Monday, January 31, 2005

The family vs. the institution

This essay is worth reading:

Here's a snippet:

    By George Davis
    The word paradigm speaks of any mindset received by tradition and social conditioning which shapes our private and world view. At one time the world was thought to be flat, having boundaries, and the fear of sailing off the edge of the earth plagued the seafaring minds of sailors young and old alike. In spite of the fact that the earth in truth is a sphere, in their minds it was flat, and their emotions and actions reflected accordingly. The power of truth, cannot be understated here, for as we perceive, so we will act. "As a man thinketh so is he". This applies to every area of life, including our view of Christ's church. Herein is the contrast of two paradigms, one is mans, the other is Gods. One is institutional, the other is family.

    The institutional church paradigm is characterized by hyper-organization. In spite of all the talk about God, and His power, it is none the less a man-centered, man-dominated, and man-powered monarchism. In direct contrast, the family paradigm, is organic and relational. An institution is an entity in itself, and will accordingly save itself, even at the cost of its own members. Conversely, Within the family each member would gladly lay down their lives for each other. There are many institutions (denominations) but only one family. Division is characteristic of institutional christendom. But the family of God is one.

    Read on...

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Are there Christians among the sects?

The following are excerpted quotes from Ketcherside, compiled by Lloyd A. Boyll in 1989 under the book title of A New Spirit.


by W. Carl Ketcherside

"I am convinced that there are many Christians among the sectarian parties of our day."

"Mind you, I do not believe that there are any Christians outside the body of Christ." 1

Answering the charge that 'we consider the various sectarian bodies as parts of the one church of the New Testament,' Ketcherside recognizes "This is exactly the opposite to my position. I have repeatedly said that the church of God is not a sect. No sect is the church of God. No coalition or aggregation of sects constitutes that church. The various sects exist in opposition to the word of God. They are a manifestation of the work of the flesh."

"...we contend there may be children of God among the sects. That is far from saying that the sects are a part of the one body. There are citizens of the United States in Russia, but Russia is not a part of the United States." 2 "But there are thousands of honest, sincere believers in Christ among the sects. God's sheep have been smitten by men, and scattered by creeds over the hills. We feel a compulsion of spirit to seek them out and show them the way. We cannot do so by creating another sect." 3

"It is inconceivable to me that for the greater majority of the time since He ascended to heaven, Jesus has been a shepherd without a single sheep, a king without a subject, a head without a body, or a Saviour who saved no one for seventeen hundred years. Yes I think there may be many children of God scattered among the various sects." 4 "Not everyone in a sect is a sectarian. Some of God's children are a dispersed, displaced and exiled people..." 5

"It is only when we recognize our brethren and love them as brethren that we can move toward a closer association with each other and a closer walk with God. We cannot unite the family by denying the paternity of those who compose it. This was clearly understood at the outset of the restoration movement of which most of our readers are the heirs. Alexander Campbell described it as 'a project to unite the Christians in all of the sects'. We have lived to see the day when the parties resulting from such a project, or from the abuses of it, regard as 'heresy' the mere intimation that there are Christians in the sects. This is a complete reversal of thought. What has happened?" 6

1 June, 1961, p. 8
2 Sept., 1958, pp. 2, 3
3 Oct., 1958, p. 7
4 Feb., 1960, p. 6
5 Jan., 1960, p. 5
6 June, 1961, p. 8

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Speculative theology

Here's some speculative theology produced by creeds:
    The Western form of the Nicene Creed differs from the Eastern in what it says about the Holy Spirit. The Eastern form, following that adopted at Constantinople, says that the Holy Ghost "proceedeth from the Father." The Western form of the Creed adds the words, "and the Son" — in Latin, the single word Filioque. The Western Church confesses a double procession of the Holy Spirit, a procession from the Father and the Son. The Eastern Church regards this as heresy. ...
Is this speculation any more ridiculous than whether it is lawful to clap while singing to God? Or whether it is lawful to eat a meal in a church building owned by a congregation (especially since they had no church buildings in the first century)?

Speculations and deductions about the Word, and the inevitable debating of them, produces more division than the Word itself. As believers, let's do what we can to end feuds that only give us reason to divide. Le's make each and every conversation with each and every believer productive in the task of truly edifying and building up the body. Rather than searching for points to differ over, let's search for ways be at peace with each other while everyone reconsiders those points over time.

I know I've fallen far short of this goal over the years, and I probably still fall short without realizing it. I hope to change that.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Foundation of Christian union

The following is an excerpt from Alexander Campbell's Foundation of Christian Union. I'll put the last paragraph first to entice you to read the whole thing and bear with our brother's generous use of commas:

    Let THE BIBLE be substituted for all human creeds; FACTS, for definitions, THINGS, for words; FAITH, for speculation; UNITY OF FAITH, for unity of opinion; THE POSITIVE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD, for human legislation and tradition; PIETY, for ceremony; MORALITY, for partizan zeal; THE PRACTICE OF RELIGION, for the mere profession of it;--and the work is done.

And to any of us who protest that we have no creeds in the Church of Christ, I encourage you to think about all the Church of Christ factions listed in "Where the Saints Meet" (Now
"Churches of Christ in the USA"). Are we not divided over opinions, systems, theories, and (dare I say it) creeds? I believe we are.



From "Foundation of Christian Union" by Alexander Campbell

'I pray for those who shall believe on me through their teaching, that all may be one; that as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, they also may be in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me, and that thou gavest me the glory, which I have given them, that they may be one, as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that their union may be perfected: and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and that thou lovest them as thou lovest me.'

Thus Messiah prayed; and well might he pray thus, seeing he was wise enough to teach that, 'If a kingdom be torn by factions, that kingdom cannot subsist. And if a family be torn by factions, that family cannot subsist. By civil dissensions, any kingdom can be desolated; and no city or family, where such dissensions are, can subsist.'

If this be true--and true it is, if Jesus be the Messiah--in what moral desolation is the kingdom of Jesus Christ! Was there at any time, or is there now, in all the earth, a kingdom more convulsed by internal broils and dissensions, than what is commonly called the church of Jesus Christ?
I will not attempt to name the antagonizing creeds, feuds, and parties, that are in eternal war, under the banners of the Prince of Peace. And yet they talk of love and charity, and of the conversion of the Jews, the Turks, and Pagans!!!

Shall we turn from the picture, lay down our pen, and languish in despair? No! For Jesus has said, 'Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God.' But who can make peace, when all the elements are at war? Who so enthusiastic, as to fancy that he can stem the torrent of strife, or quench the violence of sectarian fire! But the page of universal history whispers in our ears, If you tarry till all the belligerent armies lay down their arms, and make one spontaneous and simultaneous effort to unite; you will be as very a simpleton, as he that sat by the Euphrates, waiting till all its waters run into the sea.

We are so sanguine--perhaps many will say, so visionary, as to imagine that a nucleus has been formed, or may be formed around which may one day congregate all the children of God. No one, at all events, can say that it is either impious or immoral--that it is inhuman or unchristian--to think about the present state of Christ's kingdom; or to meditate upon the possibility or practicability of any scheme of gathering together the children of God, under the ensign of the Cross alone. No one can say that such an enterprise is absolutely chimerical, unless he affirms the negative of the Messiah's proposition, and declares that the present wars and strifes must extend and multiply through all time, and that God will convert the whole world, without answering the prayer of his Son; or rather, on a plan adverse to that promulgated by him, and in despite of all the moral desolations which have ensued upon all the broils and battles of five hundred sects, and fifteen hundred years!

Dare any one say, or even think it unphilanthropic or malevolent, to make an effort to rally the broken phalanxes of Zion's King, and to attempt to induce them to turn their arms from one another, against the common foe? With such a one, it were worse than hopeless to reason, or to exchange a single argument. Shall we not rather esteem it to be the most honorable, acceptable, and praiseworthy enterprise, that can be dared or undertaken by mortal man on this earthly stage of action? And as God has ever effected the most splendid revolutions by the most humble agents, and by means the most unlikely in the wisdom of all human schools; we think it not amiss or incongruous to make an effort, and to put out hands to the work of peace and love.

From Messiah's intercession above quoted, it is incontrovertible that union is strength, and disunion, weakness; that there is a plan founded in infinite wisdom and love, by which, and which alone, the world may both believe and know, that God has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. And like all the schemes of Heaven, it is simple to admiration. No mortal need fancy that he shall have the honor of devising either the plan of uniting Christians in one holy band of zealous co-operation, or of converting Jews and Gentiles to the faith that Jesus is that seed, in whom all the families of the earth are yet to be blessed. The plan is divine. It is ordained by God; and, better still, it is already revealed. Is any one impatient to hear it? Let him again read the intercessions of the Lord Messiah, which we have chosen for our motto. Let him then examine the two following propositions, and say whether these do not express Heaven's own scheme of augmenting and conversating the body of Christ.

    First. Nothing is essential to the conversion of the world, but the union and co-operation of Christians.

    Second. Nothing is essential to the union of Christians, but the Apostles' teaching or testimony.

Or does he choose to express the plan of the Self-Existent in other words? Then he may change the order, and say,

    First. The testimony of the Apostles, is the only and all-sufficient means of uniting all Christians.

    Second. The union of Christians with the Apostles' testimony, is all-sufficient, and alone sufficient, to the conversion of the world.

Neither truth alone, nor union alone, is sufficient to subdue the unbelieving nations; but truth and union combined, are omnipotent. They are omnipotent, for God is in them and with them, and has consecrated and blessed them for this very purpose.
The second proposition, viz.--That the word or testimony of the Apostles is itself all-sufficient, and alone sufficient, to the union of all Christians, cannot be rationally doubted by any person acquainted with that testimony, or who admits the competency of their inspiration to make them infallible teachers of the Christian institution. And, indeed, all who contend for those human institutions called creeds, contend for them as necessary only to the existence of a party, or while the present schisms, contentions, and dissensions exist. Therefore, all the defenses of creeds, ancient and modern, while they assert that the Bible alone is the only perfect and infallible rule of faith and morals; not only concede that these symbols called creeds, are imperfect and fallible--but, also, that these creeds never can achieve what the Bible, without them, can accomplish.

But how to do without them, appears to be an insuperable difficulty to many well disposed Christians. To labor this point would be foreign to our present purpose; especially as it has already been fully discussed in the present controversy. It is, perhaps, altogether sufficient at present to propose the question, How has, what is called the church, done with them?

Have they not been the fruitful cause or occasion of all the discords, schisms, and parties, now existing in Christendom? And will not a very superficial observation, and a little experience, convince every man that the rivers tend not more certainly to the sea, than creeds and human devices in religion, tend to discords and divisions? Take, for example, two of the most popular creeds of the present day--the Westminster, and that of the Methodist--with whose history American society is better acquainted than with that of any other, and test the tree of its fruits--judge their tendency by their practical effects upon society.

To say nothing of the lesser schisms in the party that once formed one communion on the platform of the Westminster creed, we can now enumerate no less than nine separate communions--all professing the Westminster articles, in substance or in form. These are the General Assembly in Scotland and the United States, the Cameronians or Solemn League and Covenant Presbyterians, the Burghers or Unionists, the Anti-Burghers or Seceders, the Relief Presbyterians, the Cumberland Presbyterians, and the New School, now upon the eve of being born. To these might be added those called English Presbyterians, who are now more generally known by the name of Independents and Congregationalists; and, indeed, the Glassites or Sandemanians, who came out of the synod of Angus and Mearns in the year 1728. Thus in one hundred and ninety years, have nine or ten distinct communions originated out of the Westminster creed. Some of them, too, as discordant and aloof from each other, as were the Jews and Samaritans.

Nor have the Methodists in England, Canada, and the United States done much better for their age. They now form five or six separate communions, under different names. To say nothing of the Whitefieldite Methodists, those of John Wesley, are, the Wesleyan Methodists, the New Connexion of Methodists, the Methodist Episcopal church, the O'Kelly Methodists, the Radicals, &c.

And what shall I say of the twelve or fourteen sects of Baptists--many of whom have as much affection for the Greek and Roman church, as for one another! It were useless to furnish other evidence in proof that human opinions, inferential reasonings, and deductions from the Bible, exhibited in the form of creeds, can never unite Christians; as all their fruits are alienation, repulsion, bickering, and schism. No human creed in Protestant Christendom can be found, that has not made a division for every generation of its existence. And I may add--the more thinking, inquisitive, and intelligent the community which owns a creed, the more frequent their debates and schisms.

But the Bible will do no better, if men approach it with a set of opinions, or a human symbol in their minds. For then it is not the Bible, but the opinions in the mind, that form the bond of union. Men, indeed, had better have a written than an unwritten standard of orthodoxy, if they will not abandon speculation and abstract notions, as any part of Christian faith or duty.

But all these modes of faith and worship are based upon a mistake of the true character of Revelation, which it has long been our effort to correct. With us, Revelation has nothing to do with opinions, or abstract reasonings; for it is founded wholly and entirely upon facts. There is not one abstract opinion, not one speculative view, asserted or communicated in Old Testament or New. Moses begins with asserting facts that had transpired in creation and providence; and John ends with asserting prophetic or prospective facts, in the future displays of providence and redemption. Facts, then, are the alpha and the omega of both Jewish and Christian revelations.

But that the reader may have before his mind in one summary view, the whole scheme of union and co-operation, which the Living Oracles and the present state of the Christian religion in the world demand; which has been, at different times and in various manners, illustrated and sustained in the present controversy, against divisions,--we shall here submit it in one period.

Let THE BIBLE be substituted for all human creeds; FACTS, for definitions, THINGS, for words; FAITH, for speculation; UNITY OF FAITH, for unity of opinion; THE POSITIVE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD, for human legislation and tradition; PIETY, for ceremony; MORALITY, for partizan zeal; THE PRACTICE OF RELIGION, for the mere profession of it--and the work is done.

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To stop division, stop dividing

Maybe it's too intuitive, but the first rule to prevent division in the churches ought to be to stop dividing. Overly simplistic? Maybe not.

Provided our brother hasn't departed from the gospel, is not engaged in immoral conduct or character, and is not being divisive (advocating division), there is no reason that brotherly love can't overcome all other scruples.

    1 Corinthians 12:24-25 - But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (NIV)
I can now live peaceably with those whose consciences have reached different conclusions than mine. Can you? I'd suggest that you already are. There are not two people in a congregation that share the exact same scruples. So let's just take what we're already doing and apply it to brothers we haven't yet met.

But above all, let's not divide the people of God or reject any one of them over his "error arising from weakness of mind":

    Romans 15:1 - We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
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    Tuesday, January 25, 2005

    Why I write

    Some may be wondering why I write. I suppose there are a whole host of reasons that motivate me to keep recording my thoughts, not the least of which is the desire to communicate with others about my faith in Jesus Christ and my studies of the Word. Koinonia, the word that is frequently translated fellowship in our English Bibles, literally means sharing, and corresponding with other believers is a fulfilling part of Christian sharing for me. Sharing thoughts and encouragement is as much a part of our fellowship as singing praises to our God.

    Malachi writes about the communication of believers:

      Malachi 3:16-18 - Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. "They shall be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, "On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him." Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (NIV)

    He also notes that the people will again be able to discern between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve Him. That's pretty prophetic for our age, when factional lines often cause us to mistake the ones who serve God for those who don't.

    One frequent motivation for writing (for me, at least) is to clarify my own thinking on various subjects. That's what got me started years ago typing crude essays. They were usually propositional truths that I wanted to explore by amassing the whole of scripture on the subject and sorting through it logically and prosaically to reach a conclusion. Many of my conclusions on these things haven't changed over the years, even while my expression of those conclusions most certainly have.

    Many other motivations enter into my writing as well. The one I struggle with the most is the desire for a readership to benefit from my words. I find that desire distasteful in a kneejerk sort of way, which is why I don't expend a lot of effort promoting the site, but genuinely Biblical on the other. I want people to read and be encouraged just as I read and am encouraged by others' writing. I'm very aware that it should never be about me, but always about the mission. If anyone reads something I write that suggests otherwise, please let me know.

    The fact is, each of us should cultivate a healthy but burning desire both to edify and to be edified, and that's the point I most want to make by sharing with you why I write.

    Encourage. Be encouraged. Be men and women of action, not just book learning. Perhaps book learning is an essential foundation for our actions, but there is a lot to be said for learning by doing. The time has come to put our faith into practice and give it a voice in a society that needs to hear the message, unobscured by petty debates over sometimes questionable opinions.

      Acts 7:22 - Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. (NIV)

      2 Corinthians 9:2 - For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. (NIV)

      1 Peter 1:13 - Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be selfcontrolled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NIV)

    Don't be afraid to turn your thoughts, talents, trials, successes, and failures into action. Share them with others so that we can all be mutually edified by your faith and growth. Even if you don't share my conclusion on scriptural matters, I'll be more than happy to help you learn the technical aspect of creating and maintaining a weblog like this one (just go to for a free weblog account).

    Technology affords such a wide variety of outlets for sharing encouragement with the brotherhood, and it is a shame that the only ones we use regularly are wireless microphones and an occasional PowerPoint presentation. How about starting an e-mail group for the men of your congregation and opening it up to reach out to other men? You can do that at Yahoo! or Google. How about doing the same for ladies discussions, or discussions on science, creation, Bible apologetics, etc.? What about joining existing discussion groups on the Internet for the purpose of gently leading people to the God of the Bible and His Son?

    Let's not keep our faith in a closet to be shared only with those who agree with us, but take the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost world and to a divided Kingdom. Enough with the naysaying:

      Jeremiah 39:36-41 - "You are saying about this city, 'By the sword, famine and plague it will be handed over to the king of Babylon'; but this is what the LORD , the God of Israel, says: I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

      I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. (NIV)

    It is through a multitude of individual efforts I believe the world will be brought to Him, not some hierarchical campaign, or obscure weblog like this one. Make no mistake, the division of the Christian world is keeping the lost from hearing our message, even in our own congregations. Perhaps it will be through a multitude of individual efforts that the Lord will give us singleness of heart and action. Maybe then His presently divided citizens will be encouraged to act as one.


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    Always the critic

    Whenever I encounter other believers, I find myself ashamed at all of the critique that automatically flows like a river through my mind. I'm painfully aware that I've prided myself on being able to find something doctrinally wrong with any religious person or group I've ever encountered. What was I thinking? Of course, I can find something wrong with anyone, because we are all human!

    When out of town recently, I visited a larger congregation than I'm accustomed to. I found myself very distracted from thinking about good and useful things. Unfortunately, it was not really because of anything they did that was against the scriptures; it was because of my own desire to find fault. That was the distraction.

    One of Satan's most useful tools is distraction. If he can get us distracted from thinking on whatever is pure and good, away from things that will direct attention at our own faults--if he can get us thinking about how bad the other guy is, he has won the battle. There was nothing I can say was "wrong" or "sinful" in this other assembly. It was just different, different enough to make me say to myself "boy, that's silly" or "we sure do that better." I'm always the critic, and too often, not of myself.

    I recently listened to a sermon on a CD that was given to me by a friend. I popped the CD in and immediately started criticizing. "He needs to calm down, he sounds like he's giving a pep rally" I thought. "You can tell he's talking to a large audience. He sure couldn't say that in a small intimate group."

    "STOP IT" I finally said to myself, engaged in an internal struggle to control my feelings of superiority. It's true there were things about the lesson and its delivery that were distracting to me. But I'm certainly no Ronald Reagan when it comes to speechmaking, either.

    When I recognized my hypercritical attitude, I actually found some very good things in the sermon. This "senior pastor" (yes, his title was one of the criticisms I leveled at the guy) had no problem telling the congregation they were sinning by not getting involved in outreach. By failing to utilize their talents and skills for the Lord in whatever capacity they could find, he noted that they needed to repent and become the kingdom of priests that the Bible says they are. That level of forthrightness is pretty refreshing, when you think about it.

    These experiences, along with many others, have impressed upon me the fact that I'm no less fallible than other believers. We're all in the same boat, with varying amounts of knowledge and wisdom about the things of God. Others work, fallibly, to motivate their congregations just like we do. They want all Christians to participate as mutual ministers just like we do. They have reached different conclusions as to the best ways to accomplish that within the systems they have adopted, but they are diligently trying to accomplish it in the way they understand best. I at least have to grant them that.

    That doesn't mean we just accept everyone and everything as OK at face value, content with their sincerity. No, but we do need to accept sincere believers who have been added to the body of Christ, and be longsuffering and patient with them, even as God is longsuffering and patient with our own faults.

    I, for one, need to examine my own heart to determine whether any criticism of my brothers' beliefs and practices is done for the purpose of "justifying my position" or acting in love to correct the misunderstandings of people who sincerely want to be a disciple. My task is to lift my brethren up by the bootstraps to a greater understanding of God's truths, and I can't do that by snubbing my nose at them for some error they may hold.

    Too often, I mutter criticism just to make myself feel like I hold the truth instead of them, rather than realizing neither of us understands fully the truth on any subject. Does that mean we "compromise" with error? No, it means we are longsuffering with erroneous brethren as they (and we) are brought to better understandings of the truth throughout our lifetime.

    I have plenty of beams in my eye to worry about, but it's so much easier to see the splinter in my brothers' eye. If half of the energy I've spent finding fault with other Christians had been spent in self-critique, I'd be a whole lot more like Christ than I am.

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    Tuesday, January 18, 2005

    Out of the mouth of babes

    Sometimes it is uncanny how easily kids grasp things that adults, because of our philosophies and ideologies, have trouble grasping.

    My middle son, Jaden, who isn't exactly known for liking dinner, noticed tonight that he liked this one (an Italian dish called a frittata) because the eggs hid the flavor of the green herbs and seasonings that were in it. (He likes scrambled eggs, but is pretty turned off by anything green.) I, on the other hand, commented that I liked it because I could taste the herbs and seasonings.

    "That's funny," he said. "We're opposites."

    "Even though God put you in the same family by birth" his older brother Sam said, totally unscripted.

    Jaden's little sister Ashley, adopted into the family, noted that God didn't put her in the family by birth. She agreed that God did indeed put her in the family, though.

    As the conversation went on, it struck me how easy it was to make the parallel to the family of God, and it became a great "teachable moment." Christians can be, on many things, opposites in their tastes, preferences, and intellectual attainment. Just as an eight year old, complete with his limited understanding of the world, can be in the same family as a 36 year old, Christians of all intellects are put into the same family through both adoption (Romans 8:15) and birth (John 3:3), put there by the divine providence of God (1 Corinthians 12:18).


      Romans 15:1-7 - We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me." For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

      Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
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      The whole Bible is our creed

      The whole Bible is our creed, but what does that mean? This is one of the most difficult issues for any Christian to think through, as evidenced by the number of debates over creeds through the millennia.

      Campbell, in the Parable of the Iron Bedstead, was gently urging his brothers at the time to give up their human creeds and take the whole Bible instead. What he meant by that, though, is not at all what most restoration movement writers and preachers have meant by it in the 20th century. In the paragraph previous to the one urging the entire New Testament scriptures as our sole creed, he said, "Why not, then, dispense with this piece of popish furniture [the wheels and knives used metaphorically of human creeds as tests of fellowship] in the church, and allow Christians of every stature to meet at the same fireside and eat at the same table?"

      He is advocating tossing our shorthand summaries and opinions of the scriptures as tests of association. Anyone who is a brother--and this is key in understanding the idea of open fellowship--and who professes to accept the entire New Testament as his creed is to be accepted around the fireside and at the same table. In this way, the creed (the scriptures) becomes a unifying thing, not a divisive thing.

      This is not dividing the Bible into essentials and non-essentials, but taking the entire thing as authoritative. I make a distinction, as I think most do in practice, that the gospel, the good news that we preach to a lost world, is distinct from the apostolic teachings. This is true in the sense that appointing a plurality of elders is not a fact of the gospel that Peter preached to create converts to Christ, bringing them into koinonia, yet it is a valid deduction from the apostolic letters that those in the fellowship of Christ ought to put into practice when they learn it.

      The gospel is the message preached to bring one into union with Christ and the citizens of his kingdom, while the apostolic letters are the divine messages addressed to the first century congregations of believers to encourage them and to fix various problems that had arisen. The gospel, and obedience to it, is the entrance exam to the Kingdom (a true test of fellowship), while the apostolic doctrine is the curriculum, the course of study for the King's subjects.

      To the citizen of the Kingdom, the entire NT scriptures are binding. The question is, who binds them and how? I believe they are binding insofar as our individual consciences and intellects apprehend the teaching. I think many of us recognize this, but haven't really thought it through until now. For instance, while we may generally agree that a plurality of elders is inferred and can be deduced from various passages, we don't exclude whole congregations from the Kingdom who have no elder yet, or who only have one elder. We simply do what we can to fix the situation.

      Here's a shocker for you. Do I believe Jesus' unequivocal command for the disciples to wash each others' feet is binding? Yes.

      This command and all other commands are binding insofar as our individual consciences and intellects apprehend the message. One person believes he is following the Lord's will on this by washing the feet of his brethren. This is binding to him, because that is his conscience and the conclusion of his intellect on the subject. I believe I am following the Lord's will on that when I serve my brethren. This is binding on me, and I take it seriously.

      Both of us use the entire NT as our creed, having different conclusions about a particular practice, but fully accepting each other as faithful brethren. That is the model for unity that I believe the Bible teaches, not segregating into "foot-washing" factions and "non-foot-washing" factions. This model for unity is the one advocated in Romans 14.

      The creed question expressed in the bedstead parable dates back to a time when the Lord's supper would not be given to someone unless they assented to the creed of the denomination. It was quite literally a "test" of fellowship, with congregants being forced to take a test on the creed of the group if they wanted to "take communion." So when Campbell talked about using the entire NT as our only creed, he was not talking about assent to some person's unique conclusions about the entire NT (which change over a lifetime as we grow) as a test of fellowship. He was talking about the profession of assent to it in its entirety as a test of fellowship.

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      The fellowship of the saints

      The following is from Carl Ketcherside's "In the Beginning," Chapter 19 (Thoughts on Fellowship #7).
        Fellowship is not a fruit of agreement but agreement is the fruit of fellowship! Does the Bible teach that? Do we come to be in the fellowship because we are of the same mind, or do we come to be of one mind because we are in the fellowship? Much depends upon the answer you give. If we come into fellowship by agreement upon opinions, then how many things must we agree upon, and which ones, before fellowship commences? If we must agree upon all views and opinions then no fellowship at all exists today for no two persons are wholly agreed. If we need not agree upon all, who is to determine which ones we may eliminate from the area of agreement without impairing fellowship? If we decide which opinions and views we must agree upon to have fellowship, what happens if one learns more on some point and changes his mind? Shall he be put out of the fellowship or "growing in knowledge"? On the basis that fellowship is contingent upon agreement in matters of opinion, no congregation existing a hundred years ago could now be in fellowship, and no congregation now existing would be in the fellowship a hundred years from now if our Lord tarry that long.
      What strikes me as a useful point in this paragraph is the idea that if our fellowship and association are based on agreement, then what items do we need to agree upon? It seems to me that we would need to make a list of "essentials" and "nonessentials"--and in fact, we have, whether we admit it or not. There is not a congregation in existence that is agreed among themselves on every point of doctrine, nor are there two congregations in existence that are in full agreement on all points. To catalog and prioritize our similarities and differences, then, for the purpose of excluding some from the "faithful brotherhood" is to do the very thing the restoration movement was initiated to combat. The reformers, as they were called at the time, opposed the practice of dividing the NT scriptures into essentials and nonessentials through the use of creeds as tests of fellowship.

      As Campbell wrote in Parable of the Iron Bedstead, "Why not, then, dispense with this piece of popish furniture [the wheels and knives used metaphorically of human creeds as tests of fellowship] in the church, and allow Christians of every stature to meet at the same fireside and eat at the same table?"

      Amen, my friends. Amen.

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      A less circular view of Romans 14

      I know I've written about this before, but I need someone to help me see how the popular view of Romans 14 isn't spinning in circles. Romans 14, remember, deals with the issue of two brothers whose consciences are in different places on the subject of meat offered to idols or observing days in honor to God. One does it in all good conscience, the other cannot.

      The opinion I keep hearing is that only if the subject in dispute is something that doesn't matter to God are we free to classify it as a "disputable matter."

      How is this not circular reasoning, when the very question in dispute was whether it mattered to God or not?

      Is Romans 14 suggesting that the brothers who were against these practices, in order to accept their brothers who were for it, needed to reach a mutual agreement one way or the other, or mutually agree that God was indifferent to these questions? Or is Romans 14 suggesting that each brother accept the other in spite of their difference of opinion on what God wants?

      Maybe I'm wrong--it wouldn't be the first time, I suppose--but I just don't understand how it could be anything but the latter. Paul is not saying that we need to agree that something is disputable before we can get a long. Then it would no longer be in dispute!

      He doesn't tell the brother who thought it was OK to eat meat offered to idols to "take a stand for the truth" and "separate fellowship" from his brother who thought it was wrong. They are to love each other and accept each other, because "God has accepted them."

      Thus saith the Lord, as far as my imperfect mind can discern.

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      Tuesday, January 11, 2005

      Zero-sum love

      In a zero-sum world, where the books must be reconciled each month, there is a fixed supply of love. In this model, when one feels it and expresses it toward new acquaintances in his life, there is less love available to the people who have always been there. It should be readily apparent to Christians that this is not God's model of love.

      With God there is an endless supply of love and concern for His creation. Since godliness amounts to mimicking God, we too are to find an endless supply of love for His creation. Increasing our love for a growing brotherhood should not diminish the love we feel for the brothers we have always associated with.

      Our supply of love and concern for our fellow travelers should never run out. In fact, our love for them should be Rock solid evidence of our regeneration. The apostle John, who loved writing about love, says as much in 1 John 3:14 when he writes "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers."

      In 1 John 3:11 he writes "This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another." He makes numerous references to the commands of Jesus "that you heard from the beginning" throughout his writings, and they all point back to Jesus' command to love one another. I'm confident that "one another" means all brethren redeemed by Christ, not just one or two little sects of them.

      The love of God is not a zero-sum game. There's more than enough love available to go around with extra to spare. The nice thing is that if we ever seem to come up short, we can always go back to the Well and draw some more.

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      Monday, January 10, 2005

      Playing it safe

      One of the greatest concerns in associating with Christians of diverse opinions is that it is somehow unsafe to do so. The idea is that we are in some way compromising our beliefs to enjoy Christian communion with folks who do things or understand things differently, and that we ought to play it safe and segregate ourselves.

      The problem with this philosophy is that it is not playing it safe at all. In fact, we are playing dangerously close to the edge of the precipice when we refuse to receive a brother for whom Christ died because of disputes over doubtful doctrines and shades of opinion. I don't know how we can consider it "safe" to maintain prejudice against brethren who send their kids to a Christian college, an issue that can only be decided by extrapolated deductions, all while we're in absolute violation of instructions to be longsuffering with our brethren and not to resolve the body of Christ into factions. The extrapolated deductions may even be correct. The factionalism definitely is not.

      If a brother truly feels it is safer not to support or endorse a Christian college in any way, then by all means he should not do so. We just need to understand that engaging in the mutual edification of our brethren does not equate to the endorsement of errors we may perceive on their part. Each person needs to take the safest route that his own conscience dictates without forcing others to take the same route. It is not "safe" to force my conscience on others.

      I can practice my faith in the utmost safety without fear that singing, praying, or studying with a brother who is in error on some point will somehow lead to my exclusion from the Kingdom. It won't. His conscience is his own, and just as I am not in subjection to his, I cannot place him in subjection to mine. We can certainly submit and defer to each other in love. We can also share our opinions and hope to persuade each other, but at the end of the day, we should continue praising God together with one heart, one mind, and one voice.

      Embracing our brother who may be in error on some point is not the same as embracing his error. If it is, we can embrace no brother whatsoever, because we are all in error on some things. It is not compromise to receive him as a brother, because we can remain just as firm in our opinions as we always have. But if he is truly our brother, we have an obligation to receive him in love, to edify him, and to be edified by him. That is the only way to play it safe if we don't want to risk slivering the body of Christ into warring factions.

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      Where do you draw the line?

      Good people have made the point that those who argue against drawing lines in the sand with regard to Christian associations have lines themselves and they are really just arguing about where the line goes. Not so.

      Lines in the sand provide security and a comfort zone. On that basis, it may scare some of my brothers who I care deeply about when I say that we ought to obliterate lines in the sand, because it puts us out of our secure little comfort zone. We want desperately to retain the boundaries we are so familiar with, because we are inherently afraid of associating with people we don't agree with. But if we are truly secure in our own convictions, we won't be threatened by disagreement any more than Paul would have felt threatened by showing up in a synagogue to discuss Jesus Christ.

      As better men than I have written before, a line in the sand does nothing other than tell me where I stand in relation to another human being. It does not tell me where I stand in relation to God. If we acknowledge that the location of our line is imperfect (how could it not be, we are human), then we also acknowledge that we are necessarily excluding from our brotherly association people whom God wants us to love, edify, and be edified by.

      This is why I am so radical in insisting that all man-made lines be done away with. There is no middle ground. Either it is scriptural to create these lines, or it is not. If it is, I have no right to insist that we obliterate them. If it is not, we can't compromise and allow some lines while disallowing others. Either we retain the lines and perpetuate the culture of sectarianism among the Lord's people, or we abolish the lines altogether and accept imperfect brothers with the humble knowledge that we ourselves are at least as imperfect as they are. That doesn't mean we accept their imperfect understandings of scripture or imperfect practices. It does mean we accept them as joint heirs of the Kingdom, knowing that we are only individually responsible to God for own opinions and practices. Association does not mean endorsement.

      I wish everyone could see as clearly as I do that these lines are all man-made, and are thus to be relegated to the trash pile of failed human ideas. It is the creed question resurrected again, and I suppose each generation needs to wrestle with the giant. Too many have rolled over and let the giant win by getting crushed into submitting to the belief that the problem of disunity is just too great to solve. It isn't. It just requires a change in our philosophy and a little more love for our fellow travelers in The Way.

      There is only one way that we can remain true to our own consciences in each matter of scriptural interpretation and still be unified with all other believers--which we are expressly commanded to do. The only way to do this is to change our definition of unity from unanimous agreement on a set of opinions to brotherhood. We are unified because we are brothers and because we share the same goal of serving our King. We are not unified because we agree on this or that practice, because if that is the case, we are in unity with no one, not even our own fellow congregants. Not one Christian can honestly say that he agrees with the opinions of every other member of his congregation.

      The only lines in the sand taught by the apostles were for moral depravity, deviations from the gospel of Christ, or divisiveness. If I am to stick close by the apostles' doctrine, I can't accept any lines in the sand beside those. With all other matters I must find it in my heart to be patient and longsuffering with my brethren, even while I disagree with them on certain things. What good is it to be patient and longsuffering only with those we agree with? Anyone can do that. The true Christian spirit is to be able to love and forbear our brother in spite of his weaknesses and misunderstandings. If God is patient with me in my imperfect understandings--and I hope and pray He is--I had better be patient with my brother in his.

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