DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE WRONG?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Every teacher, preacher and student needs to understand the principles we are emphasizing in this article. Not long ago I read an article by some preacher that advanced the idea that we have a right to be wrong. Another preacher took issue with him and wrote a scathing reply about how ridiculous it is to even talk about having a right to be wrong.
As I read the articles, I was again impressed with how often we may rant, rave and fuss, passing each other like two freight trains in the dark, never realizing that we are on two different tracks, or to change the figure, two different wave lengths, talking about two different things, although using the same words. If we would have enough courtesy, or even good common sense to ask a person to clarify his meaning, it would help to overcome that problem, though it might not eliminate it completely. For example, the person who said that we have the right to be wrong may have meant, “God gave Adam and Eve (and us) the right (or opportunity) to choose to obey (do right) or disobey (do wrong).” He may have meant that God gives a person the right to make an unwise decision, not necessarily a sinful one, which he will discover was wrong, and might even benefit from having made the wrong decision at that time. Very few persons who believe the Bible would have any disagreement with those truths. The one who wrote in shocked dismay (apparently) thought he was teaching, “Since we have the right to be wrong, the person who is wrong (sinful or teaching unsound doctrine) should be treated the same way as the person who is right.”
Does God give a person “the right” to teach false doctrine? If one means that, as in the case of Adam and Eve, God says, “You may teach unsound doctrine if you choose. In case you do that, you will surely die, losing your soul and causing those who follow it to lose theirs,” then one may say, “We have that right.” If by “the right” we mean that it is proper or approved, surely anyone can see that is false.
One may recognize the difficulty if he has ever been out in the woods in basic training in the Army or Marines. The sergeant says, “Bear to the right,” so the squadron turns to the left. They thought it was logical that if there was a bear to the right, they should turn left. In other words, they thought it was wrong to go right. Is it ever wrong to go right?
If by “the right” to teach false doctrine one means one is allowed to, but must suffer the consequence, he has one meaning. If by “the right” to teach false doctrine one means it is approved, he has another meaning. Part of our problem is that we “shift gears” in the middle of a paragraph, or sometimes in the middle of a sentence, having a word with one meaning at the start and changing meanings before we finish. Another part of the problem is that we assume that the person we are criticizing must mean exactly what we think he means, and give no opportunity for him to clarify.
A person who states that one has the right to be wrong might gag at the statement, “I have the right to kill you.” But they are both true in exactly the same sense. That is, God made me as a person with freedom of choice. Therefore I can freely choose to kill you. God allows evil of all sorts. That is, he gives us the “right” to practice wrong. The statements, “It is right to do wrong,” and the statement, “One has a right to do wrong” do not mean the same thing. The first statement means that right and wrong are synonymous or equivalent. The second one means that one is allowed the choice to do either. If I should say that one is saved only by faith, it means that without faith I cannot be saved. If I should say that one is saved by faith only, it means that faith is the only element necessary. The first is true; the second false, but many brethren would write a scathing denunciation of one who said, “We are saved only by faith,” or “We are saved only by grace,” because they would assume that the person must be teaching false doctrine. There is enough false doctrine being taught that we need to examine with care any statements that sound suspicious. We do not need, however, to write a scathing denunciation in newspapers and gospel papers and bulletins until we know for sure what is meant.
Our problem is made more difficult because of the habit of many of those who teach false doctrine. They seem to deliberately choose “weasel words” or words that can be twisted to mean almost anything one chooses. The modernist who says, “I certainly believe in the resurrection” may at the same time say, “I do not believe in the empty tomb. The body of Jesus did not come forth.”
In my private Bible studies with various persons, I have had them tell me, “I certainly believe that baptism is for the remission of sins.” At the same time they claimed to believe that they were saved before they were baptized. Instead of simply saying, “You can’t possibly believe those two contradictory things” we need to clarify what they mean by “for the remission of sins” and show them the Bible meaning.
It seems evident that if all brethren were as interested in lovingly helping other brethren to have the proper appreciation of God’s word as they are in finding fault with others and trying to demonstrate their wisdom or soundness, they would more carefully check to see if the person whose statement they are criticizing mean what they assume it means. At least it would be appropriate before articles are written to spread accusations in newspapers for the world to read, and church bulletins are sent throughout the country spreading perversions and half-truths under the guise of upholding sound doctrine. This in no sense is meant to imply that when someone makes a public statement that appears to be false that you must speak to him privately about it before you can refute the statement. It does mean that before a brother is publicly accused of teaching false doctrine, one should strive to make sure he has understood the meaning of the terms used. If I should say about a preacher’s wife, “She is a fast woman,” you should make sure whether I meant she might be able to win a race in the Olympics, or whether I meant she was living an ungodly life before you started denouncing me for false accusations. You have the right to criticize my linguistic imprecision if you think it needs to be corrected. You do not have the right to make accusations based upon your assumptions of what I might have meant.