By Harry Osborne
Over the past week as this article is written, America has been introduced to the now infamous “dimpled chads” from ballots here in Florida. Those of us who voted by punch ballot in Florida were expressly instructed to make sure the chad was removed, but that clear instruction was somehow dismissed. Canvassing boards in three counties have stepped in to divine the intent of the voters by these dimpled chads. Hence, a few people are trying to determine who is our next President on the basis of faint marks on ballots rather than by clear votes.
With each ballot, the counters must ask whether the mark was made by one intending it as a vote, by one who drew back the stylus intending not to vote, by a slip of the voter’s hand or by an act of the counter. In any case, the mark would look the same. Yet, some are saying that all dimples must be counted as votes, at least when in the column of one candidate. True, the voter cannot be called upon to express such intent, but these diviners of intent assure us that they know. True, these dimpled chads would not be there in the first place if the voter had followed instructions. Nonetheless, we are assured the intention of the voter must be interpreted rather than his action.
All of this reminded me of the similar process undertaken over the past few years by some brethren who have found various things which they assure us were intended to be in Romans 14, though not clearly stated. Yes, we have among brethren the diviners of dimpled chads in Romans 14. They claim to be the diviners of divine intent regardless of the clear instruction given in the passage. These doctors of divine dimplology have assembled their collective wisdom to set forth their edicts on the basis of subjective chad readings. As might be expected, they have found the votes for an ever increasing “area of tolerance” in the mutilated ballots of Scripture.
Dimpled Chad #1: Some Doctrinal Errors
For the past ten years or more, some brethren have sought to provide for an “area of tolerance” of some doctrinal errors under the provisions of Romans 14. Brethren seeking to uphold the truth have noted that this passage cannot be used legitimately to provide for doctrinal errors. Romans 14 was written to address two main points:
First, the chapter addressed some brethren who believed it was wrong to eat meat and some who believed that it was mandatory to observe certain days. It is probable that both views were based upon regulations of Old Testament law thought to be still binding under the Gospel. These people are seen as the “weak” of the context. They are clearly corrected by Paul when told that God received the meat eater in his practice (v. 4), that the practice may be continued by one who is “fully assured in his own mind” (v. 5), that each practice was “unto the Lord” (v. 6), and that the practice was “good” or “pure” (vv. 16, 20). Thus, they had no right to condemn what God accepted.
Second, the inspired writer addressed another group as the “strong” who understood that Old Testament regulations on these matters were no longer binding. This group did not believe that others must eat meat, nor did they forbid the observing of days. They did, however, understand that such matters were in a realm of activity neither commanded nor forbidden, but were allowed as legitimate area of liberty since the practices themselves were indifferent to God. The “strong” are instructed not to insist upon their right to exercise such liberty to the destruction of the “weak.”
Those seeking a broader application of Romans 14 have told us that the inspired writer did not instruct the readers to “settle the issue on the basis of which was right or wrong.” They have come up with subjective rules as to which doctrinal differences are “included” and which are “excluded.” The truth of it is that no doctrinal error is included in Romans 14, but all are excluded. The pattern for dealing with doctrinal error is found in other passages (2 John 9-11; Rom. 16:17; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). The Scripture is plain. We have no authority to insert doctrinal error into the realm of authorized liberty defined in Romans 14. The dimpled chad of doctrinal error must be thrown out!
Dimpled Chad #2: Sinful Practices of the Conscientious Individual
Another dimpled chad thought to extend the total of things included in Romans 14 is the effort to include some individual practices of sin in the scope of the passage. Of course, these brethren have told us that individual sins which are specified should not count, but sins not specified and about which there is doubt should count. One brother expressed it as follows in an article concerning Romans 14:
It should be observed, however, that not all individual matters fall into this area of tolerance. None of us would be willing to tolerate lying, stealing, murder, or any specified sin (clearly established) regardless of who or how many were involved. Yet, there comes a time when men of knowledge, who are conscientious, differ over whether or not a transgression is involved in the action in question. Such are comparable to the differences in our text.
Do you understand the implication of such statements? Murder is a specified sin. Abortion is not specified, but stands condemned under the same principle. If “men of knowledge, who are conscientious, differ over whether or not a transgression is involved” in abortion, should it be tolerated per Romans 14? Drunkenness is a specified sin. However, social drinking is not specified, but is implicitly condemned in Scripture (1 Pet. 4:3). If “men of knowledge, who are conscientious, differ over whether or not a transgression is involved” in social drinking, should it be tolerated among us? Some men held to be conscientious are now teaching that we all would condemn immodest dress, but they say we cannot be sure modern swim wear and cheerleader outfits are really immodest. Some argue that lasciviousness is specifically condemned, but modern dancing is not specified as lasciviousness in Scripture. Hence, they tell us, we ought to tolerate such activity without making it a test of fellowship.
With the opening of the flood gate to tolerate sin, more applications have been made. Some “men of knowledge, who are conscientious, differ over whether or not a transgression is involved” if one divorces without scriptural cause and remarries before baptism. Other “men of knowledge, who are conscientious, differ over whether or not a transgression is involved” in the remarriage of the guilty party. Should we admit one or both of these into our area of tolerance on a dimpled chad reading of Matthew 19 or 1 Corinthians 7? However well respected and widely accepted those justifying such sinful practice might be, the word of God gives but one exception whereby one may lawfully put away a spouse and marry another (Matt. 19:9). Neither the teacher nor the practitioner of such sin may be rightly received among faithful saints. The dimpled chad of sinful practices, individual or otherwise, must be thrown out!
Dimpled Chad #3: Nebulous Matters,
Gray Areas & Matters Lacking Clarity
The efforts by some brethren to extend the total of things covered in Romans 14 to include nebulous, gray chads has uncanny parallel to the current political efforts. Our diviners of ballot chad seem to be going by the rule, “When in doubt, count it.” Forget the responsibility to see clear evidence of a vote — any mark however vague is said to count. Our spiritual cherubs of chad go by much the same rule. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) has been replaced with “question all passages, tolerate that which can be subjectively classified as lacking in clarity.”
In order to make room for this growing gray area, we are told that Romans 14 addressed “nebulous matters among them.” Ed Harrell began the current effort to extend this area of tolerance by identifying error taught on divorce and remarriage as a matter lacking “clarity.” He urged the continued fellowship of one teaching such error. From that point, the listed of “doubtful,” “nebulous” and “gray” matters has continued to increase. As noted earlier, moral sins such as immodest dress, social drinking, dancing and gambling on the state lottery have been put in this area by some. Of course, some brethren have argued for years that no clear passage exists to mandate attendance on Sunday night, Wednesday night, special classes or gospel meetings. Thus, why not throw them into the area of tolerance? The list could go on and on.
And where has this growing pile of nebulous chad led us? It has led us to the point that learned brethren teaching young people the Bible in college classes and traveling seminars cannot be sure what the meaning of “day” is. Amazing! Nor can they be certain that “the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear” (Heb. 11:3). They say it could be the worlds came from the Big Bang. They are not sure whether man and woman were created at “the beginning of the creation” or nearer our end of time (see Mark 10:6). They cannot tell whether God “spake and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast” or whether the physical world is the result of billions of years of uniformitarian change (see Ps. 33:8-9).
God says his word can and must be understood (Eph. 5:17). If we keep our focus on the truth as commanded, exemplified and necessarily implied in Scripture, we will avoid the pitfalls of spiritual chad divination. The word of God fully instructs and corrects us that we might come to completeness in Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Let us stick to the divine oracles rather than justifying a growing area of tolerance on the basis of manufacturing a mandate from the misuse of Romans 14.
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