(Revised, March 30, 2012)

 

 

Grace and Gray Areas
Joe R. Price

Charles Swindoll wants to expose what he calls “grace killers.” He says the “grace killer” acts in ways which destroy grace. According to Swindoll, if you want to be a grace killer, do this:

“...leave no room for any gray areas. Everything is either black or white, right or wrong. And as a result, the leader maintains strict control over the followers. Fellowship is based on whether there is full agreement. Herein lies the tragedy. This self-righteous, rigid standard becomes more important than relationships with individuals. We first check out where people stand on the issues, and then we determine whether we will spend much time with them. The bottom line is this: We want to be right (as we see it, of course) more than we want to love our neighbor as ourselves. At that point our personal preferences eclipse any evidence of love. I am of the firm conviction that where grace exists, so must various areas of gray.” (The Grace Awakening, Charles R. Swindoll, 52-53)

Some brethren duplicate this argument in an attempt to persuade us that unity in doctrinal diversity is not only allowed, but endorsed by God. Brethren are being convinced that when it comes to so-called “less clear, more difficult” New Testament passages and doctrines we should content ourselves with saying “this is what I believe to be the truth” rather than boldly proclaiming, this is the truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:2). A sharp contrast exists between preaching that focuses on what I believe and boldly preaching what God said (Acts 4:13, 29, 31; 9:29; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8; Eph. 6:19-20; Phil. 1:14; 1 Ths. 2:2). When we preach we must “hold fast the pattern of sound words” with all boldness (2 Tim. 1:13; Acts 4:29).

Some despise their brethren for boldly preaching God’s word on “difficult” subjects. We hear statements like, “Who are you to think that you have arrived at the final, definitive truth on this subject?”, and “Do you have 100% perfect knowledge?” Whether intentional or not, boldness is disparaged while uncertainty is exalted. This should not be so! “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Tit. 2:15). We must appeal to the authority of Christ in the New Testament as the basis for our faith and its bold proclamation.

Brethren who appeal to and apply 2 John 9-11 to difficult subjects (like marriage, divorce and remarriage and other moral issues) are accused of being intolerant church-splitters and grace killers. Such accusations are false.

“Everything is either black or white, right or wrong”
Please tell us dear brother, you who would allow gray areas in “the gospel of the grace of God”, what are the gray areas (Acts 20:24)? Romans 14 is immediately offered. But that passage teaches liberty over scruples of personal conscience that are indifferent to God; matters that are morally neutral in God’s sight (Rom. 14:3-5, 14, 18, 20, 22; cf. 1 Cor. 8:8). We are taught there not to dispute over such doubtful things, but rather receive one another (Rom. 14:1, 13; 15:7). A close study of Romans 14:1-15:7 convinces us we cannot use it to justify ongoing fellowship with doctrinal error and immorality. 2 John 9-11 establishes such fellowship to be sinful; Romans 14 does not contradict that truth. So please identify for us the “black and white” of the gospel as well as the “gray areas” of divine revelation. Beware: Every attempt to do so reveals a distorted view of grace (Gal. 1:6-10).

“Fellowship is based on whether there is full agreement”
We must agree with the apostles of Christ to have fellowship with God (1 Jno. 1:1-4; 4:1-6). Men may agree with one another in error and go beyond the doctrine of Christ do “not have God” (2 Jno. 9). We must be in agreement with Christ before agreement with others means anything. Proper fellowship among brethren is based on each one first being in fellowship with God (1 Jno. 1:3-4, 7).

We are accused of demanding perfect knowledge when we appeal to the “doctrine of Christ” as our absolute and final guide for fellowship with God and each other (2 Jno. 9). Such a charge is misleading and inaccurate. God expects every Christian to mature and abound in knowledge and discernment (Phil. 1:9-10). The babe in Christ (though far from possessing mature knowledge) is certainly in fellowship with God (1 Pet. 2:1-3). But the babe in Christ can and must put away sin in order to have fellowship with God and grow to maturity (1 Pet. 2:1-2). Every Christian is expected to grow in knowledge and come to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:11-16; Heb. 5:11-6:3). Dear brother, if you disagree with this then show your love for us and tell us on which of the revealed teachings of Christ we may disagree and still have fellowship with Christ (2 Jno. 9). Beware: Whoever pits God’s grace against God’s word is not teaching you the truth (Acts 20:24, 32; Jude 3-4).

“This self-righteous, rigid standard becomes more important than relationships with individuals”

The most important standard to Christians is the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Col. 3:17). Relationships with men may exist that do not have God’s approval (2 John 10-11; Eph. 5:8-11). God’s standard of truth has been revealed to protect us from sin and to afford us proper relationships with our brethren. Appealing only to the doctrine of Christ to approve our fellowship is not being “self-righteous”, but safe (Phil. 3:1; 2 Pet. 1:12-15). Beware: Those who emphasize God’s grace to the diminishing of absolute truth are perverting the gospel of Christ (Matt. 7:21-23; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Pet. 1:22-25).

“We first check out where people stand on the issue”

Are we not under divine command to do exactly that? “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 10-11; cf. 1 Cor. 1:11-13; 3 John 4, 11) If they are in error they do not have God! Beware: Those who resist and refuse testing teachers to see whether they are of God will tolerate false doctrine and false teachers (1 Jno. 4:1, 6).

“Where grace exists, so must various areas of gray”
Calvinists such as Charles Swindoll believe God’s grace allows the toleration of doctrinal differences (Ibid, 231-233). Judging by their fellowship with those who teach and practice error, so does an increasing number of brethren. They object when we appeal to absolute truth as the pattern we must follow. Yet, these brethren cannot have it both ways. If absolute truth exists then it is consistent with grace, not contrary to it (Acts 20:24, 32; Titus 2:11-14). If grace allows us to tolerant doctrinal differences then there is no absolute standard of truth to be applied. Which will it be, brethren?

The Calvinist has already told us his position; He rejects doctrinal absolutes. To him, if we call for doctrinal absolutes we are “grace killers”. However, Christ’s apostle said, “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:1) We will follow the steps of the Savior – not the steps of the Calvinist (Jno. 8:12; 14:6; 1 Jno. 2:5-6; Gal. 1:10).