THREE PHASES OF DIGRESSION
H. E. Phillips (deceased)
More than twenty five years ago I wrote something on this subject because the sponsoring church arrangement, the church supported benevolent institutions, church supported colleges, church funded play-grounds and “fellowship” banquet halls, and church supported social gospel centers had made an invasion into churches of Christ all over the country. This tide of digression had taken a heavy toll just as the instrument of music and the missionary society issues had done nearly one hundred years before. I did not believe digression was weakening then, and I do not believe it is dying now. Satan is not relinquishing his hold on religious thinking, and his ministers will continue every effort to pervert the truth in this generation. The power and tactics of digression must not be underestimated now; the methods of approach must be understood. It seems pertinent to present these thoughts again.
By digression is meant to turn aside from, a departure from the faith or to deviate from the truth. Paul put it this way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4)
Digression has taken many forms since the church was established by the Lord. Sometimes it involves adding to the word, and sometimes taking from the word, and sometimes perverting the word to promote unscriptural practices. History will bear out the fact that digression from the truth has taken three well defined: Aggression, Ridicule, and Compromise.
1. Aggression. Digression begins by teaching something contrary to the truth. Its roots are in the hearts of men who are seeking something new and different from the faith once delivered. Such new doctrines soon take the characteristic of aggression. These false teachers boldly advocate their strange doctrine which is not taught in the word of God. They are content only when they have pressed their new teaching to the fracturing of peace and unity among the brethren. “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). This is usually taught with great ardor and determination. These are they “…whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teachings which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Titus 1:11). They aggressively teach those things “which they ought not.” Sometimes elders are the source of much of this sort of discord. “Also or your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Those who followed Paul were aggressive in teaching false doctrines to corrupt the minds of the disciples. “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for and hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gal. 2:4,5). At the introduction of any false doctrine we can expect it to be aggressively taught. It will be urged upon the church as an important belief in being loyal to Christ.
2. Ridicule. There are always those who will not be turned from the faith, and who will fight against all forms of digression. The second phase in digression is to ridicule those who oppose the false doctrine. All sorts of names will be used to prejudice people, all forms of evasive quibbles will be used to divert attention from the issue, and all forms of mockery will be employed to try to stop the opposition. Much of this has been seen in recent years concerning the present issues. Sanballat and Tobiah mocked Nehemiah and those Jews who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and they ridiculed their efforts by pointing out how weak they were (Neh. 4:1-3). Ridicule attempts to answer arguments, but it never does to those who sincerely seek truth. Ridicule has an effect upon some because they cannot stand it.
3. Compromise. The time always comes when ridicule does not convince; in fact, in time it usually turns the people from their unworthy cause to seek the truth. It is at this point that those in digression will cry that they are the peace-loving and fellow-seeking children of God. They take the role of persecuted people who are misunderstood and misrepresented. Again and again I have taken the very words of a promoter of some digression doctrine and had him cry, “You have misunderstood and misrepresented me.” No false teacher can stand up under the fire of truth, and when his digressive teaching has been answered and his ridicule exposed, he will try for a compromise somewhere between truth and his stand. If this is rejected as it must be, he will play the persecuted martyr who stands for truth and unity is rejected.
There can be no compromise with truth on any issue. Ridicule does not make or answer arguments; it simply tends to cloud the real issue and disturb the seekers for truth.
Digression may be at work in reference to the organization of the local church, in the work of the church, in the public and private worship to God, and in the life of one trying to walk in righteousness before God. It must be opposed with all our might. When digression is unsuccessful in its efforts in a locality, it then turns to compromise and talks of “peace” and “unity.” Only the sword of the Spirit will bring real peace and unity.