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Who Knows?

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity

It is not possible to count the people of God. They are like stars and sand when it comes to trying to discover their exact number. Since the church is worldwide and includes all of the firstborn ones-whoever and wherever they are-it is not possible for any mere mortal to know their total. God knows, and has the names written in a heavenly register. We do not know. Most of the time speculation about this is useless-besides being denominational.

We do know, because the Bible reveals it, that none is written in the Lamb's Book of Life who is not born again (except, of course, for babies and the mentally incompetent). We also know that the new birth is a regeneration of the human spirit in water (baptism) because Jesus said, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!" (John 3:5).

Still, people like to speculate. A certain liberal, Joe Beam, who is much respected by Max Lucado, Randall Harris, Carroll Osburn, and Rubel Shelly, and who was a speaker at the 1997Jubilee, hazards a guess. He is much traveled within the brotherhood and therefore thinks his opinion is right. Whether he is correct or incorrect, he doubtless reflects the judgment of many in the liberal camp.

A lot of people want to know how the ranks breakdown. This may be the most common question among modern­day saints. Let it be said that our "expert" excludes from his guess the anti-institutional people, the International Church of Christ, the Independent Christian Church, and the Disciples of Christ ­ well, anyhow, thank God for that-he at least excludes some, which is uncommon for a liberal. (Footnote: that may get him kicked out of the liberal camp.)

I have drug you along far too much, and will now reveal what our unorthodox seer supposes the division between the faithful and the apostates is.

Seven percent of the brotherhood is full-fledged liberals and thirty percent is well on the road to being apostates, for a total of thirty-seven percent that are either in the liberal camp or camp followers.

He claims that nine percent of the church in America is walking confidentially in the Old Paths, and that fifty-four percent lean heavily in the direction of Bible authority, for a total of sixty-three percent. Hey, that is a much better break than I supposed.

His numbers are suspect because most, if not all, of our institutions of higher learning are way-out-to-the-left. Still, if his numbers are correct there must be many teachers in our universities who do not buy into the liberal philosophy, at least not all of it. I hope it is true, but pray they may gather courage. Silent disciples are a drag on the ship of Zion, besides it is shameful. Joseph of Arimathaea, was "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews." Cowardice is not nice.

Some things need to be done in secret-like prayer, giving alms, and fasting. Secret discipleship, though, is not commendable, but contemptible. To refuse to stand up and be counted for Christ is noisome and shabby. Hey, secret disciple, where is your backbone? Jesus said, "I have spoken openly to the world; I ever taught in synagogues, and in the temples, where all the Jews come together; and in secret spake I nothing" (John 18:20).

Our prognosticator also gives some gloomy news. He claims that those who are fully committed to restoration principles war among themselves. Pray God this is untrue. He says they are angry and bitter and drive the doubters toward liberalism. They condemn by association, he says, claiming that attendance at some programs is reason to reject the attendee.

Joe is right when he says guilt by association is wrong. You are not pure or tainted on the basis of who you shake hands with. Jesus ate with sinners and publicans (Mark 2:16). When the capricious Jews condemned him for it, He answered: "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

We must not-ever-give greeting to error. "If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works" ( 2 John 10­11). Still, mere association with someone does not constitute approval. It's the old story of "going into a chicken house does not make you a chicken." If invited (don't hold your breath) to speak at Jubilee, and if allowed to pick my own topic (no chance of that, either), and if given a prime spot on the program, I would accept in a heartbeat. That is not going to happen because liberals do not want to hear what is wrong with liberalism. They have fat hearts, heavy ears, dosed eyes, and open mouths (See Isa. 6:10). The last thing in the world they want to hear is "thus saith the Lord." Still, we must be as determined as they are-even if our message is unwelcome.

For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hart language, but to the house of Israel; not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hart language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, if I sent thee to them, they would hearken unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are of hard forehead and of a stiff heart. Behold, I have made thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house (Ezek 3:5­9).

They may look at you through their eyebrows, scowl, hurl sarcasm, show baleful eyes, but still we must do as God told his prophet to do-go among them with Bible aloft and preach the truth. To petulantly sit-it-out is not going to win any battles.

Joe Beam thinks that Bible-bound people talk tough. Well, he may be right about that. It is love that causes them to speak plainly. To be afraid to tell the sinner that he is lost is not love but stupidity. The advocate of all grace and no law needs to be corrected in an attitude of tough love, as does the person who deprecates baptism, denies the exclusiveness of the church, looks for a direct leading of the Spirit, advocates women preachers, and disdains book-chapter-and-verse preaching by calling it "proof-texting."

Look again at the preaching of Jesus. He said that religious leaders who did things for a "presence" would receive the "greater condemnation." He looked them in their eyes, called them by name, and rebuked them as "blind guides" who fall in the ditch (See Matt. 23:1­39).

Did Jesus have the spirit of Christ?

Our purpose is not to irritate nor aggravate but to save the lost. We must "preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts" (2 Tim. 4:2­3).

Joe Beam thinks those who are standing in the old paths and contending for the faith cannot get along with one another. To shun someone just because you happen to disagree on a point or two (if both have profound respect for God and his Word) is shortsighted. To refuse to use a person because he needs to do some growing (or maybe you need to do the growing) is a tragic eccentricity. We have something more pressing to do than criticize each other. Small matters should be settled on large principles.

"So long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him-pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?"

If Joe is right about quarreling among those who fear God and keep his commandments, then we need to do some rethinking and correcting and maybe some reaching out.

"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example" (Pudd'nhead Wilson, ch.1).

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Published November 1997