Hank has a knack for asking worthwhile questions — questions that I’m sure other readers are also asking. To make sure his questions and my responses are seen by all the readers, I post my responses here.
I guess it was because although I believe that we ought to “contend for the faith once delivered,” at the same time, I admit that to do so is not as easy as so many pretend that it is.
In other words, while I believe that there is a line somewhere wherein a person will be lost because of what he believes, teaches, and/or practices…only God knows precisely where said line is. My point is that we need to do our best to make sure we don’t cross it. (Because it CAN in fact be crossed). I do not pretend to have the answers regarding where the line exactly is drawn. (As so many of our conservative brethren pretend like they know).
I believe that we are expected to do our best to believe and practice and teach the “truth” to the best of our ability and that ultimately…God will judge.
Does that make sense bro?
Absolutely. I would only note two quibbles.
First, “faith” means faith, not a system of doctrines and inferences.
(Jude 1:3) Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
Jude is speaking of the faith that saves, not acts or worship or the role of women, as those are teachings but not “faith.” Compare v. 4 —
(Jude 1:4) For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
To “contend for the faith” is the opposite of to “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
Therefore, when we dispute over how to correctly worship, we are not disputing about faith and so we are not disputing about a salvation issue.
Second, I agree that we can’t precisely define the line where someone passes from saved to loved in practice. I think God gives us very thorough guidance in theory. It’s when someone denies that Jesus Christ is our only Sovereign and Lord — that is, we deny Jesus as Messiah or as Lord — that is, we deny the faith or rebel against the Lordship of Jesus.
But I can’t perfectly see your heart. You may be pretending to be a Christian but actually in deep rebellion. You may be caught in a sin that threatens to destroy you but yet struggling mightily against it out of love for Jesus.
Just so, when someone comes to me seeking baptism, I can ask about her faith and penitence, but I can’t know for certain what her heart really is. Therefore, in either case, we decline to make judgments that are outside our abilities.
But while I must be reluctant to judge my brother or sister as damned, I can often tell when he is in spiritual trouble. I can see signs of spiritual warfare — and when that happens, I need to do what I can to help. I can’t presume he is damned and beyond our reach nor can I presume that he can make it on his own. I need to reach out and help however I can.
My question is coming from a practicality standpoint. You see, if and when people have differing convictions pertaining to whether or not a certain role for a woman is sinful…how can it be played out in a harmonius way? Suppose (for argument sake), that it is in fact sinful for a woman to lead the “openning prayer” on Sunday morning. Although the offender may in fact be forgiven of such (as well as those who allowed her to lead it) — what about the others who are convinced that the entire situation is against the will of God and therefore an act of sin (however “honest” it may be on the part of the offenders)? Would they not be compelled to at least remove themselves from situation (perhaps only after attempting to show where and why they believe it is sinful)? Or, do you suggest that those who believe the practice is against the will of God simply “take part” and/or “go along with” the (in their minds) sinful act for the sake of “unity”? And if so, where would the line be (if at all)? Suppose a new member wants to pray to dead saints? At what point do you believe one should feel obligated to oppose and try to stop whatever it is they believe to be sinful?
This is really important. Yes, we certainly shouldn’t participate in anything we consider sin. That would be sin — obviously.
However, sitting next to someone in church does not condone that person’s sin. Attending service with a sinner merely recognizes that God saves sinners. We’re all sinners.
For example, if the elders of the church bring in a piano for worship, someone who considers worship with an instrument sinful cannot worship in that service. But if the elders offer both an instrumental and a non-instrumental service, that person can participate in the non-instrumental service and not sin by “condoning” the elders’ decision to use instruments in a different service.
There is simply no scriptural basis for arguing that we condone someone’s sin by being a part of his congregation, worshiping with him, or being overseen by the sinning elder. It’s just not true. Indeed, if that were true, who could be in church with us, worship with us, or be our elders? Perfect people only? Only people that we agree with us on every point of doctrine?
Indeed, the notion of “condoning” sin by worshiping with someone makes us all de facto elders. The scriptures charge the elders with making doctrinal decisions (Titus 1:9). And yet if I must leave every time I disagree with a decision the elders make, then they aren’t my elders because I can’t submit to their authority. I’m my own elder. I become an autonomous individual judging everyone else, which profounding undercuts the authority and duties of the elders.
My wife grew up in a small church in mission area. In a good year, it had 35 members. One time many years ago, we visited and noticed that their numbers had doubled! When we asked how they did it, well, it turns out that the nearest congregation — 45 miles away — had split because the elders had allowed a couple to place membership even though they had been divorced and remarried. The preacher led an exodus of half the congregation, splitting the church, because he disagreed with the men charged by God with overseeing him. They were meeting 45 miles from home until they could arrange for their own space. A church of, say, 75 had split in two.
Of course, had the elders not allowed that couple to place membership, the other half of the congregation would have left!
It’s simply contrary to all reason and the plain text of the scriptures to suppose that God charges me with sin for every decision the elders make I disagree with. No, the elders answer for their own mistakes — and the church must not try to overrule the elders by threatening to leave everytime they disagree with a decision. That’s a recipe for anarchy and, indeed, rebellion against the elders.
I’m not saying there are no circumstances that justify leaving a church — just that leaving to avoid condoning the elders’ decision is very wrong. You don’t condone their decision by staying, and therefore you can’t leave to avoid condoning their decision.
Rather, this is what the Bible actually says,
(1 Cor 3:16-17) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
Each “you” is plural. Paul is writing in the context of division within a congregation. He promises destruction to those who destroy a congregation.
Again, of course, you can’t actually participate in anything you consider sinful and be free from sin. It doesn’t work like that. But neither do you have to agree with every doctrinal position of the elders or the Bible class teachers or the preacher.
Please clarify what you mean in suggesting one should lovingly “oppose the view”? BTW, I ask this because the scenario is very real and I want to do what is right. I want to “show mercy” (knowing how much I require myself) but at the same time, I don’t want to “go along with” people who are teaching as true what I believe to be in direct conflict with the scriptures. Especially when the untrue teaching, IMHO, makes God to appear unjust.
It’s very hard to answer this one in the abstract. Love is a practical virtue. What it requires depends very much on the particular situation.
In the example I gave above, those who disagreed with the elders’ decision should certainly have met with the elders and expressed their views. They should have studied and prayed with the elders — with an open mind, prepared to be instructed by the elders.
In the case of the preacher, he should not have led a rebellion against the congregation’s leadership. If he couldn’t in good conscience support the elders, he should have resigned and gone elsewhere. Ministers have to be loyal to their elderships, and if they can’t, they should quietly leave. But long before they leave, they should study the scriptures with the elders and try to reach common ground. Our system is that the ministers are overseen by the elders.
As a rule, the elders get to decide what is taught in their congregation. I’m well aware that some elderships make foolish, ungodly decisions, but so do preachers and church members. The system I read about in the New Testament gives the elders final say. It’s not a perfect system, but that’s because it’s run by imperfect men. But what other choice is there?
Let me toss in one more thought. Elders should not develop the mindset that they are the oracles of God. They should be humble enough to listen to others and so be open to persuasion. Elders should be in conversation with each other, the minister, their classes, and the rest of the church regarding God’s will. Some try to carry the burden of deciding doctrine all by themselves, which is to presume that God only gives wisdom and discernment to an elder, which is just not true.
And the elders should be willing to talk to other churches, to thought-leaders within the Churches, and keep up with the literature — not just Church of Christ literature. They must always be learning about God’s word. To act otherwise would be sheer presumption. And, sadly, we have a lot of presumptious elders.
I don’t think I’ve by any means exhausted the topic, but hopefully this clarifies what I said somewhat.