By Kenneth Thomas
Several times in the last few years, some brother in Christ has attempted to entice me to overlook some doctrinal problem. existing in a local congregation of the Lord’s people, due to the fact as they have expressed it, “There have always been problems in the churches of Christ, and there always will be. Don’t you know that you will never find a perfect congregation? Why, just look at the church at Corinth, they were addressed as belonging to God and Christ even though so many problems existed there . . . and consider the churches in Asia addressed in the Revelation letter. . .”
Can’t one see what such statements are designed to do? It is an attempt to whitewash, to overlook and not deal with existing problems among Christ’s people today for whatever the reason may be. It could be that the one making a statement like the above is completely sincere (I believe some sincere brethren have so spoken to me) and just haven’t thought out the consequences of such a statement.
When Paul addressed the “church of God” at Corinth, he commended the good that was present among them and proceeded to speak of the problems which were to be addressed and dealt with. He wrote a second epistle and said, “For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Cor. 2:9, NKJV). Of course we all know that one can only act on what knowledge one has at any given time. They were instructed as to the nature of the problems and were consequently expected by God to deal with them after a reasonable period of time if they expected to be considered as “obedient in all things,” hence faithful to Christ (Jas. 2:10; 2 Jn. 9-11; Gal. 1:6-9; Tit. 3:10; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Jn. 4:1-2).
We can learn the answer more completely by looking at other Bible examples such as the writings of John to the churches of Asia. John said to the church at Ephesus after commending the good that remained there, “Nevertheless I have somewhat (one thing) against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your candlestick from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). Their identity as belonging to Christ was in jeopardy if they did not correct this one thing! See also Revelation 2:21.
I have an idea (and with good reason) that the above heading characterizes some of my brethren who serve as gospel preachers, elders and deacons in some local churches of the Lord. They fear man. They don’t want to lose their income and wish to be well thought of by all. They are men pleasers who do not really have their brethren’s best spiritual interest at heart. The wise man said, “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” (Prov. 28:23). Jude speaks of people who will “flatter people to gain advantage” (Jude 16). “We have brethren today who do the same. The Hebrew writer wrote, “for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:5-6). The way the Lord chastens and scourges today is through the rebuke and admonition given by brethren who love us enough to attempt to convert us when we stray. As the Hebrew writer also stated, this chastening isn’t joyful when received, but afterwards it “yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11, NKJV). See also James 5:19-20; Ephesians 6:1-2.
Luther was a great man with much courage and conviction. Sadly he died before he could come to a knowledge of the truth but he led folks a step in the right direction and was willing to lay his own life on the line to defend what he understood to be the truth of Christ. I wish we had more members of the body of Christ today with the same resolve as Luther had, especially among elders and preachers. Luther’s great statement I am about to quote sure sounds differently than some of my brethren. He said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking (emp. mine ket), I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.”
I have been preaching Christ for over 25 years now and in that period of time have observed some things I think should be considered by thinking brethren. First, let me say over that period of time, I have known and still know of many faithful saints as well as elders, deacons and preachers who stand fast for the truth and live for Christ with a dedication which cannot be questioned. What I shall say in the negative therefore is not intended as an indictment of all individuals or congregations who consider themselves conservative.
It seems to me from observation that 0 too many institutionally conservative brethren consider every individual and congregation of brethren who stand opposed to “institutionalism” and the sponsoring eldership and the social gospel, “conservative” regardless of the other problems known to exist with the same lack of scriptural authority. Why? I must admit I really do not know.
Example: Some supposedly “conservative, sound” congregations have men serving as elders and deacons when many in the congregation and the men themselves know that they aren’t scripturally qualified according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. I am aware that some things relative to the qualifications call for judgment and must be decided on the congregational level. I am not thinking of such in the above statement. I speak of out and out qualifications not present in the men who are serving and have served. The most blatant example I can think of is an elder, a close personal friend of this writer who served for years knowing that he was unable to convict and convince the gainsayer, to stop the mouths of the subverters and watch out for wolves desirous of scattering the flock (Tit. 1:9-11; Acts 20:28-32). He told me, and these are his own words, “Ken, I knew when I was asked to served that I was not qualified; but the preacher, brother _________ said that if I didn’t agree to serve we would not have an eldership and the ‘liberals’ would end up with the church building. So I decided to serve and I have just done the best that I knew how.” I said, both privately and publicly, that was the poorest reason I had ever heard to ask a brother to jeopardize his soul to serve when he knows he is not qualified and to organize a congregation unscripturally just to save some brick and mortar; souls are such more important. . . . They should have been given the building under those circumstances and the faithful start over. Paul long ago settled the matter of the end justifying the means. He said, “God forbid, or may it never be” (Rom. 3:7-8; Gal. 2:17).
An individual or a congregation does not have to break all of the commandments of the Lord to be law breakers (Jas. 2: 10), and the “law of liberty” is a law and we will be judged by the law of Christ (Jas. 2:9-12; 1:21-25). So “one thing” unrepented of and unforgiven makes one guilty before Christ.
Another Example. What would you think of a preacher and the congregation who would baptize a person knowing that he was a Free Mason of the 32 degree variety and not command repentance from such error? Well, how about if after months he is still actively involved and is still used in the local congregation to lead singing, prayer, serve at the Lord’s table and was appointed to a committee to see into some of the functions of the local congregation on their behalf9 Question: Would you still consider the preacher and the other brethren who know of this as “conservative”?
How many acts of disobedience were the following guilty of before coming under God’s condemnation?
1. Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:1-18).
2. Cain (Gen. 4:1-7a).
3. Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:14).
4. Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:6-8).
5. Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:9-12).
6. King Saul (1 Sam. 15).
7. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10).
Having said all of the foregoing, no, I do not believe in sinless perfection nor salvation by works of human merit. I’m sure that Christ will make allowances for our inability to have perfect knowledge and make perfect application to our lives of everything we should know and be. I have no idea how much or what it may be, so no list will be forthcoming, but without the grace of God being supplied none of us would be pleasing to Christ. As someone said, “we need mercy not justice.” Justice would condemn us all. It is only by mercy (forgiveness through blood) that any of us stands acceptable before Christ. But brethren, we dare not call congregations “sound” or “conservative” if they persist knowingly in religious error, nor simply because they are institutionally conservative. There are other ways of perverting the organization and work of the churches of our Lord, all of which must be avoided as much as humanly possible.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 10, pp. 304-305
May 15, 1986