I was speaking to a preacher friend of mine today about this topic (salvation issues vs. opinionated issues), and he is very conservative/traditional. He speaks for a pretty large congregation (several hundred), and I know he had struggled with the same thing as far as proper discernment on these issues is concerned.
His bottom line is basically my bottom line. Either the church of Christ must back way off of its current stance of “marking/withdrawing of fellowship” and completely reevaluate, or we must be prepared to mark and divide over any and every little thing we disagree on. If not, why not? There really is no middle ground.
I have divided up the mainstream churches into categories based on different responses given to the below situation. I call the first group of mainstream brethren the “inconsistent brethren.”
I know most mainstream brethren have “marked” and “withdrawn fellowship” or at least won’t have any type of fellowship with churches of Christ who have introduced the mechanical instrument into worship. Here is the basic set up argument:
1. Worship must be done in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24).
2. Mechanical instruments are an addition that violates the manner of singing in worship.
3. Therefore, I cannot fellowship brethren who practice or condone mechanical instruments in worship.
Sounds like a simple, sound and decent argument (assuming mechanical instruments in worship are wrong).
Ok, so while the above might sound like a good argument and preach like a good argument, it has many flaws as far as consistency is concerned and the “inconsistent brethren” ignore it.
For example, there are mainstream brethren who believe, promote and practice praying directly to Jesus. There are mainstream brethren who condemn and preach against this practice. However, I know of brethren who believe it is wrong to pray to Jesus but will not mark or withdraw fellowship over this; yet they will mark and withdraw fellowship over mechanical instruments. This is why I call them the “inconsistent brethren.”
This is highly inconsistent because the basic set up argument would have to be the same:
1. Worship must be done in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24).
2. Praying to Jesus is a doctrine contrary to true worship that violates the manner of prayer.
3. Therefore, I cannot fellowship brethren who hold or practice a position that condones false ways to pray.
Sounds like a simple, sound and decent argument (by the way, this is just assuming praying to Jesus is wrong).
So how come most brethren do not withdraw fellowship over praying to Jesus? They cannot argue that it doesn’t changes the nature of worship, because it does! If they argue that it does matter, then why are they not withdrawing? This is inconsistent.
If they argue that it is not a matter of salvation, then I would ask on what basis (and how did one gauge and arrive at that conclusion?)
Wait, wait, wait! (I can hear some brethren chomping at the bit right about now). “You are assuming that we shouldn’t withdraw fellowship from brethren who pray to Jesus, but I do and I have!” Ah, yes, now we have moved on to the next set of brethren. I will call these the “infallible brethren.” These are the brethren that, when shown an inconsistency, reply back with that famous saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” In other words, they would quickly “strip” the above argument away by saying, “You are right, we do need to start withdrawing from those who pray to Jesus since we believe it is wrong.”
So, are these brethren right? Is this the answer? Hardly! I came up with a list of differences between mainstream brethren to show that this theory of “everyone who doesn’t agree with me on everything is wrong and must be withdrawn from” is almost comical (if it weren’t so sad). Here is my short list. (Literally, this is my short list. I am not trying to be funny or sarcastic.)
1. Multiple assembly groups instead of one assembly (cluster groups or two AM assemblies on Sunday)
2. Elder selection
3. Elder qualifications (one wife, faithful children, children inside or outside the home, etc.)
4. Elders authority
5. AD 70 Doctrine
6. Social Drinking
7. Gospel Singing groups outside the assembly
8. Praise teams inside the assembly (praise teams w/o women, praise teams wrong all together)
9. Gospel mechanical instrumental music outside assembly
10. Holy Spirit (how He dwells and works)
11. Handclapping in worship singing
12. Handclapping for speakers/preacher
13. Handclapping at baptisms
14. Children’s church
15. Lord’s Supper (should it be served more than once on Sunday? When it is served a 2nd time, can they leave the assembly and go to another room, etc.?)
16. Does the Hadean realm still exist or do we go to heaven or hell when we die?
17. Birth control/contraceptives
18. MDR (mental divorce, literal divorce, reason for divorce, Pauline Privilege, legal separation, etc.)
19. Fundraisers/giving/bake sales
20. Holidays (celebrate them at all? Celebrate them religiously in any way? etc.)
21. Women teaching young “Christian” boys in class
22. Women working outside of homes.
23. Homeschool only?
24. Women talking in Bible class.
25. Husband/wife team teaching to a mixed audience
26. Women writing articles for males to read online
27. Female interpreters (including sign language)
28. Versions of the Bible
30. Mixed Swimming (can you at all? Can you as long as you wear modest clothing? etc.)
31. What is modest dress?
32. Puppets/skits inside assembly (or VBS only)
33. Dramas (in assembly or VBS/special events only)
34. Elders overseeing works and congregations in other countries
35. Literal 6 day creation/theistic evolution
36. Grace views
41. Make up
42. Chewing Tobacco
43. Head coverings (not for today? for today but covering is hair? for today and literal covering must be used? etc.)
44. Gambling (bingo, raffles at schools, etc.)
46. Youth ministers (are they authorized, should it be parents/deacons, could a woman be paid to serve/lead other women? etc.)
47. Attendance (must I come all the time, Sunday AM only? etc. etc.)
48. Gospel accounts (are they part of NT doctrine or OT doctrine)
As I said before, this is my short list off the top of my head. If I researched this out (which I am planning on doing), I am confident I’d find hundreds, if not thousands, of beliefs and doctrines the so-called “united” mainstream brethren disagree on but still accept, tolerate and fellowship one another.
These brethren believe we have to withdraw on everything that they think is sin (by the way, I want to emphasis the fact that it is what “they think” is sin). If they are consistent, then they not only have to agree with me on 47 items listed above to be in fellowship, but they would have to agree with me on all 48. If there was just “one” thing we disagreed on, we couldn’t be in fellowship!
But, it goes even further than that with these infallible brethren. They say that it is not enough to just abstain from the practice … no, no, no … You must preach against it and agree with them.
So, let’s say mainstream brother A says, “Yeah, I have no problem right now with social drinking, but I have no desire for it, so I don’t.” The typical response from an infallible brother B would be, “What? You don’t believe someone is going to hell if they socially drink? I can’t fellowship with you until you tell me you believe social drinking is a sin. In fact, I am marking you as a heretic.”
Sadly, these are much more common scenarios than most would care to believe. So, it is not enough to be unified in what we do, we also have to be unified on every single doctrine.
Now, what is interesting about these “infallible brethren” is that they are the ones who throw out words like “matters of opinion” just as quickly as anybody else does. These are also the brethren that would say ignorance is never, ever covered by grace no matter what!
I would challenge anyone to go through the list above and put each subject in either “matter of opinion” or “matter of salvation” and then explain why that is the case. I would then ask a question: What if someone doesn’t have a position on one of the above doctrines? What if you have studied a position out and I haven’t even heard of it? What if I am ignorant at this time of a position? Has God’s grace covered me until this time on any given particular issue in which I have no cognitive belief?
If an infallible brother answers “yes,” then they have given up their own position that God’s grace never covers ignorant sin committed. If an infallible brother answers “no,” then they can never know they are saved nor could they ever be in fellowship with anyone until they know that person agrees with them on everything.
The common response to this by the “infallible brother” is something like this: “Well, you have to give people time to study of course. We must have patience. It will also depend on where they are at during their spiritual journey and how long they have become a Christian. We can only act upon what we know.” This tends to be the “cop out” answer.
However, this still doesn’t deal with the question. Let’s say you give someone time to study the issue out and have patience with them. Even then, the “infallible brethren” are at a standstill in their argument. First off, how long should you give them to study the issue out? What if one person believes they are having patience but another believes the time is up? Furthermore (and most importantly), I do not know of two single brothers who agree on every single one of the doctrines above.
I have worked with some of the strictest brethren. Even many of them, in honest discussion, reveal to me the same concerns I have. So, how then could the “infallible brethren” teach a doctrine that they themselves can’t even live? If the whole brotherhood the world over is supposed to be unified in the way the infallible brethren believe it is, then how come they can’t find even one more person who has figured out all of the right answers other than themselves? Honesty with one’s self shows this position to be false.
You then have another set of mainstream brethren: the “apathetic brethren.” These are the brethren that could care less about truth, and they only believe what they believe because it is what they have been taught. They are not concerned with consistency; they are not concerned with thinking through their arguments. In fact, they usually don’t even have an argument for what they believe in. They just simply “come to church” and go through the motions.
Right now, I haven’t posed a solution. I realize that. I have only shown what the solution is not. I plan on showing some possible solutions in our following correspondence. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.
You may enjoy this post from a very long time ago. It’s one my first few posts, from back in 2007.
If you want to really have fun with a class survey, ask the questions as True/False and then ask them to circle those questions that are salvation issues. The class will quickly find themselves very frustrated, having no idea how to decide.
By the way, you skipped the “I am God” group. This group decides which issues are salvation issues based on how obvious the answer is to them.
No one will declare X a salvation issue unless he is very sure of the answer. Over time, as his opinion becomes assuredness, the intellect of the preacher becomes the standard by which the world is saved or damned.
The more he studies, the more people become damned. When he is finally 100% convinced on a subject, what was once a matter of opinion becomes a matter of salvation, and thousands of souls shift positions between saved and lost, heaven and hell.
He becomes God.