During the discussions revolving around reunion, Brother Carter found that a group of brethren who later joined the Old Paths fellowship were expressing doctrines in language reminiscent of that propounded by the late JJ Andrew. In his second report on Unity in Australia Brother Carter addressed these teachings.
The Old Paths taught:
1. That men and women are alienated from God because of the nature they bear
This incorrect teaching states that all human beings are “alienated” or “estranged” from God and they become “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), incurring God’s anger, simply because they possess human nature.
Both Ephesians 4:18 and Colossians 1:21 indicate that men are alienated from God through ignorance, blindness and wicked works. Unity with God is not possible where these moral deficiencies are present. Similarly “children of wrath” is a term used for those who incur God’s anger because of their immorality, as its context shows (see also Eph 5:4–7; Col 3:5–6).
As Brother Carter argued, we inherit mortality and a tendency to sin but this does not make us the subject of wrath until we sin. Otherwise, since Jesus was of our nature, he would be a child of wrath, which is not true.
2. There are two aspects of sin that separate from God – transgression and the possession of human nature
This argument is mainly derived from a misunderstanding of a quotation from page 126 of Elpis Israel: “The word sin is used in two principal acceptations in the Scripture. It signifies in the first place ‘the transgression of the law’, and in the next it represents that physical principle of the animal nature, which is the cause of all its diseases, death and resolution into dust.”
Note that Brother Thomas says that the word sin is used to represent a physical principle. He wasn’t saying that sin is equivalent to human nature. The word sin is a representative word. This is borne out by the next sentence in Elpis Israel: “It is that in the flesh ‘which has the power of death’ and it is called sin, because the development, or fixation, of this evil in the flesh, was the result of transgression.”
The explanation Brother Thomas gives is this: fleshly lusts are called sin because they came as a result of sin. We would use the term “metonymy” today to describe this representation because metonymy is an expression where the cause is put for the effect and vice versa. Unlawful desires came as a result of sin and lead to sin therefore the word sin can be used in this metonymical way.
Brother Carter responded by saying that there are as many aspects of sin as there are forms of transgression. All the works of the flesh enumerated by Paul are aspects of sin. The confusion arises from treating sin in its literal sense and “sin” when used metonymically for the impulses to sin, as both being equivalent. Anger and malice are alike aspects of sin: but impulses are not literally sin until they are expressed in wrong thought or action.
As Isaiah 59:2 says: “your iniquities have separated between you and your God.” Man is separated from God by transgression.
3. Jesus was under a curse and a child of wrath
To suggest that the Son of God was an object of God’s disfavour was dismissed by Brother Carter as entirely inconceivable. There was never a barrier between Jesus and his Father. He was styled by God Himself as “My beloved Son” not “a child of wrath”. He himself said: “he that hath sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
4. Man is estranged from God because of his nature whether a sinner or not
This Old Paths doctrine is quite subtle because, whilst it is true that mortals can never be completely at one with the Father until their nature is changed through the bestowal of immortality, it is not true to argue that men are estranged from God and He is displeased with them simply because they bear human nature. Estrangement and displeasure combined with the words “sinner or not”, clearly includes Jesus, the sinless one.
As we have outlined in previous points, God was never displeased with His Son.
5. Jesus was provisionally cleansed by circumcision
Because the Old Paths group argue that possessing human nature displeases God and Jesus possessed human nature and existed in a state of estrangement at birth, a cleansing ceremony is invented to remove this alienation. This ceremony they declare was circumcision.
Brother Carter correctly wrote: “How could a rite performed on a babe cleanse anything, provisionally or in fact? Human nature with its weakness and mortality will be cleansed by transformation wrought by the Spirit of God after the resurrection. This mortality is our misfortune and not our fault.”
6. Baptism is not for sins only
Furthermore because they believe that possessing human nature makes people children of wrath, they also need to have a mechanism which can cancel out that condemnation. This mechanism, they teach, is baptism, which they say, is for both transgression and for human nature. To use their language: “baptism signifies the provisional cancellation of ‘the racial condemnation which we physically inherit’ as well as the forgiveness of ‘our sins’.”
When we examine the quotations that deal with baptism, however, we find that there is no mention of baptism for nature or for cancellation of physical condemnation. Instead we find a consistent message that baptism is for the forgiveness of transgressions (Luke 24:46–47; Acts 2:38; 22:16).
The Old Paths group still exists in small numbers today. In some places like New Zealand a number of these brethren and sisters have recently re-examined their teachings and found them to be incorrect and are now in Central fellowship. Some of these incorrect teachings promulgated by Old Paths emerge every now and then in our own midst and it is our responsibility to ensure that we understand the issues involved and are able to combat them with the same sense of clarity that Brother Carter demonstrated 50 years ago.