Feature Article

Cast Out From Among You

David Mathews

(Editor's Note: David writes in the following article, "Christian periodicals ... reluctantly and infrequently publish opposing viewpoint except in the form of a debate or with an answer written by a staff member supposedly correcting the error present in the opponents article.) While taking exception to the issue of frequency, we must plead guilty to the policy of answering what we perceive to be error. The differing views regarding this are an outgrowth of differing attitudes toward truth and fellowship which will be indicated in the following article. So, after reading David's article (which we perceive to be filled with error), the reader is encouraged to read the editor's reponse. You can access it by clicking here.)

Then John answered and said,
"Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name,
and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."
But Jesus said to him,
"Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is for us."

Christians are divided over so many issues, some significant and others frivolous. The culture of conflict has become so powerful that Christians feel justified in constantly testing strangers by asking controversial questions about contentious issues and using the answer to classify the stranger as a friend or a foe. Various lists of congregations are produced which are meant to distinguish churches adhering to one viewpoint about a controversial issue from those accepting a different viewpoint. Christians can use these list so that when they are traveling they never have to meet anyone whose views differ in any significant way from their own. Christian periodicals identify themselves according to their stand on controversial issues and they reluctantly and infrequently publish opposing viewpoint except in the form of a debate or with an answer written by a staff member supposedly correcting the error present in the opponents article. When a teacher at a congregation begins voicing views which are contrary to the majority, steps are quickly taken to discourage the teacher from voicing his beliefs or the Christian is prevented from teaching any longer at that congregation. When new members voice beliefs contrary to the view of a congregation, they may discover the members will have become more distant and they find themselves unwelcome.

The principle of exclusion, which is meant to make sinners and other undesirables unwelcome in the church, is a well known and approved attitude among those who feel responsible for purging the church of error. A well known preacher describes the operation of this principle:

Sinners have no place in the church. Anyone teaching or accepting anything different from the norm has no place in the church. The church is only welcome to perfect people, people who are in complete agreement about important matters. When it is discovered that a Christian has a different opinion or has rejected a significant doctrine, Christian bloodhounds begin tracking the scent of error with the intent of cornering the false brother and forcing him or her to concede to their opinions or leave the church.

In a conversation with a friend, a request was made that I write an article defining my boundaries of fellowship: Who is it that I will not have fellowship with under any circumstances? What error will I not tolerate? What sin would cause me to isolate myself from the sinner? These are all very important questions because the answer will identify the unfortunate people which I would willingly subject to the treatment described in the quote above.

First I thought about doctrinal error. There are many people who espouse doctrines that I disagree with and oppose. Even within the church, I have discovered that people have different convictions, beliefs and opinions than my own. All of these faulty people are worthy of criticism and condemnation ... Then I began thinking: Am I certain that my own convictions, beliefs and opinions are always correct? Have I ever in the past or may I ever in the future teach error? Do I possess an absolute knowledge of the truth? Doubts began filling my mind about whether I wanted to exclude the teachers of doctrinal error from the church because I did not want to exclude myself from the church.

"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye,
but do not consider the plank in your own eye?"

Secondly, I thought about sin. Sin takes many forms: divorce, adultery, homosexuality, hate, lust, greed, lying, prostitution, murder, duplicity, gossip, anger, drunkenness, and extortion ... and there are many more. The church is composed of sinners which were saved by the blood of Jesus, but the church should not be composed of sinners. A low whisper spreads the news that a brother or sister in Christ are guilty of sin. How should I react? I cannot accept the brother or sister in sin. They have fallen away and therefore need loud rebuke and harsh criticism. I will alert everybody in the congregation of their sin and make them sad and lonely until they decide to reform their behavior ... Then I began thinking: Yes, the brother or sister is sinning, and that is wrong. Have I ever sinned? Did I sin in the past, or will I sin in the future? How would I feel as a sinner, if I were to experience my own treatment of sinners? Doubts began filling my mind about whether I wanted to exclude the sinner from the church because I did not want to exclude myself from the church.

"He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."

Thirdly, I thought about the minorities. Minorities take many forms: African Americans, women, racial, ethnic, nationality, religious and economic. Churches that are absolutely white or predominantly white may encounter some difficulty in accepting a visiting African American whether the visitor is a Christian or not. When a person enters the assembly wearing an outfit which would identify or associate himself or herself with Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam, Christians may not want to talk to the visitor except to voice their displeasure at the visitor's religion. Wealthy congregations may not wish to associate themselves with poor members and may not want to talk to poor visitors. Poor members may discover that they do not participate in the social activities of a congregation. How should I react? I find it difficult to associate myself with anyone different from myself. My skin is white, so isn't it a comfort to know that the congregation which I attend is lily-white just like myself? I am an American, not an immigrant, so shouldn't it please me to attend a congregation which possesses no immigrants, no Hispanics or anyone else whose primary language is not English ... Then I began thinking: I am black, I am an immigrant, I am poor, I am all other people. What pride may I take in my skin, what honor can I associate with my nationality, what value may I ascribe to my income -- Nothing at all. Doubts began filling my mind as a desire formed in my heart: All congregations should include the poor, the black, the deprived, the immigrant and the lost.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free,
there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

So in answer to the question about who I will fellowship: I will fellowship everyone, those who are like myself and those who are different from myself, those which I can agree with and those I must disagree with, the people who love me and the people who hate me, the strong Christian with convictions and the weak Christian with doubts, the wise and the fool. I will love all people, have mercy and generosity upon their sin and error, and praise and honor them for their virtue and truth. I will draw no lines, maintain no boundaries, close no doors and never betray my love for the truth.

1. Guardian of Truth, February 16, 1995 (14-15).

e-mail this author at dmathew1@tampabay.rr.com

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