Matthew R. Miller, Fairfax Problems In The Church of Christ July 28, 2002
I. Introduction. Very soon after the establishment of the church of Jesus Christ, there were problems with false doctrine. Probably the first big problem the church experienced was that of the Judaizers: those who taught that all Christians had to obey the Law of Moses. Soon thereafter, the Gnostics became a problem; they were a group that taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh, and that they had a special, secret understanding of the scriptures that the unenlightened could not understand. Ever since then, there have been heresies, false doctrines, and problems in Christ's church. Today is no different.
II. The Facts at Hand.
A. We have recently been blessed with new members at Fairfax, some from different backgrounds. Also, various members have asked questions or discussed some of the things that we will deal with in this sermon. Thus, it is appropriate and necessary to preach on these issues.
B. Not only is it appropriate, but the New Testament writers spent much time and ink in writing about the heresies of their day. This shows that it is not only right to preach on these things, but a preacher is not fulfilling his biblical duty unless he does. Thus, while there are many today who would argue against preaching on these things, they are arguing against the apostles.
C. In this series of sermons, we will use evidence to demonstrate some of the major problems, issues, heresies, and false doctrines in the church of Christ today. For each issue, we will demonstrate what the scriptures say, and draw a conclusion.
D. Note: Because of the nature of this sermon - trying to show that there are problems troubling the church of Christ - there will be included several quotations from preachers. The purpose of using these is not to be unkind, to be unloving, to hurt or harm anyone, or to be unfeeling and callous. The purpose is simply to offer evidence for my claims, in order that I may not be accused of misrepresenting or blaspheming anyone. This sermon is preached in love, in the hopes that we all might turn to the truth and away from error.
III. Problems in the Church: The Spirit of Liberalism.
A. It is difficult to define what is meant by liberalism, because the word has so many meaning in English. We first think of politics when we hear it, but that is not what we mean here. The basic meaning of the word liberal is free or loose, and it may be good or bad.
B. It is readily admitted that the word liberalism is not found in the Bible, but the concept definitely is, and in English, liberalism is simply the best way to describe it. In terms of the Bible, in the sense we mean, the spirit of liberalism is defined in this manner: the attitude which engages in Bible study and doctrinal teaching in a loose, free manner, without proper regard to the seriousness and strictness necessary. It is a general approach that allows looseness and room for variance in biblical doctrine.
C. Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:2; James 1:5: Not all liberalism in biblical matters is wrong. For example, when it comes to giving to the poor, we are commanded to be liberal, meaning loose and free with our possessions. So not all liberalism is wrong. What we are focusing on, is liberalism in approach to Bible study and to biblical doctrine.
D. Examples of biblical liberalism as revealed in citations:
1. "A King of Judah once took the initiative to call the Jewish people to observe the Passover. After the collapse of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. and in connection with the cleansing of the temple at Jerusalem, King Hezekiah called people from both Judah and the Israel to keep the Passover together as brothers in the Holy City. Although many turned a deaf ear to his invitation, thousands began moving toward Jerusalem. The Passover lambs were killed and the celebration began. Some from the northern areas arrived too late, however, to perform the purification rituals that required several days for completion. So, although "a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed" (2 Chron.30:18a). Or, as the New International Version renders the last words of this verse, "they ate the Passover contrary to what was written." Would the rekindling of faith in Hezekiah's attempt at reformation be stopped in its tracks by their impurity and unauthorized eating of the sacred meal? Would God destroy those who had violated the Passover rules? This is how the dramatic story ends: "But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'The good LORD pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the LORD the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary's rules of cleanness.' The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people" (2 Chron.30:18b-20). The violation of the purification laws in Hezekiah's day was not a matter of cavalier disobedience. The people were not defying God but seeking him. Precisely because the good king knew the difference between rebellion and the failure of those who "set their hearts to seek God," he had the generosity of spirit to pray for them to be accepted in their deficiency. And because God ultimately judges on the basis of a seeker's heart rather than his or her performance, he showed mercy, forgave their shortcomings, and healed them. Could we lower some of the Satan-inspired and human-erected walls that divide Christians from one another? Perhaps live by a broader definition of fellowship within the family of God than some of us have experienced to date? Might we learn that we have misrepresented one another at times and exhibited a shoddy form of religious prejudice toward people different from ourselves? Would it be worth it to abandon sectarian rivalry in order to "be in agreement" for presenting the gospel to the world? Would it make our witness even stronger "that there be no divisions" among us in declaring that Jesus is the hope of our world? Maybe renounce our litmus-test doctrines for the sake of lifting up Christ? Could we ever learn to be gracious enough to pray - and ask to have prayed for us! - the prayer of Good King Hezekiah for those we see as flawed in certain interpretations and practices?" (Rubel Shelley, Faith Matters, http://faithmatters.faithsite.com)
a. Note the following characteristics of the spirit of liberalism:
(1) Only one scripture is referred to, out of context, and the rest is Shelley's own thoughts. Instead of actually reading a biblical text, and showing verse by verse what it means, only two sentences are read, without reference to the context, and this is the only scripture reference in the entire article. Compare this with biblical sermons, such as Peter's in Acts 2:14-40, which included copious amounts of scriptures (Granted, Paul's sermon in Acts 17 does not use Old Testament scripture, but that is because the New Testament was still being written, Paul was inspired, and he was preaching to people who did not know the Old Testament; we can know confidently that, if given time to continue, Paul certainly would have used the scriptures; and there is nothing wrong, per se, with a sermon based on a single scripture, but this is characteristic of most or all of certain preachers' sermons, and that is not right).
(2) The actual meaning of the passage and the factors under consideration - that people who were already Jews, and were repenting and trying to do the best they could to do what was right and had been neglected, were accepted by God because of their repentance - is twisted. A new meaning is assigned to the passage: God does not care about our actions, but our heart; He will gladly tolerate false doctrine and unscriptural practices today as long as we feel good; we have no right to demand that the scriptures be followed; the scriptures are irrelevant as long as our hearts are right. This is obviously not the meaning of the original passage.
(3) Shelley's opposition - those who, like us, insist on doctrinal purity and godly living and a biblical standard of fellowship - are caricatured. Note the following words and phrases used to describe us: Satan-inspired; human-erected; misrepresented one another; shoddy form of religious prejudice; sectarian rivalry; litmus-test doctrines; could we ever learn to be gracious enough. Now, if someone wants to make a logical, scriptural argument that someone is any one of these things, or that a doctrinal position is any number of these things, that is fine. But to merely assert these things without any logical argument is mere name-calling.
(4) The spirit of liberalism often claims to be non-judgmental, tolerant, and against the supposed intolerance of those who think like us. But, just look at the names we have been called in point (3). Are these "tolerant, open-minded, non-judgmental" types of things to call people?
(5) The arguments made are not logical and not consistent with the New Testament. The basic meaning of the article - that God judges our heart and not our actions; thus we can ignore all doctrinal differences and accept everyone in fellowship, and the scriptures do not matter so much as long as we have the right heart - violates several clear scriptures, among them: 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 23:23; James 2:24.
(6) The entire article seems more like an emotional tirade than a reasoned, logical argument from the scriptures.
2. "Christians participate in two God-ordained sacraments that celebrate what God has done for us: communion and baptism. Communion is celebrated on a regular basis and baptism as a one-time declaration of a lifetime of devotion to God. This study will consider the second of these two events: baptism. The human mind explaining baptism is like a harmonica interpreting Beethoven: the music is too majestic for the instrument. No scholar or saint can fully appreciate what this moment means in heaven. Any words on baptism, including these, must be seen as human efforts to understand a holy event. Our danger is to swing to one of two extremes: we make baptism either too important or too unimportant. Either we deify it or we trivialize it. One can see baptism as the essence of the gospel or as irrelevant to the gospel. Both sides are equally perilous. One person says, "I am saved because I was baptized." The other says, "I am saved so I don't need to be baptized." The challenge is to let the pendulum stop somewhere between the two viewpoints. This is done by placing it where it should be: at the foot of the cross. Baptism is like a precious jewel -- set apart by itself, it is nice and appealing but has nothing within it to compel. But place baptism against the backdrop of our sin and turn on the light of the cross, and the jewel explodes with significance. Baptism at once reveals the beauty of the cross and the darkness of sin. As a gem has many facets, baptism has many sides: cleansing, burial, resurrection, the death of the old, and the birth of the new. Just as the stone has no light within it, baptism has no inherent power. But just as the gem prisms the light into many colors, so baptism reveals the many facets of God's grace. Once a person admits his sin and turns to Christ for salvation, some step must be taken to proclaim to heaven and earth that he is a follower of Christ. Baptism is that step. Baptism is the initial and immediate step of obedience by one who has declared his faith to others. So important was this step that, as far as we know, every single convert in the New Testament was baptized. With the exception of the thief on the cross, there is no example of an unbaptized believer. The thief on the cross, however, is a crucial exception. His conversion drives dogmatists crazy. It is no accident that the first one to accept the invitation of the crucified Christ has no creed, confirmation, christening, or catechism. How disturbing to theologians to ascend the mountain of doctrine only to be greeted by an uneducated thief who cast his lot with Christ. Here is a man who never went to church, never gave an offering, never was baptized, and said only one prayer. But that prayer was enough. He has a crucial role in the gospel drama. The thief reminds us that though our dogma may be airtight and our doctrine dead-center, in the end it is Jesus who saves. Does his story negate the importance of obedience? No, it simply puts obedience in proper perspective. Any step taken is a response to a salvation offered, not an effort at salvation earned. In the end, God has the right to save any heart, for he and only he sees the heart." (Max Lucado, http://www.maxlucado.com, sermon on baptism)
a. Note the following characteristics of the spirit of liberalism:
(1) In all fairness to Max Lucado, this is the introduction to a longer document, and that document does include several scriptures, and Lucado does make some valid points. However, this is the main thesis of the document, and is the doctrine that Lucado believes.
(2) Note however, in this particular argument, there is not even one scripture reference given. There is an allusion to the thief on the cross, but it is only an allusion.
(3) Assertions - obviously controversial assertions (and Lucado knows this) - are made without any scriptural backing, or logical argumentation. Note the following unsupported assertions: Christians participate in two God-ordained sacraments (What is a sacrament, Max? It is a Catholic term: are you supporting Catholicism?); baptism is a sacrament; baptism cannot truly be understood by humans (While this may be true generally, what he means by that is that, because we cannot really understand it, we cannot truly say what its meaning is, as borne out in the rest of the article); baptism is simply a first act of obedience for a saved person; the thief on the cross somehow disproves the necessity of baptism. All of these are statements that are not found in the New Testament, and instead of logically and scripturally demonstrating them, they are simply stated and asserted without any evidence.
(4) A bad argument that is easily answered is set forth as a single proof that baptism is not really necessary. The Thief on the Cross Argument is easily answered: the Son of Man had authority on earth to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6). A preacher should know better. Yet, ignoring this obvious answer, Lucado insists on repeating the old denominational argument that has been answered over and over by faithful preachers for centuries. As if the thief on the cross could somehow negate all that the New Testament says about baptism!
(5) Note again the characterization of those who insist that baptism is necessary for salvation: theologians to ascend the mountain of doctrine only to be greeted by an uneducated thief; though our dogma may be airtight and our doctrine dead-center, in the end it is Jesus who saves (As if Jesus' salvation somehow contradicts or negates, or is unrelated to, doctrine!).
3. "Why are you here? Is this the first place you've come looking for in this site? Have you sought out this keyhole entry-way to find this material? Will pursuing a study concerning the age of creation enhance your faith, or will it likely detract from your service to God? Will you devote untold time and energy to a topic which has essentially nothing to do with your or anyone else's salvation? Defending the faith of Jesus Christ is not about how old the universe, the earth, or even mankind is. Lengthy discussions of age frequently become just a time and spirit consuming stumblingblock, regardless of one's beliefs on the topic. I strongly recommend that you pursue some of the more practical apologetic materials <http://lordibelieve.org/page13.html> available at this site, or on some of the other recommended sites <http://lordibelieve.org/page5.html> such as highlighted in our weekly "Featured Articles." If at some point you find it imperative to understand this topic, then enter this room of our virtual library through the wormhole at the bottom of the page. But please do not be seduced by these studies away from your daily calling to take the gospel into all the world. There is very little here that will help you to that end." (Hill Roberts, http://www.lordibelieve.org, Introduction to his material on the age of the earth)
a. Note the following characteristics of the spirit of liberalism:
(1) The approach is biased from the start. Brother Roberts knows that his views are controversial, and that many faithful preachers believe him to be a false teacher, and so he immediately takes the offensive and charges the reader with being unreasonable. This is one characteristic of liberalism: it is often not a fair, balanced examination of a question; it is the support of a pre-conceived agenda.
(2) Again, note the insistence on controversial and biased positions without any scriptural support whatsoever. Brother Roberts asserts that the age of the creation has absolutely nothing to do with faith in Christ or with salvation. Now if he wanted to argue that based on the scriptures or logic, that would be a different matter. But simply to assert that any part of the word of God is meaningless, and then to refuse to back it up with any evidence, is liberalism to a tee.
(3) The assertions made violate several clear scriptures. For example, Colossians 1:15-20 clearly relates Christ to creation, and His role as Creator to His headship to the church. Thus, instead of making a valid, scriptural argument, loose, liberal statements are made with no evidence, and they actually contradict the scriptures.
(4) Note also the essence of liberalism: a loose handling of the scriptures. Vague, general, yet exclusive type statements are made without any attempt to justify them with the scriptures, or to explain them (a topic which has essentially nothing to do with your or anyone else's salvation). It is this type of careless, emotional, sweeping generalization that is a true characteristic of liberalism.
E. Thus, the spirit of liberalism includes a very emotional, biased, unsupported approach to Bible study. It demonstrates a marked lack of a systematic, careful, scriptural based method of supporting arguments. Also, in an effort to be non-judgmental, open-minded, and intolerant, liberalism often hurls unsupported, caricatured accusations at others, and calls names.
F. Rather than a liberalistic approach, the scriptures themselves teach us to be very careful, intensive, and scripturally-based in our approach to preaching and teaching.
1. 1 Timothy 4:15,16: The correct approach is that of intense study, concentration, thought, and dedication to doctrine. This is the opposite of the liberalistic approach of loose emotionalism. We must be careful not to state doctrinal beliefs without proper study and preparation.
2. Ephesians 4:11-14: One reason that God provided the church with the offices of evangelists, elders, teachers, and in the first century, apostles and prophets, was to keep the church from falling for false doctrine, and to be grounded in truth. The scriptural description of the duties of most of these works includes teaching and preaching, which in turn implies study. Thus, the normal learning process for the church includes study and some sort of organized teaching. This implies a rational, careful process of study, and not merely wild, emotionalistic statements without proof.
3. 1 Timothy 6:4: The sin of evil surmising (KJV), otherwise translated evil suspicions, is that of assuming the worst about others and their motives without evidence. This is exactly what the spirit of liberalism does: in reacting emotionally and personally to doctrine, it ends up calling names and assuming things about motives. Note again some of the things above that more conservative-minded brethren are accused of and called, with no supporting evidence.
4. Matthew 7:1-5: In an effort to be tolerant, open-minded, and inclusive, as demonstrated above, many liberally-minded brethren end up doing the very opposite. They end up being intolerant, close-minded, and exclusive to anyone who does not agree with them.
5. 2 Timothy 3:7: As demonstrated above, one of the arguments used in liberalism is that, because some of the bible is difficult, and because no one person has perfect understanding of all things (both of which are true), therefore we can never really know anything, and we must tolerate any and all doctrinal beliefs. In other words, many liberals are not willing to decide on a doctrine and stick with it. Instead, they are indeed "always learning, and never coming to a knowledge of the truth." In my personal experience, trying to get a straight answer to a straight question from on of these liberal brethren, or trying to pin down their beliefs on the simplest of doctrines, is like trying to wrestle the wind.
6. 1 Timothy 1:10,11: As seen above, one major tenet of liberalism is the idea that, as long as we just believe in Christ, and try to do well, nothing else really matters, especially doctrine. However, the scriptures are clear that the gospel of Christ must include the doctrine of Christ. If all that is necessary is to simply believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, then why did the apostles spend so much time writing the New Testament about various doctrines? Were they just wasting their time? The mere fact that Paul, for example, took the time to write God's inspired instructions on so many various matters indicates that those matters matter!
IV. Problems in the Church: The Gospel and Doctrine Controversy.
A. The idea that the gospel of Christ and the doctrine of Christ are two distinct, different, and exclusive things is not new. It is, in fact, ancient. But, in this country, the idea was promoted in the 1950s by different preachers. This particular view is regaining popularity today among many preachers.
B. The premise of this view - that gospel and doctrine are to different things - is not entirely untrue. But the error of this position is twofold. First, it takes this difference to an extreme. Secondly, the conclusion of the argument is that the only requirement for fellowship is the acceptance of a very few facts of "gospel," and "doctrine" is irrelevant to fellowship.
C. It is true that the words gospel and doctrine are two different words, both in New Testament Greek and in English. It is also therefore true that, being two different words, they have two different definitions. Obviously the two words are not exact synonyms.
1. Gospel is translated from the Greek euangellion, which means glad tidings or good news.
2. Doctrine is translated from the Greek didache, which means teaching, doctrine, and the communication of facts in a didactic style.
3. Thus, we can see that yes, there is a difference in the meaning of the words. Generally speaking, gospel refers to the entire concept of the good news of salvation through Christ. Doctrine generally refers to the specific teachings which come from Christ. Thus, the gospel is by nature more general than the doctrine.
4. 1 Timothy 1:10,11: Yet there is obviously a close relation between the gospel and the doctrine. To argue that they are two completely different, unrelated things is wrong.
a. The only way any man can learn about the gospel (good news) of salvation through Christ, is by hearing the doctrine (the teaching of the facts of the gospel). In other words, the gospel could not be preached or obeyed without doctrine.
b. The fact that Christ Himself ordained the apostles to teach all of the specific doctrine means that all of it is a part of the gospel. In other words, there is no biblical doctrine that is not somehow a part of the gospel.
5. Thus, while gospel and doctrine are two different Greek words, and while they therefore each have their own, unique definition, they are interrelated biblically so that they are each dependent on the other. Because one cannot have gospel without doctrine, or doctrine without gospel, therefore they cannot be separated as those who take this view attempt to do.
D. Examples of the gospel versus doctrine view as revealed in citations:
1. "Mark 16:15,16: Incredible as it may seem, this has become one of the "twisted scriptures." As a result, that which was ordained to save the world is used to divide the church. That which was designed to be glad tidings to hungry sinners has become sad news to harassed saints. All of the confusion stems from the fact that many have lost the scriptural distinction between the gospel, the Message to lead men to believe in Jesus as the Son of God; and the doctrine, which is a course of instruction for the training, development and growth of the children of God. There is as much difference between the gospel of Christ and the apostolic doctrine as there is between the sperm from which a child is begotten and the food which he eats after he is born. The purpose of the gospel is to enlist men in the army of Christ; the doctrine constitutes a manual of arms and book of discipline to develop the soldiers into a fighting force. The first is an announcement that the school of Christ has been opened and eligible scholars will be accepted for enrollment; the latter is the curriculum for daily study by the students, or disciples. Before we deal with the scriptural connotation involved let us understand why, what has become a traditional interpretation, is conducive to division and destructive of unity. The common fallacy assumes that all of the apostolic epistles are part of the gospel of Christ and any exposition of the doctrine contained in these letters is preaching the gospel. Since Jesus makes salvation contingent upon believing the gospel, and superficial students generally confuse belief with knowledge, it is further assumed that those who do not subscribe to the orthodox interpretation placed upon every passage thereby "reject the gospel." Each sect, party or faction, thus makes its traditional explanations and deductions "the gospel" and we end up with as many "gospels" as we have parties. It is easily understandable that the ones who so reason will conclude that only those who are allied with the party will be saved, and all others are outside the pale since they have not "obeyed the gospel" (that is, subscribed to the unwritten partisan creed). But we learn from observation, experience and the sacred scriptures, that we do not all have the same degree of knowledge. God has made us all to differ in the intellectual realm as we do in the physical. We can no more all think alike than we can all look alike. No two of us on earth attain to the same identical degree of knowledge about everything at the same moment. As Will Rogers remarked, "We are all ignorant, but just about different things." Any attempt to secure unity upon the basis of uniformity of knowledge or conformity in deductive or inferential processes (i.e., doctrinal interpretation) is doomed before it begins. It must inevitably end in dividing that which it seeks to unite. For this reason, those who make such attempts must always resort to creation of external authoritarian power structures in order to compel conformity. This is generally done by investing a person or group with an aura of infallibility so that all non-conformity with the orthodox creed can be equated with rebellion against God. To dissent is to "deny the authority of the scriptures." Every individual who desires to be regarded as "loyal" must surrender his right to reason and think upon God's revelation to the "power bloc" and "unity" is maintained by legislation handed down, as well as by fear of social rejection by the group accompanied by reprisal for dissent…What were the constituent factors of the gospel? There were seven of these as follows: the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation and glorification of Jesus of Nazareth…The "doctrine of the apostles" consists of a course of instruction designed to bring citizens of the kingdom to a constantly increasing sense of maturity and responsibility. It is those who have been immersed in obedience to the claims of Jesus upon their lives who continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine. Fellowship results from the gospel, growth within the fellowship is the aim of doctrinal development. The gospel brings men into Christ, the doctrine helps them grow up in Him. So long as men seek to make fellowship in Christ Jesus contingent upon conformity of opinion, deduction, understanding and apprehension of apostolic doctrine, rather than upon faith in Him through the facts of the gospel, that long will they be purveyors of partisan loyalties and fomenters of factional strife. The gospel needs to be proclaimed to the whole world, the doctrine needs to be taught to the whole church, and every truth should be accepted as it becomes known… My only creed must be Christ. Jesus is the gospel and the gospel is Jesus. The crowning truth of the gospel is that He is the Son of God and, therefore, Lord of all. If I demand that one adopt my view or explanation of a secondary matter, or surrender his own, in order to be received by me, that thing becomes my creed. Whatever one must believe or subscribe to in order to be accepted by any group is the creed of that group, and like all human creeds it is exalted to a position of prominence above the divinely-established fact that Jesus is the Messiah and God's Son. The only basis of koinonia is the relationship with the Son created by faith in Him. It is not orthodoxy of opinion, interpretation or explanation."
(W. Carl Ketcherside, from Unity in Diversity, http://www.unity-in-diversity.org)
a. Note the following characteristics of the gospel versus doctrine position:
(1) Like the spirit of liberalism, the argument begins with a caricature of those who disagree with it. Note the view of those who disagree with Ketcherside: that which was ordained to save the world is used to divide the church; that which was designed to be glad tidings to hungry sinners has become sad news to harassed saints. There is no evident or immediate evidence to support these claims: they are simply stated.
(2) This is an excerpt from a book written by W. Carl Ketcherside (The Twisted Scriptures), not a sermon. And it is readily granted that there are some scripture references used in the book. However, this particular text sets forth the main argument of the book, and there is a marked lack of scripture. Most of it is Ketcherside's statements, claims, and opinions, with no scripture to back it up. For example, the bold and controversial statement, There is as much difference between the gospel of Christ and the apostolic doctrine as there is between the sperm from which a child is begotten and the food which he eats after he is born, is simply stated as true, with no scriptural support whatsoever. Also note the statement: those who make such attempts must always resort to creation of external authoritarian power structures in order to compel conformity. What precise "external authoritarian power structure" do we have here, at Fairfax, for example? I readily admit that I have no power over anyone here, except the power of preaching the Bible. And if we had elders, then they would have the authority that God gave them. But where is this supposed "external authoritarian power structure?"
(3) The fact that no one person is omniscient and perfect is used to argue that therefore no one can actually know truth on anything, and thus we must accept everything. This is not logical. It is true that no one human knows everything, but it is equally true that everyone knows some things. It is also true that God commands us to constantly learn, study, and grow. It is a cop-out to give up argue that we really cannot know anything.
(4) By arguing that anything doctrinal that we conclude from the Bible cannot be accepted as truth, but is mere human opinion, is to charge God with giving us a contradictory, arbitrary, meaningless Bible. If we cannot understand doctrine alike, then why in the world did God give it?
(5) Ketcherside, like every preacher I have ever met who believes this position, has his own personal list of the "gospel truths" that actually matter. His is seven: some are three, some five, some eight. It is hard to find two preachers who agree (the last one I talked to insisted that such a list existed, but refused to tell me what exactly was on it). So my question is, where is this list of "important" truths found in the Bible? How does Ketcherside know that this is the one, infallible list? How did he figure this list out without somehow using "human reasoning?" Why is his list the ultimate, divine list, an no one else's? What makes his list right, and mine wrong, for example? The fact is that we cannot simply divide up biblical teaching into "that which matters," and "that which is irrelevant." There is no such list in the Bible. Thus, in an effort to argue that no one actually knows anything, one ends up actually claiming to be the one, infallible purveyor of truth!
(6) Finally, the notion that "gospel" and "doctrine" are two completely, unrelated, different things is scripturally wrong. There are many scriptures which clearly demonstrate their interdependence.
2. "This question is more relevant than we might suppose, for it just may be that we have some serious misunderstandings about the nature of the gospel. Response from across the country to a recent letter of mine in the Christian Chronicle convinced me that we would all do well to re-think the question What is the gospel? I made such statements as 'The gospel is in the scriptures, but not to be identified with them.' The responses made it clear that the common notion among our people is that the gospel is the whole of the New Testament. One is therefore preaching the gospel when he is expounding upon any biblical theme, rooted in the truths of the New Testament. My letter presented a different view from this. There are severe implications to the position that the gospel consists in the teachings of the New Testament. If this is so, then for one to obey the gospel and become a Christian he must understand the whole of the New Covenant scriptures and obey them aright. If this is so, then fellowship among Christians, which is admitted by all to be based upon the gospel, is dependent on all of them seeing the Bible exactly alike. If this is so, then only he is a gospel preacher who preaches "the truth" on all the doctrines in the Christian scriptures. If this is so, then there was not a single apostle who preached the whole gospel, with the possible exception of John, for the New Testament was not completed until near the close of the first century. If this is so, the disciples in the primitive church heard only part of the gospel, for the scriptures were not complete until long after they passed on. If this is so, Paul could not have been right when he said, 'I have fully preached the gospel of Christ,' for part of the New Testament was not written until long after his death. But there is even a more serious implication. If the gospel, which God gave for the salvation of the world, is a composition of all the doctrines in the scriptures, then we are left with an ambiguous message to proclaim to a lost world. Many of the teachings of the New Testament are unclear and difficult. Peter himself says of Paul's teachings: 'There are some things in them hard to understand.' Is the gospel which we are to proclaim to men with broken hearts and disturbed minds hard to understand? When Jesus told his apostles to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, are we to understand that he was speaking of all that comprises what we call the New Testament? If so, it was an impossible command, for most of them did not even live to see such an arrangement of scripture. And even had Jesus then and there handed them copies of the New Testament no two of them could have gone forth and preached the same thing, for they would have had divergent views of its meaning-just as we all do today. Surely we can see that Jesus was referring to a specific message, a proclamation of certain heavenly facts to be believed. This is why Paul in 1 Cor. 1:21 spoke of the gospel as 'the thing preached.' This is why he could speak of 'obeying the gospel,' for the gospel is one thing and obeying it is something else. This is why he could refer to 'the defense and confirmation of the gospel,' for the gospel is one thing, while to defend it and confirm it are something else…Then what is the gospel? Campbell makes the definition clear: 'The gospel is the proclamation in the name of God of remission of sins and eternal life through the sacrifice and mediation of Jesus Christ, to everyone that obeys him in the instituted way…'In approaching the question in another way, he observes that the gospel is the faith as distinguished from faith. The faith is belief and trust in God's act of love through Christ. It is acceptance of the event of Christ in history. Faith on the other hand is belief or conviction regarding numerous teachings of the scriptures. One may believe that he should partake of the Lord's Supper each first day. This is faith, but no part of the faith. The faith is centered in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our sins. One who accepts this has accepted the faith, even though he may be confused on many matters of faith…Campbell says further of the nature of the gospel: 'It is a clear, full, and authoritative statement of pardon and eternal life from the philanthropy of God through the interposition of Jesus in a positive institution…' He uses big words, doesn't he? He is saying that the gospel is the good news that man can be saved from his sin by way of God's loving act in giving Christ to the world. It would be proper to say therefore, Campbell being right, that when preaching deals with the theme of God's love through Christ it is gospel preaching…How does all this relate to unity of Christians and the fellowship of the saints? Our point is as was Campbell's, that unity is based upon the person of Christ (the gospel) , that when people believe in him and obey him in baptism they are one together. They are one when they are won by the gospel. Fellowship is the sharing of the common life that grows out of that relationship of the oneness in Jesus. On this matter there can be no ambiguity, no compromise, no reason for differences. If one believes in Jesus and is baptized, like Mark 16:16 says, he is one with all others who have so believed and obeyed. He is therefore in the fellowship when he believes the one fact (the gospel) and obeys the one act (baptism which is the response to the gospel).This should answer the charge that is often made that some of us who are pleading for a deeper sense of fellowship believe in 'fellowshipping anybody and everybody.' Yes, we believe 'anybody and everybody' that is in Christ (through faith and obedience) are our brothers and within the fellowship. We further contend, again with brother Campbell, that fellowship is not contingent upon conformity of belief in matters of doctrine. It may be contingent upon sincerity, but men can be sincere and still hold different views about many points of doctrine (which we distinguish from the gospel). This is why we have been saying that we can hold different views about all the things that keep us divided-whether music, classes, serving the Supper, premillennialism, pastor system, cooperative enterprises-and still enjoy fellowship in Christ together. It is because all these things are, more of less (mostly less) related to the didache (doctrine), which is not the basis of unity, and not related to the kerugma (gospel) which is the basis of unity…Then this means we may be in the fellowship with a man who is in error?, we are asked. Yes and No. It depends on what the error is. The man who is in error about Christ, such as believing that he was a great man but still only a man, or one who refuses to yield himself to Christ by being baptized, cannot be considered within the fellowship, for God has not 'called him into fellowship of his Son through the gospel,' as the apostle puts it…The answer is Yes we may enjoy unity with the brother who holds erroneous views about various points of doctrine. Who of us does not? Who will stand up and say he is right on all the teachings of scripture? A brother's error may be serious, so serious that it places strains upon the shared life in Jesus (fellowship), and for this reason we should be concerned and do what we can to correct it through loving tender care. But such error does not itself nullify the fellowship. It did not in the case of Paul and Peter, who had rather serious differences…When then is fellowship disrupted?, we are asked. In two circumstances according to the scriptures: When a brother becomes a heretic and when a brother leads a life of immorality. I say leads such a life, like the fornicator at Corinth, but not the brother who unintentionally errs out of weakness. The heretic is the insincere trouble-maker who is intent upon injuring the body of Christ for his own selfish gain." (Leroy Garrett, from Our Heritage of Unity and Fellowship, http://www.freedomsring.org)
a. Note the following characteristics of the gospel versus doctrine position:
(1) It must be admitted that, as opposed to many others referred to in this sermon, Garrett is noticeably less harsh, judgmental, and name-calling.
(2) This is just one excerpt from a particular book. In this sample, there is a marked lack of scripture (just like every other excerpt we have seen thus far). I took a random sample of the rest the material on the website (dozens of chapters and samples from various books) and in almost every selection, it would be fair to say that 80%-90% of the text is the thoughts of Garrett, and only 10%-20% is scripture references, and even among those, often it is merely a reference with no explanation of how that scripture fits. This fits in with the general spirit of this movement: much opinion and little scriptural support. Again, there is no biblical number of scriptures that must be in a particular work. But, if a particular preacher consistently and regularly demonstrates a great lack of scriptures in his works, then there is a problem.
(3) There is the same concept of a divine, decisive list of biblical truths that "matter." For example, not the statement: If one believes in Jesus and is baptized, like Mark 16:16 says, he is one with all others who have so believed and obeyed. He is therefore in the fellowship when he believes the one fact (the gospel) and obeys the one act (baptism which is the response to the gospel). What about repentance or confession, Brother Garrett? Are these not also necessary? Romans 10:9,10, and Acts 2:38 says they are. But note, repentance and confession are not part of Garrett's exclusive, ultimate list of necessary obedience. Note also the statement: The faith is centered in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our sins. One who accepts this has accepted the faith, even though he may be confused on many matters of faith. This clearly demonstrates the folly of this position. Leroy Garrett was certainly aware of the teachings of W. Carl Ketcherside (see above), yet note that even they come up with a different set of things that "matter!" Ketcherside says that there are seven essential gospel facts, and here Garrett names only three! Which one is right? Why are we condemned as promoting a manmade gospel for insisting on a set of doctrine, yet they clearly have created two such, contradictory lists, each insisting that he is correct? Doesn't this show that the answer to disunity is not to simply ignore doctrine, as no one will exactly agree on which doctrine may be ignored?
(4) Again, faulty arguments are made. The main argument again is: because no human is perfect, and none of us have perfect knowledge on everything (which is readily admitted), therefore we can really know nothing, and must accept everything (except, of course, what Ketcherside and Garrett say we must accept). That is simply not a valid argument. Even though no one has perfect knowledge, we do and can know many things from the Bible, and are growing and learning every day.
E. This view on gospel and doctrine is experiencing a resurgence today. While not expressed in the exact same terms, the idea and argument behind it is exactly the same: Because we cannot know everything, therefore we can know nothing, and so must accept everything.
F. What do the scriptures say about gospel, doctrine, and acceptance?
1. Matthew 4:23: Christ preached the gospel of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is, generally speaking, the church. According to Ketcherside and Garrett, the gospel is only a set number of facts concerning Christ, one saying three facts, the other saying seven. What then was Christ preaching concerning the kingdom? He taught many things: what the kingdom was, what the prophets said, how to act, etc. Neither Ketcherside nor Garrett includes teachings about the kingdom in "the gospel." Yet Christ proves them wrong.
2. Matthew 26:13: Christ intended that the woman who anointed His head with fragrant oil be spoken of as a part of the gospel's being preached. Yet, this woman's story is not one of the three or seven facts of the gospel/doctrine advocates. But, Christ said that, whenever the gospel is preached, her story would be told.
3. Mark 1:1: Mark calls his entire account of the life of Christ the gospel of Jesus Christ. He does not merely limit it to three, or seven, facts, but goes on to describe many things about Christ.
4. 2 Timothy 1:9-11: Remember that Ketcherside and Garrett argue that the teaching of doctrine (Greek didache) is not the gospel, but is only for Christians, and is not really essential to salvation anyway. Yet note carefully what Paul calls himself in this passage: a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. The Greek word for teacher is didaskalos, and comes directly from didache (doctrine); it means a communicator of doctrine. Note carefully the relationship between gospel and doctrine: Paul was called to the gospel to be a teacher. Another way of phrasing that without changing the meaning is that he was called to be a teacher of the gospel, or a gospel teacher. If the word teacher means a communicator of doctrine, and this communication of doctrine is of the gospel, then naturally we understand that a part of preaching the gospel is teaching the doctrine.
5. 1 Timothy 1:8-11: In this passage, the things contrary to sound doctrine are also according to the gospel. What can this mean but that the gospel reveals the doctrine that condemns these sins?
6. Clearly then, gospel and doctrine are not two, mutually exclusive things. They are intertwined and interrelated. But, it is true that they are two different words, and so, while interrelated, have two distinct meaning (not contradictory meaning, but distinct). So, how do they fit together, and how does this relate to fellowship?
7. Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; et al.: It is clear, both from the commandments in the New Testament, and all of the examples of conversion in Acts, that a person does not need to know all of the New Testament doctrine to initially become a Christian: I do not know anyone who teaches otherwise. It is clear that Paul first preached to people the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Yet, that is not all he taught! So yes, a person only needs to know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and to obey Him in baptism (preceded by repentance and confession), to initially be saved. And there is a sense in which it is after a person becomes a Christian that he goes on to learn more and more of the doctrine, and to grow and mature spiritually (Hebrews 5:12-14). This is not the part I have problems with. What is the problem is to argue that anyone who merely knows and obeys the gospel, and then goes on to believe, teach, or follow false doctrine, is perfectly acceptable to God, and in fellowship to Christians.
8. Galatians 5:20; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 10:4,5: It is equally clear that there is true doctrine, and that a failure to follow that doctrine is sinful. The very word heresy refers to an internal following of one's opinion rather than the word of God. We are to have every thought in captivity to Christ. Thus, if a person obeys the gospel, but then goes on to follow false doctrine, he is not "ok." He is a heretic.
9. 1 Timothy 4:1-3: If all doctrine does not matter, and if we can believe anything we want on any doctrine, so long as we are sincere, then why does the New Testament warn us so strongly of so many various doctrines? For example, in this passage, Paul refers to two specific doctrines, neither of which have to do with Ketcherside's and Garrett's lists of the essential truths: forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from certain meats. Now, Paul clearly says in verse 1 that those who follow after these false doctrines (not false gospels, but false doctrines, according to Ketcherside's and Garrett's reasoning) are departing from the faith. Yet, according to Garrett, "…the gospel is the faith as distinguished from faith. The faith is belief and trust in God's act of love through Christ. It is acceptance of the event of Christ in history. Faith on the other hand is belief or conviction regarding numerous teachings of the scriptures." (see above) How then does this passage fit into that reasoning? Paul says that some will depart from the faith (in Greek, it is clearly the faith, not just faith), and that they will do so by following doctrines of demons, two of which are mentioned and are not part of Ketcherside's and Garrett's "truth that matters" list. Thus, Paul contradicts the gospel/doctrine position.
10. Finally, I have yet to meet a preacher who espouses this gospel/doctrine position, who can give me a definitive list of the truths that matter. Ketcherside attempted, but as we have seen, even his list does not match others. I have yet to find anyone who can show me that list in the Bible. Although Ketcherside's and Garrett's articles and teachings are decades-old, they are being seen today among others.
11. Basically, the gospel is the good news of salvation through Christ, and the doctrine is all of the teachings which are associated with, and a part of, that gospel. A person may be saved by only knowing a few things about Christ and obeying Him, but he may not continue to accept and follow false doctrines and remain in fellowship with God or other Christians. All of us must continue daily to study, grow, and learn.
V. Problems in the Church: Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, and Fellowship.
A. In the past several years, there has been a very strong movement in the church of Christ in this area. Many preachers and brethren, some well-known, trusted, and having previously sterling reputations, have begun to interpret Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 in a manner that allows open fellowship with others with whom they are diametrically opposed on many major doctrinal issues. Along with this, false teachers are re-defined, not as teachers with false doctrine, but as only dishonest and evil teachers with false doctrine - someone who is sincere but in error cannot be a false teacher according to this view. Under this interpretation of these texts, we must accept anyone and everyone who believes anything and everything, no matter how wrong.
B. Examples of the Romans14/1 Corinthians 8 view as revealed in citations:
1. "First, Dudley objects to my admission that I have fellowship with those who teach what I believe to be wrong on matters of "considerable moral and doctrinal import." But my statement is a truism, and it is just as true of Dudley as it is of me. To argue that fellowship is based on agreement on every question of biblical interpretation simply distorts our experience…A wide variety of positions involving marriage, divorce, and remarriage are matters of faith. A Christian can only marry a Christian, divorce is not permissible under any circumstances under the law of Christ, the innocent party in a divorce can remarry only if the writing of divorcement is for the cause of fornication, an alien is not subject to Matthew 19, the guilty party in a divorce is free to remarry -- each of these is a statement of faith. All are not equally tolerable to me, and I have tried to outline the basis on which I separate them…Common sense forces us to acknowledge that we disagree about matters of faith. My articles cited extensive historical evidence indicating that brethren have long done so. If, as Dudley contends, there can be no fellowship where conscientious differences exist, then in each of the matters of faith I noted in my articles he must specify which is the one correct position limiting fellowship. If, as I have argued, such disagreements are a fact of history and life, I must establish the biblical limits of tolerance. That was the point of my series of articles; I shall summarize my guidelines at the close of this article…Dudley's second objection, and the one that he addresses most extensively, is that Romans 14 relates simply to matters of opinion, not to matters of faith. As I said in my articles, if that position is true, we are still left with the practical necessity of deciding when to fellowship those who interpret biblical passages differently from us…Briefly, however, I question Dudley's exposition of the passage. He states: "The issues in Romans 14 were not matters of faith; they were matters of opinion." The problem is that Paul calls them matters of "faith." They did not concern "irrelevant matters" to those with "strong convictions;" the Christians in this passage disagreed about what the law of God instructed them to do. Romans 14 tells how to live together with differences of conscience. I shall be happy to address this passage further as space permits. While I have changed my mind about many things since 1966, I am perfectly willing to stand by Dudley's quotation from my speech before the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. I believe that the scriptures reveal clear truth, that those who disobey that truth are wrong and that they will go to hell. I do not believe that adulterers will go to heaven, nor will rebellious women (those who refuse to wear coverings?), murderous men (those who wage war?), or those who pervert the work of a local church (by hosting social functions such as weddings?). The issue is how certain I am that my biblical interpretation on those topics precludes all others. If total doctrinal agreement is the only basis for fellowship, then a brother who believes that there is no scriptural grounds for divorce would necessarily conclude that Dudley endorses adultery. Biblical principles must govern our toleration of differences in faith. My articles do not imply that "our disagreements are limited only to ... a ban on 'doubtful 'disputations.' I compiled a list of scriptural principles (I would be happy to see it improved) that establish the bounds of Christian unity. Briefly summarized, they are: (1) unity can not exist in an environment of dissension (2) I can not tolerate clear immorality (3) I must be convinced that a brother is acting in faith (that he is, in my opinion, trying to honestly live in conformity with all scriptural teaching) (4) I can tolerate no clear violator of biblical instruction…Within certain limits, God grants to Christians the right to a private conscience in matters of 'faith.' I believe that right is discussed in Romans 14. However, whether or not one accepts my exegesis of that passage, honest minds must acknowledge the reality of a past and present Christian world that tolerates contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions…In my opinion, Romans 14 gives instructions to two people who conscientiously disagree about what God instructs them to do, and, consequently, the passage speaks to us when we find ourselves in the same predicament (see Christianity Magazine, May, 1989, page 134). Dudley contends that the passage discusses a lower level of faith (really only opinion), as opposed to the faith. That interpretation, it seems to me, makes the passage irrelevant, but that is not the issue between us…Finally, let me restate what I have argued about fellowship and marriage and divorce. I believe that every local church must make its own decisions about what one position (or two or three) on marriage and divorce is acceptable to that fellowship. Each Christian must decide how he or she relates to those who hold contrary views. A local church has every right to restrict its fellowship to those whose marriages conform to the restrictions of Matthew 19:3-12; I have never worshipped in a congregation that did otherwise. I believe that a Christian has the right to mark as a false teacher every person who disagrees with him about marriage and divorce…The distinction between 'faith' and 'the faith' is an entirely modern strategy that has no basis in biblical exegesis…" (from a written exchange between Dudley Ross Spears and Ed Harrell, published online at http://www.biblebanner.com: the above statements reflect Harrell's position)
2. "Now with all that as a background, we talked this morning for a few minutes about the question of withdrawing a fellowship or refusing fellowship to some. And we indicated that there are some specific teachings in scripture that demand the withdrawing or breaking of a local fellowshipping. In each of those cases: 1 Cor. 5; Rom. 16; 2 Thess. 3, the party involved was doing something or practicing something that became destructive to the local congregation. It is not simply that that person does something that we think is wrong but what that person is doing constitutes a condition that endangers others, that harms the well being of the group. That can come either through shaming the church in the eyes of the world and undermining any kind of standard of morality. It can come by causing division and rifts within the group and leading people into error by that. Or it can come just by a person's presence and action becoming disruptive. He can just be like the factious person in Titus or the person in 2 Thess. 3 who was a parasite, wouldn't work, wanted the church to support him, and was a busybody, which would be destructive to the well-being of the congregation. But from those things, we tried to make the observation that that does not mean that if anybody is in the group and you don't agree with them, or I don't agree with them, or better yet, we don't agree with them, that we should tell that person, 'Now either you've got to change your view or we're going to withdraw fellowship from you.' Just differing on a belief or a practice does not necessarily demand the breaking of fellowshipping. And for that, I direct your attention to 2 particular discussions in scripture…I think the first of these is a very familiar one. First Corinthians chapters 8 and 10. These passages deal with the eating of meats that had been offered to idols. I believe this is such a familiar case to us that we can simply make the allusion to it. But if you recall, in Corinth, the pagans offered animal sacrifices. And apparently when the animal sacrifice was offered as a burned offering, all of the meat was not consumed. And apparently some of that meat was taken and it was sold in the 'shambles,' one translation says. In the 'market place,' another says. It is sold at the discount house. Now most Christians were poor and many of them, no doubt, had bought and used the meats that could be bought in that condition. But after obeying the gospel, some of them began to reason, 'Wait a minute. That meat was offered to an idol. If I eat the meat, am I not worshipping the idol?' Paul answers the question, and says, 'There is no idol god out there and saying 'hocus pocus' words over that meat by a pagan priest didn't really corrupt the meat. Nothing's wrong with the meat.' But, if you think there is something wrong with the meat, and you eat it, then you're sinning. And he added another codicil. He said, 'Now if you know there's nothing wrong with the meat but you know your brother thinks there's something wrong with the meat, don't you do anything that would push him or pressure him or lead him to violate his conscience. Not because of your conscience, but because of his. And if you do so, you've sinned against your brother and thereby have sinned against the Lord.' Now was there anything wrong with the meat? No. But if a person thought it could be wrong, it would be wrong for him to eat. Open your Bibles with me tonight to Romans the 14th chapter…His understanding was such that he believed it to be a sin if you ate any kind of meat. Now these are not meats sacrificed to idols. Probably this is a hangover of the old Jewish law, maybe it was tied to the law that you couldn't eat any kind of blood, and he may have reasoned that if you eat the meat, you're eating the blood, or it may have been the kinds of meats that were let down in that sheet that Peter saw, some clean, some unclean. Whatever the case, here were some Christians who had reached the conclusion that it would be wrong for them to eat these meats. Now Paul is going to tell them that there is nothing wrong with the meat. But if you think it to be wrong, it would be wrong for you to eat it….But for every one of the issues that I'm going to show you there are some brethren who say, 'That's a matter of what God teaches.' It's a matter of faith. And I believe it's parallel to the situation we've got here in Romans 14. Look at it. I know that you and I can look at it and say, 'Well, the meats really didn't matter.' But that fellow in Rome who thought it was a sin to eat meats was convinced that that's what God teaches…Fellowship in a local congregation does not mean that we agree an every single point of doctrine…....compromising truth. That's not the case. I'm not going to compromise my conscience and I'm not going to try to do things that cause you to compromise your conscience. But as long as we can work and worship together and my practice does not shame the church or compromise you in your behavior or cause a division in the group, I want you to work and worship with me. And I want the same thing in reverse. And may God bless us to understand the role of a local church which is that of that family relationship to help us grow. And may God bless us to have the wisdom to see when we can be tolerant and when the lines of division must be drawn. Is it always easy? Of course not. Is there one formula that we say, 'When somebody does this action, take this action?' No sir. Each local church has to pass its own judgment on whether that person's behavior is harmful in that group or not. And what might be tolerated in this congregation might not be tolerated in another…(when asked how he would deal with someone who differed with him doctrinally on the biblical teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage): Well, how I deal with it may not be satisfactory to anybody else. But that of course, is what I had in mind a moment ago when I used the expression, 'a litmus test.' In the last several years, some brethren have focused on the divorce and remarriage issues. And have pushed it to the point that if anybody differs with them on that point, they not only say I don't agree with you, or I teach something different, but they're using this label, 'You become a false teacher.' The Bible uses that expression very sparingly. In 2 Pet. 2, there's a whole chapter directed to some that are called 'false teacher.' But listen carefully. Everybody that teaches something that I think is false does not meet the description of these people in 2 Pet. 2. Those false teachers in 2 Pet. 2 were hypocrites, who would lie, who would deceive, they were people who took advantage of others for filthy lucre's sake. Whose role was to try to be divisive and to get their own personal aggrandizement. Now, I can't take everybody that teaches something that I differ with and say, 'He is a false teacher of the Bible definition of a false teacher.' These false teachers were like the false prophets, the false apostles. They were not just brethren who differed. Now today, there are some people who differ over the question of divorce and remarriage. And what happened was, just in the last generation or two, divorce has become an increasing problem. Your head's in the sand if you don't know there's a lot more divorce today than there was 40 years ago. When I was a kid growing up, I didn't know, but I was in college before I knew but one person who was a Christian who'd had a divorce. Only one, when I was a college student. Today, it's rampant. And a lot of brethren are saying, 'Oh, it's going to invade the churches.' Well, sure it's going to give troubles to churches. But they've said, 'We've got to crystallize our thinking and anybody who teaches something different is a false teacher.' You mentioned brother Hailey. He's one of my dearest friends. I communicate with him frequently. And would love to sit at his feet right now and listen to him preach. I differ with him on the issue of divorce and remarriage. He knows that. And I know it and he and I discussed it at length. But Homer Hailey is not a deceitful worker, going around with personal desire to be disruptive and to make gain of the brethren. Homer Hailey is not some hypocritical blasphemer, who rails at the dignity of God. And those are the descriptions of the false teacher in 2 Pet. 2. I differ with brother Hailey on some issues on divorce and remarriage. And frankly, he could fellowship some people, some divorced people, that I couldn't fellowship. I'm an old time conservative on the divorce and remarriage issue. But a bunch of brethren have come along and they list me as a false teacher because I do not agree with them that I can't have any relationship with brother Hailey. Since we differ on the divorce question, they say, if I have fellowship with him, then I'm a false teacher on fellowship. And I've got to be marked and some are doing that publicly. I regret that but I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep over it. I'm gonna do what my conscience says oughta be done, what I believe the Bible teaches and let the Lord take care of the rest of it. Is the divorce thing a matter of...is it an issue? Sure it is. How should it be decided? Let me tell you how it ought to be decided. Every local congregation is going to take each individual case and pass its own judgment what would be the impact in this congregation if we accept that couple. If it's going to be harmful to the group, then that group, they ought not accept them. But I can't sit in Tampa, FL and write the prescription for all the situations that might come up on divorce and remarriage for all the churches in the country. And nobody else can, by the way. Some are trying to do it, but they can't do it. Just like I can't pass the judgment for everybody who differs with me on the war question, or the covering question. I know some congregations that are made up heavily of military personnel. That congregation might not be tolerant of somebody who came in and taught that it's sinful to participate in the military. I'm not going to criticize them for their judgment as to what's good in their congregation. I may differ with their view. But they have the perfect right to make that decision. If I was in a congregation where everybody in the congregation believed that a woman was obligated to have the artificial covering on her head, I can understand why that congregation might not want me to be a teacher. I differ with them. And I can understand that they make the decision as to whether it would be in their best interest to have me as a preacher or teacher or not. And they have the perfect right to make that decision. On the marriage question, as I've indicated I'm a conservative. And there are some people who have been very critical of brother Hailey and I agree with those people who are critical of him on the Bible teaching with regard to divorce and remarriage. But I differ with them on their interpretation and application of the fellowship issue." (from a speech, then a question and answer session, given by a preacher at Florida College, published online at http://www.members.aol.com/txchurch: I will not mention this brother's name here because I am still corresponding with him in an effort to discuss these matters with him)
a. Both of these citations, representative of the beliefs of an increasing number of Christians, and especially preachers, today, share some common characteristics:
(1) The idea is prominent that, because no one is infallible (readily admitted, MRM), therefore any conclusions we draw on biblical doctrines are merely human opinion and interpretation. In other words, the fact that we are prone to make errors means that we cannot really trust our fallible interpretive skills to draw any doctrinal conclusions. Thus, no one can really with any confidence say what is right or wrong, and so we must accept almost everything. Note that this is the very same conclusion of the gospel/doctrine view.
(2) There is, again, the distinction between doctrine that matters, and doctrine that does not matter (as in the gospel/doctrine issue, see above). Of course, as always, whatever these particular men define to be "sinful," "harmful," or "harmful to the group" matters, and everything else does not matter. Thus again, we have the idea that, while protesting against "litmus-test doctrines," they actually end up creating their own exclusive, divine, ultimate list of what matters and binding it on everyone else. Who is actually the one trying to bind others: the one who says that all doctrine matters because it is from God, or the one who says that only his own exclusive list of doctrine matters because it is what he believes? You be the judge.
(3) The clear teaching that the principles found in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 were intended to cover disagreements on biblical doctrine, biblical morality, or biblical truth. Again, the argument is slippery, because "doctrine," "morality," and "truth" are defined by these men, rather than simply accepting that what the Bible teaches is truth. If the doctrine matters to them, then it is a matter of "morality" or "truth." If the doctrine does not matter to them, then we may disagree on it and remain in fellowship.
(4) Those who would use "litmus-test doctrines," that is, those who would, for example, insist that the doctrine of marriage, divorce, and remarriage is a matter of fellowship, are condemned. What is ironic is that these men are supposed to be advocating a more open fellowship, yet they exclude those from their fellowship who would disagree with them!
(5) A "false teacher" is not someone who teaches falsehood, but only someone who both teaches falsehood, and has a wicked heart. Thus, as long as someone is sincere, no matter what falsehood he teaches, or no matter what doctrine of God he butchers, he cannot be called a false teacher, and must be fellowshipped.
(6) A preacher is supposed to only deal with doctrine in his local church. He may not interfere with the doctrine in other areas. Thus, if a preacher preaches against false doctrine being preached in another local church, he is wrong and interfering.
C. In summary, this particular position states: No human is infallible, thus we cannot every know that our doctrinal positions are correct. 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 instruct us to accept in full fellowship anyone with whom we disagree on biblical doctrines.
D. What do the scriptures say?
1. 1 Timothy 1:3: It is the duty of a preacher to charge others that they teach no other doctrine. Perhaps Paul had a particular doctrine in mind which Timothy had asked him about, or perhaps he is speaking generally about all of the doctrine that he is about to write down in the epistle. But whatever the case, the phrase no other doctrine teaches the exclusive nature of God's doctrine. If God pronounces something true, then it is true, and everything else is false. There is not room for a multitude of "interpretations" or "opinions." And, if someone teaches otherwise, he is to be charged to stop. Thus, it is a preacher's duty to point out false doctrine.
2. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; Ephesians 3:1-5: The apostles did not just teach their personal opinion, but the truth of God by the Holy Spirit. They had the mind of Christ, which they communicated to us. Because of this, we can know God's truth! Drawing a conclusion on a biblical doctrine and living by it is not mere human opinion or human reasoning! It is how God intended us to know Him! If we just cannot ever know anything, then why did God give us the Bible? Whom does such a belief accuse of deceit, if not God Himself?
3. Matthew 22:31-33: Christ Himself used the process of implication and conclusion in theological arguments, and expected His hearers to do the same. Using reason and logic to draw doctrinal conclusions from the scriptures is not "human reasoning and opinion." God created the process of logic and reason, not us, and if He implies something to be true, then it is just as true as if He had stated it explicitly. Yes we are all fallible, and yes we can make mistakes (and should repent and change when we do). But this is a far cry from arguing that we cannot really conclude anything and must accept everything!
4. 2 Timothy 3:16,17: If all scripture is profitable (useful, to be used for, to be rightly used for) for doctrine, then how can anyone say that only some doctrine matters, or that only a certain, exclusive list of truth counts, and all others may be ignored and fellowship practiced? The phrase all scripture includes everything in the Bible, not only our preferred, selected passages.
5. A complete study of 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 is beyond this sermon series. However, there are a few verses in these passages which demonstrate the nature of the things that Paul had in mind:
a. 1 Corinthians 8:4-7a: "Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge…" Does this sound like someone who believes and teaches false doctrine, or like someone who did not yet understand something about the eating of meats?
b. 1 Corinthians 8:8,9: "But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak." Does this sound like a matter of God's revealed doctrine or immorality, or like a matter that is neither commanded nor forbidden, and thus a liberty and not a doctrine?
c. 1 Corinthians 8:13: "Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." Does this sound like a commandment to accept in full fellowship, and tolerate, one who believes and teaches false doctrine, or like a commandment to use our liberties in love?
d. Romans 14:1: "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things (scruples, ASV)." Does this sound like a commandment to accept into fellowship and tolerate one who believes and teaches false doctrine, or like a commandment to receive in love one who is weak in personal, doubtful areas?
e. Romans 14:15: "Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died." Is Paul talking about false doctrine, or the morally-insignificant topic of what food we eat?
f. It is clear that the reason Paul wrote these passages was to instruct Christians as to how to deal, in love, with brethren who have scruples, or an incomplete understanding, of certain issues dealing with personal, doubtful things. It is equally clear that Paul was not instructing Christians to ignore false doctrine, and accept someone who believed and preached something that contradicted God's revealed truth.
6. 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 1:22,23; Galatians 5:20: If a false teacher is not someone who teaches false doctrine, but only one who both teaches false doctrine, and is wicked, then what is someone who is sincere but teaches false and harmful doctrine? If he is not a false teacher, as some argue, then could he be called a heretic? A heretic is one who follows his own internal opinion rather than the doctrine of God. Can a person do that yet still be sincere? Of course he can. And if we must only correct those who both teach false doctrine and are wicked, then why does Jude tell us to have compassion on some who are doubting, making a distinction? Jude tells us to correct both the sincere but wrong teacher, and the wicked but wrong teacher, but to make a distinction in how we deal with them.
7. 3 John 1:9; 2 Timothy 4:9,10; Galatians 2:11: If, as these men assert, a preacher in a local church must only deal with doctrine in that particular church, and has no right to expose error in other locations or universally, then why did the apostles do just that? The idea that a local church may choose its doctrinal position on, for example, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and that other Christians in other areas may not call them on it, is absurd. If that were the case, then we would have thousands of congregations each believing and teaching something different, instead of a unified church, and no one could say a word about it.
VI. Problems in the Church: Neo-Calvinism.
A. The term Calvinism is simply a convenient name to call a system of doctrine that was heavily promoted, but not originated, by John Calvin, a French theologian (1509 - 1564). Actually, the question of man's freewill, and how it relates to the divine will, has been pondered and debated since very ancient times. One can see this struggle in the very earliest of the writings of human beings. One particular event which is important to this question in relation to Western civilization was a debate between Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century. Augustine argued for man's inability to act spiritually, and the supremacy of God's irresistible will. Pelagius argued for man's freewill, and that salvation required some effort on man's part. The term neo-Calvinism refers to the new Calvinism that is infiltrating the church: not exactly full blown, classical Calvinism, but still Calvinism.
B. The beliefs of what is called Calvinism is fairly complex, but is all based on one basic premise. This premise is that man is born inherently sinful, inclined to sin, and guilty of sin, not based on anything he has done or will do. Whether expressed in the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, in the formalized Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity, or in the common and simple statement by many that "we cannot do right," the idea is that man has no power in himself to do right, and must sin.
C. Once it is accepted that man is inherently sinful and inclined to sin, and has to sin, and cannot do right, then the question arises: why can he not do right, and why is he born without a chance? The only answer must be that he was created that way. And, if man is created evil, then God must make him evil, for God is man's creator. From this comes the conclusion that, man can therefore do absolutely nothing on his own, and that everything is based only on God's will. So, if all men are born evil, and everything is based on God's will, and man is completely unable to do anything, then why are some people saved and some not? The only logical answer is that God must arbitrarily decide who is saved and who is not: thus the idea of individual predestination. If then only certain people were ever meant to be saved, and if Christ died to save, then it must be that Christ only died for a certain few, and not for the entire world. And because salvation has nothing whatsoever to do with man in any sense, but is 100% based and conditioned upon God's will, then man cannot choose either to be saved, or to resist salvation. When man is saved, he simply cannot resist it, no matter what he believes or how wicked he may be. And, since salvation is God's will and has nothing to do with man, and since those who are saved were predestined by God's immutable will, then it stands to reason that nothing man can do, no matter how wicked, can cause him to lose his salvation.
D. Most Protestant denominations are decidedly Calvinistic in their creeds, doctrines, and practices: many will admit this. Yet there is a definite Calvinistic slant appearing in the churches of Christ as well. As of yet, to my knowledge, no brethren have come out and admitted allegiance completely to all of the points of Calvinism. Yet, many brethren are indeed teaching aspects of Calvinism, perhaps without realizing it, or perhaps willfully. One of the main things being taught by some in the church is that faith is not something that man does, but that God imputes to man.
E. Examples of Neo-Calvinism as revealed in citations:
1. "Paul goes to great lengths to put down the notion that works play any part whatever in justification. Nowhere is he more emphatic than in (Rom.) chapter 4:4,5…Justification is wholly outside of man." (Arnold Hardin, The Persuader, Vol. XII, No. 11, and in a personal statement to Tom Roberts, as cited in Neo-Calvinism in the Church of Christ by Tom Roberts, p.33)
2. "Let me say that I am immediately suspicious of any system or scheme that delights in spotlighting man and his ability to 'do' things to make himself righteous." (Bruce Edwards, The Persuader, Vol. XIII, No. 1, as cited in Neo-Calvinism in the Church of Christ by Tom Roberts, p.33)
3. "We teach that to reconcile to God, to make righteous, to blot out sin, is so high and great and glorious a work that alone Christ, the son of God, could do it and that this is indeed such a pure, special, peculiar work of the one true God and His grace that our works are nothing and can do nothing." (Present Truth, Feb. 1975, p.17, as cited in Neo-Calvinism in the Church of Christ by Tom Roberts, p.31)
4. "Faith cannot rest on our contrition, renewal, sanctification, or any experience within the believer. It must always rest on something outside the believer - the complete satisfaction that Christ gave to the divine law on our behalf." (Present Truth, August 1975, as cited in Neo-Calvinism in the Church of Christ by Tom Roberts, p. 31)
5. Finally, I have personally witnessed statements by brethren, most of them probably not realizing what they were implying, in prayers, in conversations, in invitations, etc. Usually these imply that we have to sin, or cannot help but sin, or cannot do right. The word cannot, which implies inability, is often used. Also, the idea is becoming more popular that faith always produces works. In other words, more and more brethren are arguing that faith is really all that is necessary, and as long as we have proper faith, we will naturally obey God.
F. This particular view of salvation - that it is completely and totally in the hands of God and has nothing to do with man - implies some things. First, it implies some things that are obviously wrong based on a general knowledge of God, Christ, and the Bible. Anyone with even a basic, cursory knowledge of God should recognize these as wrong and absurd.
1. It implies that man has no freewill whatsoever, and that everything he does, good or bad, is completely predestined and controlled by God against our will.
2. It implies that, when we sin, we are not willfully sinning, but are being forced to sin by God against our will. Thus, every sin committed by mankind, including the most horrible atrocities of Hitler, of Charles Manson, of Saddam Hussein, and of every mass murderer and rapist who has ever lived, was actually caused and forced by God, thus making God actually wanting evil and sin.
3. It implies that man cannot seek God on his own, but must be forced, against his will, to seek God.
4. It implies that salvation cannot in any way be conditioned upon any act of obedience on man's part. In other words, it nullifies repentance, confession, faith, and baptism.
5. It makes evildoers not responsible for their sin. If God is forcing them to sin against their will, then they cannot in any rational or reasonable way be held guilty.
6. It makes God an arbitrary respecter of persons, pointlessly choosing certain people to go to hell and other to heaven for no reason. It makes God contradictory, confusing, and downright evil and cruel.
7. It makes the death of Christ pointless, as it really was not for everyone, but only for those arbitrarily chosen by God.
8. It renders pointless the Bible. If actually knowing God's will and doing it has no part whatsoever in salvation, then we do not need the Bible. All we need do is sit around and wait for death to see if we were predestined for heaven or hell.
G. This neo-Calvinistic view also contradicts several clear and simple scriptural passages.
1. Romans 2:5-8; Galatians 2:17; Matthew 16:24: These, and many other, scriptures, clearly teach that man has freewill and the ability to seek after God.
2. James 1:13-16: This verse clearly states that God does not tempt us to sin. He does not desire that we sin. We sin, not because we are forced to sin by God's irresistible will, but because we choose to give place to our lust.
3. 1 Timothy 2:3,4: Not only does God not force anyone to sin against his will, but He actually wants everyone to be saved. If He wants everyone to be saved, but not everyone will be saved, then it must be that we have the freewill to choose salvation or not.
4. Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16: There are clear conditions of salvation set forth by God, including repentance and baptism. These are not presented in the scriptures as mere robotic actions, forced upon us against our will. Rather, they are presented as commandments of God which we simply must obey if we want to be saved.
5. Matthew 25:31-46: This parable, as well as many clear statements of Christ, clearly teaches that our works, our obedience, our acts of righteousness, clearly will have a part in determining our eternal destiny. God does not force us to sin, and then unfairly call us guilty, when we had nothing to do with it! We are guilty because we sin, and we are righteous because, based on Christ's sacrifice, we do right.
6. John 1:29; 1 John 2:2: One main doctrine of Calvinism is that Christ only died for those predestined for salvation. Yet these passages clearly state that Christ died for the sin of the world - the entire world. The entire world will not be saved, but the potential for salvation, the sacrifice of Christ, is there for everyone.
7. 2 Corinthians 6:17: If Calvinism is true, then all of the countless biblical passages which exhort people, and Christians, to stop sinning, and to do right, are meaningless, cruel jokes. How can we "come out from among them" if God forces us to do the very opposite?
H. Ephesians 2:8,9: The truth is that salvation is based completely on God's undeserved grace, yet conditioned upon our effort and obedience to His will. Salvation does not give us license to sin, or revoke the need to do right. Instead, it forgives us of our sin and gives us another chance to do what we were supposed to have been doing all along: obeying God (Luke 17:7-10). Faith is something that we do, not something external to us. Thus, while salvation is based on God's grace, it is not based on some arbitrary, unfair, cruel god who forces us to sin or saves us against our will.
VII. Problems in the Church: Institutionalism and the Social Gospel.
A. As the name indicates, institutionalism is a way of doing things in a local church which uses, and depends on, para-church (outside of, and separate from, the church) institutions, such as missionary societies, benevolent homes, orphan and widow homes, religious colleges, and others. The issue is not whether the actions of these societies are objectively right or wrong, for it is objectively right to preach the gospel, to help orphans and widows, to teach the youth, etc. The issue is whether the local church has the scriptural duty and authority to support these institutions out of the collection plate.
B. In the 1950s in this country, Christians began to take opposing views of this subject. The creation of these institutions was originally based on the well-meaning intentions of brethren, who thought that local churches working through these institutions could accomplish more good. Others objected, arguing that this was not the way that the New Testament church accomplished its work, and thus not a part of God's biblical pattern.
C. The issue of the social gospel is actually a separate issue. This concept originated in modern times with Dale Carnegy in 1936, with his book entitled How To Win Friends and Influence People, in which he proposes that we all "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." Applied religiously, this removed the focus of the gospel from spiritual truth and the saving of souls, and attempted to refocus it on recreation in this world, success in this world, making people feel good, and the "felt needs" of man instead of his God-spoken needs. This resulted in many churches beginning to expand into social ministries and recreation in their focus. Also, many churches lost their emphasis on doctrine, truth, and salvation, and began to emphasize feeling good, being happy, and having financial success in this life. Even though institutionalism and the social gospel are technically two separate issues, the fact is that most churches of Christ which are institutional are also involved in the social gospel, and vice versa. They are so closely involved that they will be treated as one single issue.
D. Amazingly enough, I found it impossible, after searching for hours, to find a single quote on this topic by an institutionalist! I suspect that this is because those today who support institutionalism often do not even realize that what they are doing is opposed by some. This in turn is because of the refusal of many, who act in the spirit of liberalism (see above), to debate or discuss the issues. Thus, I am going to have to simply describe my own personal experiences and dealing with institutional brethren, for what that is worth.
E. There are essentially three aspects of this problem which represent the activities of most institutional/social churches of Christ.
1. Manmade institutions, which are not the local or universal church, are paid to do the work of the local church. This includes missionary societies, orphan homes, widow homes, and others.
2. In an effort to circumvent full-blown institutionalism, local churches interact in an unscriptural manner to do the work of the institutions. This includes the sponsoring church arrangement, where several local churches send their money to a larger, sponsoring church, whose elders then decide how the money is used. It also includes the seed church arrangement, where a large, wealthy local church starts a new local church in an area (this in itself is fine), and then the elders of the larger church exercise oversight over the smaller, new local church.
3. Money from the collection plate is used to support unscriptural, recreational activities. This includes the church-sponsored fellowship hall, basketball court, social or secular programs, and others.
1. 1 Timothy 5:3-16; Philippians 4:15; Colossians 4:15: While the church of Christ is composed of Christians (people), the local church is an organized group that works together and is different from the mere individual acts of individual Christians. Individual Christians who do things together are not the universal church or the local church per se. It is when these individual Christians organize themselves together, worship together, work together, and submit to common elders that they form a local church.
2. G. 1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4: In the New Testament, we can read of local churches doing three basic works: promulgating the truth to the world, teaching the brethren, and financially helping Christians in need. We do not read of local churches engaging themselves in any other works.
3. 1 Corinthians 4:6: We have the principle in the Bible to only do what we can read about, not to create new, manmade works. Therefore, since we read about New Testament local churches doing these three basic works (see above), we have authority and the duty to do those, and not to add any manmade plan or works to that.
4. Matthew 15:7-9: To create manmade institutions which are not the local church, to do the work of the local church for the local church, is not God's plan. The local church is to do the work of the local church, because that is God's New Testament pattern. The particular institution is immaterial: the principle is the same.
G. Sponsoring Church:
1. 1 Corinthians 9:1-14; Philippians 4:15,16: God has ordained that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. The New Testament examples we have of this process involves local churches sending money directly to preachers. Thus, God's pattern for the support of preachers is for local churches to give money directly to preachers.
2. Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-4: When there are qualified elders, there are to be a plurality of elders working with each local church. Furthermore, the elders of a local church are to exercise oversight over the flock that is among them, indicating that one group of elders cannot exercise oversight over other local churches.
3. Thus, both the sponsoring church arrangement, and the seed church arrangement, have two errors. First, they violate the New Testament pattern of local churches directly supporting preachers. Secondly, they create a new, manmade way of doing things that is not a part of the New Testament pattern. Thirdly, they create a situation in which the elders of one local church exercise oversight of another local church, which of course is not the New Testament pattern.
H. The Social Gospel:
1. Hebrews 10:1; Acts 8:4; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16: It is clear that the focus, mission, and emphasis of the New Testament church was spiritual rather than centered in this world. We can read about the New Testament church teaching and preaching the gospel, doing good deeds, meeting to worship God and proclaim Christ, and many other spiritual things. But we simply do not read about that church spending its time, money, and effort on recreation; preaching to make people feel good above saving them; providing for the social and recreational needs of man; being a general charity society; or doing any number of other things. It is not that all of these things are inherently sinful: there is nothing inherently wrong with playing basketball, meeting social needs, etc. The problem is when these things become the focus and emphasis of the church.
2. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Acts 11:27-30: The weekly collection was originally taken to provide benevolence for needy Christians. Because God has given the local church other works to do (see above), and because this collection is the only means of the local church's collection of money in the New Testament, it stands to reason that the church is authorized to use this money for all of its God-ordained works.
3. Romans 14:16,17; 1 Corinthians 11:33,34: These verses demonstrate that the focus of the church is spiritual, and not about eating and drinking. They are not saying that eating and drinking are wrong, or that we may only eat in our houses. Rather, they demonstrate that, when we come together as a local church for worship, the emphasis is spiritual, not carnal.
4. There is no authority for using the collection for manmade works which are not ordained by God, such as recreational or social activities. Therefore, it is wrong to use the collection for these activities. This also includes things purchased with the collection, such as the building. The building is not holy in the sense of being hallowed, but it is purchased with God's money and meant for His service, and not general use. Add to this the distinct spiritual focus of the New Testament church, and it is clear that a social, recreational church is not what God intended. Note: we can and should engage in social and recreational activities with our brethren. This is good and right. The problem comes when the collection is used to support this, and when this becomes the emphasis of our religion.
VIII. Problems in the Church: Traditionalism.
A. A tradition is simply any action, belief, or way of doing things, that has been done or thought in the same manner for a long period of time. A tradition is neither inherently good nor bad: its morality depends upon other factors. For example, many Americans have the tradition of eating lunch at noon: this is perfectly fine. However, some thieves may have the tradition of breaking into houses every night at a certain time: this is inherently sinful.
B. A religious tradition becomes wrong when certain conditions apply. It is wrong if: it is inherently sinful; it is based on man's wisdom and replaces God's wisdom; it discourages Bible study.
C. I have personally witnessed, heard, or heard reports of, some traditions in the church of Christ which are wrong. Some of these traditional positions taken are:
1. The King James Version is the only acceptable Bible. Actually, it is merely a non-inspired translation of the original, inspired manuscripts.
2. Women cannot speak anytime the church does something spiritual. Actually, women are forbidden from speaking in the assembly, not everywhere in general.
3. Preachers must always wear flashy new clothes, especially suits. John the Baptist, who was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, wore camel's hair clothing.
4. Red is the devil's color and is too flashy, and should not be used by Christians. I thought it was the color of the blood of Christ? Where is the scripture that forbids certain colors?
5. There is only one acceptable format/meeting time/way of doing things/etc. While we are bound by scriptural principles, within those principles, God allows us discretion.
6. You must kneel/stand/prostrate yourself/etc. when you pray. There is no one required posture for prayer in the scriptures.
7. Vain repetitions in prayer. While we cannot know others' motives, and while we must always assume the best about others, still sometimes the prayers said in the assemblies are almost word for word the very same prayers always said. If they are sincere, so be it. But, are they always sincere, or are they sometimes rehearsed scripts that we have always heard others say?
8. Etc. There are many other manmade rules and laws which are not found in the scriptures, yet which are bound upon others with no authority.
D. Matthew 15:7-9: If we created manmade rules and use them to replace the law of God, or impose them on others, we are worshipping in vain. We should never accept something merely because it is a tradition, and we must always be prepared to show the scripture which justifies what we say.
IX. Standing Firm.
A. It has been the purpose of the bulk of this sermon series to demonstrate several influences in the churches of Christ today which are harmful, unscriptural, and actively promoted. We have seen several of these, and we have examined the scriptures to test their validity. These are by no means the only false teachings and attitudes influencing the church today, and we must be careful and vigilant in order not to fall prey to these errors, and we must try, in love and with patience, to help those who follow them out of their error. The enemy is the devil, not those caught in his snares. How then do we avoid false doctrine, and how do we help those caught in it?
B. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12: when Paul spoke of the deception of lawlessness, he taught that only those who do not love the truth, but believe the lie, will be deceived. Thus, the first thing in resisting false doctrine is to love the truth. This is the attitude of mind and heart that seeks truth above all else. We cannot allow pride, tradition, lust, desire, or anything else to cloud the truth. Even if it means that we are humiliated, humbled, and go without, we simply must put truth first. We decide whether we love the truth or not, and if not, then we will easily fall prey to deception. The heart that loves truth will seek it out earnestly.
C. Hebrews 1:1,2; 2 Timothy 2:15; Ephesians 3:1-5: We cannot know the truth unless God reveals it to us, and He has chosen to reveal it to us through His Son. In turn, His Son sent out the apostles to teach this truth, and they in turn wrote it down for our learning. Thus, we cannot know the truth unless we study the Bible! We should be studying the Bible daily, and if not, then how can we be prepared to resist falsehood and teach truth?
D. Luke 22:40,46; Acts 10:1-6: Whether we are in danger of falling into false doctrine through our own sin and temptation, or whether we are simply unknowing, and want to do right but do not understand what is right, we need to pray. If we earnestly pray to God that we not enter into temptation, and that He teaches truth, He will answer these prayers. Prayer is essential if we want to know the truth.
E. 1 Thessalonians 5:21: We must never accept any man's word concerning the truth of God. We must read and study the Bible ourselves. While God has appointed some to be evangelists for teaching the church (Ephesians 4:11-15), and while an evangelist's duty is to teach the word of God in an understandable and clear manner, still we are ultimately responsible for our own salvation.
F. Hebrews 5:13,14: Many false doctrines either appeal to pure emotion, or are simply not well-thought-through. While there are malicious false teachers, some men teach falsehood simply because they have not studied their topic well enough. We must use reason and discernment in testing doctrines. We must not accept something without study, or simply because it appeals to our emotions. Rather, we must use ration, reason, and systematic study. This also includes proper Bible study. Some false doctrines are the result of someone finding one, isolated verse out of context, ignoring the context and ignoring all other verses, and drawing a conclusion based only on that. There is a proper method of studying the Bible, and we must learn and employ it.
G. 1 Timothy 4:12: We should follow the wisdom, experience, examples, and teaching of respected, experienced Christians, including everyone, but also including evangelists, elders, and deacons. This does not mean that we accept everything they say without study. But, it does mean that we should consult them and consider their wisdom when learning about a doctrine.
H. Jude 22,23: Some brethren believe that we should tolerate and coddle all false teachers, no matter how dangerous they are. Others feel that we should harshly blast and mock all false teachers regardless of their intent. Jude's entire epistle is basically about the danger of false teachers. But notice what Jude says: when it comes to correcting false teachers, we are to make a distinction. Yes, we must strive to correct all false teachers, no matter their intent. A sincere false teacher is just as much a false teacher as a wicked false teacher! But, we must make a distinction in how we deal with them. For example, if a new Christian convert gave his very first invitation, and simply through ignorance, stated something wrong, we should humbly, kindly, and gently correct him in a friendly manner. But if a man has been preaching for ten years and knows better, we must be forceful and strong.
I. 2 Timothy 2:24-26: But forceful and strong does not imply unkind and harsh! Too many brethren think that "rebuking" has to include yelling, scorning mocking, and personal condemnation. The scriptures are very clear on this point: the servant of the Lord must be gentle, patient, humble, and must be patient when wronged. The enemy is not the false teacher; the enemy is the devil who has ensnared the false teacher. Thus, while we must sometimes be direct and strong in our rebuke of false doctrine, we must never be unkind, harsh, and unloving.
X. Conclusion. The church of Christ has always endured false doctrines and evil influences, and today is no different. There are particular heresies which are affecting and influencing the church today, and they cannot be ignored. While not every problem mentioned in this sermon series is affecting every local church, and while our first duty is to our local church, still we cannot simply ignore them. The key to avoiding these, and all heresies, is simply to love and know the truth. When we try to lead others out of error, let us always do so in love with humility.