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Field of Swords

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs


religion, articles, christianity

Saul and Jonathan were dead. David was elevated to the throne of Judah. The remaining tribes crowned Ishbosheth, a son of Saul, as their monarch. The captain of Ishbosheth's army was Abner, and the commander of David's troops was Joab. The two | armies met and Abner proposed that twelve I young soldiers from each side face each other as gladiators. Joab foolishly agreed. These cold-eyed leaders staged twelve simultaneous duels. Each participant grabbed his opponent by the hair of the head and ran him through with his sword and they all fell dead. Twenty­four died in a horrible bloodbath. The place, near the pool of Gibeon, was called "Heldath-hazzurim," or "the field of swords" (2 Sam. 2:13­16). It was a senseless thing for Abner and Joab to do. It proved nothing and it cost much.

The shameful killing of these young men triggered a war in which thousands died. Abner killed the brother of Joab in one battle, and, as an avenger of blood, Joab pursued Abner relentlessly. Abner was ensconced among his men on the top of a hill, and called out to Joab, "Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?" (2 Sam. 2:26).

This was a civil war. Jew fought Jew. Like any family fuss, it was savage and pitiless. It was also foolish and unprofitable. Often in the heat of controversy combatants will kill each other off, wipe their mouths, and say, "I meant no harm."

It is hard to keep your head on straight. It is easy to be misguided into thinking that perfidiousness is a Christian duty. Jesus warned that some thought they were doing service to God in killing his disciples (John 16:2). Opposition to evil can be counterproductive, causing smart people to do dumb things. When we focus on heresy, it is possible for us to be so obsessed that our vision becomes blurred and we shoot our own people.

God­breathed scripture warns "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." Eugene Field in his classic, The Duel, talks about the gingham dog and the calico cat that got into a family spat. "The gingham dog went 'bow­wow­wow!' And the calico cat replied 'mee­ow!' The air was littered an hour or so with bits of gingham and calico . . . Next morning where the two had sat they found no trace of dog or cat; And some folks think until this day that burglars stole the pair away! But the truth about the cat and pup is this: they ate each other up!"

Conviction can cause consumption. If we do not know under whose colors we march, we bloody the field with our own. During World War II, I saw American artillery kill Americans. In the battle of Armageddon, I see soldiers of the cross slay other warriors for truth. We must know who the enemy is and direct our fire into his camp.

It is easy for us to become confused about the difference between who says something and what is being said. What is vital; who is unimportant. It is not critical about where the skirmish occurred; it is determinative as to who won the battle. To win for truth and right is important.

Alexander Campbell was a great man, but he was not inspired. It is a blunder to suppose that because Campbell said something it is therefore true. Campbell is unimportant; what he said is essential, if it is right. The same is true of David Lipscomb, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., G.C. Brewer, Tolbert Fanning, G.H.P. Showalter, B.C. Goodpasture, Guy Woods. The thing that determines if a teaching is true or false is whether God­breathed scripture supports it and not who said it. We listen respectfully to great teachers of the past and present and weigh the teaching against inspired revelation. If the reasoning of the teacher is compelling because it is self­evidently right, then we accept it-not because of who said it, but because of what was said.

Some things said by respected teachers of the past are wrong, but that does not mean that everything they said is wrong. Because a person is wrong on one point, does not mean he is wrong on every point.

The Bereans were noble because they checked what Paul taught against established, revealed truth (Acts 17:10­11).

Apollos was eloquent, accurate, and fervent, but that is not what made him powerful. He was great because he was "might" in the scriptures. "He powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 18:28).

The word translated "confuted" means to "refute or convince." Thayer says it is done "with rivalry and effort or in a contest." Strong says it means "to prove downright." Vine says of the work of Apollos, "To confute powerfully, is an intensive form of elencho, 'to convict' (alla, 'through,' kata, 'down,' both intensive), implying that he met the opposing arguments in turn (dia), and brought them down to the ground (kata). It carries also the thought that he brought home moral blame to them."

Apollos did all of this, we are told, publicly. So, there is nothing wrong with publicly refuting with rivalry and effort false teachers, and showing they are downright wrong.

Still, Apollos did not understand about the baptism of the great commission. He knew that Jesus is the Christ. He knew about the baptism of John. He did not know that faith in Jesus was a condition to qualify a candidate for the baptism of the great commission. The thing that was wrong with the twelve disciples at Ephesus was not that they had no knowledge of spiritual gifts imparted by an apostle, but they had not believed in Jesus (Acts 19:4). Apollos did believe in Jesus and taught that he is the Christ but, apparently, was not making that a condition for baptism-a subtle but important point. (A thing is not unimportant because it is subtle.)

"When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26). Apollos publicly confuted the Jews, but Priscilla and Aquila privately corrected Apollos. There is a time for public correction and there is also a time for private remedy.

We treat children of God different from the way we treat the children of the devil. We do good to all men, but especially to those who are in the family of God (Gal. 6:10). "In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another" (Rom 12:10). It would be an outcropping of brass plated ignorance to slay the honest brother who happens to be mistaken-a veritable heldath­hazzurim.

When Paul confronted Judaizers, he first argued, then condemned, and finally castigated them. He started with disagreement that grew into "no small disputation" (Acts 15:1­2). He enlisted other inspired teachers who, of course, agreed with Paul (Acts 15:4­31). This developed bitter condemnation and rejection of the false teachers (Phil. 2:2­3). By the way, those to whom Paul refers in such a harsh way were members of the church who taught that physical circumcision was a condition of salvation.

A brother is one whose spirit is born in the water of baptism (John 3:3­5). He is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). He is crucified with Christ, and Christ lives in him through faith (Gal.2:20; Eph.3:17). He and his brothers are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession (1 Pet. 2:9). All baptized believers are a purchased possession of God (1 Cor. 6:19­20). They are his clergy- all of them. They are his property. They are special. Be careful how you treat them. They are God's inheritance. Together they are the body of Christ and to mistreat them is to mistreat Jesus.

Baptism (the new birth) involves immersion for the purpose of cleansing. Baptism is going down into water (Acts 8:38); a burial in water (Col. 2:12) for the purpose of regeneration (John 3:5), washing away of sins (Acts 22:16), remission of sins (Acts 2:38, and salvation (1 Pet. 3:21). It also involves a coming up out of the water (Matt.3:16­17), or resurrection (Col. 2:12). In baptism we are buried with him (Christ) and raised with him. It is a co­crucifixion and burial and a co­resurrection (buried with him -raised with him). Baptism is the focal point of salvation. It is the moment at which our faith saves us by the grace of God. Its importance can neither be overstated nor overemphasized.

Unlike physical birth, the new birth is a conscious, deliberate choice on the part of the person being regenerated. The believer, recognizing he is lost and without hope, decides to be baptized for the remission of sins. He hears the saving gospel, believes its potent message, and makes up his mind to be crucified with Christ by obeying the Lord's command to be buried in water and raised to a new life (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11­13; Gal. 2:20). Having made that deliberate choice, the person puts on Christ in baptism (Gal.3:26­27). The person is in the body of Christ, which is his church-the church of Christ. All of the saved are necessarily in Christ because God puts them there (Acts 2:41, 47; Col. 1:13). There are no saved outside the church of Christ because God adds the saved to the church the very moment they are saved. (We use the term church of Christ in its proper biblical sense-the great, invisible, universal body of Jesus.)

It follows that those who are sprinkled, even for a right reason, are not baptized. Those who are immersed for a wrong purpose are not baptized. Only those who by an exercise of faith are immersed in water in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to receive washing away of sins (Acts 22:16) have a covenant relationship with God. They are his children, having been born from above.

To be blunt, those who are sprinkled are unregenerate, regardless of the reason for their sprinkling. Those who are immersed for a wrong reason (any purpose other than that stipulated in the New Testament) are unsaved. Those who have, as an expression of faith, been immersed to receive the forgiveness of sins are born again children of the heavenly father. This is judgmental, and true.

Everyone, without exception, who determines to believe and be baptized, according to the commands of God, is a child of God. The person may or may not understand fully the whole counsel of God, but is still saved and in the body. He is a babe and is expected to grow and develop in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. We deal with him as a brother in the Lord, and a brother of the Lord.

If he is wrong, we correct him in gentleness. Even if he is a committed, full­fledged, naked liberal, we still treat him with respect. If he is guilty of gross misconduct and must be put out of the fellowship of the saints, we nevertheless "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." We may not like him, but we must love him. Like Paul and Barnabas, we may get along better at a distance, but we are still brethren.

Baptized believers are in the family of God and deserve special treatment. They must not run each other through. Still, if a child of God falls in love with the present world and, though once enlightened, falls away from grace, it may be impossible to renew him to repentance (Heb. 6:5­6).

For the land which hath drunk the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whose sake it is also tilled, receiveth blessing from God: but if it beareth thorns and thistles, it is rejected and nigh unto a curse; whose end is to be burned (Heb 6:7­8).

A child of God is to be treated with deference, but if he becomes reprobate (unprincipled and destined to damnation), he must be condemned in strong language. He must be identified publicly by name so the unwary and naive may have the protection of knowledge (Rom. 16:17). Still, he is a brother - a wicked, wayward one, perhaps, but a brother nevertheless.

It is not easy to know when a person is to be tolerated and when he is to be criticized severely. There are times when we must mark and avoid false teachers (Rom. 16:17). At all times we are to honor and prefer one another. Marking a brother who is teaching fatal false doctrine is necessary but should be done with a sad reluctance. We must stand boldly in opposition to every false way with a courage born of deepest conviction, but free from jealousy and radicalism.

Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For, all flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you (1 Pet. 1:22­25).

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Published October 1997