Faith, Works and Division
We, all know how easy it is to say love, and how difficult, but rewarding, it is to practice it (Matt. 5:44; 23:3; Acts 20:35; Jas. 2; 1 Pet. 1:22). We can sympathize with all who try to maintain the "unity of the spirit in the bond of Peace" (Eph. 4:1-16; 1 Cor. 1:10; Jno. 17:21; Prov. 6:19). We have all experienced wishy-washy compromise on one extreme (Jude 16) and selfish pride on the other (3 John 9,10). Nevertheless, when we try to the best of our ability and opportunity (Matt. 25:14-30; 1 Pet. 4:11) to say and do according to God's Will (Col. 3:17), we shall have the kind of unity God wants from us. This unity will make our lights brighter (Matt. 5:13-16) for Truth seekers and keep the church as near the "pattern" (Tit. 1:7) as possible.
We will have differences; even difference we believe will affect soul salvation. These do not always have to cause ungodly division, as opposed to the kind Christ caused (Jno. 7:43). A Christian could confide doubts about our resurrection, but "saying" it in the manner of Hymenaeus and Philetus would ultimately "overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim. 2:17,18). Most of us agree it is easier to force division over matters of congregational involvement since we are "joined" to what the congregation to which we belong does (Acts 9:26). Disgraceful schism (1 Cor. 12:25) has occurred over individual responsibilities, from judgmental matters such as smoking, to the fundamental truth of the deity of Christ.
There are times we must "withdraw" (1 Tim. 6:3-5). The cause of ungodly division is on the "side" of those who taught "otherwise;" who "abide not in the doctrine of Christ;" who "cause divisions and offences;" who "leaven" others with their "commonly reported" sins; and any who "bid Godspeed" to such (1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Thess. 3:6-16; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Jno. 9-11). Man's withdrawal of "fellowship" (sharing; joint participation; communion; and togetherness) is not nearly of the magnitude of that of God's. However, for individuals and congregations (churches do have a "sharing" with each other, but not to the extent of individual "fellowship" (Acts 14:26-28; Rom. 16:16; 2 Cor. 8:1-4) to no longer "recommend" and to "mark" another as divisive and sin-causing, should be considered a serious consequence by those commanded to "love one another with a pure heart fervently."
Division: A Case in Point
In May of 1973, the church in Polson, Montana divided over a "salvation-by-faith-only" heresy. Gary Burlington, one of the preachers, gave one of his reasons for helping start a new church; "I was told I could not preach my beliefs." Some of these beliefs were: "man is so totally depraved, he cannot do anything to save himself;" "we are saved by faith alone;" "we are saved only by grace;" "Paul places faith and works completely opposite;" "faith is not a work, Christ was being sarcastic in John 6:29;" "baptism cannot save us;" "It is impossible to keep any law;" and "righteousness of any law is wrong." In contrast, see Matt. 7:21; Acts 2:37-41; 10:34; 17:31; 22:16; Rom. 3:27; 8:2; 10:1,3; 1 Cor. 9'.21; 2 Cor. 5; 7:1; 13:11; Jas. chs. 1 and 2; 1 Pet. 3:21; 4:11; 1 Jno. 3:4,5).
Keith Smothers, the then full-time preacher at Polson, agreed with most of the false teaching, but said his reason for helping start another church was the ungodliness of the original congregation (sin is still being corrected when it emerges). Dan Copeland, who also helped preach, after several weeks joined the apostate church.
They found comfort in Ed Fudges' Grace of God booklet. While much taught therein is ambiguous, some definite false doctrine is taught (e.g.: ``no man can be saved by keeping the rules" - P. 15; and "no one can ever be saved by law" - p. 18). Scripture teaches we are saved by keeping God's rules and the "law of liberty", (Jno. 8:51; 14:21; Rom. 8.2; Jas. 1:21-29; 2:10-13; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; 1 Jno. 3:24; Rev. 22:7).
Other Teachings Not "Pushed"
It was argued 2 Jno. 9-11 restricted only those who said Christ was not God. However, the context shows Christ's commandments and doctrine of Christ are involved. It was argued we could join churches who recommended those causing division over "institutionalism," if such churches were not currently forcing any members out over it. These teachings, though; were hardly a factor in the division.
After the division, a wresting of Romans 4 and 1 John 1 did surface. They taught, in varying degree, "the blood of Christ will >cleanse' some sins (they specified non-rebellious and non-persisting sins) without having to >confess' or 'repent and pray.=" In contrast, see Acts 8,22; 1 Jno. 1:9; Jas. 2:8-14; 1:13-25; 2 Pet. 3:9; Matt. 25:14-30; Rom. 8:26; 6:23). Our "fruits of darkness" cost us the privilege of "walking in the light" of God's fellowship (Eph. 5:8-11; Jas. 1:17; 1 Jno. 1-2:3. Our repentant confession to God is the first step back into walking "in the light," wherein Christ's blood cleanses us.
Some Reasons For The Division
While basically gentle and loving saints, their fruits (Matt. 7:15-29) show other attributes now: lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6); too little love (I Pet. 1:22); self-righteousness (Rom. 10:1-4); evil speaking (Jas. 4:11); stubbornness (1 Sam. 15:23); guile (1 Pet. 2:1); wisdom of the "wise" (1 Cor. 1:17-31); not abiding in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jno. 9) and causing division (Rom. 16:17).
The roots for such a tree are many. It is true many Christians act like they are "owed" a home in Heaven just because they have been baptized and are in Christ's church, without faith-full-ness (Rev. 2:10). Similarly, there were Jews who felt the "reward" was reckoned a "debt" owed them because they were circumcised and Jews, and they too neglected faith (Rom. 3:27-4:5; Hab. 2:4; Jno. 4:24). However, when our "fruits" demonstrate faith "toward God" (Heb. 6:1) and thankfulness for God's grace (which is not some mystical, inexplicableness, but simply means favor, undeserved, when from God to man), we should not be repeatedly accused of trying to "merit" salvation. Even God's works for us today (opposed to works of the law of Moses; of the flesh; and man's own (Gal. 2:16; 5:19-26; Tit. 3:5), while essential in working out our soul salvation (Phil. 2:12; Acts 10:34; Rom. 3:27; 8:2; Jas. 2; 1 Pet. 3:21), still find us dependent on God (Lk. 17:10; Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Tim. 1:12).
Need For Assurance
They have "gone onward" in seeking more assurance God is with them. They say, "we can do nothing to save ourselves and therefore only grace can save us." If this were true, we could be relieved of all concern about our own erring potential and just "throw ourselves on the cross" of our unerring God. God has the power to save us by His Greatness alone, but He has not chosen to do so (Jno. 3:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rev. 2:10).
We do find abundant assurance in that God "is not willing that any should perish" (Heb: 11:6; Matt:. 7:7-14; 11:28-36; 18:12-14; Mk. 16:16; Rom. 8:35-39; 10:10; ;1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Jno. 1; Ps. 1; 23; 84:11,12). There is no good reason to worry about diligent seekers of God dying without finding Him, meeting His conditions, whether an "alien" sinner or wandering sheep, whether on a desert or in a car speeding through a stop sign, whether in Africa or the darkest of America! We must trust God's promises glad obey Him!
While assigning others a "haughty spirit" through "trusting in works," they cloak themselves with a mantle of super-humility (?). They inform us, "we cannot do anything to save ourselves, we put all our trust in God's grace." In such a context, only a "conceited Pharisee" would dare disagree, or so they would have us believe (see Jno. 6:27-32; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:22; Acts 2:40).
Rebellion Against Authority
They stress "no law or 'system' can affect our' soul salvation" (see Jas. 1:21,25; 2:10-12; Rom. 8:2). Such independence breeds spiritual anarchy, with the usual chaos and self-destructive contradiction. While it is true there are still "parties" in Christ's church (1 Cor. 1), zeal in opposing "party-line" should not sweep us "beyond" Christ's "party line" (2 Jno. 9), no matter how orthodox that makes us.
Mystery (?) Of Grace
A yielding to the mysterious reveals itself in their use of the word grace. Actually, God's favor to man is more readily comprehended than His Supreme Greatness (Psalms 103 and 139; Jno. 1:1-5; Rom. 1:20), without which His favor would be no more significant than man's grace! The proclamation, "we are saved only by grace, but not by grace only" is supposed to reflect deep faith and wisdom, approaching the mystical, when it is really desperate contradiction.
Illustrating confusion over a related phrase, "fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4), were statements from two "sound" (?) preachers who recently visited me. While admitting they had sinned, both declared they "never had fallen from grace." Even after discussing degrees of "falling," sometimes momentary (Acts 8:18-23), sometimes continual (Heb. 10:26-31), sometimes "unto death" (1 Jno. 5:16; Heb. 6:6), they persisted. Can they really believe God has looked in favor upon them while in the very act of transgressing His Will (see Jas. 1:12-18; 2:10)? It is true, when we pray in repentance to God, we cannot have total "recall" or absolute knowledge of all that is against God's Will. We should repent of all sins nevertheless, just as we did when we first obeyed the Gospel (Acts 2:38; 8:18-24; 2 Cor. 7:10; Rom. 8:26,27; Lev. 5:17-19). God knows if our hearts offer Agodly sorrow" or "sorrow of the world."
The subjects of faith, grace, law, works, righteousness and fellowship have been disagreed among faithful Christians before, without causing division. The "lawless" among us now are going to the extreme similar to that of Hymenaeus and Philetus, to the overthrowing of the faith. Deep convictions of faithful and learned saints are disdained as "party-line." Stubbornness is mistaken for courage: "Princes of this world" (1 Cor. 2:6) are too often lauded and brethren in Christ too often slandered. There is more willingness to accommodate denominational "Calvinists" on the "plain of Ono" (Neh. 6:2) than to keep "the unity of the Spirit" with blood-bought brothers and sisters. Pathetic cries, "we are misrepresented," ring hollow when they consistently weave ambiguities. Yes, they are confused, and should admit it, rather than assigning to others bigotry ndd ignorance for not "understanding them."
Though the siren song, "God does it all," will always attract many (Matt. 7:13,14), God is still "the author of eternal salvation unto all that obey Him" (Heb. 5:9). We will stand before God and be saved or damned depending on God's undeserved favor and our works, deeds and fruits done in our body (Jno. 5:29; 15:1-6; Rom. 2:6-11; 6:17-23; 10-16; 14,11,12; 2 Cor. 5-1-11.) We can expect to be saved eternally because God is (Ex. 3:14; Rom. 9:1421), God will save us (Jno. 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; Jno. 14:1-4); and we will save ourselves (Jno. 11:25; Acts 2:37-40; Phil. 2:12). God will not alone save us. We cannot, alone, save ourselves. Meanwhile, we must all continue to "contend for the faith" (Jude 3).
Truth Magazine, XVIII:46, p. 10-11