Why Do You Ask Those Questions?
by Kenneth E. Thomas
When certain discussions begin on the various subjects, usually there is an end result that the writer or speaker has in view. When questions such as "Who Is My Brother?" And "Do You Understand All Truth; Have You Ever Been Mistaken?" "What (or Who) Is A False Teacher?" "With Whom Are We In Fellowship?" Are asked, they may be asked legitimately by one desiring to know the biblical answer to each, or they may be "a red herring" being dragged across the path to cause confusion leading to "broadening the borders of fellowship" and embracing the so called "Unity In Diversity" concept.
Unity in diversity when applied to matters of "the faith," is a total misnomer! When you have diversity in matters of "the faith," you no longer can claim to have "unity." One brother wrote years ago that claiming to have unity in diversity is about like having "fried snowballs." Often brethren confuse the various differences in understanding among us, or one's personal faith on a given matter, with matters of "the faith." Too, there is a vast difference between me fellowshipping one with whom I am not in complete harmony or agreement due to his lack of understanding on a given topic, but who is still studying, learning and growing and changing as he grows, and in supporting one who is advocating his erroneous understanding to the disruption of the unity and harmony in a congregation or in the brotherhood.
I can meet and work with brethren in a local congregation who hold views which I believe to be at odds with the Bible's teachings so long as they do not push such ideas to the disruption of the peace and harmony among us. Yes, even knowing that they are in error! I will, at every opportunity attempt to change such brethren's thinking and get them to embrace what the word of Christ teachers on those matters. If and when such brethren become contentious or begin to attempt to involve the congregation is unscriptural practices regarding the work, worship, or organization of the local congregation, then there will be a confrontation (Romans 16:17-18; Titus 3:10; 2 Timothy 4:1-6; Jude 3).
I have worked and worshipped with brethren whose understanding on a number of things, and mine, were different. In fact that may well be the case even now where I labor. I know of brethren who see nothing sinful with using mechanical instruments of music in worship. Are they in error? Yes, they are (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Peter 53:11; Hebrews 7:14).
As long as they hold that as a private matter and do not disrupt the peace and harmony among the membership where I work we will have no problem. I approach such subjects as the artificial covering, voting, serving in the military on the police force, length of hair on men and women, etc., the same way. I can work and worship in the same congregation with brethren who personally see nothing wrong in supporting from the local church treasury benevolent societies built and maintained by churches of Christ. So long as they do not make waves by attempting to get the local church where I work involved in said support, we can work and worship together indefinitely. As in other cases already mentioned, as opportunity avails itself, I will attempt to "show them the way of the Lord more perfectly." Are they wrong to hold such views? Yes they are, and if they do not learn better and repent beforehand, when they stand before Christ, I fear for their souls (2 Corinthians 5:10-11; Matthew 25:1-46; Romans 14:12; Revelation 20:12-15).
These same thoughts may be applied to so called "fellowship halls," "sponsoring elderships," "preacher training schools" separate and apart from the organization of the local congregation, etc., etc., etc.
I find no New Testament authority for any organization larger, smaller or other than the local congregation for collective church work (Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1-5; Philippians 1:1; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-21; Titus 1:5). What if someone who is a member of the congregation where I work believes some of these things are alright? How such an one conducts himself (as mentioned already), will determine how we get along and whether or not we can work together (Jude 23; Romans 15:1).
However, when brethren begin to cause doubt that we can possibly "be one as Christ and the Father are one...," as Christ prayed we should in (John 17:17-21), it bodes trouble in spiritual Israel. When brethren begin to change their interpretation of such passages as (1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 John 9-11; Ephesians 5:11), denying that these passages call for strict agreement in all matters of "the faith," and that such is actually not attainable, we are in for some rocky days ahead. When we hear some saying that a man who teaches a damnable doctrine which if believed and practiced will send the ones believing or practicing it to hell, but that we should still remain in fellowship with the author of said doctrine, brethren, we are in trouble!
If the idea becomes generally accepted that the only criteria for using the term "false teacher" to apply to a man is when he is devious, has an evil intent, or bad motives behind such false teaching, brethren "there is trouble in River City!" One would have to be able to read the heart or mind of the person under consideration to determine if such is indeed a "false teacher," a thing the apostle Paul said we are unable to accomplish in (1 Corinthians 2:11). Using this criteria, there are some denominational preachers who could not be labeled as "false teachers" because they are indeed honest and sincere in the error they are advocating. Some denominationalists are in fact more dedicated to, and make more sacrifices for the cause they have embraced believing it to be the Lord's will, than do some members of the body of Christ where actual biblical truth is concerned. The foregoing should never be the case but unfortunately it sometimes is.
Surely we all realize that there were folks in first century congregations of Christ's people who were still recognized as "saints" of Christ who held to unbiblical beliefs and or practices for a time. When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth he identified many moral as well as doctrinal problems. One case in point was such that Paul had already determined how he would deal with such a fellow because in reality he had broken fellowship with Christ. Paul instructed them to "deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his soul may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5). He was still a "brother" but a brother in error, not to be fellowshipped (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Isn't it amazing that Paul addressed these brethren as he did in (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)? I have dealt with brethren who used this fact in an attempt to "justify" not dealing with, but fellowshipping brethren in all kinds of moral and religious error. Wrong! The problems were identified by this apostle of Christ and they were called upon to deal with these matters. If not, Paul would come and exercise his apostolic authority and deal severely with those who failed to repent. He admonished the brethren to deal with those problems and evidently they did for in the second epistle, he told the congregation to "receive this man back into their fellowship who had been expelled by them lest he be overburdened.." (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Please read the last scripture citation.
We all know that "babes in Christ" are to be treated differently than are those who have had sufficient time to mature in the faith. We are therefore careful lest we discourage them. We nurture them and work with them, knowing that their grasp of the pure religion of Christ leaves much to be desired. Why? Because we do not arise from the waters of baptism as "full grown" Christians, but as babes whose knowledge and whose faith is still weak. The Hebrew writer suggest that this should not be so indefinitely of course (Hebrews 5:12-14). The Corinthian letter also suggests that the time should come when we "behave like men" not like "babies" any longer (1 Corinthians 16:13; 1 Corinthians 14:20).
Churches of Christ in Asia Minor still retained their "candlestick" or "lampstand" which was their identity as "belonging to Christ" (Revelation 1:20), even though there were some things of which they were guilty which needed immediate attention, and for which they must repent, or they would lose their identity (Revelation 2:5). If I remember correctly all but one of the seven congregations had sins needing immediate attention and of which they must repent. Still, for a time, they still belonged to Christ. This is used sometimes by the "unity in diversity" crowd, along with Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in an attempt to accept indefinitely, brethren who are involved in error and are advocating the same. That isn't the proper usage to be made of these facts. If they did not correct their problems, their identity would be withdrawn by the Lord. The word "repent or else" was often evoked by the angel of the Lord.
Brethren, today we should not accept those whom Christ rejects! To do so is to jeopardize their souls as well as our own (2 John 9-11; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:11). Just as Corinth was admonished to do, we must "purge out the old leaven" that will surely affect not only the one or ones involved in sin and error, but the entire body of saints where such is left unattended (Romans 16:16-18; Galatians 1:6-11; Titus 3:10). We should be just as "broad minded" as we are able and still maintain the truth of Christ. We also must be just as "narrow" as is His word, and not accept those in error for prolonged periods of time, but only that which is reasonable, with a view to their restoration (Revelation 2:5; 2:14-16; 2:20-22; 3:2; 3:14-19; Galatians 6:1-4; James 5:19-20).
Brethren, rather than "biting and devouring and consuming one another," (Galatians 5:15), let us be patient with those who are honestly desiring to know and to do the right thing, but let us not be so broad minded that we fellowship error to our own detriment as well as to that of the object of our desired fellowship. To accept one whom the Lord rejects does us harm as well as the one whom we accept. Why? He will never repent so long as he can get acceptance of the brethren. However, in exercising patience, may we not go to the other extreme and fellowship the unfruitful works of darkness be it in moral or doctrinal matters. To do so is detrimental to all concerned.
One thing is for sure and for certain, only such as are "walking in the light" of divine revelation are in fellowship with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and all others who are likewise "walking in the light" (1 John 1:1-10). To claim fellowship with Christ and His people, the church, while disregarding His revealed will is the height of absurdity. Believing and obeying the truth is what brings one into the fellowship known as the church or kingdom of Christ (John 8:31-32; 1 Peter 1:22-25; Acts 2:22- 38, 40-41, 47; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-6; Galatians 3:26-29; Colossians 1:13-14). Walking in truth is what maintains said fellowship (3 John 4; 1 John 1:6-7; Matthew 7:13-29).
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