Instruction and Different Views
“If in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you” (Philippians 3:15 ASV).
The Bible does not specifically tell us what kinds of Bible meetings Christians should conduct. Pastor Russell suggests four kinds of profitable meetings: Discourses, Bible Studies, Different Views Heard, and Testimony Meetings. From Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 6, page 314, we read —
“Where the Lord has laid down no positive law it would be inappropriate for us or for others to fix a law. We offer, however, some suggestions, viz., that there are certain spiritual needs of the Church which require ministering to:
“(1) Instruction is necessary — in the more purely prophetical matters and also in the moral doctrines, and in respect to the development of the Christian graces.
“(2) Because of more or less differing methods in the use of language, and because of more or less obtuseness of mind and varying degrees of spiritual perception, as between those who are babes in Christ and those who are more mature in knowledge and in grace, it is advisable that opportunities be afforded at which each will be encouraged to express his understanding of the things which he has learned, either through reading or hearing, to the intent that if his understanding of these things be defective it may be corrected by the statements of others on the subject.
“(3) There should be frequent regular meetings at which reasonably full opportunities would be given to anyone to present what he might believe to be a different view of truth from that perhaps generally held and approved by the Ecclesia.
“(4) There should be not only devotional services connected with all meetings of the Lord’s people, but experience shows the profitableness of each one, in the hearing of his brethren, confessing with his mouth, either in testimony or in prayer, his devotion to the Lord.”
Why Hear a View not Approved by the Ecclesia?
While most of these meetings seem natural, 3 may seem jarring to many of us. How many of us have attended such meetings? Pastor Russell adds an explanation (page 317-319):
“In support of our third proposition: No matter how confident we are that we have the truth, it would certainly be unwise for us so to shut and lock the door of interrogation and contrary expressions as thoroughly to exclude all that might be considered error by the leader of the meeting or by the entire congregation. One limitation alone should prevail to a thorough exclusion; viz., that the gatherings of the New Creatures are not for the consideration of secular subjects, worldly sciences and philosophies, but solely for the study of the divine revelation; and in the study of the divine revelation the congregation should first, last and always recognize the difference between the foundation principles of the doctrines of Christ (which no member may change or alter, nor consent to have questioned) and the discussion of advanced doctrines, which must be fully in accord with the foundation principles. The latter should at all times have full, free opportunities to be heard, and there should be meetings at which they can be heard. This, however, does not mean that they should be heard over and over, and that some individual should be permitted to confuse and distract every meeting and every topic with some particular hobby. Let his hobby have a fair hearing and a fair discussion at an appropriate time, in the presence of some well versed in the Truth, and if ruled out by the congregation as unscriptural, and the promoter of the thought be not convinced of its unscripturalness, let him at least refrain from intruding the subject upon the notice of the Church for a long time — perhaps a year — when he might without impropriety request another hearing, which might or might not be granted, as the congregation should think the matter worthy or unworthy of hearing and investigation.
“What we urge is, that unless there be some such vent, two dangers may be encountered: One, the danger of falling into the condition we see prevailing now in the nominal churches of Christendom, in which it is impossible to find access to their ears through their regular Church meetings, every avenue of approach being carefully guarded. The other danger is, that the individual having a theory which appeals to his judgment as truth — no matter how false and irrational it might be — would never feel satisfied unless it should have a reasonable hearing, but would be continually obtruding the topic; whereas, after having been heard reasonably, even if not convinced of the error of his argument, he would be disarmed as respects the impropriety of intruding the matter upon those who have already heard and rejected his thought.”
How to Meet to Hear a Different View
We may each decide for ourselves whether this advice is good, or not good. Surely the advice is good that the Bible is to be the topic, and not worldly subjects. Yet, listening to attempts to harmonize the Scriptures, with a thought that we have already found unscriptural, may be difficult. Should a presumed “error” have a hearing? and is it a waste of our time?
If an ecclesia does not allow a different view of Scripture, how does that ecclesia differ from the Babylon from which Christians have been called out? Therefore, is the Lord calling the Christian to come out of that ecclesia now?
The second reason mentioned is that the individual could hardly be satisfied unless his view had a reasonable hearing. Such a meeting should have in attendance some who are well studied in the scriptures; so that pros and cons may be discussed after his presentation. The presenter will have
had an opportunity to be heard. Whether anyone changes his mind or not, the pros and cons will have been heard. And the other members of the ecclesia will then know what scriptures support the view and which do not.
How often should there be such meetings? If the ecclesia desires to hear more, they may say so. Or if the ecclesia desires, the presenter should wait for six months or a year to ask to bring up the matter again. How often should these “frequent regular meetings” be held? Pastor Russell did not suggest. Once per year would not seem to qualify as “frequent.”
On the other hand, once per week might make it dominant in smaller ecclesias. Perhaps once every two or three months the meeting might be open to different individuals requesting it. But in the final analysis it is the ecclesia’s decision. Perhaps subsequent experience with such a meeting will suggest whether it be a longer or a shorter period.
Degrees of Importance
Pastor Russell distinguishes “between the foundation principles of the doctrines of Christ and the discussion of advanced doctrines.” What he defines as “foundation principles” — fundamental and indispensable — is discussed in the next article, while what he defines as “advanced doctrines” is discussed in a later article below. Thoughts that have no applications to the Christian in his actions, however interesting the thoughts may be, are also discussed.