Church Plants: So You Want to Start a Church? Part 9.2

I need to make another point or two regarding the comment quoted in the last post —

I have no desire to come under Baptist, Methodist, or any other “ist” teachings. We may all agree by faith that Jesus is the Messiah and for that reason I feel like we have more in common than what separates us but there are still some huge hurdles to fellowshipping that I’m not willing to jump over (I see it as a compromise of truth) and neither would they to meet me.

There is this idea common in contemporary Church of Christ thought that accepting someone who disagrees with me on a point of doctrine “compromises” the truth. In fact, the Bible teaches quite the opposite. It teaches grace, even for most doctrinal errors.

First, let’s notice how very inconsistent we are in the application of this standard. You see, there some doctrinal disagreements where traditionally minded Churches of Christ tolerate disagreements just fine, and some where they don’t.

The congregation where I grew up allowed disagreement over the indwelling of the Spirit. Some argued for the Guy N. Woods view — the Spirit indwells representatively through the word of God. Others argued for the H. Leo Boles view — all Christians receive a certain “ordinary” measure of the Spirit that doesn’t do miracles but nonetheless is a personal indwelling.

We drew no fellowship lines over the issue. Nowadays, some preachers will damn those who disagree over that issue. What changed?

Just so, in every Bible class I’ve ever been a member of, there was disagreement over whether an elder must have two children. No one was disfellowshipped or removed from serving communion over that controversy.

The list could go on. It varies from place to place, but no church, preacher, or eldership truly insists on agreement on every single doctrine. Not one.

Thus, the real question isn’t whether to fellowship error. We all fellowship error! All of us. We just disagree about which error we can fellowship. No, the real question is how to decide which error damns and which error does not. And the Churches of Christ have been remarkably silent on the question.

Indeed, you can ask any conservative editor or preacher how to draw the line, and you’ll be met with obstruction and evasion, because traditional Church of Christ theology is utterly silent on the question.

Indeed, I have a DVD of a debate held a few years ago at Freed-Hardeman University over whether instrumental music is a test of fellowship. In the presentation, both sides failed to address the question of how to tell what is and isn’t a test of fellowship! But in the question and answer session, an audience member raised the question.

The advocate arguing that instrumental music damns announced that, in preparation for the debate, he’d read through the entire New Testament looking for the answer to that very question, and he couldn’t find it! And yet he plainly declared those in error (as he saw it) damned. Based on what?

You see, the answer is so easy and obvious that we miss it — mainly because we don’t like it. Here it is —

To be saved, you must hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.

To be no longer saved, you must reject that which saved you.

The gate that lets you in is the gate by which you leave. The line we cross when we are saved is the line we must cross back over to no longer be saved.

You really can’t un-hear or un-be baptized. But you can certainly lose your faith in Jesus as Son of the Living God. And you can surrender your repentance by living in conscious rebellion to God.

That’s pretty much it. A fifth grader can understand this. And it’s what the Bible says —

(1Jo 4:2-3 ESV) 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

(Heb 10:26-27 ESV) 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

Therefore, will God permit me to fellowship a Methodist who teaches apostolic succession (bishops must be appointed by other bishops, whose line traces back to the apostles). Well, I think that’s error. But can someone believe that Jesus is the Son of the Living God and be deeply committed to obedience to God’s word while holding to apostolic succession? Of course. And so, yes, not only will God permit me to fellowship such a person, he insists on it.

But he sins by teaching error! Yes, and the guy next to me in Bible class who disagrees with me about how many children an elder must have is in error, too. Must I treat him as damned?

Does it depend on how “plain” the error is? Well, you know that “plain” is in the eye of the beholder. If you make the question one of plainness, you must answer: plain to whom? To me? To you? Your preacher? The preacher in the church where you grew up? Do you see how subjective that is? How it turns us into little popes making rules and damning as our opinions change?

I once thought it was sin for a woman to be in the assembly with no hat. Those without hats were damned! When I changed my mind, a whole bunch of women were saved! Saved by the power of the grace I extended to them, as though I were God Almighty! This is a VERY dangerous way to think, you know.

Here’s another way to look at it. I think it’s a little better. The word “faith” [Greek: pistis] has three meanings as applied to faith in Jesus.

* First, “faith” refers to faith that Jesus really is Lord and the Son of God. It’s the acceptance of a fact as true. This is the Reformation meaning, for the most part. (It’s how James uses “faith” in his epistle.) It’s true but incomplete.

* Second, “faith” refers to loyalty. Indeed, the very same Greek word is often translated “faithfulness.” Thus, I don’t really have faith in Jesus unless I’m faithful to him. (That’s the point James was making.)

(Rom 3:3 ESV) What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness [pistis] of God?

(Gal 5:22 ESV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis],

“Faithful,” as applied to mortals, does not mean perfectly faithful. The test is not sinlessness. Nor is it having perfect theological knowledge (who would dare make such a claim?) It’s about the state of the heart.

* Third, “faith” refers to trust. If I don’t believe Jesus’ promises, I’m not faithful to him and I don’t have faith in him.

(Luk 8:24-25 ESV)  24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.  25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

(Rom 4:9 ESV) Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.

Paul says in Romans 4:9 that we’re saved by faith in the same way Abraham was, and the faith that brought him grace was most obviously trust in God’s promises.

(Gen 15:5-6 ESV)  5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Indeed, in modern language, if I were to say, “I have faith in my son,” I’d not be saying that I believe he exists or is my son. I’d be saying that I trust him.

If I were to say, “My son broke faith with me,” I’d be accusing him of being disobedient — unfaithful.

All these meanings are in the Greek word — and obviously so. And so, if we’re saved by faith (as the New Testament says in nearly every opening), then we’re saved if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord (faith in the James sense), if we submit to him as Lord (faithful), and if we believe his promises (trust).

Obviously enough, there are many contexts in which only one of the three meanings is primarily in mind. But when the Scriptures speak of being saved “by faith,” all three meanings should be understood.

That being the case, how does one fall away? Well, by not having faith. How does that happen?

* By no longer believing that Jesus is the Son of God (not the same as merely having doubts!)

* By no longer being faithful, that is, by being in rebellion.

* By no longer trusting God’s promises, such as by denying the afterlife or God’s ability to save by faith. This is why the Scriptures sometimes treat as lost the legalists who insisted that faith is not enough, adding circumcision, holy days, etc. to faith. They denied the sufficiency of faith — thereby refusing to trust the plain promises of God and placing barriers in the way of those who wish to come to Jesus.

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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