might have little to object. John Wesley held
notions, concerning the earliest, or so-called apostolic
fathers, similar to those which Bercot holds concerning the early fathers
in general, but John Wesley never labored to destroy men's faith in
the adequacy of the Bible. Bercot labors from beginning to end of
this book to undermine faith in the adequacy of the Scriptures, so that
he can subject them to the writings of the early church. He says (pg.
161), And once I read the Scriptures through the eyes of the
primitive Church, I knew I never wanted to read them again through
the tint of my twentieth century glasses. He assumes
asserts ----that it must be one or the other. We deny it. He seems
to have no sense whatever of Paul's method, That the God
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you
the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the
eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know
etc. (Eph. 1:17-18).
Once more, on page 162, The best system would be to ask the
Bible writers themselves what they meant. But that option is closed. The
second best system would be to ask the New Testament congregations what
the apostles meant. But that option is closed, too. The third best system
would be to ask the next generation of Christians. That option is available.
It's a third-best system, but it's the best we have. But here, as
everywhere, Bercot proceeds upon a rationalistic and unbelieving
view of Scripture. He sees nothing but its human writers.
He grants that Scripture is inspired of God, but in his reasoning and
argumentation he invariably leaves God out of the reckoning. The
writers of Scripture themselves never dreamed of any of the
three of his systems. James says, If any of you lack wisdom, let
him ask of GOD, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not;
and it shall be given him. (James 1:5). This seems
never to have entered Mr. Bercot's mind, and if it were suggested to him,
he would undoubtedly say, as he says of everything but the church
fathers, That plan has been tried, and has failed
attributing the failure to the inadequacy of Scripture, never to the incapacity,
insincerity, pride, or perversity of men.
I note too his sleight of hand in affirming that we may ask the
next generation after the apostles, while what he is actually contending
for throughout the book is all the following generations, for two centuries.
Not only so, but the Shepherd of Hermas, among the so-called apostolic
fathers, explicitly and repeatedly pretends to consist of revelations
from heaven, and not traditions from the apostles. To parade
such stuff as the means of access to what the apostles actually
taught is not honest.
But I fear that I tax my readers' patience, and I therefore cease. I have
answered most of Bercot's arguments. They are all of the same character,
and I have answered enough to show what that character is. His thinking
is shallow, and he has little sense of what the issues are. He speaks
as though we must either receive or reject the early Christian writings
in toto, without discernment or spiritual judgement, and condemns
(at the top of page 108), with a great flourish of rhetoric, the double
standard which does otherwise. At the bottom of the same page he
says, I strongly believe that none of us should use a double standard.
We should either honestly accept the historical evidence of the early
Christian writings, or we should quit quoting them altogether. Either
these people were orthodox Christians
----or they were heretics.
This is foolish. Men may be orthodox Christians, and be largely mistaken
too, and we may honestly accept their historical evidence,
while we utterly repudiate them as authorities over our faith or
To conclude: David Bercot is no prophet of God, but rather a very blind
----sincere we suppose, but far astray from the truth of God.
Those who merely glean from him may be little hurt, and may even
find some profit. Those who follow him will find themselves removed
at last from the rock of Holy Scripture, and sunk in the quagmire of the
Postscript. The preceding review was written as I read portions
of the book, while the matter was fresh in my mind. After writing the
review, I listened to a recorded message by Bercot, in which he endeavors
to clarify the message of the book. In that recording he essentially
(though very gingerly) acknowledges the truth of what I have written above.
He says (and again, I add the bold type), a very large percentage
of my readers misunderstood what I was saying in Common Sense.
Now I have to lay that blame on myself. If an author is repeatedly misinterpreted
by his readers, then that's his fault, it's not their fault. And looking
back now, and reviewing Common Sense, I can see that I did overstate
my case a bit. But in fact he was not misinterpreted
at all, but only taken to mean just what he said. He grants
that he was trying so hard to argue against this business of selectively
quoting from the early church to fit our own beliefs, that I did seem
to be saying, Look, we need to follow these writings without question.
This he calls taking the issue a bit farther than what we
should take it. He adds, I realize now I should have emphasized
over and over again, throughout Common Sense, that our only infallible
guide is the Bible. Yet that would only augment the mischief, while
he labors to prove the inadequacy of that authority. I didn't
make those things clear, and I over-argued my point. So I accept the criticism
that I've received on that point. He adds, I stand very firmly
on the Reformation principle, that our only infallible authority is the
After listening to these things I had some misgiving as to whether I should
publish my review. After a little reflection, however, I determined to
let stand what I had written. For first, I was reviewing the book,
not the recording which was made six years later. That book is still
recommended and sold by Bercot. Further, my review does no injustice
to the book. Mr. Bercot acknowledges (though in very soft terms) the essential
truth of my remarks. He grants that the book does seem to
teach that we ought to follow the fathers without question. The book in
fact condemns those who do otherwise. Yet in this recording Bercot himself
avows the principle of selectively following the fathers
testing what they say by Scripture ----the very principle which
his book condemns. He now tells us that he should have advised
us in the book not to blindly accept the teachings of the fathers, but
didn't because that would have destroyed the reason for writing
the book!! We agree, and contend therefore that the book should never
have been written. He acknowledges that this was wrong, saying, You
don't toy with a fundamental teaching of Christianity, just to win an
argument. He grants, then, that his book toys with a fundamental
teaching of Christianity (the authority of the Bible). Yet he seems to
have no sense of the seriousness of this, and still circulates the book.
I therefore have no reason to retract a word which I have written against
that book. Mr. Bercot had no right to write such a book, and to clarify
it now only adds to the mischief, assuring us that it is all right after
all, while it remains altogether as wrong as ever. The real difficulty
is that Mr. Bercot is trying to maintain two contradictory positions.
The book very forcefully sets forth one of them, while the recording
very gingerly avows the other, or half avows it. He can't have
it both ways. He must retract, not clarify.
But though he attempts in the recording to clarify the message
of the book, he in no wise retracts it. Yet there is no way the
book can be so clarified as to make it speak the truth. Most
of it calls for retraction and repudiation. Of this we find virtually
nothing. He avows the Bible as our only infallible authority, yet
all of his arguments against the adequacy of that authority remain
just as he wrote them. He retracts nothing of that, but still sells the
book, only advising us that it overstates the case a bit,
that it goes a bit too far. This is very little acknowledgement.
He still insists that we all do add to Scripture, by hearing sermons.
He still contends that his doctrine of apostolic tradition was set forth
very correctly in the book, only if writing the book again,
he would stay away from the subject entirely, as it is easily misunderstood
and abused. He informs us that Common Sense has been circulated
among former Evangelicals who have joined the Church of Rome or the Eastern
Orthodox Church, yet this fails to open his eyes to the evil tendency
of the book.
He has really repudiated nothing in the book. He tells us we have
not wasted our time in reading it, and that he is quite convinced that
its basic thesis is quite sound. To just go by the Bible he
reproaches as the same old song and dance, and I can only
repeat what I said in my review, that while he holds his ground,
I hold mine.
Yet I do not believe Mr. Bercot to be an evil man. He is only, like ten
thousand other modern teachers, a sheep without a shepherd, obviously
seeking for something which the modern church has failed to give him,
but really groping in the dark. He has some wisdom. He knows the
danger of reacting against one evil and falling into another, and even
grants that his book does so
----a bit. He grants too
that we of the present day have the advantage over the fathers, in that
we have the vantage point of history. This is wisdom. The recording indicates
that Bercot's mind is probably moving in a right direction, that he honestly
seeks the truth, but it indicates as surely that he has not found
it. All of which confirms me in what I saw when I read the book, that
Mr. Bercot is no prophet of God. His greatest mistake lies in supposing
himself called of God to enlighten the church, while he is groping in
the dark himself, in need himself of a shepherd who knows the truth. I
do not say this sarcastically, but tenderly, and in hope that Mr. Bercot
himself might take solemn heed to it.
A Few Extracts,
from Some of the Real Fathers of the Church, on
The Early Church Fathers
Martin Luther, 1483-1546, Reformer
----We must read the
Fathers cautiously, and lay them in the gold balance, for they often stumbled
and went astray, and mingled in their books many monkish things. Augustin
had more work and labour to wind himself out of the Fathers' writings,
than he had with the heretics.
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
The more I read the books of the Fathers, the more I find myself offended;
for they were but men, and, to speak the truth, with all their repute
and authority, undervalued the books and writings of the sacred apostles
----The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, translated
by William Hazlitt. London: David Bogue, 1848, pg. 233.
Robert Vaughan, 1795-1868, English Congregationalist, biographer
----The Apostolic Fathers were but sorry followers of
----The Causes of the Corruption of Christianity, by Robert Vaughan.
London: Jackson and Walford, 1852, pg. 3n.
A. A. Hodge, 1823-1886, Presbyterian, Princeton professor
old patristic fellows were, in one aspect of the case, the babies of the
----Princetoniana. Charles & A. A. Hodge: with the Class and
Table Talk of Hodge the Younger, by C. A. Salmond. Edinburgh: Oliphant,
Anderson & Ferrier, 1858, pg. 117.
J. H. Merle D'Aubigné, 1794-1872, historian of the Reformation,
(writing on Puseyism)
----There has been felt in England, in the
midst of all the waves which now heave and agitate the Church, a want
of antiquity; and men have sought a rock, firm and immovable, on
which to plant their footsteps.
This want is founded in human nature; it is also justified by the social
and religious state of the present time. I myself thirst for antiquity.
But the doctors of Oxford, do they satisfy, for themselves and others,
these wants of the age?
I am convinced of the contrary. What a juvenile antiquity is that before
which these eminent men prostrate themselves! It is the young and inexperienced
Christianity of the first ages which they call ancient; it is to the child
that they ascribe the authority of the old man. If it be a question respecting
the antiquity of humanity, certainly we are more ancient than the Fathers,
for we are 15 or 18 centuries older than they; it is we who have the light
of experience and the maturity of gray hairs.
----Puseyism Examined, by J. H. Merle D'Aubigné. New-York:
John S. Taylor & Co., 1843, pg. 24.
Isaac Taylor, 1787-1865, Episcopalian, author of several valuable
theological and historical discussions, (writing on Puseyism)
a nice question presents itself on the threshold, which perhaps I am barely
entitled to put to the writers of the Tracts for the Times, and it is
this ----Why they have hitherto avoided, so scrupulously, a subject
which, as they very well know, stands forward as the most prominent characteristic
of ancient Christianity? These learned persons do not need to be told
that, whenever we turn our eyes toward the dim distance of the pristine
ages, there is one glaring spot, the glitter of which dazzles the sight;
and that this luminous point of the piety of the early church, is ----the
celestial, or angelic excellence of virginity. They well know that this
opinion, and concomitant practice, was no accident of the system;
but its very nucleus, the emanating centre of feeling and behaviour; and
that, even putting out of view the extravagances of individuals, this
opinion comes down to us sanctioned by the authority of all the most illustrious
doctors and confessors ----the entire catena patrum.
----Ancient Christianity, and the Doctrines of the Oxford Tracts,
by Isaac Taylor. Philadelphia: Herman Hooker, 1840, pg. 100.
J. N. Darby, 1800-1882, founder of Plymouth Brethren
to the Fathers, I have read some, consulted almost all, and some a good
deal. But when, many years ago, I set about to read them, I found them
as a body such trash that I gave it up as a study: for history they are
of course useful, and I have examined them largely. Did Mr. ---- ----
ever read Hermas? If that is not enough to destroy all confidence in the
early church, I do not know what would. Did he ever read Cyprian or Chrysostom
on the state of the church in their days? Talking of looking to the primitive
church for some doctrine or morality is the most wicked humbug that ever
was: either people have not read what is patristic, or they must love
and excuse wickedness.
----Letters of J. N. D. Kingston-on-Thames: Stow Hill Bible and
Tract Depot, n.d., vol. 3, pg. 71.
J. C. Ryle, 1816-1900, Anglican Bishop
soon overspread the Primitive Church after the death of the Apostles,
whatever some may please to say of primitive purity. Partly by strange
teaching about the Trinity and the Person of Christ, partly by an absurd
multiplication of new-fangled ceremonies, partly by the introduction of
monasticism and a man-made asceticism, the light of the Church was soon
dimmed and its usefulness destroyed. Even in Augustine's time, as the
preface to the English Prayer-book tells us, Ceremonies were grown
to such a number that the estate of Christian people was in worse case
concerning this matter than were the Jews.
----Knots Untied, by J. C. Ryle. London: National Protestant Church
Union, New and Improved Edition, 1896, pg. 468.
Things New and Old
by Glenn Conjurske
Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed
in the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which
bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
New revelations we have nothing to do with. We have no need of them. But
the fact is, there is no man, no age, no denomination, which has yet fathomed
the depths of the old Revelation. We all know in part. The whole church,
collectively, knows but in part. There always has been, therefore, and
doubtless always will be while the present state of imperfection continues,
occasion enough for the man of God to bring forth from his treasures things
new as well as things old
----things which none of his fathers
ever knew, but which are nevertheless the truth of God.
But we must begin by granting that most of the objections against new
doctrines are quite just, though their novelty is no sufficient ground
to condemn them. It is surely safe to say that the vast majority of novelties
which have been hatched in the history of the church have been error,
and usually folly besides. Those who have the most inclination
to bring forth novelties have the least ability to bring forth
anything sound or true. Their inclination is the fruit of their pride.
If they manage
----and manage they do ----to discover something
which no one else holds or teaches, their pride lays hold of it immediately,
not only as the undoubted truth, but as the very truth which is most needed
by the church or the world. The fact that it was born in their own brain
gives it an irresistible appeal. Such men may bring forth great numbers
of things new, but none of them are worth anything. A different
sort of man is required to bring forth new things which are of solid worth.
The ability to bring forth things which are both new and true is
generally confined to the humble and the conservative. These
move slowly and with due deliberation.
But let us understand that the bringing forth of things new does not necessarily
imply any change of doctrinal position. Whatever we held before
we may hold still, but we may add to it.
All this is typified most aptly in the history of Isaac. In the first
place, And Isaac digged again the wells of water,
which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines
had stopped them after the death of Abraham; and he called their names
after the names by which his father had called them. (Gen. 26:18).
There is nothing new here, but only a restoration of the old, which
the Philistines, with the perversity of the dog in the manger, had stopped
up. And observe, when Isaac restored the old wells, he called them
by their old names. He was no restless innovator. He did not call
sin wrong-doing, nor a single eye a good eye.
If he recovered the true doctrine of baptism, he called it baptism still,
and not immersion. New terminology is more to be feared than new doctrine.
New doctrine may but add to old truth. New terminology unsettles the soul,
and usually undermines the truth besides.
Now such a man as Isaac was, who begins at the old wells, and calls them
by their old names, is a fit man to dig new wells also, and we soon find
Isaac doing so. This is quite proper, but when we see a man digging new
wells, who has never opened up the old ones, nor called them by their
old names, we may safely consider that his novelties are as empty as he
is. Those who object to the new, however, merely because it is new, proceed
always on the false assumption that there is perfection under the
sun, and that once upon a time our fathers
----whether the church
fathers, the denominational fathers, or some favorite teacher ----so
attained the perfection of theology as to leave nothing more for us to
learn. They dug all the wells which could be dug. They knew all
the truth which could be known. All our business is to hold fast
to the Westminster Confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Keswick platform,
or Brethren Principles.
But even assuming that there were no error in those systems, we
have no right to assume that they contain the whole truth. Every age of
the church brings its own exigencies. We must cross rivers and kill giants
which our fathers never met. And we may cross the same rivers which
they crossed in a better boat than any which they had crafted.
Those who exalt the past as the standard of truth proceed directly contrary
to common sense. Those who adhere to the doctrines of the Reformation,
the Westminster Confession, the principles of the early Brethren, or the
Keswick platform, and decry any departure therefrom, or any advance thereupon,
do but close their eyes to the truth. How much more those who wish to
return to the fathers of the primitive church. They have somehow failed
to lay hold of the common sense which is embodied in the old proverb,
He that comes after, sees with more eyes than his own. The
wisdom of the race is a cumulative thing. Though the Revelation which
God has given is perfect and complete, as the all-sufficient standard
of truth for all time, no age has yet fathomed its depths.
We can look back and see how the primitive church fathers' unguarded
exaltation of the authority of the bishops grew into all the ecclesiastical
tyranny of the dark ages. Again, we can look back and see that
the Reformers' over-reaction to this, and their consequent unguarded exaltation
of the right of private judgement, has led to all the proud presumption
of modern Evangelicalism. Thus we may learn from the cumulative wisdom
of the ages to temper ecclesiastical authority with the right of private
judgement, and the right of private judgement with Scriptural authority,
and so avoid the ditch on either side of the path. Neither the fathers
nor the Reformers could do so. Neither of them were in so good a position
to apprehend the truth as we are today.
Not that I would pretend that the church is therefore wiser today than
it has ever been in the past. I believe no such thing. Quite the contrary.
Perhaps only in the dark ages could we find a generation of Christians
so spiritually incompetent as that which now cumbers the earth. But this
has nothing to say against my thesis. Wisdom is for the most part confined
to the few who will pay the price for it, and all that I contend is that
those few are in a better position to learn wisdom today than ever any
of their fathers have been. They have the cumulative wisdom of the ages
----indeed, much of it on the ends of their tongues,
though they may be ignorant of its import ----and those who will
search it out may find it.
And such will certainly bring forth things new as well as things old.
Every scribe which is instructed in the kingdom of heaven
... bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. The new
he will bring forth sparingly and cautiously, no doubt. Yet he who is
thoroughly settled in the understanding and the love of
the old may safely bring forth that which is new, and far be it from us
to condemn it merely because it is new.
We look to the past for wisdom, not for authority. What
we find there is to be weighed, not blindly followed, and we often
learn wisdom better from our fathers' errors than from their understanding.
Darby says, The approbation of centuries has no weight at all with
me. Nor even is the constant faith of the saints in all ages a measure
or a proof of truth; but neither is a light disregard of it a proof of
a state of soul which gives competency to judge of truth. A light
disregard of the past, an itching to depart from things old, a hankering
to bring forth what is new, these are the sure signs that a man is destitute
of wisdom, while he is full of pride, and incapable of bringing forth
anything which is both new and true. The exaltation of the old to the
place of authority, however, and the rigid exclusion of all things
new, is also destructive of wisdom, though generally not so dangerous.
Indeed, it appears to me that those who look to the past for authority
have taken the bait which seems to be particularly alluring to the present
lazy and shallow generation, and fallen into the same trap which has ensnared
the modern church in every field. They have found an easy way
way which settles the truth without the exercise of wisdom, without thinking,
without proving all things, without wrestling with difficulties, without
weighing actions or scrutinizing motives. The doctrine or example of their
fathers settles all. For it should be understood that those who look to
the past for authority never look to the whole past, for
that they would find more difficult than the Bible. They never
look to the cumulative wisdom of the ages. They never weigh the
past, or build upon it. All that were much too hard. They rather single
out some particular age or people, and exalt it to the place of authority.
With some it is the church fathers, with others the Reformers, with others
the early Brethren, with others the Scofield Reference Bible, but the
effect is the same in all. This is easy, and requires no wisdom.
It narrows the mind, and usually the heart also. It puffs up the pride,
too, for it proceeds on the assumption that we know the whole truth. It
is a foregone conclusion that things new are false, and any
system which excludes things new is founded in pride. So is
every system which slights things old. The former is traditionalism.
The latter is liberalism. Standing between them is conservatism,
walking in the old paths, standing by the ancient landmarks, its primary
attachment being always to that which is old and tried, but yet bringing
forth things new as God enables, and as occasion calls for
The Prodigality of Scripture
by Glenn Conjurske
In the fall of 1981 I was picking rose hips in North Dakota with my friend
Frank Detrick. As we stood surveying a vast field of prairie rose bushes,
all heavy laden with rose hips, Frank exclaimed, The prodigality
of nature! But for those who know the term prodigal
only through the prodigal son, and who therefore suppose that
prodigal means something evil, this may require some explanation.
Prodigal means characterized by unrestrained abundance.
Nature gives us more than enough
----more than we know what to do
with ----such an abundance that we cannot contain it.
Nature, however, is not always prodigal. I recall the first year that
we lived where we now do, nature was so prodigal of blackberries that
we could not contain them. We ate all we pleased, made pies, sold some,
froze some, and canned upwards of fifty quarts. But there have been other
years when we could scarcely find berries enough to make a pie.
Scripture, on the other hand, is always prodigal. If we know the truth,
we are at no loss to prove it from the Bible. We need not scrape the bottom
of the barrel for evidence. No doctrine of the Bible stands upon one or
two isolated texts. One text, if clear and indisputable, might be sufficient
for the foundation of some doctrine, but God has not shut us up to this.
This is so far from his way that we may say with confidence that any doctrine
which stands upon a single text of Scripture is not the truth. Any doctrine
which is true stands upon many texts, scattered up and down the
Bible, from one end to the other. Not only so, but every doctrine which
is true stands upon texts of numerous different sorts. Here a type,
there a parable, yonder a prayer, here again a plain doctrinal statement,
there an incidental allusion, here an example, there a proverb, here a
promise, there a prophecy, all conspiring together to establish the truth
of whatever is true. Those who know the Bible, and who have spiritual
eyes, need not complain of its paucity, but are rather overwhelmed with
its abundance. I had a teacher at Bible school who used to say, If
you know the Bible, you never need go outside of it for an illustration.
This is doubtless true, though I cannot recommend any hyperspiritual refusal
to use an illustration from outside the Bible, for if we know our Bibles,
our hearers may not.
But if all this is true, what a poor and petty thing it is to quibble
over the faultiness of the translations, the uncertainty of the text,
the obscurity of the language, or any other fancied deficiency, as the
unbelieving are accustomed to do. Take away half the rose hips from the
state of North Dakota, and there will yet remain a great plenty for all
who want them. Take away half the proof texts for any important doctrine,
and enough will remain to establish it ten times over. Nay, take away
half the canon of Scripture, and still we may understand the truth of
God. Give me but Genesis and Luke, and I shall be at no loss to preach
the ways of the Lord. Give me but Ecclesiastes and Revelation, and still
I shall be at no loss. I once read of a man being converted by a scrap
of a page of the Bible, which he found blowing in the wind. It contained
only part of a verse, but it was enough to convert his soul, and there
are hundreds of such verses, from Genesis to Revelation. I once heard
from his own lips of the conversion of a former atheist. He delighted
to speak against the Bible, but a Christian challenged him, saying, Have
you ever read the Bible? He was obliged to admit that he had not,
but he determined to do so, that he might blaspheme intelligently. He
was converted in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. He might have been converted
as well if he had begun with Matthew, or Daniel, or Judges, for the Bible
brings the soul to God, and God to the soul. The whole Bible does this,
and all of its parts. The Bible is not only sufficient to teach the whole
truth, but to teach it to the whole race. Different sorts of things
will tell with different sorts of men (to say nothing of women), and the
Bible appeals to every sort
----meets every man where it finds him ----suits
the state of every honest mind, and satisfies the need of every honest
heart. Several men may hold one and the same truth, yet each hold it on
a different basis, support it by different proofs, and illustrate it by
different examples, such as suit their own feelings and their own mode
of thinking. The Bible supplies all this ----all that is wanted
for every truth and for every man. In my Father's Book is bread enough,
and to spare.
OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without
alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise,
and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction
or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's
own position is to be learned from his own writings.