On The Horizon - Part 3
On The Horizon 3
During the debate over Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, some were arguing that Romans chapter 14 gives us permission to remain in fellowship with those who are advocating doctrinal errors. It has been pointed out that Romans chapter 14 is dealing with matters of opinion (14:1), practices such as eating meat or not eating meat, either of which are acceptable to God (14:3-4; 1 Corinthians 8:8), matters of moral neutrality of which either side is in harmony with God’s will (Romans 14:6), practices which are called "a good thing"(14:16), and "clean" (14:20), things we can practice and believe with a clear conscience (14:22). To argue that this chapter or the principles in this chapter can also be applied to issues of good and evil and right and wrong, we then must be forced to conclude that: 1. God accepts people while they are in the midst of sinful practices, God accepts you before you repent, and that repentance isn’t a condition for salvation. 2. As long as you are doing something "for the Lord", it doesn’t matter if it is good or evil (14:6). 3. Christians can’t rebuke anyone in sin or oppose any error (14:10). 4. There really isn’t anything such thing as "evil" (14:14). Something only becomes evil when we think it is evil. 5. You can do anything you want as long as your conscience doesn’t bother you.
- At the time many preachers warned that opening up Romans 14 to including one doctrinal error would lead to people wanting to have this chapter cover all sorts of false teachings. Such has already happened: In the book Who Is My Brother? The writer wants to throw the following issues into the category of nonessential matters: Paying taxes, whether the days of Creation were literal 24-hour days, whether the Flood of Noah’s day was local or global, whether one is a premillennialist, and the nature of hell. "Will eternal punishment of hell be continuous conscious burning, or will the second death of hell be something else?" (p. 139) (He believes that the wicked will not suffer eternal, conscious punishment in hell) (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 20:10; Luke 16:24). Other topics that he includes are "origins" (Creation/Evolution?), and instrumental music in worship.
- Recently I received a list of so-called gray areas, i.e., matters that the writer felt were not clear as to whether they are sinful or not.Points To Note: 1. Romans chapter 14 isn’t dealing with gray areas (this practice may be sinful or not sinful, we will just have to wait until judgment day to find out, but of course by then it will be too late for the person who was wrong). Romans chapter 14 is dealing with practices, both of which are pure and innocent. 2. The problem in wanting to throw all sorts of things in the category of "gray", is that such automatically undermines any confidence we can have in our own salvation. Such also accuses God of not giving us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We would have to conclude that the Bible is an insufficient guide, because there are a number of things which are evil, which it can’t help us identify (Hebrews 5:14). 3. Another problem is that people typically end up throwing good things into the gray area category. For example, the above writer tossed "paying taxes" into something which brethren have argued over, yet Jesus was very clear on the subject (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:7). I also find that innocent people end up being labeled as sinners, and sinners end up being exonerated (Isaiah 5:20 "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil"). When you see or hear of a number things which people call "gray areas", carefully note what they are grouping together and what they are considering equal. For example, on the list I have, are such things as smoking, going to an X-rated movie, and fellowshipping someone who God doesn’t fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:1ff), but on the same list are such things as if a preacher makes an inadvertent mistake in his scriptural lesson, was it a sin? Or, is it wrong to take out a loan? Are these things really equal? 4. When we start throwing things into gray areas, we reach the point that we can’t seem to stand up for anything or oppose anything that is wrong. People seem to lose their ability to think critically when such a gray area is so convenient. In addition, gray areas will reduce us to becoming very lazy in our studies. For example, listen to the following things that one writer considered as being unclear as to whether they were right or wrong: "Was Jesus just a man while on earth?" (John 5:18; 14:8-9). "Did Christ actually and literally come in AD 70?" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). "Did Paul’s teaching contradict Jesus’ teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage"? Is someone says "yes" to this question, then they are saying that either Jesus or Paul wasn’t inspired of God, that the Bible contradicts itself, and that the Bible is completely unreliable. Of course the answer is "no" (1 Corinthians 14:37). "Is capital punishment according to God’s will?" (Romans 13:-4).
- Take a look at your local denomination, and you will see the effects of wanting to throw everything into a gray area. James Montgomery Boice bemoans what he sees happening in the denominational world, when he writes, "Our age is being described as postmodernity, a time in history when truth is regarded in the Hegelian sense, that is, that something may be true for you or me or for now, but it does not have any binding validity for others for all times. Since there are no absolutes, there is nothing we can call false. To call something false is an inexcusable power play. All ways of life must be equally valid and the only thing that is absolutely wrong is to say that the path taken by someone else is wrong. It is inexcusable to hate it (Psalm 119:104). The time is probably coming when Christians holding to absolute standards will be considered criminals" (Psalms 107-150, p. 1037).
- When I listened to some of the things that people consider gray areas, I was appalled at the lack of Bible knowledge. Listen to these questions: "Does sexual union result in automatic marriage?" (If this is true how could anyone be guilty of fornication? 1 Corinthians 7:1-2). "What does it mean to ‘walk in the light’?" (1 John 1:5-10). "Does a preacher sin if he marries someone who has been married before?" "Is committing adultery in the heart as sinful as actually doing it?" (Matthew 5:28) "Lying is certainly can be a sin (?) But is lying always a sin?" (Revelation 21:8) "Can a white Christian marry a black Christian and vice versa?" Brethren should be ashamed for even thinking that God would view such as sinful. "How many words must compose a prayer?" "How much greed, jealousy and envy is allowable before they become sinful?" Shouldn’t such a question be an insult to anyone who loves God? (Romans 12:9)."How much prejudice can we have and still walk in the light?" In view of such questions, no wonder some congregations aren’t making any impact upon the world.
- Another problem with such gray area lists is that everyone starts to develop their own list. People complain about drawing lines of fellowship over doctrinal matters—but everybody eventually does draw a line of fellowship. And if it isn’t over Biblical doctrine, then it will probably be over some opinion.
When we try to stand for the truth, we are often accused of being "hard", "uncaring", "unloving", "doctrinally-sound but unspiritual", and so on. But Smith is honest enough to admit that, "Liberals may be more subtle in their divisiveness, but they can be no less exclusivistic and judgmental in their own sophisticated way" (pp. 152-153). Which means that we are basically only given two options. We can either hold to the Scriptures faithfully and exercise God’s level of tolerance and intolerance, His level of criticism, judgment, condemnation, and rebuke (Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:2). Or, we can exercise man-made and man-determined tolerance and intolerance. Even liberals who pride themselves on tolerance and unity are very intolerant of those who disagree with their philosophy. One writer noted, "We must never lose sight of the fact that liberals claim a right for themselves which they never wish to grant to others. Once liberals have taken over a school, or a congregation, have you ever heard of them inviting someone to teach or to speak from a conservative view…After liberals are in control, the conservatives are then regarded as troublemakers and fanatics. They have no right to be heard. These pleas for tolerance are made only in behalf of those who want to change the church, and who would like to do so without facing opposition and exposure of their errors" (The Spiritual Sword, April 1994, p. 2).
No Direct Impact?
Concerning the marriage question, some have argued that congregations can accept into their membership people who may be in adulterous relationships, for such only affects the individuals in that marriage and not the entire congregation. I was amazed when Smith argued that such doctrines as Premillennialism has no direct impact on the church (p. 142). Such is a strange statement, seeing the Premillennialism says that the church is not part of God’s eternal purpose and was a last minute idea (Ephesians 3:10-11). It is noteworthy that the one example we have of a specific case of church discipline is in reference to an unspiritual relationship between a man and a woman (1 Corinthians 5:1ff). If an incestuous relationship can contaminate the entire congregation (5:6), then certainly an adulterous relationship can do the same. In fact, we are specifically commanded not to associate with any brother who is an immoral person (5:11).
People can come up with some complicated and fancy arguments to justify those who aren’t following the word of God (Romans 16:18).But in such cases, always remember the clear teachings found in the Bible, many of which came directly from the lips of Jesus. 1. Some say that there will be some surprises at the Judgment, that is, they mean that God will end up saving people who were teaching error. Read Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus told us there will be surprises, but in the opposite direction! 2. Some say that God will save those who ignore the details in various commands. But, I can’t but help thinking about a sacrificial, but disobedient King Saul; and David and Uzzah, who thought they had a better idea about how to carry the ark of God; and Naaman, who initially scoffed at the idea that there was any need to baptize himself seven times in the Jordan. Naaman, in particular, could teach us an invaluable lesson about the benefit of observing God’s "technicalities". Even in the New Testament, what could be more of a technicality than the fact that the men in Acts chapter 19 had not been baptized into the right name? "Whoever came up with this line was dead right: God is in the details" (Smith p. 252). 3. Others argue, "You mean that God is going to condemn a God-fearing person, who served God faithfully, except for the fact that they partook of the Lord’s Supper once a month, instead of once a week?" Brethren, is this example real or fictional? Is someone in a denominational wrong about only one detail?
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/(503)644-9017