Boles next quotes extensively from the writings of J. W. McGarvey, a professor who was greatly admired by both branches of the Restoration Movement. McGarvey’s commentary on Acts helped establish the “plan of salvation” and the “pattern” of the “New Testament church” as fixtures in Church of Christ preaching and thought. McGarvey vigorously opposed the instrument, and many arguments used against it today are traceable to McGarvey’s pen.
And yet McGarvey approved the missionary society — which Boles condemns in his speech. And McGarvey refused to divide over the instrument. Indeed, James A. Harding rebuked McGarvey for his willingness to allow a supporter of the instrument to lead a prayer.
Now, knowing that, read what Boles quotes from McGarvey’s writings —
Our work is to check them and turn them back from their course; not to outstrip them in running after organs and compromises. The loudest call that comes from heaven to the men of this generation is for warfare, stern, relentless, merciless, exterminating warfare against everything not expressly or by necessary implication authorized in the New Testament. Such is my unwavering conviction; and my only regret is that I cannot fight this fight as it should be fought.
In conclusion, let me add that if any brother who reads this sees fit to style me intolerant, dictatorial, or self-consequent, I say to him that I claim to be nothing more than one plain disciple of Christ, and to exercise a prerogative which belongs to us all. It is my duty to find fault with everybody and everything that is wrong; and it is equally the duty of every other brother. In the full and free performance of this task lies only safety for the truth. Error alone can suffer in such a warfare, and she alone is afraid of it. If I have struck one blow amiss, let it be returned on me double, and it will be well.
McGarvey argues that he should teach what he believes and do so loudly. He rejects the idea that teaching what he believes is intolerant — but it’s not intolerant because he didn’t separate fellowship over it! This is why he refers to his opponents as “every other brother”! But Boles rips him out of literary and historical context to make it sound as though McGarvey agrees with Boles that unity is not allowed over the instrument or the missionary society.
What is “faith”?
We come at last to a series of arguments that are very familiar to those who grew up in conservative Churches of Christ. Boles writes,
It is well to review the causes of separation, to look at the steps more closely that have been taken in the departures; then you can see more clearly the scriptural ground of union. It is noted here first that “opinion” was made equal to the word of God. There should be a clear distinction between faith and opinion.
This language harkens back to the early quotations from “Raccoon” John Smith, who took his language from the Campbells. Smith plainly used “opinion” to refer to anything other than the “gospel,” which he limited to certain facts, commands, and promises and from which he excluded all inferences and deductions. But Boles imposes an entirely new set of meanings, utterly re-shaping the meaning of Smith’s words and the direction of the a cappella branch of the Restoration Movement.
Faith is a firm conviction resting upon clear and satisfactory testimony. “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1.) We are told specifically how faith comes: “So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17.) This settles it as to how faith comes; it comes by hearing the word of God. Where God has not spoken, there can be no faith, for “faith cometh by hearing the word of God,” and Christians, when they are loyal to God, “walk by faith, not by sight.” (II Cor. 5:7.) Opinion is an expression based on human judgment, without clear and satisfactory testimony; the word “opinion” signifies “what one thinks,” and in matters of religion it means what men think concerning matters on which the Bible is silent.
Now, the New Testament use of “faith” is faith in Jesus as we covered just a few posts ago. But Boles takes “faith” to mean anything taught in the Bible, that is, everything that is not expedience. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, but not all that comes by hearing is “faith.”
Hence, to Boles, “faith” includes those things logically inferred from scripture unless it lacks “clear and satisfactory testimony.” That is, if it’s clear (to Boles), it’s “faith.” If it’s unclear (to Boles), it’s opinion. The standard has now become completely subjective with the editor.
The distinction between “faith” and “opinion” should be kept clear, for “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom. 14: 23.) “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” means when we do anything as service to God not clearly required in his word, we sin.
But Boles also declares that “in matters of religion [‘opinion’] means what men think concerning matters on which the Bible is silent.” Well, if that’s true, why are dividing over the instrument — on which the Bible is silence? How can silence both be a prohibition and an opinion? My best guess is that Boles finds the Bible not silent at all on the instrument, as silence implies a prohibition — which would be incredibly self-contradictory.
Boles abuses Romans 14:23, to make it teach the Regulative Principle — whereas Paul is actually teaching that we should tolerate disagreements among those with faith in Jesus. Again, we just covered the meaning of Romans 14 —
Romans 14:23 says,
(Rom 14:23 ESV) 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Obviously, “does not proceed from faith” refers to eating contrary to one’s conscience, that is, one’s own subjective understanding of the scripture (not the editor’s conscience). You see, faith is a condition of the heart. Faith is belief in Jesus as Son of God and as Lord, and it includes a commitment. Therefore, sinning against one’s conscience, even if in error (that is, it’s not really a violation of God’s will), is sin because it is violation of the heart’s commitment to Jesus. This is plain and simple not the Regulative Principle. Romans 14:23 doesn’t say that acting without authority is a sin; it says that acting contrary to your conscience is a sin. Those are not the same thing.
To bring things into the service of God which are based only on opinion is to substitute opinion for faith. This substitution separates man from God and causes division among men. To substitute opinion for faith is to rebel against God; it is to put the judgments of men as our guide, and thus reject the counsel of God. Christians cannot work together in harmony with two different rules of action.
Listen carefully. Boles uses “opinion” for “mistaken opinion.” See how subtle he is? He means if we bring things into the service of God in error then we substitute opinion for faith. In other words, silence produces opinion, and all opinion is forbidden!
Thus, if we celebrate holy days that God cares nothing about or refuse to eat meat to keep kosher, even if God doesn’t care about kosher, since we’ve added opinion (mistaken opinion at that!), we are separated from God, we cause division, we rebel against God, we reject the counsel of God, and good Christians cannot work in harmony with us! Except, of course, Paul disagrees.
(Rom 14:5-6 ESV) 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Boles continues —
Jesus said: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24.) There can be no harmony when a portion of God’s people are guided by human opinion and another portion guided by the truth of God; there can be no unity between “who walk by faith” and those who walk according to the opinions of men. “Shall two walk together, except they have agreed?” (Amos 3: 3.)
Boles says that to use an instrument is to serve the wrong master. Paul says that both do what they do “unto the Lord.” Mammon — the god of money and greed — is not remotely related to the question
For us to walk together, we must agree on where we’re going and that we’re going to walk together. But one can listen to his iPod on the way and the other can sing. We don’t have to agree on everything. But it really is necessary that we agree to walk together. And that means we must want to walk together.
The absurdity of Bole’s argument is that, if true, we can fellowship no error at all. He says, “There can be no harmony when a portion of God’s people are guided by human opinion and another portion guided by the truth of God.” Really? No error at all? None?
It’s no wonder that following Bole’s speech the broad dissemination of its text throughout the a cappella Churches, the Churches of Christ suffered a number of splits over countless issues of “faith” and “opinion.” After all, if I think Jesus will reign for a literal 1,000, and you disagree, Boles says I must treat you as damned. Oh, and the guy who thinks the Millennium is a metaphor, he must treat me as damned. And we both get footnotes in the directory of the Churches of Christ in the United States so no one accidentally worships in error by attending a congregation with the wrong position on the thousand-year reign.