If You Lie Down with Dogs, You Get up with Fleas

The title of this article is a somewhat dated adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac, and in Latin, qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent. “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas,” has been unreliably accredited to Seneca the Elder, a Roman rhetorician and writer. Of course, its meaning is plain, that one should be wary of those with whom he keeps company, as one's associates will have a negative effect upon his own scruples if his associates are of lower reputation. One can possibly be lead astray by faulty reasoning and information of the unscrupulous. In his epistle to the church in Corinth, Paul writes:

1 Cor 15:33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

Or, as the American Standard Version of 1901 renders it:

1 Cor 15:33 Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals. (ASV)

It is clear that if we spend time in the presence of those in sin, we begin to adopt the same behavior, corrupting our good manners. With whatever the influence we surround ourselves, we will be affected.

The Spiritual Sword, a publication of the Getwell church of Christ, in Memphis, TN, had a quotation on the inside back cover of Volume 44, No. 3, dated April 2013, which was as follows:

A Warning from J. W. McGarvey

Jesse P. Sewell was a preacher of the gospel and one-time president of Abilene Christian College (now university). He related the following incident in the life of J. W. McGarvey, one of the greatest Bible scholars of all time:

Now I will tell this incident in the life of Brother J. W. McGarvey. In January, 1902 or 1903, I was preaching for the Pearl and Bryan Streets Church in Dallas. Brother McGarvey, an old man at the time, was invited to speak at the Central Christian Church in Dallas. We had three men in the Pearl and Bryan Streets Church who had graduated from the College of the Bible in Lexington, under Brother McGarvey, and they were great admirers of him. They suggested that we invite Brother McGarvey to preach at Pearl and Bryan Streets that night. We did so. I was just a boy of 24 or 25 then. I was sitting by the side of this great old man on the front seat, waiting for the service to begin.

As we sat there talking, Brother McGarvey said to me, “Brother Sewell, I want to say something to you, if you'll accept it in the spirit in which I mean it.” I told him I'd appreciate anything he had to say to me.” He said about these words: “You are on the right road, and whatever you do, don't ever let anybody persuade you that you can successfully combat error by fellowshipping it and going along with it. I have tried. I believed at the start that was the only way to do it. I've never held membership in a congregation that uses instrumental music. I have, however, accepted invitations to preach without distinction between churches that used it and churches that didn't. I've gone along with their papers and magazines and things of that sort. During all these years I have taught the truth as the New Testament teaches it to every young preacher who has passed through the College of the Bible. Yet, I do not know of more than six of those men who are preaching the truth today.” He said, “It won't work.”

That experience has been an inspiration to me all the days of my life since. It has helped me when I was ever tempted to turn aside and go along with error, to remember the warning of this great old man.

– Jesse P. Sewell, Harding College Lectures (1950), pages 74-75.

Two things to note about this excerpt. First, the year this story was related: 1950. Much of the liberalism which now assaults the Lord's church had not reared its ugly head yet. Secondly, the year that the event actually took place: 1902 or 1903. This was right on the heals of the events which caused the greatest division within the Lord's church since the restoration movement of the nineteenth century up to that time: the use of the instrument in making music to worship God. One familiar with church history in America will remember that those who had originally been members of the church of Christ had become the Christian Church after splitting away because of their insistence upon using musical instruments to accompany the singing. About the turn of the nineteenth century the only difference between the church of Christ and the Christian Church was the use of mechanical instruments in worship. Each recognized the other's baptism (immersion for the remission of sins). Now, however, there is hardly anything in common between the two, as the Christian Church has adopted doctrines and practices entirely foreign to what is found in Holy Scripture. What has happened? Why was there such a divergence? The core issue never was the use of the instrument: that was symptomatic of a far greater abuse; the recognition of Bible authority. That it is necessary to establish religious practices using sound hermeneutics and logical reasoning had been abandoned by those who wanted to innovate; to add what they believed was more in line with contemporary practice or wishes. Because of that reckless abandonment of proven methodology to “. . .speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10), they were left to be “. . . tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14).

As McGarvey related his experience in trying to bring the erring congregations back into the fold, as it were, it became clear to him that fellowship with the erring usually ends badly: those so inclined to unscriptural practices have no interest in submitting their own will to that of the Lord. Very few probably have any idea that they are rebelling against the will of their Lord and Savior.

We could learn a lot from McGarvey's experience and advice. In whatever creative innovation that is ever introduced to the body of Christ, which draws men away from the simple, pure gospel, it is rarely fruitful to reconcile those who have wandered away into another pasture. Those who wonder why there is such division, even in the body of Christ, and why we cannot be just like the Bible exhorts us to be (of one mind and one judgment), may be intent upon persuading the erring to reconsider their convictions. One thing is for certain: we cannot fellowship error. It never works; and we may just end up being swept away, ourselves.

Curtis A. Little, Royse City, TX

Curtis A. Little
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