THREE FEET SYNDROME
T. PIERCE BROWN
It seems apparent that if you have not had some kind of syndrome, or are on speaking terms with someone who has, you simply are not in the act. It has come to my attention that some in the church have a “three feet syndrome.” For those who are not initiated, let me attempt to explain.
When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and commanded that they not eat of the fruit in the midst of the garden, it is easy for me to see, with my wonderful hindsight and superior insight, that if Eve had stayed at least three feet away from the tree the chances that she would have succumbed to the temptation would have been lessened considerably. Since it is my business to warn persons of the spiritual dangers that surround them, and help them to escape the consequences of ignorance and sin, I try to teach everyone the value of that principle. That is, each person who is wise and spiritually minded should easily see that it is good to stay at least three feet away from (either literally or figuratively) any sinful thing.
That brings us to this question: “Since it is so evidently wise and good to do that, why did not God tell Eve to stay three feet away from the tree, so she would not so easily fall into the Satanic trap?” There are probably at least two reasons. First, if He had told her to stay three feet away from the tree, then it would have been a sin to get closer than three feet to the tree. Human wisdom of those who have the three feet syndrome would decree that we should add at least three feet to that prohibition so that the danger of getting within three feet of the tree would be lessened. But God was primarily concerned that she obey by not eating the fruit, not that she should add requirements to His commands.
Second, there is little doubt that since God made mankind with the freedom of choice, in order for us to develop as God wants us to, we are encouraged to use whatever wisdom God gave us to make our own decisions about the best ways we can do what God told us to do, and not do what God prohibits. However, we are not encouraged to make those decisions for others.
What makes the three feet syndrome dangerous is not that we warn persons of the value of staying away from those things that are apt to lead us into sin. That is not a syndrome, but simply a wise warning. When the wise warning that we have discovered is made to appear so wise and good that it could only have come from God, and is therefore made equivalent to God’s law, it becomes the three feet syndrome.
What is a practical application of that principle? For example, 1 Thessalonians5:22says, “Abstain from every form of evil.” When one misquotes it as “Shun the very appearance of evil,” and makes that good advice equivalent to God’s law, he does wrong. There are many in the brotherhood that make that kind of mistake. A person may appear on a lecture program on which a false teacher has been asked to speak. Those who are cursed with the three feet syndrome say, in effect, “That has the appearance of evil. You did not shun that. You have therefore transgressed God’s law.” There is a difference in transgressing God’s law and making a mistake in judgment.
Note a very important point: I may be asked to speak at a denominational gathering on some Bible doctrine. It may appear to you to be evil, and you would assume that I was having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. If, after having spoken, they wanted me, and I agreed to preach regularly for them, you would probably have a right to that assumption. However, it is one thing to question my wisdom in failing to stay at least three feet away from a sinful situation, and another thing to make a law that if I am in the company of publicans and sinners, I must be a sinner. That is a mistake the self-righteous Jews made about Jesus.
Surely some of the great preachers of the past said something like, “In trying to run away fromRome, be sure you do not run pastJerusalem.” Whether the present crop of preachers would understand that allusion, I do not know. However, I do know that there is always a danger of making our wise conclusions about some situation practically equivalent to God’s revelation about it. If I were an eldership, I would not want to have a regular preacher who was continually walking as close to the edge of unscriptural practice or doctrine as he could. However, I would not want to have the three-foot syndrome and make his lack of wisdom equivalent to breaking God’s law.