By John McCort
Much has been said in recent months relative to the grace-fellowship question. Some of the issues have been crystallized and brought into sharper focus. One of the main issues to be resolved is whether God overlooks sins of ignorance or weakness of the flesh. More simply stated, will God unconditionally extend His grace to those who teach and practice false doctrine? Nearly all of the issues arising out of the grace-fellowship controversy can be traced back to this one question.
Nearly 100 years ago brethren were discussing the same fundamental issues we are faced with today. In 1890 F. D. Srygley had this to say about the “sins of ignorance and weakness of the flesh” position.
“This talk about the spirit and letter of commandments usually comes from men who want to feel goodish, but do as they please, in religion . . . To put the whole thing in its simplest form, the theory is that any man who is right in spirit or motive will be accepted of God no matter what the outward form of his conduct may be. It puts man’s salvation wholly upon the ground of his own honesty, and taboos the idea that anyone will be damned who has the spirit of obedience, no matter how many may be his mistakes as to the letter of God’s commandments. Much has been said against rationalists (modernists-IWMc) but in my judgment they have done no more than follow this spirit-and-letter buncombe to its legitimate, logical consequences. The point is, does God require man to conform his life to an external standard, or does he leave him to determine his own course by an internal light? Is man guided in religion by revelation from without, or by a spiritual fight and nature within himself? . . . This is the only issue, and there are but two sides of the question. Those who talk flippantly about keeping the spirit of a command while sneering at the letter of the law, or the exact thing commanded, are but the logical premises of which rationalists are the necessary conclusion, whether they so understand and intend or not . . .” (F. D. Srygley, “From the Papers,” Gospel Advocate, Vol. XXXII, No. 33 (August 13, 1890), p. 513.
The frightening aspect of this present controversy over grace and fellowship is the ultimate consequences of accepting the basic premises of the Fudge-Ketcherside position. In this present generation we are discussing whether we can fellowship institutional brethren. The next generation will be discussing whether they can fellowship the modernist. Fellowshipping institutional brethren or modernists involves the same basic issues: Does God require conditional obedience of man to obtain the remission of sins and does God require man to understand His will? The New Testament nowhere ever portrays God granting unconditional forgiveness of sins. In order to obtain the remission of our sins God has required that we obey the gospel through faith, repentance, and baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). After an individual becomes a Christian, God still requires continued obedience to His will. A Christian must repent of and confess sins that are committed in order to obtain the remission of those sins (Acts 8:16-25). A Christian must continue to walk in the light (which includes repentance and confession) for his sins to be taken away by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:39). God has always conditioned the remission of sins (whether it be an unbaptized alien sinner or a Christian who has sinned) upon obedience to His commands.
Some have arbitrarily decided that God has a divine double standard; that He demands conditional obedience of the alien sinner but that He grants unconditional forgiveness to those who support human institutions, employ instruments of music, or any other such doctrinal sin. Such constitutes a double standard; one for the alien sinner and another for the Christian. Where does the Bible say that God will unconditionally extend mercy to Christians who sin, without repentance and prayer?
Edward Fudge and others argue that God does not require perfect doctrinal understanding or obedience of the Christian and that the grace of God will cover the imperfect and sinful practices of institutional and instrumental music brethren. A little further out in the theological spectrum, Carl Ketcherside and others argue that God does not require perfect doctrinal understanding or obedience of the Baptist or Methodist and that the grace of God will cover the imperfect understanding that Baptists and Methodists have about the purpose or perhaps even the action of baptism. On the outer perimeters, modernists like Karl Barth have argued that God does not require perfect doctrinal understanding or obedience and that since man is saved by grace, and not by perfect understanding or obedience, man is not required to literally believe in the miracles of Christ or the fact that Jesus was the Son of God. Edward Fudge operates from the same principle that the modernists operate from; the-unconditional-remission-of-sin principle.
When man begins to assume God will unconditionally overlook any sin, he begins an unending march toward Universalism. Calvin solved the problem by simply stating that God unconditionally chooses those whom He saves and unconditionally chooses those whom He damns. Calvin stated that our salvation is not conditioned upon our obedience but upon the election of God. Calvin also solved the problem of sincere ignorance of God’s will. He stated that men are born totally depraved and incapable of knowing and responding to divine truth. He reasoned that God sends the Holy Spirit into the hearts of the elect and opens up their hearts to receive divine truth: The Universalist reasons that since God is no respecter of persons, then all mankind will be saved, since our salvation is not conditioned upon our obedience to His will. When people begin to assume that God will unconditionally forgive any sin, they ultimately must accept Calvinism or Universalism. Which will it be, brethren?
Truth Magazine XIX: 25, p. 386
May 1, 1975