By Roland Worth, Jr.
God has revealed all that we need in regard to our religion (2 Pet. 1:3). Therefore there is no reason to expect His endorsement when we add things to our religion that He has not authorized. Likewise, it follows that God is antagonized when men omit what He wants done. Yet we see this sin of omission again and again in the collective religious life of the church and of the’ denominations around us. Among brethren, we could list such evils as the refusal to select elders when there are clearly qualified men present and the passing of the responsibility of preaching the gospel to centralized and unauthorized institutions.
Among denominations, the most obvious evil is that of omitting immersion (which they will usually concede is itself a proper act) and substituting sprinkling (which is unauthorized in the scriptures). We could attack this substitution with great vigor but this article is not intended to attack only one evil but to assault the whole concept of substituting our desires for God’s desires. Whenever we substitute our will for the divine will, the end result is not just a substitution but an actual omission of what is right. As an example, take this matter of sprinkling. Those who sprinkle a person do not also immerse the same person. Substitution has resulted in the omission of what God desires!
God strenuously disapproves of handling His will this way, as we will note in the scriptures that follow.
1. The scriptures insist that “all” (not just ‘some’) of God’s law is to be obeyed. Many Old Testament passages point this out. For instance, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12). In Deut. 27:1, Moses commands the people, “Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.” “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do . . . .” (Deut. 12:32). Christ took the same attitude’ toward His teachings, “Teaching them (the disciples) to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:20).
No person can honestly claim that ‘he is doing “all” the commandments of God if he has substituted some practice or scheme of his own for what Jehovah has ordained! He can say that he has kept “part” of God’s law and none would dispute the claim, but he can never rightly claim that he is keeping “all” of it. The difference between “part” and “all” is the difference between doing what God wants us to do and doing what we ourselves would rather do.
2. Not only is doing ALL of God’s will encouraged, doing LESS is specifically prohibited. “. . . . Remember all the commandments of the Lord to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to go after wantonly” (Num. 15:39). The prohibition of any deviation from what God has ordained applied even to the rulers of Israel (Deut. 17:18-20).
3. To neither take from God’s law nor add to it is an essential pre-requisite of obeying the Divine will. This is made clear in Deut. 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.@
4. God considers the Omission of. anything He has commanded as “rebellion.” In Ezek. 5:6 we read of ancient Israel, “And she has wickedly rebelled against my ordinances more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries round about her, by rejecting my ordinances and not walking in my statutes.”
5. God was sorry He made Saul king because Saul omitted what was commanded. When we turn to I Sam. 15:11 we find the very plain statement, “I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments. ” Saul had violated, not a prohibition of God’s law, but God’s positive injunction, His instruction to utterly destroy Amalek (v. 3). From this example we find God’s attitude toward those who ignore and decline to obey His commands; it is not just the violation of His prohibitions that gets mankind in trouble with Jehovah!
6. Circumcision was a positive command, yet to decline to circumcise was a violation of God’s law. Gen. 17:14 tells us of the penalty that would befall those who did not follow the circumcision ordinance, “Any uncircumcised male … shall be cut, off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Yes, to refuse to do what God has said to be done is a violation of the Divine will just as much as the violation of a direct prohibition imposed by God. Omission is regarded as nothing short of sin.
7. In His parables, Christ viewed omissions as a just cause for receiving severe punishment. In Luke we read, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready, or act according. to His will, shall receive a severe beating, But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a, light beating., Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required: and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more” (12:47-48).
8. Any time we omit what we know to be right we have sinned. “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17).
9. Christ condemned the Pharisees for the omissions in their religion. Christ’s condemnation was blunt and to the point; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matt. 23:23-24). The King James Version makes this point even stronger by using the word “omitted” where the Revised Standard Version (quoted above) uses the word “neglected.” In either case the point is the same.
10. God ‘s reaction to Israel’s refusal to enter Palestine reveals His attitude toward those who omit what He has demanded be done. The command to enter Canaan was not a prohibition; it was what we would call a positive commandment (like Christ commanding believer baptism in Mk. 16:16). Yet what did God think of their refusal to carry out the command? Did He look upon it with condolence because it did not violate a prohibition of His will? (After all, there was no scripture that forbade them to refuse to enter the promised land! Just like there is no scripture that forbids us to baptize infants!! In both cases, all we have are positive commands- In one case to enter Canaan; in the other to baptize believers.)
Let us hear the judgment of God (Deut. 1) on the refusal of the Israelites to do that which was commanded:
1. It was rebellion against God (v. 26);
2. It was non-belief (v. 32);
3. It caused God to be angry and to punish the people (vs. 34-37);
- The people admitted that their refusal to obey was sin (v. 41). In Deut. 9:23 this refusal to obey God is again mentioned and is described as rebellion and disbelief.
We might also point out that in trying to “make up” for their sin, they fell into yet more sin (vs. 41-46)! Today we find the same problem. Many congregations that did not fulfill their congregational responsibility to preach the gospel fell into just as great an evil when they turned to “sponsoring churches” in their guilt-ridden reaction to their own past apathy. The earthly proverb still rings true, “Two wrongs do not make a right!”
Substitution for what God has ordained may have an appeal to us for we are its inventors; the problem is that God does not s4are our judgment. We have omitted from our religion what He placed in it. So what else can we expect from Him but condemnation?
Truth Magazine, XVIII:32, p. 7-8
June 13, 1974