1 Thessalonians: 4:5

1-thessalonians

I want to go back over 4:5 in a little more detail.

Paul warns his readers against “the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Of course, many of the converts in Thessalonica were Gentiles, so why does Paul use “Gentiles” to refer to the damned? Most likely because the church saw themselves as establishing a single, third race that is neither Jewish nor Gentile.

(1 Thess. 4:3-5 ESV)  3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

“Gentiles” translates ethnos ἔθνος, from which we get “ethnic.” The meaning in Paul’s day was “nations.” For example, in the Septuagint (LXX), Psalm 2:1-3 says,

(Ps. 2:1-3 ESV) Why do the nations [ethne] rage and the peoples plot in vain?  2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,  3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 

That is, the Jews adapted the Greek ethnos (ethne plural) to mean “nations other than us” or “nations in rebellion against God.” Hence, we often translate “Gentiles.”

As is so often the case, Paul is paraphrasing the Psalms —

(Ps. 79:6 ESV)  6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!

Paul was hardly a politically correct preacher! I mean, he alludes to a psalm calling down God’s wrath on the unconverted! And so we see in this very early epistle thoughts very similar to Paul’s condemnation of the Gentiles in Rom 1. He certainly doesn’t limit their sinfulness to sexual sin, but he sees rebellion against God — and refusal to know God — as especially marked by sexual sin.

Many often wonder why the modern church tends to focus on sexual sin to the near exclusion of other sin — some of which may be even worse, such as division, judgmentalism, and legalism. But when Paul is speaking of the world (those outside the Kingdom), he has no reason to expect unbelievers to give up legalism or such. Rather, he sees sexual sin as not the only marker of damnation, but a central marker.

Now, if Paul refers to the non-Christian world as “the nations,” what is he implying about the church/Kingdom? Well, the church is distinct from the nations. Followers of Jesus serve Jesus as King, not Caesar. Not anyone else at all! That is, we aren’t citizens of two kingdoms with distinct jurisdictions and purposes. Rather, we’ve immigrated into the Kingdom and, in so doing, left behind whatever nation we belonged to before. We are no longer a part of “the nations”!

Even though  Paul held Roman citizenship and sometimes used it to further his missionary work, he was not loyal to Caesar, except insofar as necessary to live in that world in peace. He honored Caesar to the extent God so commanded.  And no more. Jesus is, after all, Lord of lords and King of kings.

The phrase “the Gentiles who do not know God” also immediately places this verse in a covenant context, for “to know God” is a technical reference in the OT, especially in Jeremiah (see Jer. 31:34), to the covenant relationship (Deidun 1981: 19n61). Paul’s placement of the Thessalonian Christians, themselves Gentiles, in sharp antithesis to “the Gentiles who do not know God” is striking and incomprehensible unless the apostle views these converts no longer as Gentiles but rather now as full members of God’s covenant people. His use of this OT phrase, therefore, provides additional support to two principal claims made above. First, it shows that Paul perceives the Gentile believers at Thessalonica to be members of the renewed Israel, the covenant people of God. Second, it illustrates once again that Paul viewed holiness—here specifically holiness in sexual conduct—as the distinguishing sign or boundary marker of believers that sharply separates them from the world, from “those who do not know God.”

Jeffrey A. D. Weima, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, 2007, 877.

Get this right and lots of other things in the Bible start to line up nicely. For example, now we understand why Paul says in Gal 3 and Rom 4 that Gentile followers of Jesus are saved by God’s covenant with Abraham to count faith as righteousness. It’s not a new promise: it’s adding Gentiles with faith to a very old promise.

When God warns Solomon that God’s blessings on Israel require that Israel honor Torah and flee idolatry, we now see that this is not a warning to the United States of America or any “Christian nation.” It’s a warning to Israel — which has now been transformed into the church/Kingdom with Jesus enthroned in authority over it. The warning is not to Clinton and Trump and Congress but to followers of Jesus across the world.

The bracketed materials are my own comments and explanation:

(1 Ki. 9:1-9 ESV)  As soon as Solomon had finished building the house of the LORD [Temple] and the king’s house [the palace] and all that Solomon desired to build,  2 the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon.  3 And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time [God is omnipresent, but he has a special presence in the Temple, which is now the church].  4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules,  5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel [the church/Kingdom] forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel [Jesus will be King of the Kingdom forever].’  

6 “But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them,  7 then I will cut off Israel [the church/Kingdom] from the land that I have given them [the new heavens and new earth], and the house that I have consecrated for my name [the church as temple for the Spirit] I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples [the church will be spoken of with shame].  8 And this house [the church/Kingdom] will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house [his own church]?’  9 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the LORD their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt [saved through faith] and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the LORD has brought all this disaster on them.'”

This reading, which is not in serious dispute among theologians, changes God’s covenant from American politics to the question whether the church is doing what God has called it to do.

And the emphasis here (and throughout the Prophets) is on whether we — God’s people — “keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them.” Now, if you’ll think back to my several posts regarding God’s circumcision of our hearts by the Spirit, the OT nearly always speaks of the Spirit’s work in the believer in terms of obedience to God’s laws. Hence, we really ought to spend a little more time in the OT, especially the Torah.

So rather than using God’s covenant with Solomon to support or oppose some presidential candidate, we really ought to be looking in the mirror to see whether God’s Kingdom is honoring God’s commands.

And, of course, the Kingdom is separate from “the nations” so much so that Paul can write to a Gentile congregation and speak of the “Gentiles” as not knowing God — because Christians are no longer Jews or Gentiles. They are, as the early church liked to put it, a “third race.”

Another way in which Paul expressed division among people was by the designation of Christians as a third race. So in 1 Cor 1:22–24 he seems to write of three groups: Jews, Greeks, and those who are called from both the Jews and the Greeks, namely, the Christians. The Christians appear as the new, third audience (1 Cor 10:32). In time this incipient concept was developed by others, so that Christians were called a third race (Kerygma Petrou, in Clem. Str. 6.5.39–41; Diogn. 1; Apologia Aristidis 2.1; 16; 17; Tert. Ad Nat. 1.8, Scor. 10; Clem. Strom. 3.10.10).

In sum, Paul was neither unique in posing the problem of the unity of humanity nor naive in the solution he proposed. Constantly in dialogue with a secular and religious world which had tried many proposals for unity, Paul determined that only the universality of Christ’s cross could effect that long-desired goal.

Walter F. Jr. Taylor, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 6, 752.

Therefore, the solution to our racial disunity is Jesus — and the fact that we leave our racial and other ethnic identities behind when we’re converted. We are neither Jew nor Greek, black nor white, slave nor free. We are all Jewish carpenters, hung on a cross, confident in God’s power to resurrect us in the end.

Which means we can find a way to worship in the same building and commune at the same table — if we want it badly enough. Those who argue for continued separation of the races within the church are arguing against the gospel itself and denying that the Spirit is powerful enough to transform us so that this can happen.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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30 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: 4:5

  1. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    As you mention this as a concept which you see as a desired event in our world, I really believe that you must not understand the kingdom/church in this world as it really is.
    “Which means we can find a way to worship in the same building and commune at the same table — if we want it badly enough. Those who argue for continued separation of the races within the church are arguing against the gospel itself and denying that the Spirit is powerful enough to transform us so that this can happen.”
    Here is what makes me believe this. You are correctly communicating about Christs’ Kingdom being here on this earth right now, but you place its location into a body of Christians meeting together. Thus you see it important for these Christ followers to be connected by this close fellowship. Yet, you have also stated your belief that anyone who has dedicated themselves to Christ as being forgiven and added to the church. We have discussed that there are many men who have done this who are not attending a peculiar tribe. There are men that we would like to call brothers who have segregated themselves from their own brothers who Christ may have forgiven even for those actions. This action will not allow them to participate into a single assembly, which would always keep the total church form meeting together in a single assembly. Jesus identified the location of the Kingdom/Church.
    Luk 17:20-21 ESV Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, (21) nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
    So what am I trying to explain to you? That is that the Kingdom is never identified as an assembly. The Kingdom is a way of life, seen in any Christian who is portraying Christ’s lifestyle. When you or I are away from an assembly or even in a place where were totally alone were are still in possession of the Kingdom within us. We may chose to attend an assembly of Christ’s believers which we would never before believed would be acceptable to Christ, yet may be surrounded by many members of the Kingdom whom we are unaware. In this situation He (Christ) is within each one of us whether we are knowledgeable of it or not. In this case we are in unison with each other not because we are actively knowledgeable of it but because each of us have been added to the Kingdom by The King. If we are associated with each other for a time we will soon discover that Christ really is in them as well as us and understand that through him we are in unison. Does this mean that we will eventually see all things alike? I believe not and there is nothing in the history of the scriptures which will portray that it is a total necessity. If there was ever a totally united unison of a belief in any of God’s people, he would not have had to written letters of his instructions to us. We would all be perfect.
    So I guess what is my beef? We will never find the Kingdom in assemblies, the assemblies is the wrong place to look for a perfected visible Kingdom and should we see an assembly that did represent a presence of the Kingdom we can be assured that it is a only like a grain of sand in comparison to the presence of the Kingdom. The Kingdom surpasses any group or groups of organized assemblies on earth. As you have identified The Kingdom is not of this earth. It is a place which is not bound by any of the rules, laws, regulations from any body of governments of this world. That is how I believe that the martyrs have seen their lives. Each martyr was a vivid display of Christ’s Kingdom. It is not necessary for martyrs to be martyred in multiples to create a visibility of The Kingdom of Christ which is present for us.
    In another example, we can say, Christ and you or I equal The Kingdom. Of course, The Kingdom is not limited to just Christ and you or I, but neither is it dependent upon more than us to be a Kingdom.
    You seem to be trying to place demands upon our assembly with other brethren which should be measured as visibility of our comment to Christ when in reality that unison is in Christ not in each other. As I see, unless we are attempting to condemn our brothers because of some idea or concept which we have developed while trying to be a perfect follower of Christ, we are all equal in Christ.

  2. Price Futrell says:

    Good thought… Quit worrying about changing Rome and change the church (yourself).. But, along the way it sure would be nice if Rome moved in the direction of the church rather than away from it.. The only way that will happen is if the church takes back the mountain of Government…

  3. JohnF says:

    “Many often wonder why the modern church tends to focus on sexual sin to the near exclusion of other sin — some of which may be even worse, such as division, judgmentalism, and legalism. But when Paul is speaking of the world (those outside the Kingdom), he has no reason to expect unbelievers to give up legalism or such. Rather, he sees sexual sin as not the only marker of damnation, but a central marker.”

    1 Cor 6:18-20
    Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body” – but the immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.
    (from The NET Bible)

    I would be careful about which sin is potentially worse than sexual sin. “Division, judgmentalism, and legalism” may be bad, but are not sins against our own body.

  4. JohnF says:

    By the way, are legalism and judgmentalism listed along with the “works of the flesh” or other lists of sinful behavior? I am not at all approving of them, but I do not see where the fall easily into the same catagories. Maybe I have missed something, and yes I have read Galatians where legalisms dangers are described and condemned, and Romans 2 on judgement.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F wrote,

    I would be careful about which sin is potentially worse than sexual sin. “Division, judgmentalism, and legalism” may be bad, but are not sins against our own body.

    Far worse, they are sins against the body of Jesus Christ.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Larry Creek wrote,

    You seem to be trying to place demands upon our assembly with other brethren which should be measured as visibility of our [commitment] to Christ when in reality that unison is in Christ not in each other.

    I could not disagree more. How we treat each other is a measure of our devotion to Jesus.

    (Jn. 13:34-35 ESV) 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    What does “love for one another” entail? A theoretical sort of thing — that I’m kindly disposed toward strangers? Is that the imagine of fellowship and community and brotherhood we find in scripture? No, we see table fellowship (first few chapters of Acts, Gal 1-2, 1 Cor 5). Consider,

    (1 Cor. 5:11 ESV) 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one.

    The punishment for a brother engaging in rebellious sin was “not even to eat with such a one” — surely a reference to the love feast or common meal shared by the early church.

    And there are countless passages to similar effect.

    (Jn. 17:20-21 ESV) 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

    What marks Jesus’ disciples as his disciples? Their unity! Table fellowship is not the only way in which we show the world our unity and love for one another, but it’s a very important way.

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    I do understand about the imaginary table relationship, and just how much fellowship there is involved in the manner in which we have always preformed the Lord’s Supper. Fellowship, Ha. In fact we were never instructed that this action was to be a bounding action between us. The thrust of the thought was to remember the death burial and resurrection. You know, imagining that we can visualize Christ’s suffering on the Cross. We have been impressed with the goal that this impression will give us strength to help us through the Week until we can do this again. After all this is the act that proves that we have a relationship with The Lord. The act was sooo important that anyone who missed it Sunday morning was given an opportunity to do it by themselves Sunday night, either in the full setting of the assembly or off into another room separated from the body. So who were they fellowshipping. This was a mockery of fellowship, with other Christians. Fellowship in this act should have been all or none.
    But, even with all that in mind you seem to still miss the point. The point in which I was driving is that, you have very well documented that the assemblies in which observe The Lord’s Supper, is not the total of all Christians in any given location. You have claimed that there are many Christians attending assemblies of other organizations in any locality. To the extent you have convinced me of that truth. Therefore, in any given locality all of the Christians are not participating in this fellowship supper, and we are not even being instructed to recruit those Christians into an assembly for that purpose. This was what I was driving at in the comment below, (thanks for correcting [commitment]).
    You seem to be trying to place demands upon our assembly with other brethren which should be measured as visibility of our [commitment] to Christ when in reality that unison is in Christ not in each other.
    We are not in unison with those Christians who attend other organizations, therefore Christ is our only unity, and most times we even deny that there is any unity because we believe that accepting them would validate the other organizations existence.
    This leads to affirmation that we surly believe that it is not necessary for all Christians to participate.
    Oh, by the way how many within our own congregations have jobs that are not church friendly for Sunday assemblies? I have heard of many who can only manage to attend on Wednesday night services. Therefore, haven’t participated in the act in years, but some while on vacation. Sunday night assemblies are scheduled so close to the morning assembly there may not be enough time from the job ending and for travel time to participate in assemblies.
    We should be able to understand these problems even on a Weekly basis, but what about those Christians who have only scheduled this supper once a Month, once a Quarter or Annually? Will Christians only be accountable upon this issue to have a clear conscience like Paul was on his life before being a Christian? Or will we be accountable for not actively seeking our Brothers and Sisters in Christ from other organizations to participate in this Supper with us? Were not in unity in Christ until we do.

  8. JohnF says:

    JG “Far worse, they [Division, judgmentalism, and legalism”] are sins against the body of Jesus Christ”.
    For that statement to be accepted would involve several assumptions.
    1) The potential division of 1 Cor. 1 and 1Cor 3 is worse than the sexual sins of 1Cor. 5. Reply: The sexual sins REQUIRED the expulsion of the sinner. There is no corresponding expulsion in Corinth for the “party spirit” that was dividing the body. When Paul addresses Timothy (1Tm 6) about those who advocate a “different doctrine” Paul does not require their expulsion. In Romans 13-16 Paul call for their “marking/avoidance/keep your eye on” but stops short of expulsion. (You have a hard time to “keep your eyes on” [NASU]) if you have expelled them.
    2) “Destroying the temple” in 1Cor 3 is the equivalent of “division” referred to in ch.1&3. Perhaps that is one of many things that can destroy the “temple,” not the least of which is sexual sin (see the 7 cities of Revelation ).
    3) “Judgmentalism” per se is sin. Yet we are to execute righteous judgment (again 1Cor. 6 is exemplar – disputes between brothers are to be judged by the church). 1 Cor 4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 1 Cor 5:12-13 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. In the list of those who will NOT inherit the kingdom, judgmentalism is not there — immediately following a passage that describes improper judgments. We may conclude therefore that a brother may have a problem with a judgmental spirit but that does not per se exclude him from the kingdom.
    4) Legalism (denying faith in Jesus as the means to salvation in contrast to “works”) may lead to being accursed in Paul’s words to the Galatians. But in the current context, many whom Jay would term “legalist” would not accept the term themselves, but see the Gospel in a different emphasis – seeing “sound doctrine” in a different way than the “progressives” of today. I am not aware of any who “deny faith in Jesus” as necessary, but see the “means” to obtaining that grace differently. Paul in his former life (Gal. 1:13) tried to destroy the church. It is unfair to apply that appellation to our more “conservative” brothers – unless we can see into their hearts.
    1 Cor 3:10-15 would seem to apply here, unless there is NO grace or forgiveness for a misunderstanding of doctrine. 1 Cor 3:11-15 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

    Quite frankly Jay, I see you extending “grace” far more toward those of a “progressive” thought than those who have a “narrower” (for lack of a better term) view of the path to the kingdom. How far does the grace of God extend?

  9. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    I have always been fascinated with the list in Prov 6:16-19:

    ESV 16 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

    NIV11 16 There are six things the Lord hates,
    seven that are detestable to him:
    17 haughty eyes,
    a lying tongue,
    hands that shed innocent blood,
    18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
    feet that are quick to rush into evil,
    19 a false witness who pours out lies
    and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

    Sowing discord could certainly refer to legalism and division.

  10. dwight says:

    Kevin I was just about to go there as well. The seven things don’t include sexual sins, as bad as they are.
    Even when we get to the NT James dedicates a whole area to the sins and troubles of the tongue.
    Now I am not going to argue which sin is worse, after all there is only one sin that one cannot be saved from “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”, so in this light grace is applied equally to all sins alike.
    But having said that there are sins that not only do damage to one self, but do damage to many nd destroy the fabric of unity among the saints. In this case we are talking damage control. While a sexual sin may be a sin against yourself and usually another, a lie can travel miles further and destroy many along the way.

    Jay, I understand Larry’s thought because I think the same way. The church and the kingdom are not realized in the assemblies, but the assemblies are but examples or samples of the church and the kingdom or should be in a gathered form. In I Cor.11 the sin was against unity of the people present, but this didn’t mean that the church or kingdom was in a disarray. Many if not most of the churches had problems, but those in the churches were still called saints and brothers. The lack of unity in the church in Corinth, which was exampled by many things (sectarianism by names, pride in gifts, etc.) did not disfranchise them from the Kingdom and the people from the church.
    We need to remember this as we look at other assemblies not of the coC as well as those of the coC who are different. This is also true of us individually. We might not be in the same place at the same time an even in the same theological thinking but this doesn’t take us out of the Kingdom if we are centered in Christ as the savior and the Son of God.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Larry wrote,

    You have claimed that there are many Christians attending assemblies of other organizations in any locality. To the extent you have convinced me of that truth. Therefore, in any given locality all of the Christians are not participating in this fellowship supper, and we are not even being instructed to recruit those Christians into an assembly for that purpose. This was what I was driving at in the comment below, (thanks for correcting [commitment]).

    I grant you that most Sundays all believers in Jesus fail to commune together. Getting our black and white brothers and sisters to share a communion table would be a very good thing — but it’s not enough. As I’ve often argued, we should work toward having a community wide Eucharist. That is, I’d love to see all the churches in a city rent a basketball or football stadium and take communion together occasionally — maybe once a year. That would be a major step toward becoming first century churches.

    The early church had one congregation per city, under one eldership, meeting in multiple homes but sometimes meeting as a whole. We see this pattern in Acts 2-5 very clearly. The same is found by close study of Paul’s epistles. (The translations often confuse a house in which part of a church meets with a “house church” but recent studies show that the so-called NT house churches were generally like the house meetings in Acts 2 — a gathering of part of the church small enough to fit in a house and so small enough to enjoy the love-feast together.

    But the Jerusalem congregation also met as a whole in the Temple courts, and it appears that the church in other cities managed to find a place to gather as a whole on occasion — likely depending on kindness of local Roman officials.

    So to me, the church should not be as divided as it is and we should honor Christ by being as unified in as many ways as possible. This includes doing ministry together, worshiping together, but especially celebrating the Lord’s Supper together. I can think of no better way to announce to the world that we are united in Jesus.

    Are their huge practical barriers to this idea? Of course. But most denominations wouldn’t object to this at all. It’s the Churches of Christ who are so sectarian that we can’t even take communion with our fellow Church of Christ members — much less believers from other tribes.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JohnF,

    The scriptures plainly condemn division and require that those who foment division be disfellowshipped —

    (Tit. 3:10-11 ESV) 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

    (Rom. 16:17 ESV) 17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

    I take these passages to be true — commands that we are supposed to obey. The challenge is to rightly determine who causing division. Rom 16:17 gives the standard: “contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.” What doctrine is that? Rom 1-15, obviously enough. What subjects did Paul cover? Well, salvation by faith rather than by works. And all of Rom 14 — which talks about accepting others on the same basis as Jesus’s acceptance. I could go on.

    When our leaders in the Churches of Christ want to divide over clapping in the assembly and elder re-affirmation, well, we have a complete misunderstanding of Romans. Every bit of it. And we’re told to watch out for and avoid such people.

    Rather than giving our most divisive, sectarian members titles and positions of honor, we should be warning them and preparing to withdraw fellowship.

    Is this contrary to grace? Far from it. Grace teaches us how not to divide. Those who divide misunderstand grace and teach salvation by works (quite literally), which Paul not only denies but declares damning (in Gal 5). So those who teach a false doctrine of grace are dangerous — putting souls in danger to further their legalistic agendas.

  13. JohnF says:

    Starting with Jay’s comments – just a couple of added “issues” and look where what is fair for the goose may well be fair for the gander.

    “I take these passages to be true — commands that we are supposed to obey. The challenge is to rightly determine who causing division. Rom 16:17 gives the standard: “contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.” What doctrine is that? Rom 1-15, obviously enough. What subjects did Paul cover? Well, salvation by faith rather than by works. And all of Rom 14 — which talks about accepting others on the same basis as Jesus’s acceptance. I could go on.

    When our leaders in the Churches of Christ want to divide over clapping in the assembly and elder re-affirmation or instrumental music or women’s role, well, we have a complete misunderstanding of Romans, [add Timothy, Colossians, Ephesians and 1 Corinthians]. Every bit of it. And we’re told to watch out for and avoid such people.
    Rather than giving our most divisive, sectarian or libertine members titles and positions of honor, we should be warning them and preparing to withdraw fellowship.
    Is this contrary to grace? Far from it. Grace teaches us how not to divide. Those who divide misunderstand grace and teach salvation by works (quite literally) or teach libertinism, which Paul not only denies but declares damning (in Gal 5) (Romans 6). So those who teach a false doctrine of grace are dangerous — putting souls in danger to further their legalistic or progressive agendas.” End of Jay’s comments.

    Sorry, but I cannot see how to place “strike throughs” in the comments which would have made the train of thought clearer.
    Who is causing the division it determined by who is making the judgments, and their understanding of scripture. And BOTH may be seeking with ALL their hearts to be submissive to the Gospel. So I would suggest great caution in judgmentalism — it is before God that we all must stand.

    If Jay’s progressive understanding is wrong, will grace cover?
    If a “conservative” understanding is wrong, will grace cover?
    Or is it, “There is grace for my sins, but not for yours!”

  14. Larry Cheek says:

    JohnF,
    Do we then suggest that, if anyone is seeking with all of his heart to be submissive to the Gospel, that any and all of his deviations from the instructions in scripture will be forgiven? If that is true then we can teach anything that we believe with all our heart. I believe that the message should go more like, anyone who is seeking with all his heart to be true to the Gospel will always look at any teaching from both sides and with the help of the Holy Spirit be able to show the fallacy of the doctrine that he once believed for other Christians to see. You see, that states that no Christian can look at a teaching which is in opposition to The Word of confirmation and not be changed. If a Christian remains on the side of the opposition because of history or tradition he ceases to be a Christian. His heart has not remained submissive to the Gospel.

  15. JohnF says:

    The comment had to do with an unChristlike spirit of judgmentalism, not submission. Submission is the key.

  16. Dwight says:

    Larry, Most in the coC don’t train to look at it from both sides, because the other side is predetermined to be wrong by the rules we follow. Most in the coC believe that the doctrine we now teach is the same as the doctrine that was taught and cannot be wrong, because that is what makes us the coC.
    Look at it like this, you ask, “Do we suggest….that any and all of his deviations from the instructions in scripture will be forgiven?”, but can you determine if there are any churches that do not deviate and if so then we need to be there, but I would argue that all churches, yes even the coC, deviate in some aspect. If we look at the early churches they did and they were not ejected from being in Christ. We have a lower tolerance than the early apostles did for casting out those from Christ.

    Now some may deviate to the point of blasphemy, like I think the Mormons do, many just don’t understand all things correctly (probably us), but I would almost argue that those who seek to be the Pharisees of the story, are basically in blasphemy mode and worse off then those who just get it wrong, because they hold themselves separate and above the others, even while doing the same.
    I would argue that as saints, despite who we meet with, we must be submissive to Christ and the truth. We will stand before God, not our assembly. And we must accept that we are all wrong in one way or another and despite this we must seek God and the things of God, which just isn’t doctrine, but helping others, being kind, loving, sacrificing, etc.

    Jay, while a city wide or region wide church is the ideal state, I do not see how it could be logistically be carried out due to us not living in cities like they did and I do not see how so many groups that pride themselves on their “religious understanding” will see another as his brother. I long for this, but the only way is to not carry a name of designation and to invite and co-mingle with others as brothers. And then we must deal with our present form of assembly, which neither really allows for a city wide or a family gathering in houses.

  17. Alabama John says:

    Dwight, that is the reasoning that so many have left the church and are seeking their own relationship with God, one to one. Church has become too confusing.
    In talking to many men those being excused for being mentally incapable of understanding and thus assured of gaining heaven are being admired more and more. maybe more of us fit that exclusion more than we want to admit. Hope so!
    We’re here for 70-90 years or so but heaven is for eternity. Hard to know if during our lifetime if we got it right enough so grace rather than law is our hope..

  18. JohnF says:

    AJ “We’re here for 70-90 years or so but heaven is for eternity. Hard to know if during our lifetime if we got it right enough so grace rather than law is our hope..”

    We will never “got it right enough”. I hope I understand you to say that “law” can never be our hope … only grace based on “perfect (as perfectly as we are able led by the Spirit) submission”, therefore “perfect delight.”

  19. Alabama John says:

    JohnF You understood (got) me right and thanks for the effort.

  20. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JohnF,

    There’s a distinction that often greatly simplifies questions such as this one. YOu have to distinguish between what disagreements are matters of faith (as defined in the NT) and which are not.

    Now, in traditional thought, any disagreement about the Bible, even including how to find commands in silences, is treated as “faith” — which is woefully ignorant of the NT’s usage of pistis — which I’ve covered here many times.

    When I say “faith,” I mean what the Bible itself directly calls faith — that is belief that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, trust in Jesus to keep his promises, and a penitent or faithful heart — not necessarily a heart that gets every single doctrine right but a soft heart as promised by Ezekiel to those who would receive the Spirit: a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone.

    If someone errs in the area of faith, well, if he doesn’t have faith, he’s not saved. I read Paul’s argument in Gal 5 to be that an insistence on a particular work of the law (circumcision, for example but not exclusively) not as an act of obedience but a matter of salvation, added to faith, destroys the salvific power of faith. You may not add anything to faith as essential to salvation.

    Of course, someone with faith will be faithful and so will obey what he understands of God’s will. By definition, he cannot be in rebellion against God and also have faith — so we need not waste our time discussing such a person.

    Now, the problem with 20th Century Church of Christ theology is that it insists on salvation by works in addition to faith — often quite explicitly. And this flatly contradicts Gal 5 and does exactly what Paul says damns. Not because works salvation is the unforgivable sin but because such people have abandoned a promise God has made to his children going back to Abraham — all so we can win a debate over IM — thus making AC an idol. Jesus, according to that sect, is not enough to save. We must also worship AC. And (Add another 1000 requirements).

    So that’s the problem with the traditional CoC position. It denies the sufficiency of faith in Jesus and denies the countless promises found in both testament to save all with faith (as previously defined, of course).

    Now, most who hold to the 20th Century CoC position would sneer at the thought of being saved by faith, because they believe it denies the requirement to obey God’s commands, but obviously enough, the “faithfulness” element requires obedience — just not obedience to commands that aren’t understood (other than the command to have faith, for which there are no exceptions). But a faithful person will seek out God’s will — by definition of “faithful.” And Rom 14-15 sorts out the practical challenges faced by a congregation where people honestly disagree over matters other than faith itself. (Faith in Jesus is not a disputable matter.)

    Now, the progressive position may be flawed, but it doesn’t fail the faith test. It upholds the sufficiency of faith — all three aspects. Therefore, when the progressives fear for the salvation of those insisting on 20th Century Church of Christ soteriology (theology of how to be saved), it’s not parallel. Just as we should be deeply concerned if people we love refuse to repent or to confess, we must be deeply concerned if they refuse to accept the promises of God regardingly salvation by faith. Read what Paul says about those teaching works salvation in Gal 1!!

    Of course, those brought up in 20th Century CoC soteriology do not include “trust Jesus to keep his promises” in the Five Steps of Salvation, and so they are blind to its absence. They can’t make out an intelligible, coherent interpretation of Gal 5 — except to use it as a prooftext that people can fall from grace (which is true).

    Worse yet, by conjoining Acts 2:38 and Rom 10:9 to establish a single “plan of salvation” they fail to see what both are saying. For example, Peter’s point in Acts 2:38 is that we should believe God’s promise made through Joel (in Joel 2:32a) that all who call on the name of the LORD (Jesus) will be saved.” He urges us to believe and act on that promise.

    Paul also relies on Joel 2:32a in Rom 10:9. (He quotes it in context). Paul’s point is that GOd has made a promise and we should live our lives based on that promise — beginning with coming to faith in Jesus.

    But we refuse to preach these points because we fear some Baptist will use Joel’s words to argue against the absolute necessity of baptism understood in the CoC way — and so we edit our tracts and sermons not to mention Joel’s words in order to shield our doctrine of baptism.

    (Joel 2:32a ESV) 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.

    Preach that line from a conservative Church of Christ pulpit and you’ll be declared a heretic and fired — even though this is Peter’s sermon text and Paul’s proof text in Rom 10. When we take God’s explicit promises of who and how we’re saved and deny them, we are surely on very dangerous ground.

  21. I am put to mind of the teenager who rebels against his father’s counsel or his instruction. A son who wishes to be free of his father’s oversight. Perhaps even to the point of demanding his portion of the family inheritance and leaving home to spend the money on whiskey and hookers. If this is not rebellion, I do not know what would have to be added to constitute rebellion. And yet, in the parable, the Father never disowns such a son. Jay has been consistent in suggesting that rebellion and a relationship with God cannot co-exist. I would suggest that speaks far too highly of us, and denies a sin too common to us, which is to know the good we ought to do, and to refuse to do it. (“Yes, I should, and no, I won’t” seems to me to be the very language of the rebel.) But Jay would have us add our own faithfulness to the definition of faith, presuming that those of us who say we are believe are indeed faithful. Not perfect, perhaps, but at least we are “not as other men are”, that is, rebellious.

    I agree that godly works are vital evidence of the existence of faith. But that does not make them PART of faith. Faith comes first, THEN come the acts of faithfulness consistent with that faith. Our faithful acts do not bring faith into existence, faith comes from God. (Rom. 10:17) So, faith pre-exists our “faithfulness”. There is causation here. Therefore, our faithfulness cannot be an original aspect of faith, only the result of that faith.

    There remains in many corners the need to try to hold believers accountable for bad acts by threat of damnation. Even some who generally reject “faith plus works” saving us add “eschewing rebellion” and splice it into faith so as not to consider it a “work”. This is mere semantics. To entirely relinquish the utility of Damocles’ sword seems beyond us. We insist that He simply MUST draw the behavior line SOMEWHERE. Our old unspoken assumption that God has left us on our own to “work out our own salvation” has caused us to forget that God is an active parent, and not an impotent one. He is a father who can transform his own sons, without threatening to kill them.

    I wonder what the prodigal’s neighbors thought of his dad, refusing to disown his clearly-rebellious son. We know what older brother thought.

  22. Dwight says:

    Jay, you said, “Now, the problem with 20th Century Church of Christ theology is that it insists on salvation by works in addition to faith” and yet even the Baptist who argue that the point of salvation is faith also argue that if you do not obey in baptism, then you aren’t faithful and thus saved. At least this is what I understand. So while works may not save you, not doing them can damn you and doing the wrong works can damn you.
    When I think back to Abraham, Abraham was faithful, but God still told Abraham to sacrifice his son, so Abraham went to do this, because he was faithful and yet we would have a hard time saying, if Abraham didn’t go, that he was faithful to God. This brings us to James…”faith without works is dead” and of Abraham, ‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.’ and “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,” Faith caused Abraham to act, and his action confirmed his faith. Thus to teach faith and action as two sides of the same coin that are both expected of a follower of Christ is the right thing to do. If we are baptized into Christ and yet sin, fulfill the works of the flesh (as Simon the sorcerer did), we are in jeopardy of damnation.
    We need to think of works as an extension of faith, not a separate entity in opposition.
    There is some truth in the coC positions and some in the Baptist positions and if we would all get off our doctrinal high horses we would realize we are all really on the same ground. I would have to argue that the coC high horse is often significantly higher than most other high horses and thus the climb down is uncomfortably harder to do.

  23. Dwight says:

    Charles, “There remains in many corners the need to try to hold believers accountable for bad acts by threat of damnation.”
    But isn’t this exactly what they apostles did to Simon, the sorcerer, when he even suggested that they sell the gift of the HS to him, that this thought would lead to sin and thus damnation?
    Yes, he was still a saint before and after the talk and threat, but the threat was real upon his actually fulfilling what he planned to do.
    We should find a solace in the concept that God doesn’t just condemn us upon our sinful thoughts (unfaithfulness) and inaction, but sinful thoughts (unfaithfulness) and action and we aren’t saved upon our Godly thoughts (faith) and inaction, but Godly thoughts (faith) and action.

  24. JohnF says:

    So it is that the Baptist has a step stool and the cofC has a ladder to get up on their “hobby horses?”

    Jay would seem to indicate that in his judgment, those who see faithfulness (expressed in certain behaviors / works / practices) as important as faith are in some danger of losing their salvation. Dwight’s comments should be read again.

    I still remember the last lesson from J.C. Bunn I heard (he was the first according to Carl Ketchersidside to encourage CK to speak), where he said regarding those who wanted to sing “Don’t fence Me In” that we are indeed fenced in by the love of God who has left us His word revealed in Jesus Christ and through His apostles. Some will see being “fenced in by the love of God and His word” as a prison; others will see the “fence of the Pharisees”; and yet others will see the fence as the protection for the flock. Sadly, some will wish to tear down the fence in a false desire for freedom, and others will deny that there is a fence at all.

  25. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    I still think that Christians have viewed “salvation” through a single lens or in a stove-piped fashion. In fact, there are different aspects of “salvation” The MEANS of our salvation is very different from the WAYS of our salvation, which is very different from the ENDS of our salvation.

    All too often the COC member is talking WAYS while the Baptist is thinking MEANS. Consequently, the two aren’t communicating.

    There is absolutely nothing we men and women can do with regard to the MEANS of our salvation. In the words of Rubel Shelly, we don’t “contribute one whit” to our salvation [the means]. We can’t. It’s 100% divine. Without grace and without Christ, all are lost and without any hope.

    The WAYS are very different. God makes requirements of men and women when it comes to salvation. He demands something. That’s okay. Our compliance with those requirements [WAYS] do not, and cannot, constitute merit. Neither faith nor repentance nor faithfulness can count as meritorious effort. Why not? Because of sin. Sin makes us broken eikons. No amount of human effort can atone for a single sin; we needs Christ and Grace, which are the MEANS.

    Somehow, we have confused WAYS and MEANS and/or conflated the two. Many view compliance with WAYS as work, which demands compensation. Others are so focused on the WAYS that they have neglected the MEANS.

    I don’t think we have much disagreement over the ENDS of salvation.

  26. dwight says:

    Jesus is the loving shepherd, so while no fence, we are guided by a leader who has a rod, both for keeping the wolves a bay, but also for tapping the flock when they seek their own path that is dangerous. Usually the wolves were kept at bay with a sling.
    Kevin, there must be a ways and means committee that can bring us together somewhere.
    John F, yes, to totally dismiss works as if in opposition to works is as bad as to arguing that works save apart from faith or faith saves apart from works. It is strange that the coC and Baptist biggest disagreement is on the point of being saved, but they agree mostly past that point in regards to faith and works (obedience).
    I totally buy into the fact that Adam and Eve weren’t condemned in the garden, before they acted upon their lust and then they were, so why shouldn’t this work in regards to faith and works. It seems to when we see people like Abraham and others that were told to do things to prove their faith. My favorite self-quote, “It is not enough to care, we must care enough to….” we can place faith in place of care in this.

  27. JohnF says:

    J.C. Bunn was referencing the Andrews sisters who famously sang “Don’t Fence Me In”.

    Dwight: “It is not enough to care, we must care enough to….” we can place faith in place of care in this.” Sooooo.. . . substitute “faith” and you have .. . . “It is not enough to have faith, we must have faith enough to….” and here is where the “rub” begins — how is faith appropriately, Biblically expressed in our communal life? Is it just Micah 6:8, or James 1:27? How is apostolic authority and example to be honored? Is there no place in the life of the community for Phil 4:9 or 2Thess 3:6?

  28. Larry Cheek says:

    Dwight,
    You have made a statement here which I have not seen as being consistent with the message to Simon.
    “But isn’t this exactly what they apostles did to Simon, the sorcerer, when he even suggested that they sell the gift of the HS to him, that this thought would lead to sin and thus damnation?
    Yes, he was still a saint before and after the talk and threat, but the threat was real upon his actually fulfilling what he planned to do.”

    Reading the text even from multiple translations and I get the same impression.

    Act 8:18-24 ESV Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, (19) saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (20) But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! (21) You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. (22) Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. (23) For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” (24) And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

    Peter, states specifically that Simon’s, “heart is not right before God”. That the, “intent of your heart”, is “wickedness” which is in need of “repentance”. You have conveyed the concept that, ” the threat was real upon his actually fulfilling what he planned to do.” Which is not within the context and can not be placed within the boundary of, ” not guilty until the act was done”. The act could not have been completed without The Apostles involvement, they would have been a participant in the same “wickedness, sin”. Therefore, the lack of completion is not a wavier of the sin which the say he had already committed. Yes, he was restored from the state in which this wickedness had placed him, by his accepting the fact that he had fallen into (wickedness, and was in ” the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity”). He was evidently restored from this by his communication with the Apostles and God. But, to imply that he had not fallen because he did not actually complete the transaction is not within the context.

  29. Larry Cheek says:

    I intended to also bring out the point that we are also held accountable for the intentions in our heart, whether an act is committed or not. Now, for the really hard question. Could we lose our salvation because of the intention of our heart? What would Simon have been facing if he had not repented? Would he still have been saved if he had not repented?

  30. Dwight says:

    Larry, intent involves either action or in action, which is still an action. I also believe intent is a powerful motive and defines the action, but action also makes real the intent.The thing is that he just didn’t think about it, but he offered money to the apostles, his intent was plain to see and stated by Simon. He took it beyond a thought and actually placed it into action, despite the apostles not following through on it, as they shouldn’t have.
    My argument is based on what one thinks, versus placing it into action and intent is huge.
    But how many people do we know that have said, “I intended to do that” and did nothing, which shows the real heart.
    Should we ask for forgiveness, even in our thinking, yes, but only we know the things we are thinking.
    I John 2:16 “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” which I believe.
    but again Adam and Eve didn’t sin until they fulfilled these “lust”. God didn’t condemn them in their moment of thinking. I consider this a part of grace.

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