October 17, 2017

Subjectivism (VI): The Fellowship Smokescreen

By C.G. (Colly) Caldwell, III

The ground on which the subjectivist most often chooses to defend his cause is the question of fellowship. "To whom may a Christian deny fellowship?" he asks. Those among churches of Christ are answering their own question by saying that they can deny fellowship to no one who has come into Christ through scriptural baptism. Almost without exception their major proof-text is Romans 14. The appeal is that we all differ on some things and since that is true we should agree to disagree on all points of difference (except perhaps on the deity of Jesus) and fellowship each other in spite of our doctrinal problems.

First, the philosophy called "unity in diversity" in matters upon which God has revealed his mind is not only unscriptural: It is anti-scriptural (1 Cor. 1:10). What the subjectivist is really arguing is that it is all right to differ with God. That is why I have called the fellowship issue a "smokescreen." Suppose we do agree to fellowship all baptized persons. Does that mean that all baptized persons are right with God, walking in the light? If not, we are walking with those in darkness. If so, Gods word on any point other than the deity of Jesus is not worth the snap of your finger, certainly not worth contending for earnestly (Jude 3). Now get in mind what the subjectivist is doing. He is not really arguing for fellowship. He is arguing against a strong stand on the word of God. He will "scream and holler" (no, probably he will smile, fold his hands, say that he loves me and in a whisper affirm) that he is not, but that is exactly the whole point of the whole thing!

Romans 14

Now, let us look at that proof-text, Romans 14. It is a great chapter and at first hearing the position on it sounds wonderful. One question, however, brings the picture into focus: "On what kind of difference does Paul tell brethren they may disagree." (See also 2 Cor. 8; 10: 14-11 :1)? I affirm that Paul is talking: (1) about matters of personal scruple (that is, matters that clearly affect the Christian personally and which may be participated in without involving any other Christian), and (2) about matters which both the weaker brother and the stronger brother ought to understand are left by God to personal application at the individuals own discretion.

The point of the passage is stated in verse three. First, "Let not him that eateth set as nought him that eateth not." The instruction given here is to the stronger brother who knows that he can eat privately without religious significance and not sin. His attitude toward his weaker brother (who, regardless of weakness in personal strength on this point, is stringently trying to follow Gods revealed will and thus will not do anything which bothers his conscience) is one of love and good will, not condemnation. You will note that the weaker brother has not violated Gods will nor has he presumed to do anything apart from Gods word.

". . . And let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth." This is the instruction to the weaker brother who will not eat meat which has been offered to idols at all. Why, because he strongly believes it is wrong to eat any meat offered to idols? No, he knows that "God hath received" the man who eats and he knows that God does not receive the man who continues in sin. Do not let the subjectivist dodge here by saying that God received this stronger brother when he was baptized. Paul is not talking about his reception upon the basis of baptism. He is talking about acceptance of both men regarding the matter of eating meat. The stronger brother eats and God accepts him in it.

Why then does this weaker brother not eat? He does not eat because, in spite of Gods granting him the liberty to eat, he cannot without compunction of conscience bring himself to eat. The Lord says that he does not sin if he refuses to eat so he does not eat. Nothing is involved but an innocent personal privilege. Paul is not speaking on a point which affects the work or worship of the collectivity. If he were the man would be expressly prohibited from interjecting his views into the affairs of the church (Col. 2:20-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-4; Matt. 15:1-6).

God also, however, tells him not to judge the man who does eat. Why, because God desires that he not firmly takes a stand on a point of faith? No, God never asked any man to overlook sin, compromise truth, or fellowship men in darkness. If so Jesus and the apostles failed to set the proper example for they did not condone sin or fail to judge the sinner who would not recognize the word of God and turn from his evil. Why then must he not judge the man who eats? Look at the text . . ." For God hath received him." Even the weaker brother is to do what he does because he recognized Gods wishes in the matter. Why receive the other man? Because God says that He has received him and approved his action and thus the weaker brother must receive him too.

The subjectivist identifies the "weaker brother" in this passage with one who has not come to know Gods will and thus acts (or does not act as the case may be) in the matter at hand apart from Gods revelation. That is not the case. Paul has told him what God says about his freedom to eat meat or not to eat. He understands that. He is not refusing to accept Gods word. He may be overly cautious but he has committed no presumptuous act. If he had, and not turned from it, God would not have received him, and I take it that he, too, is received by God since God told the stronger brother not to judge him either. Suppose for example that this brother began to eat meat as a religious act of worship. Would Pauls instruction be the same? Certainly not. The man would then be in sin and that is a different matter altogether (1 Cor. 10:20-22).

Scriptural Disagreement: The Rule

On what then may we scripturally disagree. Answer: (1) on those matters on which God has not revealed his mind and (2) on matters of personal concern left by God to the judgment of individual Christians to be determined within the framework of personal spiritual strength and private circumstance. It is true that we should be patient, considering one anothers shortcomings (especially on difficult points of scriptural study) in the application of these guidelines to the subject of fellowship. But to add to these guidelines the realm of revealed New Testament authority and precedent which involves collective action is to leave the question of fellowship and to affirm allegiance with the lawless one (2 Thess. 2:8-12). Again, the fellowship issue is a smokescreen. It is designed to hide the marriage ceremony of the subjectivist (divorced without cause from the word of God) to worldly, human rationalism.

One more time and we will conclude this series. Who is the subjectivist? He is the man who rejects strong responsibility to an objective written standard, the New Testament. He exalts personal elements in experience and feeling (his own and others) as ultimate criteria on which to judge whether a man is in relationship with God. He refuses to challenge those subjective standards with the objective word of God. His preaching leads to the abandonment of real conviction (except perhaps on the topic of his subjectivism). He is a dangerous man because he does not properly love the revealed truth of God (though he, like the cultists, professes strongly his allegiance to the Bible). He is a vulnerable man because he is open game for theological liberalism and skepticism. Be aware of him. Study his doctrines and philosophy. Study the truth. Pray for wisdom to be able to overcome the subtle, lying, workings of Satan (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

January 18, 1973