BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES OF UNITY AND FELLOWSHIP
by: Joe R. Price
PROPOSED QUALIFICATION #2: CLARITY
Now, for another reason being offered to justify this
unscriptural view of fellowship:
The second principle qualifying our fellowship deals with the issue of clarity. Certainly there are some issues that are clearly and unequivocally condemned in scripture and which demand disfellowshipping. And there are other issues that are not so clear. Who would deny this?
Everything which pertains to life and
godliness is available to us and to all through the knowledge of Him who
called us (2 Pet. 1:3). Therefore, sufficient clarity exists in Gods word for
us to understand everything that pertains to life and godliness, believe it and obey it in
our lives. This is what we have consistently believed and taught in regard to the clarity
of the word of God (Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 1:22-25).
Yes, some parts of Gods word are hard to
understand (2 Pet. 3:16). They challenge our faith as we study, learn and grow in
our knowledge of Gods word (2 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 5:11-6:3).
The brethren who are calling for this clear and not so clear qualification are obligated to show us how we should determine this matter of clarity. What I mean is this: What about the use of instrumental music in worship? Is this subject clear or not so clear? How does one decide: Common sense? Individual versus collective action? Can we agree to disagree over it? If so, where does the Bible teach us that we can? And if not, why not?
What about the work of the local church? Is this subject clear or not so clear? How does one decide: Common sense? Individual versus collective action? Can we agree to disagree over it? If so, where does the Bible teach us that we can? And if not, why not?
What about polygamy? Is this subject clear or not so clear? How does one decide: Common sense? Individual versus collective action? Can we agree to disagree over it? If so, where does the Bible teach us that we can? And if not, why not?
For every subject someone declares to be clear it can be demonstrated that someone, somewhere thinks it is not so clear. Are the brethren calling for us to apply this qualification to be charged with arrogance and a lack of humility because they deem some parts of the Scriptures to be clear? Their appeal lacks consistency, not to mention the authoritative approval of a thus saith the Lord.
Religious and Moral Relativism
This sort of reasoning is the basis of religious and moral relativism. It is values clarification in a Biblical context. You decide for yourself what is clear and what is not so clear. You decide if a person is honest, very knowledgeable and sincere. And by all means, remember humility. Never, ever have a faith that comes to absolute certainty. That is the most arrogant stance of all - to actually think a person can know, with certainty, the truth of God! (contrast Jesus, Jno. 8:31-32 and Paul, Eph. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:3-4)
Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, Because I keep Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, That I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, For You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste. Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding, Therefore I hate every false way. (Psa. 119:97-104)
What an arrogant fellow! He had to audacity to think he actually knew the commandments of God and that he was not wrong, because it was Gods word He knew and relied upon! What a sad, sad man.
Such sarcasm exposes the attitude of the religious relativist toward those who rely solely upon the revealed word of God. Shall this be the way those who promote unity in doctrinal diversity perceive their brethren who appeal for unity based upon the common standard of understandable, unchanging, definitive truth? What is their reaction to what the psalmist said in Psalms 119:97-104?
But, the reply is offered,
I thank the Lord that I am saved by grace and not by my perfect knowledge, else I would be living in grave uncertainty, knowing how difficult some of these issues are.
Please brethren, produce even one quotation by a gospel preacher (who disavows unity in doctrinal diversity) which states that we are saved by perfect knowledge. Otherwise, please give up this repeated misrepresentation. It reminds me of the Baptist who, even after being told over and over that we are not water salvationists, continues to charge us with such. Grace and Bible understanding are not opponents. (Titus 2:11-15)
Does Christs Teaching on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage Lack Clarity?
Brethren are becoming convinced that some Bible topics
lack the clarity to allow us to form definitive conclusions based upon Bible study
(compare such thinking with 2 Timothy 2:15 and 4:2). The case is set forth in this manner:
And the same can be applied to the issue of MDR. Adultery is clearly condemned. But it is not always clear as to what is adultery. Good arguments can be made on both sides. I think that Paul was very clear on the issue in 1 Cor 7. I dont understand how anyone can miss it. But I also know that honest, very knowledgeable Christians who have better minds than mine hold an opposite position. And their arguments are not without merit.
If one is unsure about what constitutes adultery, it is not the word of God that is the culprit. This much we know: We can understand Gods word on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage, and that includes the definition of adultery. ...unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. (1 Cor. 14:9) Did the Holy Spirit, who put these words into the mouth of the apostle, follow His own instruction? Or did the Spirit of God guide the apostles into not always clear truth when it came to divorce and remarriage? This matter drives to the heart of how one views the understandable nature of the word of God. (cf. Jno. 16:13; Eph. 3:3-5; 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:16-18; 2 John 9)
Some of the arguments set forth regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7:15) are wrong. They cannot all be right (regardless of the honesty, knowledge and quality of minds involved in their development and presentation). Can we preach the word of God on the subject of divorce and remarriage with clarity, certainty and conviction? Yes, we can and we must (2 Tim. 4:2).
Living Apostles, or a Living Word?
Are the apostles able to teach us Gods will on
divorce and remarriage today?
If Paul were here to tell me which position was correct then it would be simple, but since he is not, then I must leave some room for being wrong.
Some do not really believe that the apostles can teach us today through their written words. Please study 1 Corinthians 14:37 again: If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. Could the apostles teaching only be understood when they were personally present? In light of 1 Corinthians 14:37, the above statement casts doubt upon our ability to know the commandments of the Lord (since what Paul wrote is just that). Do brethren really mean to be teaching such a thing?
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess. 2:15) We can stand fast in the written word of the apostles. But, if we cannot adequately understand the written word, we cannot obey this commandment.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb. 4:12) The doctrine of unclear revelation which leaves room for being wrong about divine truth (which affects our salvation and fellowship with God) offers man a butter knife instead of a sharpened sword. A butter knife will not extract sin from ones heart and life! Gods word is able to eradicate sin and replace it with righteousness, even though the inspired men who first proclaimed it are now dead (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 1:22-25). It is their inspired word which lives and is powerful. This clarity doctrine makes Gods word unsuitable for correcting sin and serving righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18).
An emotionally-charged appeal is made to accept this line of human reasoning: That is, I must be humble enough to admit that I may be wrong and others may be right.
Yes, I may be wrong and others may be right. That has certainly been true in the past. But of one thing I am absolutely certain: The word of God is always right (Psa. 119:128). And, since Gods word says we can and must understand what the will of the Lord is, our faith rests in a word from God which we can know and trust in everything that pertains to our souls salvation (Eph. 5:17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). Remember, humility causes us to consent to the sound words of Christ (1 Tim. 6:3-4). It is not arrogant to trust in the living word of God (Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:22-25).
PROPOSED QUALIFICATION #3:
DETERMINE WHETHER ONE IS LIVING BY FAITH
We should first remember that none of these three qualifications are given in the New Testament as ways to establish and maintain unity in doctrinal diversity. They have grown out of and are fostered by the wisdom of man. We must speak as the oracles of God and resolve not to go beyond Gods revealed word on this and every matter (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 3:17).
A common appeal to help defend unity in doctrinal diversity calls upon us to judge the life of another person. See how this is the case as set forth by one who supports this approach to unity:
"Finally, I must make a determination as to whether or not the other person (with whom I disagree) is living by faith. Does he hold his position out of rebellion and self will? Did he come to his position based on Bible study or on convenience? Does he care what the Bible teaches on it? Does his position have merit so that a reasonable person could come to that position? How does he deal with other issues? Do I find myself disagreeing with him on many other things? Do we have similar attitudes toward the inerrancy of the scriptures, subjection to God, Bible authority, etc.? Does his life show he submits to God in everything that he conscientiously believes?"
Living By Faith
This type of unity makes our subjective decision of another persons faith the basis of fellowship and unity! If I determine you are living by faith (whether in fact the Bible says so or not), then I can have fellowship with you. If I determine you are insincere (which forces me to judge another persons heart, cf. 1 Cor. 2:11), then I may withhold my fellowship. This is not the teaching, terminology or treatment of unity in Christ which is taught in the Bible.
Since faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, how can a person be living by faith when his life is not in harmony with the word of God (Rom. 10:17)? It is impossible to do so. He may think he is living by faith, he may appear to be living by faith, he may sincerely believe he is living by faith, but because he is not obeying the will of the Father, he is in fact not living by faith (Matt. 7:21-23; cf. Acts 23:1; 2 Cor. 5:7; 13:5).
Let us make an application to the subject of divorce and remarriage. How do I determine whether one is living by faith? By observing ones life and/or teaching, and comparing it (them) to the objective standard of truth. In this way we can know whether a person is right with Christs marriage law or in violation of it (cf. Jno. 7:24; Cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Jno. 4:1-6).
This false doctrine calls upon us to judge the motives of others. Consider Apollos and this so-called qualification for unity in doctrinal diversity:
(1) Does he hold his position out of rebellion and self will? Did Apollos exhibit rebellion and self-will when Aquila and Priscilla heard him preaching? No. But, they explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:24-26). If this doctrine is correct, they should have left him alone -- not teach him!
(2) Did he come to his position based on Bible study or on convenience? Apollos was mighty in the scriptures, yet deficient in accurately preaching the way of God. No fellowship was extended until he was taught and he accepted Gods accurate way! (Acts 18:27-28)
(3) Does he care what the Bible teaches on it? Nobody would even suggest that Apollos did not care about what the scriptures taught. However, although he was mighty in the scriptures, his deficiency required correction before there could be unity with the brethren in Ephesus. (Acts 18:24-25)
(4) Does his position have merit so that a reasonable person could come to that position? No doubt, many reasonable Jews accepted the teaching of Apollos before his conversion. Although an eloquent man who masterfully reasoned with his audience, unity could not exist between him and the disciples at Ephesus until he learned and accepted the accurate way of God. (Acts 18:24)
(5) How does he deal with other issues? Apollos dealt powerfully and eloquently with topics from the Scriptures. Nevertheless, Aquila and Priscilla did not unite with him until his deficient teaching was corrected. (Acts 18:24, 26)
(6) Do I find myself disagreeing with him on many other things? No doubt, Aquila and Priscilla could find many things over which they and Apollos were in agreement (he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John). But, unity did not exist between them because of that. (Acts 18:25)
(7) Do we have similar attitudes toward the inerrancy of the scriptures, subjection to God, Bible authority, etc.? Aquila and Priscilla could answer yes to each of these items and more, but they did not use their areas of agreement as a basis upon which to have fellowship. (Acts 18:26-28)
(8) Does his life show he submits to God in everything that he conscientiously believes? The bold preaching of Apollos in the Ephesian synagogue shows his conscientious belief and effort to submit to God. (Acts 18:25) But, he was not in fellowship with Christ or His disciples until he learned and believed the more accurate way of God!
At every turn, the doctrine of unity in diversity, which allows ongoing fellowship in spite of doctrinal disagreement, is unsupported by the word of God. It must be rejected as a doctrine of man (Gal. 1:8-10).