SAFE OR RIGHT—WHICH?
By Wayne S. Walker
“We have contended with our religious neighbors throughout the years that we should always follow the course of safety. We have pointed out to them that since all religious authorities, regardless of religious affiliation, agree that ‘immersion’ is the action of baptism revealed in the scriptures and that ‘sprinkling’ and ‘pouring’ are practiced today only by the authority of man, the course of safety lies in our being immersed in baptism.”
The above quotation is taken from an article by the editor of a church bulletin that I once received years ago. The author continued by saying that since all agree that the church can praise God in song without instrumental music and can do its work without human institutions, then the safe course is to abstain from those practices. I have no “bone to pick” with my brother’s conclusions for I, too, believe that sprinkling or pouring in place of baptism, mechanical instruments of music in worship, and man-made organizations doing the work of the church are wrong. But I do question the reasoning used.
Almost every gospel preacher probably has a sermon or so in his files concerning “the safe course.” However, with this kind of logic anyone could just as well make the following arguments also. Everyone agrees that a woman may scripturally wear something on her head in an assembly of the church. Therefore, the course of safety dictates that all women must wear head coverings in worship. (Some brethren actually do make this argument.) Likewise, all admit that it is scriptural for a church to dispense the fruit of the vine in one container. “Safety first” would then require us all to use a single vessel. Again, no one denies that a congregation may decide to do its teaching without the use of graded classes. Thus, the safe thing for each local group to do would be to discontinue its Bible class periods.
I do not practice or reject something in religion simply because it is the “safe” thing to do but because it is right. During the time when I am studying the Scriptures to determine what is right on any particular matter (e.g., the war question or the college teaching the Bible issue), I may decide what is a safe course for me to follow under the circumstances. But Romans 14 forbids me from binding my decision on someone else in the absence of clear, Biblical teaching. We could possibly achieve some kind of forced “unity” by doing away with multiple containers and individual classes and by demanding that all women be covered in the worship assemblies. This might be considered the “safe course” by some. However, I doubt that it would be the right course in attaining unity or in settling those particular problems.
Now, I have no quarrel with my good sisters who, as a result of their own study of God’s word, have decided as a personal conviction that they must have their head covered in worship. That is their privilege, and I encourage them to do what they firmly believe is right. And I really have no disagreement with my brethren who use only one container in the Lord’s supper or refuse to provide graded Bible classes for different ages, so long as they do not invent unscriptural arguments to justify their practices and insist that everyone else agree with them.
At the same time, I teach that women need not have something on their heads in the assembly because I believe that this is right. Those who disagree are free to follow their own consciences. The same is true with individual glasses for drinking the cup and divided classes to teach the Bible. Let us not immerse people, sing rather than play instruments in worship, and practice the all-sufficiency of the church (or any other principle of Scripture) merely because it is “safe.” Rather, “Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed,” let us act “in the name of the Lord” because it is authorized by Him and is therefore infallibly and unquestionably right (Colossians 3:17).
—taken and slightly expanded from Gospel Anchor; February, 1977; Vol. III, No. 6; p. 31