By Johnny Stringer
In the July, 1973, issue of mission messenger, edited by W. Carl Ketcherside, there is an article by F. L. Lemley entitled “The Alternatives.,” In this article Lemley maintains that we are not required to follow the scriptural pattern regarding. such matters as the organization, work, and worship of the church.
Says Bible is Unclear
Lemley blasphemously charges God with giving a revelation that is so unclear that we cannot understand it and apply it., He argues that since “all scripture must be interpreted,” different interpretations will arise and “we should long ago have made room for them.” The fact that the scriptures are not clear, he says, is proved by the fact that even “our Ph. D’s” err, as is demonstrated by the fact that they disagree. “If the pattern is all that clear,” Lemley asks, “why the discussion?” He then affirms that “if the pattern is clear surely the Ph. D’s ought to be able to agree on it . . .”
The fact that the educated men differ, Lemley assumes, is because the revelation is not clear. He then concludes that if the message is so unclear on certain points that even Ph. D.’s disagree on those points, we should not take such a strong stand on those matters.
But think: Ph. D.’s differ on such matters as the existence of God, the divine origin of the scriptures, and the necessity of baptism. According to Lemley’s reasoning, the fact that Ph. D.’s differ on these matters proves that the evidence concerning these matters is not clear and we should not take a strong stand on them. Will he accept this conclusion? It is the logical result of his reasoning, and if he rejects it he is inconsistent.
Of course, Brother Lemley’s position is not new. He is simply parroting the denominationalists who have long asserted that “we cannot all understand the Bible alike” and “everyone has a right to his own interpretation.” The refutation of Lemley’s contention, therefore, is the same as the reply that brethren have long been giving the denominationalists: (1) To say that the revelation of God cannot be understood is a reflection upon God-it is to say that God is at fault for our divisions because He gave us an inadequate revelation; (2) We are commanded to understand God’s will (Eph. 5:17), and God does not command us to do anything that we are unable to do; (3) If we cannot understand the Bible, then why did God give it to us? It is utterly useless if it cannot be understood.
“Fatal” Errors Vs. “Unimportant” Ones
Lemley goes on in the article to say that only certain mistakes are fatal, while others are “of little importance” and “innocuous.” He then says, “Now the question arises, ‘Who is to decide which truths or doctrines are indispensable, and which mistakes are fatal” Lemley evidently thinks that the one to make that decision is Lemley, for he then presumes to issue his authoritative pronouncements regarding just which mistakes are important. I suppose he figures that someone has to sit in judgment upon God’s word and decide just which parts of it are really important, so it might as well be him.
Thus, he offers some “guidelines,” saying that a mistake is fatal if it: (1) “contradicts the nature of God,” (2) “destroys faith in or discredits the work of Jesus as the Messiah and Savior,” or (3) “leads to immorality.”
For the second guideline he gives 2 Tim. 2:17 and 2 John 9-11 as scriptural references. For the third guideline, regarding immorality, he gives 1 Cor. 5. But does he not consider the fact that he has to interpret these passagess? He is grossly inconsistent when he uses scriptures to prove a point, for he has already said that since scriptures have to be interpreted we cannot be certain about their meaning. If Lemley is correct, we cannot know that immorality is a “fatal” sin, for I Cor. 5 and all other passages dealing with immorality have to be interpreted-and someone might not interpret them the same way as Lemley does! If Lemley can be so broad-minded as to make room for differing interpretations on the organization of the church, then why not allow for such differences on immorality. His inconsistency glares. The scriptures that pertain to church organization are just as clear as those that pertain to immorality (Acts 20:17, 28; 14:23; 1 Pet. 5:1-3).
False Concept of Grace
Lemley then charges that those who insist upon strict adherence to the divine pattern are guilty of legalism and “allow no grace whatsoever.” Legalism has grown to be a dirty word in the eyes of many, and it is quite often used against those who love the truth. The popular idea seems to be that if you cannot refute the scriptural arguments a man presents, then the thing to do is to call him a legalist for invoking the scriptures-that’ll take care of him!
The concept that adhering to the scriptural pattern does not allow for grace is one of the absurdities that is gaining an ever increasing degree of acceptance among brethren today. Everyone who reaches heaven will be there because of the grace of God. This is because we all sin (Rom. 3:9-10, 23) and therefore deserve to go to hell, not heaven. But by God’s grace we can be forgiven of our sins so that we will not have to be punished for them.
God will graciously forgive us, however, only if we meet His conditions. Peter sets forth the conditions of forgiveness for non-Christians (Acts 2:38) and for the Christian who sins (Acts 8:22). Whether one is a Christian or a non-Christian, repentance is a necessary condition for forgiveness; thus, salvation by grace does not mean that one can persist in sin and expect God to overlook those sins. Whether it is a sin of immorality or the sin of ignoring the scriptural teaching regarding the organization of the church, it must be repented of if it is to be graciously forgiven.
The fact that we must adhere to the scriptural pattern (2 Tim. 3:16-17) does not nullify grace; for regardless of how conscientiously brethren follow the scriptural teaching in worship and in the work and organization of the church, they still have not lived sinlessly and must be forgiven of their shortcomings by God’s grace upon compliance with His conditions of pardon. Thus, to say that adhering to the divine pattern on these matters does not allow any grace is utterly ridiculous.
Furthermore, I cannot understand why it is that adhering to scriptural teaching that pertains to church organization nullifies grace, while adhering to scriptural teaching regarding immorality does not. Yet, Brother Lemley says that immorality is a “fatal mistake.” In Lemley’s view, evidently, grace takes care of some sins which are persisted in, but not others; and Lemley has presumed to decree which sins grace will overlook and which ones it won’t. The scriptures, however, do not indicate that grace will overlook any sin of any type that is unrepented of.
Brethren, do not be deceived by those who would lead vou to believe that God will overlook the sin of ignoring His teaching regarding the organization of the church-or anything else.
Truth Magazine XX: 46, pp. 726-727
November 18, 1976