FREEDOM FROM OR FREEDOM TO?
T. Pierce Brown
No doubt, in the heart of every man on earth there is a desire for freedom. One sees it in the struggling efforts in almost all nations. One finds that desire expressed in writings of a religious nature. In all too many cases the way one manifests the desire leads to the wrong kinds of freedom. The Prodigal Son yearned for freedom. He got freedom from his fathers constant provision for his needs; freedom from the loving fellowship of his father’s house; freedom from all the blessings he had enjoyed from his birth; freedom to waste his living with harlots; freedom to eat with the hogs and freedom to starve to death with no friends to help.
In this series of articles, I want to deal with some erroneous concepts of freedom that I have seen espoused by some who claim to be Christians. Because I do not want to deal in personalities, I will not name specific persons, books or articles, but only the false doctrine that is taught.
One author suggests that since we are divided, the very message that we proclaim in hopes of creating unity has been the cause of division. His suggested cure is, do not be concerned about the content of the message, for no doctrine is important enough to cause division! Of course we are divided. There has never been a long time, nor will there ever be a time the church does not have division. Jesus said He would cause division (Luke12:51). It comes between those who teach what Christ and the Apostles taught and authorized, and those who teach what men suppose MAY be true, contrary to that. If the message we proclaim in the hopes of creating unity is the same message proclaimed by Christ and His Apostles, and it does not create unity, it is NOT the nature of the message that is wrong, but the nature of those who refuse to receive it! Those who think, like this author, “We can never understand the truth anyway, so we cannot be expected to teach the same thing” do not solve the problem, but merely add to it.
Some are suggesting that if unity and fellowship are based upon doctrinal agreement, this rules out any thought of unity, for by our very nature, the only kind of unity we can have is “unity in diversity.” That is NOT SO! There is no preacher of my acquaintance who teaches that we must or should disfellowship a person simply because he disagrees on some doctrinal point. It depends on the nature of the disagreement and the doctrine. None of us denies that there are certain kinds of “unity in diversity” that not only are permissible, but absolutely inevitable, and God-ordained. There is unity in OUR own bodies, yet diversity in looks, function, etc. There is unity in a forest, but diversity in the trees and plants. That is not the kind of unity in diversity that is being urged on the brotherhood. The common popular use of the phrase is that we should be unified as brethren, NO MATTER WHAT FALSE DOCTRINE WE MAY believe or teach. That is false doctrine according to the Apostles and Christ himself. If this viewpoint is true, what possible sense could there be in Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy4:16, “Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching (doctrine). Continue in these things; for is doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee.” Why would Paul give the warning in Ephesians 4:14 “that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error?” Even the most ardent devotees of the “unity in diversity” doctrine teach that there can and should be unity on some doctrinal points, such as that Jesus is the Son of God. They do not explain why, if there can be unity on one truth that God teaches, why there can not be unity on other similar plain truths.
The logic of that position (if we may call it logic) seems to be this: Since salvation DOES NOT depend on rightly keeping the law (that is, every point of the law must be known and practiced in detail), then there is NO law of God (command or rule) that makes any difference whatever concerning salvation or fellowship! The only exception to that is that we must love.
That error is a serious one and apparently hard to detect. It is true that the basis of salvation is not LAW-KEEPING. We are saved by grace although we have broken God’s laws. Otherwise, none of us could be saved, for we have all broken God’s laws. But the appropriation of the grace by which alien sinners are saved involves repentance for having broken the law of God (which is what sin is). When one teaches that the laws of God are immaterial, irrelevant and unnecessary (or nonexistent) if only we love, for that is really the only law God has, then there is no way he can repent for having broken any other law (commandment of God). If this is true, then one does not need to repent or feel guilty for having disobeyed anything God said to do. The reasoning is, even when God gives us commands, examples, exhortations, warnings and principles, they are merely GUIDELINES for the expression of love. Then these false teachers say that we may express this love any way we choose without any particular regard for the specific commands, examples, exhortations and warnings! When one accepts that false conclusion, then he cannot repent for having broken ANY of God’s laws, except his failure to love, and thus avail himself of God’s saving grace!
The following kind of reasoning we find in many writings now: “Because of their very nature, praise, adoration and devotion cannot be demanded. Therefore, no command regarding worship has any validity.” It is true that it would be silly for God simply to make a law saying, “Adore me” and expect it to be effective. That does not change the fact that God himself has determined the KINDS of praise, adoration and devotion that He wants. Some of the Jews may have THOUGHT that “In Jerusalem (alone) men ought to worship.” They were wrong! The fact that they were wrong in thinking they could worship ONLY inJerusalemdid not mean they had a right to disregard God’s command to go toJerusalemto worship!
The statement has been made, “Doctrine, instead of the Savior, has become our center. The binding of scruples has limited the liberty of others.” There is little question in my mind that there are many that live as if correct doctrine is more important than having the mind of Christ. There is no question that some have attempted to bind laws upon men that God did not bind. There is nothing new about the fact that men have been binding where God did not bind, and loosing where God did not lose for many years. I, with thousands of other gospel preachers, deny that doctrine has become MY center, and I am opposed to the “binding of scruples” that limits the liberty of anyone. Yet, the conclusion that when we teach what Christ and His Apostles taught and urge no one to “go beyond the things that are written” (Rev. 22:18,19, 1 Tim. 4:16), we are “binding scruples” is false and dangerous. “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching (doctrine) of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son. If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching (doctrine), receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11).
There are three statements that are in one author’s writing that are particularly dangerous, partly because two of them are true, but they do not properly lead to his conclusion. Let us examine them that we may see the type of specious and dangerous arguments that he uses. He says, “A command without a principle is arbitrary, only satisfying a despotic whim.” Then, “Man’s tendency has been to emphasize the lawful demand and to minimize or fail to discern the principle.” His conclusion is: “It is the principle that should rule our conduct rather than the command.”
Note some important things about these statements: First, God gives no command without a principle behind that command, but man is not always required to recognize the principle before he can obey the command. Naaman probably did not understand the principle behind the command to dip in the riverJordan. That did not make the command “arbitrary or despotic.”
Second, although it is true that man’s tendency has been to emphasize the lawful demand and to minimize the principle, that does not properly lead to the conclusion that one has the right to de-emphasize the lawful demand. His conclusion that “It is the principle that should rule our conduct rather than the command” is an improper, invalid and dangerous conclusion. The proper conclusion is, “One should try to find the principle behind the command as he strives to obey it, but if he cannot understand WHY God commanded the act, he should obey it anyway as he strives to understand better God’s will.”
Satan knows that a truth, perverted or misapplied, is far more dangerous than an outright lie. So these false doctrines, interwoven with partial truths, are far more destructive to the church that some of the blatantly false doctrines of denominationalism.
FREEDOM FROM OR FREEDOM TO? (No. 2)
T. Pierce Brown
This is the second in a series of articles dealing with dangerous and erroneous concepts of what is involved in having freedom in Christ. There are some who reason like this as they advocate our freedom to disregard the Bible example concerning the Lord’s Supper: “If its purpose is to make us think on the atonement, then what difference does it make at what hour or on what day we do it, or if we do it twice on a day or several times weekly?”
He could proceed, “What difference does it make whether we take fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, for if our purpose is to think on the atonement, then buttermilk and corn bread would serve the purpose just as well, if we did it in love and thought of the atonement.” An extension of that logic (?) would be, “What difference does make if we do it at all, if we think we can accomplish the purpose for which it is given without doing it?” Not surprisingly, his comments about baptism are in the same vein. He says, “So the burial is in the tomb. The action of baptism symbolizes that. To millions of persons, dipping, pouring, or sprinkling of water ritually symbolizes that action.” His conclusion is that we should not be dogmatic against one who is convinced that these forms are acceptable expressions.
Imagine a man who claims to be a preacher of the gospel teaching that freedom in Christ means freedom to determine what you think is the principle behind a command, then obey or disobey that command as long as you think you uphold the principle! The truth is, one shows respect for the principle by faithfully obeying the command that emphasizes that principle, not by substituting something unauthorized of God.
The PRINCIPLE expressed by Samuel in I Samuel 15:22 is still valid, “To OBEY is better than sacrifice, and to HEARKEN than the fat of rams.” All through the Bible, both in Old and New Testament, we find examples or commands that show that God is not pleased when persons ASSUME they know more about how to express the PRINCIPLES which underlie the commands than God does. One cannot read the story thoughtfully without being impressed by the fact that Saul was following the logic pattern of these false teachers of today, ASSUMING he could get by with “keeping the principle” but disregarding the command.
The difference between the attitude of these false teachers and that of Paul is seen when we compare Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 11:24 with these statements. Paul says, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” These teachers say these kinds of things: “Such expresses an effort to fulfill legal requirements by obeying commands rather than to fulfill the purpose of refreshing our memories.” So their conclusion is: It would be practically impossible to partake of the cup in an unworthy manner as long as your purpose is to refresh your memory and think on the atonement, and to reason otherwise would be legalism!
Note in the statement above: “an effort to fulfill legal requirements by obeying commands RATHER THAN (caps mine TPB) to fulfill the purpose of refreshing our memories.” Of course any person who attempts to “fulfil legal requirements MERELY BY OBEYING OUTWARD COMMANDS rather than to fulfill the purpose of” the commands is wrong. Their erroneous assumption is that those of us who teach the importance of obeying the commands are automatically and necessarily more concerned with the outward ritual than we are with the purpose for which these rituals were given. IT IS NOT SO! Jesus put it in this language, “These ought ye to have done, AND NOT TO HAVE LEFT THE OTHER UNDONE” in speaking about a similar situation.
The fact that many of the Jews (and many Christians) got sidetracked and more involved with the correct rituals rather than understanding the meaning and purpose of the rituals does NOT mean that the ritual is therefore unimportant, unnecessary and invalid. There is no doubt that many who profess membership in the Lord’s church think, “I have been baptized. Therefore I have kept the law, and am saved.” They have a legalistic approach and are wrong. This in no way invalidates the importance of being baptized — obeying from the heart the form of doctrine delivered — as Paul puts it in Romans 6:17. These false teachers argue that it does. Their idea is that “in baptism, symbolically, one is transported back through time and space and buried with Christ where atonement is made.” If one can “symbolically” do that without actually being buried, he has that freedom! If one concludes that the word “baptism” MEANS burial, and Christ authorized ONLY a burial in water for the remission of sins, such a person is “legalistic,” and depending on his salvation for some trifling ceremony! This conclusion is invalid and dangerously wrong.
We keep hearing and reading such statements as, “Grace and truth were not a system of law to replace the old one.” This may be true, but their reasoning about it is invalid, as usual. For example, we read such statements as: “It is not a legal relationship, but a spiritual one.” If the statement was “not PRIMARILY,” I would have no argument with it. But they suggest that if it is a LEGAL requirement, it cannot be a spiritual one. To illustrate: Scripturally, marriage is not PRIMARILY a legal relationship, but a spiritual one. If we use this modern brand of logic, we would conclude that anyone who assumes there is any value in a ceremony or marriage license is merely legalistic and denying the true essence of marriage. Thousands have done this, and scoff at the idea that a “mere piece of paper” or a “few words from a priest or preacher” make any difference. “We love each other, and that is all that counts.” This position logically demands that we arrive at that conclusion. The truth is that Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” No scoffing at the idea that these are mere technicalities and whoever insists on them is “legalistic” will remove or change those requirements. We have seen members of various denominational bodies doing this for many years, but when we find it coming regularly now from those we have considered members of the Lord’s church, it is especially heartbreaking.
One who logically follows this method of reasoning can take Jesus’ statement “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he shall NOT enter the kingdom of heaven” and conclude (as thousands or millions have concluded), “That is `legalism’ and I will have nothing to do with it, for one is saved by grace, and if I can not be saved by grace ON MY OWN TERMS, I will not be saved at all. For a man to be born of water and the Spirit demands action on his part, and anytime action is demanded, this is ritualistic, legalistic and ridiculous.”
One author asks, “How would a listing of authoritative demands help a person show love?” His question implies the answer, “It could not.” He is wrong. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” It is as certain as it can be that a person shows love by listening to and obeying God’s commands.
One author says, “All though the ages, God was trying to get us simply to love Him and one another. That was THE PURPOSE (caps mine, TPB) of the law — .” He is wrong again. It is one thing to assume that the purpose of a commandment is merely to get a person to love Him, and another thing to teach that when one properly loves the Lord, he will do his commandments.
His conclusions are that the only law God has is love. None of his commandments are anything but guidelines for expressing love. If you want to express love in some other way than according to God’s guidelines, it is perfectly satisfactory, and any denial of that is termed “legalism.” When he says, “Expressed love fulfills the law of Christ,” he is ALMOST right. If he had said, “Love expressed as God directed it be expressed fulfills the law of Christ,” he would have been correct.
It is one thing to say as the Bible teaches, “You should express your love as God directs, not just substitute your own way of expressing it” and another to say, “You are not allowed to express your love in any way except in obedience to a command.” The latter statement is not true, and no gospel preacher of my acquaintance ever taught such, though these false teachers accuse us of teaching that. For example, a person should express his love for Jesus by taking the Lord’s Supper, consisting of fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, upon the first day of each week. This does not mean that he is not allowed to express love by raising his eyes to heaven and saying, “I love you, Lord.” But he is not to substitute his spontaneous expression of love and gratitude for God’s express command.
One writer even tries to teach that “worship by demand” is an irrational, ridiculous portrayal of God as an egocentric, arbitrary God who has required “our gifts to feed his pride.” That is, if we teach that God demands certain “acts of worship,” then we are teaching that God is irrational, egocentric and arbitrary! If that does not approach blasphemy, then we wonder what would! Imagine him standing there telling Cain and Able, “God said to offer a blood sacrifice, but if you assume He meant that, you must think of Him as egocentric, arbitrary, demanding God. Surely it would be just as appropriate to offer in love a grain offering!” The preachers whose articles and sermons we are reviewing was not there, but the author of the false doctrine they teach was there as he was in the Garden with Adam and Eve, and Cain believed it and suffered the consequences. The results are listed for our admonition and warning.
FREEDOM FROM OR TO? (No. 3)
T. Pierce Brown
This is the third in a series of articles dealing with some of the dangers of false conclusions concerning the kind of freedom we have in Christ. Many of those who are teaching a kind of freedom in Christ unauthorized by God’s word will quote such passages as Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Then they will emphasize “free from the law.” They conveniently overlook the fact that it is the law of the Spirit of life under which we operate that has made us free from another law. Therefore it should be plain that we are not free from all law, for the Bible plainly teaches we are “under law to Christ” (1 Cor.9:21).
One author quotes Acts15:10, “Why therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” Peter’s words had to do with the impropriety of binding on Christians the practice of circumcision and the keeping of the law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). This author’s application (or misapplication) of it is, “If you teach that there are any rules or commandments we must follow except just to love God and your neighbor, you are putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples and are condemned thereby.” It would seem by his teaching that the grace of God will cover almost every sin except the sin of teaching that we are under obligation to obey the commandments of the Lord!
His thesis is, “If you love God, none of the commandments of God have any binding effect, for you can express that love ANY WAY YOU CHOOSE and it is just as good as the ways God chose.” He says, “His instructions only tell us how to express our love.” Instead of teaching that false doctrine, the Bible teaches that God’s instructions teach us what He wants us to do, and we express our love by doing them, NOT BY SUBSTITUTING FOR THEM OR DISREGARDING THEM.
He repeats the kind of mistake that is so difficult to discern, but which underlies most of his misapplications when he says, “Love seeks the good of others instead of seeking to comply with regulations.” If he had said “instead of MERELY seeking to comply with regulations,” I would find no fault with his statement, but his unfortunate and improper way of making “either-or” statements is one of the things that makes his whole book full of error. The truth is, “Love seeks the good of others WHILE IT ALSO seeks to comply with God’s regulations.” The way he puts it, if one seeks the good of others ONE DOES NOT NEED TO REGARD GOD’S REGULATIONS AS BINDING, since all of God’s regulations were MERELY given to show love! This is not so!
The usual perverted reasoning and exegetical error are found in several authors who use Rahab as an example of the flexibility of God’s will, and advance the idea that we may disobey Him with impunity as long as we mean well. The reasoning goes like this: God taught that lying is wrong, yet Rahab lied and “is listed among the heroes of faith for that very reason.” Then they may quote Heb. 11:31 to prove the point. But Heb.11:31does NOT say that Rahab was approved BECAUSE SHE LIED. It specifically says in one version, “because she had given friendly welcome to the spies.” If a person can not see the difference between teaching that God shows mercy and forbearance to people in all generations IN SPITE OF THE FACT that they disobey his commandments, and in teaching that God contradicts himself and APPROVES of them disobeying His commandments, then any reasoning will probably be of no value to him. Surely most persons who read this will be able to see the difference.
Almost every false teacher whose work I have read which wrongly emphasizes the freedom we have in Christ uses Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath in Luke 13 to advance the idea that “If one of God’s laws seems to work a hardship on you, they are very flexible, and you can disregard them with impunity.” The very idea is contrary to God’s praise of those faithful men who died before they would disobey one of God’s commandments. Can you imagine one of these false teachers of today teaching any person that one of God’s commandments (or all of them combined) were worth dying for? His teaching would be, “If you love God, recognize that his commandments are mostly suggestions for demonstrating love, and live on in love, disregarding any commandments that you feel are unnecessary to demonstrate it.”
Instead of Jesus violating the law as these false teachers and the Jews claim, He was simply violating the Jew’s prejudicial misapplications of the law. There is nothing in the Old or New testament that implies that using God’s power to heal was any kind of violation of the Sabbath, neither was walking through the grain fields eating grain.
It is one thing to show from the Bible that God himself allows exceptions to his general rule (which He does on more than one occasion), in accordance with principles which HE defines, and another to teach that we have the right to make our OWN EXCEPTIONS in terms of principles which WE ASSUME are satisfactory.
One author concludes that if we shake hands instead of kissing, we may as properly “allow an alteration of the method by which the meaning of baptism is expressed.” That is, Paul said, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans16:16). Since we often greet one another with a handshake, according to him, we have substituted our expression of greeting for God’s command. The principle he teaches is: Since it is satisfactory and approved to substitute our way for God’s command in this instance, it is satisfactory to do it in any instance. His conclusion is based upon the idea that there is no way we can tell when an act mentioned was merely incidental or cultural and when it was important or continually significant for all generations. In which case, we could not really tell whether 2 Timothy2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God” is any more applicable to us than 2 Timothy 4:21, “Do thy diligence to come before winter.” According to his logic (?), if we decide to wait until winter to come, or perhaps not go at all, thus substituting our will for an expressed command, we may substitute it in all cases!
We admit that it is not always easy to know what is applicable. But the answer is not in assuming that almost any conclusion to which a person may come is just as valid as any conclusion to which another person may come. If there are no rules of interpretation that are valid, there is no standard by which we can say, “This is right and that is wrong.” The only thing that such a person can say is wrong is for us to be so arrogant and legalistic as to say anyone is wrong. Of course it is not arrogant and legalistic for them to say we are wrong, but only for us to say they are wrong!
The kind of perverted reasoning that is commonly used by those who misunderstand the kind of freedom we have in Christ is often begun with such statements as, “We have no right to limit the liberty of others by binding our scruples on them.” There should be no doubt about it. But when one equates “binding OUR SCRUPLES” with teaching them that God’s law is binding, he grievously errs.
One author says, “Circumcision was neither a plus nor a minus unless it hindered their faithful, loving work.” He apparently misunderstands the whole subject. Paul taught that it did not matter whether a CHRISTIAN was circumcised or not, AND THE PERSON WHO TAUGHT THAT IT WAS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION WAS A FALSE TEACHER, to whom Paul gave subjection “no, not for an hour.” This author, on the other hand, would teach, “It is false doctrine, but no false doctrine matters, for they had all been baptized and were children of God.” He does not seem to know that circumcision TO THE JEW was a commandment of God, and necessary for him to be a partaker of the covenant blessings. Circumcision TO THE CHRISTIAN was a matter of indifference, and no one had a right to bind it on him. God left the Christian free to do it or not. That is certainly not the same as a Christian deciding that it is merely a “human scruple” when God has commanded something, so you may choose to do it or not.
One author whose teaching would lead to the conclusion that freedom in Christ is freedom to do almost anything you please as long as it is not immoral says, “Paul tantalizes the legalist by not telling which side was right on the matter of eating foods and keeping days.” He does no such thing. He plainly teaches that it is not against the teaching of Christ to eat any kind of food. But he also teaches that the person who does not understand that is not thereby condemned. I know of no faithful gospel preacher who teaches otherwise. That is a far different thing than teaching that it makes no difference what God teaches, one can believe, teach and practice almost anything he chooses as long as he loves.
Most of these false teachers say such things as, “Fellowship must not be endangered by efforts to decide or bind scruples.” That is true, but they make no distinction between scruples that men may have and commandments that God decreed. I do not teach a person to be baptized because I have scruples against sprinkling, but because God said do it. Their tragic error is that they put the commands of God and scruples of men in the same category, and thus disregards and disobeys Paul’s teaching, “turn away from them” (2 Tim. 3:5).
These false teachers have no way that I can tell of obeying both of these commands: Titus 3:10, “A factious man after the first and second admonition, reject,” and Jude 3, “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” According to them, if one contends for the system of faith, he would be legalistic and factious, and should be rejected. But if he contends that almost any doctrine is satisfactory, for no one can properly understand what God wants us to do, then he is to be accepted!
One author asks, in an effort to prove that we should have fellowship with almost anyone (except, perhaps, with those who teach that God’s commands are binding), “Would it contaminate us to serve with someone in Christ who wore some sectarian name other then ours?” What does “contaminate us” have to do with the situation? Would it “contaminate us” to have a lying, murdering hypocrite sit by us in the assembly and take the bread out of the same plate with us? If we answer “No,” does that prove that it is right for the rascal to do it? He shows his bias by implying that the name we wear is sectarian. If the name “Christian” is sectarian, what could be unsectarian? We might ask, “Would it contaminate us to serve with someone who was NOT EVEN IN CHRIST, and who wore no name at all?” That which proves too much proves nothing, and as usual, this kind of question proves nothing. He says, “We have no alternative other than to accept him. It is not our prerogative to judge him.”
If that kind of logic is accepted, not only do we disregard Paul’s express teaching in Titus 3:10 and Romans16:17, we actually have no basis on which to have or not to have fellowship with ANYONE. If a person’s interpretation of the resurrection of Christ is that He was not ACTUALLY raised, but it was a spiritual resurrection (whatever that means), that is satisfactory. His interpretation of baptism is that it is sprinkling (or nothing at all), for it only symbolizes or suggests dying to sin and rising, and that can be done almost any way we choose. Who are we to think OUR interpretation is any better than his? He may interpret “Upon this rock I will build my church” as “Upon Peter I will build my church” and “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom” as “Peter was authorized as the first pope to make rules for the kingdom,” and I must accept his interpretation as valid!
According to these teachers, the only interpretation that is invalid and to be rejected is the interpretation that obedience to the commands of God is necessary. The only doctrine that is a cause for division is the doctrine that the commands of God are more than suggestions as to how one may express his love! The only man that is factious is the man who teaches that we all should speak the same thing and obey God’s commands, whether or not we can understand why God gave it. I am persuaded that no sensible, honest Bible student could arrive at that position without a long journey with a lot of help from the wrong sources. Jesus said, “He that wills to do his will shall know of my doctrine, whether I speak from myself or of God” (John7:17), and the key is probably found in the “will to do his will” rather than in the kind of philosophy that will enable me to find a way to circumvent it.
FREEDOM FROM OR TO? (No. 4)
T. Pierce Brown
This is the fourth in a series of articles dealing with some of the false doctrines, which are widely proclaimed and espoused today. Solomon said there was nothing new under the sun, but he surely did not have in mind some of the strange doctrines we hear these days from those who think the real freedom in Christ is freedom to teach any doctrine of which you can dream.
One of the strangest ones we have noticed, though it may not seem as dangerous as some other ones on the surface is that a false teacher is not one who teaches false doctrine, but one whose “nature” is false, insincere, haughty or immoral. That concept forces one to do what God condemns and forbids — judge a man’s motive. One must decide whether the person who is teaching false doctrine is doing it because he is ignorant and misunderstanding, or because he is insincere and haughty. The real truth is that we are not to deal in personalities at all, striving to discover the motives and be judgmental about why he teaches what he does. There is no way we can properly do that. But we can know if his doctrine differs from what God has revealed and turn away from such.
All doctrinal matters are important, for they involve what God teaches. But not all are EQUALLY important. Just as some parts of the body are vital to life. Others are necessary to proper functioning, but are not vital. The truths about Jesus, his nature, life, death, burial and resurrection are DOCTRINES, although they are good news and therefore Gospel. They are vital to life. Paul speaks of those who depart from the faith, “giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose conscience is seared” (1 Tim. 4:1f). This strange doctrine we have mentioned would force him to take this position: One man who is teaching the doctrine of demons must be evaluated and determined to be dishonest, deceitful and licentious, then he can be rejected. Another man who is teaching the same doctrine must be evaluated, and if you assume that he is not dishonest and licentious, you must receive him as a brother, no matter what doctrine he may teach!
Most of these false teachers who think they have found a new freedom in Christ seem to make the same kind of mistakes in their reasoning. They realize that a person does not have to understand all sorts of doctrinal points that a mature Christian should know in order to be saved from his past sins and become a Christian. Then they ASSUME that since this is true, he does not have to understand and OBEY FROM THE HEART some important doctrinal truths in order to become a Christian. They therefore makes no distinction between an immature Christian who is sectarian in disposition and nature (as were some of the Corinthians) and a member of some denomination who is sectarian in nature. There is a clear Biblical distinction between them. The former are Christians, for they started on the right foundation, but have not matured. The latter were never Christians in the first place and were sectarian from the start.
FREEDOM FROM OR TO? (No. 5)
T. Pierce Brown
This is the fifth in a series of articles dealing with some false doctrines of those who think freedom in Christ is freedom from any doctrinal restrictions. We are trying to point out that freedom in Christ is freedom from sin, and freedom to do whatever is authorized by Christ, unbound by sectarian rules and regulations and scruples of men.
We are continuing to hear a number of voices that are denying that God has any regulations regarding worship. They usually start with this kind of statement: “When one’s life is dedicated to God, whatever he does is worship.” Since the meaning of the term, “worship” is the same now as it was in Old Testament times, we can easily show any thoughtful person that this idea is not so. Let us take Abraham as an example. His life was dedicated to God. When he fed his livestock, he was dedicated to God. When God told him to offer his son on the altar, and they gathered the wood, it was a part of a life dedicated to God. If he had reasoned as these false teachers do, he would have said, “It is silly to talk of `going yonder and worshipping’, for we were worshipping as we fed the donkey this morning. To go through the silly ritual of offering my son is ridiculous, for I can demonstrate my love and faith in God any way I choose. My conclusion is that since my life and my son belong to God, I will not make God a `God of quibbles’ by assuming that I need to do what He said. His purpose in asking me to offer my son is that I may demonstrate my faith in Him. Since I can fulfil that purpose by offering the donkey instead of my son, I will do that instead of trying to fulfil some legalistic requirements simply to pacify an egocentric God with a `colossal ego problem’.” I thank God that Abraham had not imbibed the false philosophy of these false teachers!
Abraham knew that although all of his life was to be lived to the glory of God, not all of his life was worship. Worship is an act of homage or reverence PAID TO GOD. It is not that God has a “self-esteem problem that must be bolstered by man’s praise,” (as one author says), nor was it ever true that God could BE WORSHIPPED ONLY by demand. Contrary to what these false teachers may say, no faithful gospel preacher has ever taught that one can worship God only in a church building by going through “the five acts of worship.”
One false teacher, in trying to explain away the plain example of Nadab and Abihu who sinned by offering strange fire, not authorized, says, “Nadab and Abihu had been given complete instructions which they defied.” What he is trying to prove is that they were not condemned for doing what was not authorized. They were only condemned because they deliberately refused to do what God said, thus defying God. The argument is, “Those who use instrumental music (or do anything else not authorized of God) are not really defying God by REFUSING to do what He said. They are merely adding what they think is just as good, or better.” Why should they not have defied it if they reason like this false teacher does? He would have advised them to do exactly what they did! His reasoning goes like this, “One fire is as good as another. If you think you can show the reverence due to God by offering strange fire that He has not commanded, you should not think of God as a harsh, unloving, egocentric God who makes any demands on you. So, go ahead and offer any thing you choose, any way you choose!” Note carefully: Nadab and Abihu were not told, “The only place or way you can worship God is to go through `the three acts of worship’ in the tabernacle.” They, David, or Abraham could worship God out on the hillside or any other place. Nor were they required to use the fire from the burnt offering each time they worshipped. That was no excuse for their substituting something different for what God had commanded. Abraham did not have to take Isaac to the mountain and offer him on the altar in order to worship! He DID have to take him to obey that particular command. That would not have been a proper excuse for substituting the donkey for Isaac, or deciding they would go to some other place than the mountain.
What does that have to do with the situation before us? I have worshipped God lying on my back in bed, hanging out of the bomb bay of an airplane, at 35,000 feet in the air, and in various other strange places and times. A housewife can worship God while she washes dishes, prepares peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her children, or at any other time or place. That is no excuse for substituting peanut butter and jelly for the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, even if she “thinks on the atonement” at that time. Nor does it mean that the preparation of the sandwich is an act of worship. It is an act authorized of God, approved of God, and pleasing to God to thus prepare food for one’s child. But no careful reader of the Bible should fail to see that in all ages worship was the deliberate act of paying homage to another. In order to be valid it must be done in accordance with God’s commandments, for it is vain if it is done according to man’s ideas (Matthew 15:9).
Is it possible that a Christian could fall into the sin of worship of an idol? The person who might see Paul eat meat offered to an idol (2 Cor. 10:27-29) and might, though honest and sincere, eat meat as an act of worship to an idol, could not thereby sin, according to the reasoning of these false teachers. Even if he worshipped the idol, he would actually be worshipping God, for he meant well, and was honest and sincere. Remember that every act a Christian performs is supposed to be worship to God! What a confused mess! If this peculiar theory is right, the writers of the gospels did not understand about worship, for they represented people as “running TO Jesus, falling down and worshipping.” The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:27) was silly to think he should go to Jerusalem to worship, for when he got up that morning, it was an act of worship; when he went to the bathroom to clean his teeth, it was an act of worship; when he got in his chariot it was an act of worship, if the reasoning of these false teachers is sound.
One author says, “Because of their very nature praise, adoration and devotion can not be demanded.” As usual, he confuses two different things. The father does not say to his children, “Love me, or I will slap you.” The husband does not say to the wife, “Adore me, or you will suffer the consequences.” However, if the father should say to the child, “I want my birthday gift boxed and wrapped in green paper and tied with a yellow ribbon” and the child loves him, the child will do that. He will not reason, “My preacher says that is an arbitrary, egocentric, ridiculous attitude, and I will disregard it and give what I want however I want to give it.” If the husband says to the wife, “I would like steak and potatoes tonight instead of fish and hush puppies,” the wife who adores him will not reply, “I cannot adore on demand. Since I love you, I will take my preacher’s advice and offer you what I choose, when I choose, the way I choose, for good marriages are based on love, not on arbitrary, egocentric demands like that.”
The truth is that God has always told man how He wants to be praised, worshipped and adored at certain times. A person who can not see the difference in a father simply demanding that his children love and adore him, and telling them how he wants that love to be manifested on certain occasions is not very perceptive. The fact that a husband says to his wife, “I would like bacon and eggs for breakfast this morning” does not mean that she can not show her love and devotion some other way. It does mean that she can not properly follow the advice of these false teachers and reason, “Since devotion can not be demanded, I will serve you whatever I want when, if and as I want to, no matter what is your indicated desire.”
A sample of the vain and misguided reasoning done by these false teachers is found in this quotation: “How can we be in communion/fellowship with one who is not of the Church of Christ when he comes to our services and then deny that fellowship at all other times?” It is appalling to think of the lack of reasoning behind such a question. If an unbelieving, idol worshipping, murderer were to come into our services, he could sit on a pew, sing, take the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, but he would neither be having spiritual fellowship with Christ nor would he be accepted or recognized as being in fellowship with the church. Surely even these misguided teachers know that to sit down on a bus or plane by a person is not the same as inviting him into your home. To sit on a pew by a person who is not even known to you is not the same as recognizing him as a brother in Christ. It is not a matter of us “accepting him on his self-examination at the Lord’s Table.” It is the Lord’s Table, not ours, so we neither accept nor reject a person at that time. It should not take a genius to recognize that there is a great deal of difference in allowing a lying, murdering rascal, the Pope of Rome or a Mohammedan to attend the services and take whatever part he chooses as a visitor, and to recognize him as a brother in Christ with whom we have Christian fellowship. Is it so hard to see the difference between accepting a person as a Christian who tells us he has been immersed into Christ for the remission of his sins and accepting a person as a Christian who comes in for a visit and sits on a pew without professing anything? If a person who had been a Mohammedan should come in and tell me in specific terms that he had done what Christ said to do to be saved, showing that he knew what that was, I would receive him in fellowship on that profession. The position of these false teachers would forbid my asking him anything else or finding out whether he was telling the truth about that. Furthermore, I would be required to have fellowship with him after I found out that he was lying and teaching false doctrine because I had “communionfellowship with one who was not of the Church of Christ” by allowing him to sit on the pew and sing or participate in other parts of the activities of the church!
The truth of the matter is that if I am in fellowship with Christ, I am in fellowship with all others who are in fellowship with him, whether I know it or not. There is little doubt that there are lying, hypocritical rascals with whom I act as if I have fellowship, for I have to respond to them in terms of what I can see, hear and know. There is also no doubt that I do not act as if I have fellowship with some others who are children of God, for I must respond on the basis of what I have seen, heard and known about them. Paul gives a list of persons in Ephesians 5:5ff that will not inherit the kingdom of God. He says in verse 11, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” However, there may be covetous, unclean persons, deceiving with empty words about whom I do not know, so I act as if I have fellowship with them. When I see or hear evidence that makes me conclude they have no fellowship with Christ, then I act as if I do not have fellowship with them. The fact that I may be mistaken about that does not change my responsibility to strive to follow the teaching of Christ and the Apostles in this regard. These false teachers apparently think they have solved the problem by acting in fellowship with one who teaches any sort of doctrine, for no doctrine makes any difference, according to them.
I now close this series of articles reviewing some false doctrines being taught by those who misunderstand and pervert the idea of our freedom in Christ. As I do, let us look at one last conclusion to which one of them came. One might have expected him to come to that conclusion as a result of his disregard of the many warnings and admonitions concerning the dangers of following false teachers. He says, “New Testament scriptures will not be necessary as they (that is, new converts) continue to call on their God in Christ.” I thought this was surely a typographical error, but a re-reading of the chapter which emphasizes that the Ethiopian did not have the New Testament, and got along very well as a Christian by using the Old, convinces me that it is not a typographical error.
That particular preacher actually thinks that we do not really need the instructions, doctrine, teaching of the New Testament in order to be pleasing to God, for we have written on our hearts the command to love God and our fellow man. If we do that to the best of our ability, we will be saved. If we conclude that we need to know or obey the doctrine revealed in the New Testament, then we automatically are bound by a legalistic process of justification by works, and will probably be lost in spite of the grace of God that saves almost everyone else! It should not shock us to realize that this is the logical conclusion for those who start with the assumption that we have freedom in Christ to dispense with any doctrine. When we obey the gospel, that gives us freedom to disregard any thing else that might divide us! May God help us to accept the freedom that is in Christ without assuming it means freedom to reject his authority.