I confess that I feel incompetent to answer the inquiry as to what are “the old paths,” and what does the Scripture teach concerning them? I say that I feel incompetent, because I cannot find such an expression in the New Testament, and as that is where one must look for instruction in regard to Church matters, I am non-plussed by its absence in these Scriptures as well as by the use to which this expression is put in current assembly literature.
Of course, there are two references to old (or ancient) paths in Jeremiah, but these are addressed to Israel in her apostasy. But, who would be so misguided, so uncharitable, as to malign assemblies of God as being apostate? Admittedly, some things have come in about which we are not happy, yet, there has not come to my attention one company, one assembly, that is in departure from the fundamentals of our Christian faith, and apostasy certainly means such a departure.
Lacking a “Thus saith the Scriptures,” we use our God-given wisdom in the light of our knowledge of His Word, as also do the “old path” adherents.
“Old paths”! How far back does one go in history to find them; fifty, seventy-five, one hundred, or more years? Since the truth of gathering in New Testament simplicity was recovered early in the nineteenth century, there have been a diversity of paths from which to choose. Who is to be the judge of which is the right one? It seems to me to depend on whether I feel like the Corinthians, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas.”
Suppose one suggested going clear back to the beginning. In Acts 2, we read, “They were in the temple daily,” and “They broke bread from house to house.” One can anticipate the mental reaction on the part of some; they would say, “We cannot do those things, for you see that was a transition period; and we, therefore, cannot go by that.” Consider, then, the days of Paul’s activities. Would Corinth be the pattern of an “old path” assembly? If not, would Colosse, or Philippi, or Galatia? None of these apostolic churches conformed to the design set up by the self-appointed arbiters. An examination of Church history throughout the succeeding centuries offers no better examples.
Therefore, we are forced to the conclusion that the expression “old paths,” as currently used, is a schismatic shibboleth, created to exclude certain preachers and assemblies from a defined circle of fellowship.
We are admonished in Heb. 13:7 (margin) to “remember your guides, who have spoken unto you the Word of God, whose faith follow.” Consequently, we readily acknowledge those who pioneered the U.S.A. and Canada with the gospel fifty, sixty, or more years ago as being in the right paths. They moved into a town unheralded, unknown, and often unwanted and they moved on into other districts. I judge this to be the scriptural path regardless of nomenclature, “old,” “new,” or otherwise. Such is the evident pattern in the ministry of the Apostle Paul: “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20). “Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other mens’ labours …To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand” (2 Cor. 10.15-16).
Do those who rally to “the old path” standard follow the example of their fore-runners? How many there are who make a beaten path between assemblies; a week here, a few nights there, south in the winter, and north in the summer! The movements of these appearing as if they were playing at follow the leader, and in these movements they indulge until “the old paths” become old ruts. The tragedy of all this lies in the fact that they are content to stay in these.
The New Testament gives ample instructions to godly overseers for their guidance. Doubtless, it is ignorance of God’s Word or spiritual indolence that impels some to require a badge or a label on preachers.
We are warned to guard against: teachers of false doctrines and perverse things, disorderly busybodies not walking in the truth, division makers, and ministry that is not to the edification of the saints, but apart from these or other scriptural disqualifications, the Holy Spirit gives us this precept: “Because that for His name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of (from) the Gentiles. We ought therefore to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers (co-workers) to the truth” (3 John 7-8).
What has been said must not be construed as minimizing the importance of commendation (by letter or other dependable means) or as hinting that place should be given to anyone whose activities are not wholly confined to assembly fellowship. The “take heed” (beware) of Acts 20:28, to the Ephesian elders is definitely necessary today, and Paul’s commendation “to God and the Word of His grace” must be followed assiduously if we are to maintain the integrity of the assembly position, but circles of fellowship should not be recognized, much less fostered.