Abraham Lincoln, I understand, once asked his debate opponent, “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs has he got?”

The opponent thought a bit and then said, “Well, if you count the tail as a leg, I guess you would say he had five legs.”

“That is precisely where you are wrong,” responded Lincoln. “Even if you call a dog’s tail a leg, it isn’t one. It’s still a tail.”

He was right, of course. Calling a tail a leg simply does not make it one. And that fact is worth remembering in a society where public opinion is so often equated with truth. There is no substitute for constant reference to the facts of the matter.

Even—or perhaps especially—in the Church of Jesus Christ this is so. We might be inclined to think that the spiritual nature of the Church somehow exempts it from the temptation to call a tail a leg. After all, isn’t Christianity “the word of truth”?

The Apostle Paul once prayed that discernment might be added to the love of the Philippian believers (Phil. 1:9). This suggests that Christians are not naturally endowed with wisdom. God must supply it. Discernment is precisely our great need today, because tails are too often taken for legs. Several ideas presently circulating about the Church and its ministry reveal this need.

Take, for example, that concern closest to evangelical hearts, the importance of spiritual conversion. The warm air of ecumenism and brotherhood in our time is tending to melt the firm conviction that men must repent and believe the Gospel.

In the midst of brotherhood weeks, union Thanksgiving services, and inter-faith seminars, an idea has taken root and is now bearing fruit. It is this: Since God loves all men and our baptism attests to our essential oneness in Christ, it is improper for one ...

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