Robert then asks, “How does one determine which teachings are significantly erroneous to warrant disciplinary action?” I would like to suggest that we already have the answer, except we need to add some important wrinkles.
Obviously, the church may expel those who are not Christians anymore. A person claiming to be a Christian without faith or who is in rebellion to the Lordship of Jesus may not remain a member.
Second, the church may well discipline someone without considering him lost, but that person will be disciplined for issues that connect with salvation. If someone is teaching an error that undermines faith in Jesus or submission to Jesus as Lord, we need not pause to wonder whether he remains saved. The fact is that he is threatening to cost his hearers’ their souls. Such a person must be removed from the church. Robert has already offered examples of this principle in passages quoted in the previous post.
Moreover, anyone who divides the church — separating brother from brother — must be removed as well, as he is necessarily treating as lost those who are saved. This is very much along the lines of the Galatian heresy, where the Judaizing teachers refused to recognize as saved those Gentiles who’d not been circumcised. Circumcision is a morally neutral practice, but when the teachers elevated it to be a salvation issue, they were condemned —
(Gal 5:3-4) Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
As we saw regarding Rom 16:17 and Titus 3:10, dividing the body of Christ is a grave sin — especially when this is done by pointing us away from grace.
1 Cor 5:5 and similar passages deal, I think, with a member who is impenitent, that is, rebelling against God. When one of our brothers is in rebellion — commiting sins he knows to be sins — he’s in jeopardy of losing his soul (Heb 10:26ff). We therefore do what we can to turn him around. In sufficiently desperate situations, we even withdraw fellowship in hopes of bringing him to repentance.
That’s what I think the scriptures teach. I posted a more detailed discussion a while back as part of the Amazing Grace series —
What does Robert say the answer is?
1) Some error reflects upon the nature and/or character of the Godhead
I kind of agree. I mean, I’m not sure you and I have to agree on all the nuances of Trinitarian theology to consider each other saved. I rather prefer the approach that Campbell and Stone took. Although they disagreed on how to interpret some of the classic Trinitarian passages, they agreed that the passages were true. Beyond that, they refused to judge one another.
Of course, there are some very seriously wrong errors that are sometimes taught, being particularly errors that affect our faith in Jesus. I mean, we know that denying that Jesus came in the flesh damns (1 John 4:2-3). But such a teaching would contradict plain statements in the scriptures.
Thomas Campbell’s approach, found in his “Declaration and Address,” which we see reflected in the relationship between Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, was very wise —
6. That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God — therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.
7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be, for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.
The wisdom is found in Campbell’s rationale for the rule: “unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.” If we require someone to have a highly refined understanding of the Trinity as a matter of salvation, we deny salvation to all but the most highly educated.
2) Some error attacks the credibility of the Bible as an infallible revelation from God
We are saved by faith in Jesus, not faith in the Bible. And the earliest Christians were saved without any position at all on the credibility of the New Testament, as it hadn’t even been written yet.
On the other hand, obviously enough we depend on the scriptures for most of what we know about God, Jesus, and how to be saved. Nonetheless, salvation requires faith in Jesus, and one can come to such faith having never even heard of the scriptures.
There is, however, an “on the other hand.” In 1 John, John offers as a test of who is saved –
(1 John 4:6) We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
John teaches that one test of salvation is whether the person listens to the apostles. Those who refuse to do so are “not from God.”
Now, this hardly means that we are damned if we disagree about the meaning of what an apostle has written. Rather, the point is whether we “listen.” This is a good working definition of penitence — do we acknowledge the authority of God’s word and obey it as our understanding permits?
Does this mean that you and I have to agree on the age of the earth or how many times Jesus cleansed the temple to consider one another brothers? Clearly not.
3) Any error that undermines the finality of New Testament revelation is worthy of censure
I have to interpret this for some of my readers, I think: Many of my conservative brothers are deeply concerned that belief in the indwelling Spirit leads to a belief in modern revelation that contradicts the scriptures.
Obviously, because we must acknowledge the authority of the apostolic writings, there is no room for contradicting those writings by some alleged later revelation. And I know no one who asserts otherwise — and I have some Charismatic friends. (Okay, the Mormons do, but they’re another thing altogether.)
However, there are plenty of us who believe that the Spirit not only personally indwells all Christians but does so effectually. That doesn’t mean that the indwelling Spirit contradicts the Bible or teaches new doctrine. Again — I’ve never heard that taught in a Church of Christ or even by members of the Assembly of God or Church of God. Those who say to the contrary are very much in the minority.
But that hardly means that the Spirit is ineffective in the modern Christian. Consider —
(1 Cor 2:14) The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Now, I consider this revelation apostolic and hence authoritative. Paul says quite plainly that someone without the Spirit cannot understand spiritual things, whereas a man with the Spirit can. And so, to be true to apostolic authority, I have to believe that our ability to understand the scriptures — a profoundly spiritual thing — is a gift from the Spirit today.
Thus, there is nothing wrong with crediting the Spirit with the understanding we’ve been promised. If I read the Bible to conclude that multiple cups are permissible in the communion, I may certainly say that after prayerful Bible study, the Spirit has helped me so conclude. I’ve been promised exactly that.
4) Error that denies the Lord’s clear plan of salvation and who obliterate the concept of the distinctiveness of Christ’s church. (Gal. 1:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 4:4 “one body”, “one baptism”). What about teachers in the Lords’ church who publicly advocate that Christians may/should extend fellowship to those “baptized” as infants, to those who have been sprinkled instead of immersed, and to those who endorse the idea of salvation by “faith alone?”
Well, yes and no. Yes, if you deny faith in or the Lordship of Jesus, you are lost. You have to remain true to what you heard, believed, and confessed and to your penitence. This is clear.
I’m a bit puzzled by the complaint over being saved by “faith alone.” Dozens and dozens of verses say exactly this. I mean, am I damned for endorsing these verses?
(Mark 9:23) “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
(John 1:12-13) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
(John 3:14-18) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
(John 3:36) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
(John 5:24) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
(John 6:29) Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
(John 6:35) Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
(John 6:40) “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
(John 6:47) “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.”
(John 7:38-39) “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
(John 11:25-26) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
(John 12:46) “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
(John 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
(Acts 10:43) “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
(Acts 13:38-39) “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”
(Acts 16:31) They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household.”
(Rom. 1:16-17) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
(Rom. 3:22-24) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(Rom. 3:25-28) God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
(Rom. 4:4-5) Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
(Rom. 5:1-2) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
(Rom. 10:4) Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
(Rom. 10:9-13) That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(1 Cor. 1:21) For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
(Gal. 2:15-16) “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
(Gal. 3:2) I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
(Gal. 3:22) But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
(Gal. 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(Eph. 1:13-14) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.
(Eph. 2:8-10) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(2 Thess. 2:13) But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
(1 Tim. 1:16) But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
(Heb. 10:39) But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
(1 John 3:23-24) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
(1 John 4:2-3) This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
(1 John 5:1) Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
(1 John 5:3-5) This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
(1 John 5:13) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Obviously enough, I’m also familiar with the baptism verses. And I think that our exegesis of them is pretty much right. However, it concerns me when we damn people who teach what the Bible plainly teaches — (John 6:47) “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.” Now, we can’t just willy-nilly ignore the baptism passages, but neither can we ignore the “faith only” passages. They must both be true, right?
The best solution I can come with — and I’ve written a book explaining this in some detail — is that God overlooks imperfection in our baptism. Baptism is normally when salvation is received by a believer, but God will not damn us over an imperfect baptism. After all, we all understand that God will accept an imperfect faith in Jesus and an imperfect submission to Jesus as Lord. He will therefore also accept an imperfect baptism. (There are other reasons for this conclusion in the book.)
5) I believe those who argue that the New Testament establishes no pattern for acceptable worship. (Matt. 15:7-9; John 4:23-24; 1 Tim. 3:15 [which included “worship” instructions]; Acts 2:42 “breaking bread [Lord’s Supper reference, that abided in that apostolic doctrine]; 1 Cor. 11:23-34; 14:33-34)
Okay. Step back and notice carefully what’s going on here. Which of these passages threaten those who worship in honest error with damnation? Do any?
(Mat 15:7-9) You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
In this passage, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for insisting on washing their hands before eating. My mother agrees with the Pharisees. I think all mothers do. But Jesus was upset that the Pharisees imposed a rule that God didn’t impose — as though it were a rule from God. It was not their place to make up new rules — even just to be safe.
(John 4:23-24) Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The critical point here is to realize that “spirit” refers to spirit in the same sense that “God is spirit” and that “truth” refers to the gospel. I’ve explained this several times, including here.
(1 Tim 3:15) if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
I really don’t see Robert’s point here. Maybe he can explain how this verse shows that those who worship in honest error are damned. And the other verses he cites are equally puzzling.
My argument is simple. It’s important to know and to teach how a Christian might lose his salvation. But we aren’t allowed to speculate — or impose opinions. We may only declare as damnable those things that the Bible says damn — and only if we are prepared to show how we reach our conclusion. And point 5 doesn’t remotely meet that standard.