Note: Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters was pastor of the Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis from 1940-1981. He led the Minnesota Baptist Convention out of the Northern Baptist Convention and convened the first section of the Conservative Baptist Association. During those years, he also founded Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. During the struggles within the Northern Baptist Convention and the Conservative Baptist Association, Dr. Clearwaters was often quoted as saying, “I am a Biblicist before I believe myself to be a Baptist.” He dimensionalized the term and concept of a “Biblicist” when he defined it with the term “militant” and coined the term “Militant Biblicist.” He always considered himself to be a Baptist and described himself as a “Biblicist Baptist.” This article is from his autobiography, On the Upward Road. We believe it was originally written in the 1960s or 1970s. It is reprinted here with permission.
By Richard V. Clearwaters
Modernists have created what they think to be a better Christ than Jesus of Nazareth. A liberal contributed some time ago to a liberal magazine an article on the mistakes of Jesus. Orthodox believers are shocked at this departure from the Christian faith. And yet many orthodox believers in practice pride themselves in improving upon the Christianity of Christ by being more “tolerant”, “kind”, “loving”, and “understanding” than was Jesus of Nazareth. There is a species of orthodox believers who have professed to accept the Christ of the faith, but in their practice of their species of Christianity they have departed from the Christianity of Christianlikeness.
When Thomas Jefferson realized that only a Declaration of Independence from the British crown could be a solution and the salvation for this country, he was able to get only fifty-six signers for that now world-famous document which was the authoritative idealism behind the Revolutionary War. Many like Dickinson from Pennsylvania, who refused to sign the Declaration of Independence and voted against it to the last, called themselves “olive branch men”! What a nice name they gave themselves! Most of them confessed faith in the principles outlined by their leader when the long hours of discussion were held, but they refused flatly to practice the principles. They thought the country should still try to do business with George III and Great Britain. Irrespective of the provocative action the British crown government might take, the “olive branch men” found excuses for their consciences for following an appeasement pathway whatever terms were demanded.
“Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11 :24). Paul, in this Scripture, is teaching the Corinthians what Jesus was unfolding to His followers in the great “Bread of Life” discourse in John’s Gospel. “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53, 54). Jesus was putting Himself into the passover feast as the Passover Lamb! He was teaching that His blood, and His blood alone, could atone for sin. But to Jesus’ great sorrow, there were professed followers of His, as He stood before them in the flesh, who refused to accept Jesus’ blood as an atonement for their sins; there were those in the band of professed followers who accepted Him as teacher, until He taught them that He was the Passover Lamb. Plainly we are told in John 6:60, “Many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”
At this time, Jesus did not put His arm around them in their unbelief and assure them that it made little difference what their views were on this matter as long as they lived right, kept a good attitude, and stayed with the band. He plainly told them, “There are some of you that believe not,” and in John 6:60 we read, “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him.” In self-judgment, they did not just go away from Jesus’ teaching, according to the record; but, realizing that His teaching and Jesus Himself were One–One with whom they were not in unity–they went away from Jesus Christ. Jesus then leaving them in the hands of God as they turned away from Him, turned to His loyal band that remained, and asked, “Will ye also go away?”
Doubtless there were those in His day who deplored the divisions among them with some such words as we hear in this day, “Why can’t we forget these controversial things which divide us?” Instead of trying to find a common denominator that everyone would accept, Jesus went further and laid the same test upon the Twelve and was ready to say “Good-Bye” to some of them if found in unbelief.
Space does not permit detailed treatment of Jesus’ deliverances against the Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders on the question of Jesus’ authority. His polemic illustrations of the Two Unlike Sons, the Wicked Husbandman, and The Marriage Feast were obviously given not to convince His enemies but to convict them of their sins. Certain sentimental Christians today would have criticized Jesus by saying, “You cannot win your enemies by being so negative.”
Jesus followed the same procedure trying to bring conviction of sin into the hearts of the Pharisees and the Herodians on the question of the tribute money. He dealt with the sinful Saducees’ skepticism of the resurrection in the same manner and with the Scribes and Lawyers on the question of the Great Commandment.
“Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42,43).
In our day, many who will not sign their names to a Confession of Faith, or stand up and vote, or open their mouths in testimony, or raise their voices in protest to the gravest heresy, are frequently protected by their friends who piously plead, “Let us be charitable with these because they are all right in their personal faith.” According to our Scripture passage, the same could have been said about many of those in places of authority whose conspiracy of silence allowed Jesus to be crucified.
The rulers’ personal faith in Christ was overcome by their personal fear of the Pharisees. Our Lord, in Matthew 10:32, makes the statement: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” Let us note the conjuctive adverb “therefore”, signifying logical sequence, which in this usage constitutes a severe and sharp warning. A law of physical life is that a trophy is a consequence of disuse of a member of the body which causes it to cease to grow and wither away. We must give out our Christian testimony or give it up!
Let us notice that the man-fearing rulers of old were not without love for the praise of God any more than they were without faith in Christ. The tragedy of their condition was that they believed more on the Pharisees than they did on Christ, and they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. In Revelation 2:2, the Church at Ephesus was praised in these words by the glorified Christ: “And thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” In II Timothy 3:5, the Lord’s great Apostle speaks of this class of people in even more severe terms: “Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
In considering our last point which reveals the rulers too weak in character to provide a vindication of Jesus Christ, who can ever know the difference it would have made if among the chief rulers where many believed on him a large company could have risen up and would have become vocal in their vindication of the Christ. Things today are very similar. In I Timothy 3: 15, 16, Paul explains the necessity of the positive proclamation of the Gospel. This is followed in I Timothy 4: 1-6 by the grave and great necessity of what we may call the negative vindication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will list a few of the enemies of the Gospel with what they believed and what they did not believe as Paul saw it in his day:
“Some shall depart from the faith.”
Some shall give “heed to seducing spirits.”
Some shall give heed to “doctrines of devils.”
Some shall be “speaking lies in hypocrisy.”
Some shall have “their conscience seared with a hot iron.”
Some shall preach and teach a substitute gospel (See verse 3).
Paul specifically charges every true minister of Jesus Christ to become vocal and to take up arms against these enemies of Christ and His Gospel, concluding by saying, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.”
Nothing is quite so disgusting and damaging as the professing orthodox Christians of our day, especially in leadership, who would sit back and speak of Paul in this passage as “vindictive”, as “negative”, and as “sitting in judgment upon his brethren”.
According to the dictionary to vindicate means “to assert or defend against anything that attacks; maintain successfully, as right; justify”. Today we have a flood of self-seeking, self-serving, and self-preserving ministers of Christ who take refuge in a false and unscriptural excuse, “The Gospel does not need any defense.” Such people simply have not read the New Testament, for example, in the book of Acts where Paul and his co-laborers defended the gospel vehemently against idolatry, philosophy, and the sophistries of the day! Such cowardly characters have not read carefully Paul’s defense of the Gospel in his Corinthian correspondence in which he makes a heated attack openly decrying immorality, skepticism, and false profession in general. Such ministers of Christ who are more interested in their own personal future than they are in the present safety of the Gospel of Christ have not read Paul’s defense and vindication of the Gospel against the Judaizers in the book of Galatians.
“Don’t be negative” is the cry so common today, especially among those who are so weak that instead of taking a stand against something they are forced to find something upon which they may lean. Public health officials are very negative in their restrictions and warnings against disease when an epidemic is rampant. Sin is pictured in the Bible as a disease. Poor Paul would have been called very unChristian in this day by some of these soft-fingered and kid-gloved ministers who would call Paul “dogmatic”, a “name-caller”, and “unChristian”. It is doubtful if any writer of the New Testament is more tender and winsome than the Apostle Paul when he is trying to convince a lost sinner that Jesus should be his Saviour. On the other hand, when the Apostle Paul preached or picked up his pen to convict blatant and self-willed souls who were rebellious to the plainly revealed will of God, he is perhaps the most negative and most dogmatic of all the New Testament writers. The tragedy of today is the many who decry the negative ministry who are trying by a positive ministry to convince the Gospel enemies of the error of their ways instead of first convicting these enemies of the Gospel of their sin.