A lady recently asked me what I thought of women preachers. My reply was that it didn’t matter what I thought, but what the word of God says. I said that we will always try to argue away the clear meaning of scripture – in this case 1 Timothy 2:11,12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 – with our own (unbelieving) reasoning, which is always a dangerous course to take. She then proceeded to do just that by replying with the ‘custom of the day’ argument. In writing this treatise I have tried to counter certain traditions of men with what the word of God says, rather than with what I think; I hope the reader will employ the same mentality.
A few weeks after publishing my first edition I received a letter from someone who said that my style of writing in certain instances ‘was not the way to conduct Christian debate.’ Well, as I have not written to inform the reader what ‘I think’, neither have I sought to ‘debate’. The truth of the gospel was not given for men to debate it, but for it to be asserted, believed and obeyed. I am not interested in ‘discussing’ the truth of God’s word as such, but rather of finding out what it says and, by the grace of God, falling under it. I have had ‘concerns over the traditions of men in denominationalism’ because the word of God is clearly against them. It is not a case of seeking to ‘interpret’ scripture in the light of ‘what we believe’, much less of ignoring it altogether, but of putting our hands over our mouths and submitting to it.
I would first say something regarding the actual title of the piece, and why I have now changed the word ‘concerns’ to ‘contentions’. My original working title was, ‘Why I left the GS’; but when it came time to publish I didn’t want to use such an ‘inflammatory’ title; rather I sought for one more ‘quiet’, mundane even, which perhaps would be easily passed over by the ‘casual’ reader. But my undramatic title has turned out to be most separating; for it seems to be the case that those in the denomination who are unconcerned about their way and traditions have, thus far, either just disagreed with it and dismissed it, or shown little or no interest at all; while with those who perhaps are concerned – at least with certain aspects – there has been more of a ready acceptance and appreciation of what has been written.
This only confirms what I believe the Lord has already shown me from his word; for since publishing I have been greatly encouraged therein. I believe that what I have written has been needful, and that additions – hence this second edition – are legitimate. One morning, shortly after I published, I turned to read the scriptures when I suddenly felt a great sense of dread in doing so. At home we were reading through the book of Ecclesiastes, and I felt fearful to read that morning because I thought I was about to be condemned from the word for being too presumptuous in what I had written; that something I’d written was about to be shown up as being plain wrong, and that I was going to rue the day I’d sent my treatise out. But then I thought, well, nevertheless, I must read the word of God and accept with humility what he was about to show me, pray to learn from my mistakes, and keep my mouth shut in the future. So I read, in not some little fear and trembling. But then we read the words in verses 14-18 of chapter nine, and they came to me like this: there was ‘a poor wise man’ whose ‘wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard’. I thought immediately of the ‘hierarchy’ in the denomination, that by and large what I had written would be rejected, or just ignored. But then followed these words: ‘The words of wise men are heard in quiet’; which seemed to suggest that there would be those in secret who would receive what was written, and that God would make it a blessing to them. Thus I felt encouraged rather than condemned.
A while later I did have some contact with one or two ministers, but wasn’t convinced that they had read my piece other than in a superficial way. I felt frustrated for a while until I picked up William Huntington’s Kingdom of Heaven Taken by Prayer. Having referred to this book in my treatise, I thought I’d read it again. Not long into his account he relates that some had put his previously published Arminian Skeleton to the flames, but that ‘I have done as God commanded Jeremiah to do; that is, I have wrote another’. In this he was referring to king Jehoiakim in Jeremiah 36, who destroyed the roll wherein was written all the words which the LORD had spoken to the prophet against Israel, and against Judah, from the days of Josiah to that present time. We read that he only heard ‘three or four leaves’ read before he took and cut it with his penknife and threw it into the fire. Whereas I hope there are none that have been so violent with my work, I am sure that there will have been some who have just ‘glanced through three or four leaves’ before laying it aside with no more intent of reading it. But what really encouraged me was the last verse of the chapter. After the LORD had told Jeremiah to write all the same words down again, we read that not only did he do so, but that, ‘there were added besides unto them many like words.’
By then I had already decided to write a second, expanded edition; but someone had suggested that I write a new separate work which would compliment what was already produced. But a strange thing had happened. Before printing out my first edition I had read through the whole of it a number of times with no additions or changes that seemed to present themselves to me, so I supposed it to be the right time to publish. All that I felt I wanted to say up till then was said, and I was settled in my mind over it. Moreover I had continually prayed through it, while writing, meditating upon it, and revising it, that the Lord would show me if I was in error on any point before finally sending it out; those who are ready to reject the testimony of the word of God against themselves will always pick up on the merest fault of the human writer to dismiss everything else – be it valid – he has written. But at last I was content in what I had written; it was all in the Lord’s hands and I felt now that I could leave it there; it was finished.
But as soon as I’d sent the original copies out the whole thing started opening up to me again. More thoughts flooded in, extensions to certain sections, and the need to write more of the Lord Jesus began to present themselves; also I realised that more ‘positive’ material was necessary to counterbalance the generally ‘concerning’ tone of the original. I hope I have succeeded in these things without being any less direct.
Thus I have taken it in hand to review and expand my original work. But I have still kept the subject to the fairly narrow remit of exploring the principles of denominationalism – over-against something of what the true church really is – and the specific style of the Gospel Standard gospel presentation with its fruit. But now in the title I have substituted the words ‘contentions against’ for ‘concerns over’, because I now see that none in the scriptures are ever described as being merely concerned about what amounts to the vanity of man’s religion, but are always referred to as out-and-out ‘contenders’ against it. The New Testament exhortation in this regard is to contend, Jude 3, to contend earnestly for the faith, which obviously involves a contention against those things which are opposed to the faith. Also reading through what I have written I discover that I have used this word repeatedly. I am contending against what is, in many respects, plainly a wrong way, and it is right to do so. On the day of judgment the traditions of men will be shown up for what they are, so they must be countered now by all who love the truth.
Upon reading the whole piece some might feel justified in thinking that there is a fair amount of repetition, or that the same conclusions seem to come up again and again. Well, there is one truth, and that truth is the answer to so much deviation from the narrow way. And I believe that what I have tried to articulate in this treatise is quite an elusive way – as I believe the pure gospel is elusive today. Jesus is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’; and when, in a religious profession, we wander from any of these great assertions of the Saviour, returning to him and to ‘his things’, Phil. 2:21, is the only correction; albeit a hard one in practise. Later in that epistle, 3:1, Paul did say that ‘to write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe’; and safety is my only desire for the reader.
When I originally started writing I had many thoughts on this subject burning in my heart, but wasn’t sure how they were going to be expressed. I suppose I hoped that what was written might cause some change of mind in ministers regarding certain things that were awry, and that there would be some sort of ‘reformation’ in the denomination to bring it back closer to how it was at the beginning – that is, to how it was at the beginning of the church in the First Century, not to how it was at the beginning of the denomination in the 1800s. But it turns out that the actual process of writing over the months has shown me that this is virtually impossible; and I have increasingly realised that the whole system has become so far removed from Christ’s and the apostles’ original teaching on what the church really is, that that simplicity is irrecoverable in a denominational setting. Thus, as the subject has opened up to me, the surprising result has been that I have been more and more separated from the whole concept of ‘chapel’ itself. I am now convinced that Christ’s purpose regarding man-made denominations is not to correct them but to call his people out of them! Thus, sadly, separation is all that has been left to me. I hope the truly exercised reader will be brought, sooner or later, to the same conclusion and experience.
I do trust and hope that the Lord will stir up those who do have concerns – rumbling concerns; even if, until now, they might not have been able to articulate them. There is an ingrained attitude in denominationalism which not only does not question the status quo, but which does not even think of questioning it. This fear to question though does not fully quench the feeling of unease which I believe many do have, but are afraid to pursue. I know from experience how hard it is to dare to question a system you have been brought up in, or a mentality you have imbibed from childhood, and which the respected elders of the denomination have spent their whole lives ‘graciously’ upholding. But we must not fear to hold up what men say – even ‘good’ men – to the light and testimony of scripture; for we must have Jesus’ promised liberty in knowing and walking in the truth; regardless of what the majority say: ‘Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’, John 8:23-36.
I believe that, in seeking to declare the truth of these things, the fear of God has constrained me – writing much of this has made me tremble – and I hope nothing written will prove to be ‘idle’, that is, unprofitable, Matt. 12:36. I have tried to refrain from making absolute statements: obviously I have not been a member of every denomination, neither have I heard every GS minister preach; nor do I know if all the ministers emphasise the things that I have sought to address. Some of what I have written is of a general impression, but most of it is what I have seen and heard both from the pulpit and in the pew, and more importantly, what I believe has been revealed to me from the scriptures.
But let the reader beware. The word of God is very clear regarding the dangers of following the traditions of men, and we who profess the name of the Lord will be called to give an account for what we have done with it. Remember that when we appear before the Judge of all the earth, all our desires to ‘agree to differ’, ‘change the subject’, ‘leave it’, or just to ignore the realities of the truth of God’s word will be taken away; all our chapels, churches, denominational books, magazines and historical documents will have been consumed with fire from heaven; and, stripped of these things, we will appear before the great God who will justify, uphold and vindicate his truth to the horror of many. Please don’t think that you are going to arrive on the day of judgment with your AV in one hand, hymnbook, Psalter, Confessions or Articles in the other, and expect the Almighty to point discretely to some side door with your party’s name on it, allowing you quietly to steal through into glory; for no such door exists: ‘Except a man be born again he cannot see, or enter into, the kingdom of God’; therefore ‘Strive – strive, strive, strive – to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.’ Those are the words of the Lord Jesus.
Scriptural quotations throughout this treatise are from the aforementioned Authorised Version, which I have consistently referred to as ‘Tyndale/AV’; all emphases in italics are mine, and as the scriptures don’t capitalise pronouns that refer to the deity then neither have I. Once or twice I have quoted from William Tyndale’s 1534 edition of his New Testament. Recent study has shown that about 83% of the AV New Testament is Tyndale, so I think it only right to acknowledge him at every possible opportunity! I have also been reading his The Obedience of a Christian Man, and felt that I could have included more quotations from it, as it is so rich, and as much of it is relevant to what I have been writing; but I’ve only done so once in the text. I would urge and encourage the reader to obtain and read both these volumes of the great man.
The hymn numbers quoted throughout are from Gadsby’s Hymns.
Andrew Dibble, July, 2011.