UNITY: Faith or Opinion?

By Roy E. Cogdill

We have been writing about unity among those who believe in Christ through the words of the Apostles (The Gospel). Christ prayed that these might all be one even as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-21). We believe that this unity is possible where the Word of God is respected and where people have the right attitude toward one another. We further believe that a diligent effort in behalf of such unity, its existence and its preservation, is the individual duty of every Christian. Paul said by the Spirit, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Again Paul exhorted, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:1-4). Those exhortations are not easily followed but they are essential to the right attitude and to the bond of peace in which the unity of the Spirit must be kept. We need to honestly examine our hearts and our practice to see if we are really making a contribution, a positive effort in the direction of maintaining the peace and unity for which Christ prayed and for which we are all obligated.

One of the main difficulties encountered in such an obligation is the ability to make a proper distinction between matters of opinion and matters of faith. Almost everyone who knows any scripture at all knows that Christianity demands we must all believe the same thing (Eph. 4:5; Titus 1:4; Jude 3). There must be a common faith, if there is to be a common salvation. But this does not mean that we must all “see things alike” in matters of personal opinion or about matters that are in the realm of personal judgment, conscience, or expediency. Romans, chapter 14, deals with this realm in these words: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? . . . one man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind . . . So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

There are several things apparent from these verses of scripture. (1) There is a realm in which the conviction and conscience of the individual must be his guide (Rom. 14). His definition of faith as it operates in this realm is “full persuasion” in one’s own mind. (2) This realm concerns those things which are matters of indifference in the righteousness of God. They are not pertinent to Christian character until one offends his conscience and that is sin. Neither are they any part of “the Faith” concerning which we must all speak the same thing and believe the same thing; in other words, they are not things about which the Will of God has been revealed in His Word. In this realm God has made no choice but has left it up to the individual. (3) This realm concerns those things which are no part of the activity of the church, locally or universal, and are not matters about which there must be unanimity either of teaching, believing, or practice. They are in the realm of individual conviction and practice. It was wrong for the church to observe “religious holy days” which God has not ordained (Gal. 4:9-11). However, an individual Christian could consecrate a day in a special way to the Lord, such as a day of fasting or prayer, or in some other way attach some significance to it in his own mind and conscience without sinning as long as he did not condemn others for not observing it with him. Of course, there are those who are “weak in faith” that think that what an individual does or can do, the church does or can do. This is so utterly ridiculous from every point of view, however, that it really merits no answer or consideration.

Several rules are to be the guideline in matters that belong in this realm. They are: (1) The individual must act in accordance with his own convictions without violating his conscience. It is sinful to go against our consciences. This is not because the conscience is to determine what is right. Intellect and understanding do that. God has given us the conscience to protect us from sin and to maintain our self respect. When we violate it we destroy that restraint and make it easier to sin (Rom. 14:23). (2) In the exercise of that which I may be at liberty to do as an individual, I must not lead my brother to violate his conscience and thus to sin and thereby destroy my brother in the exercising of my personal liberty (Rom. 14:13-16, 19-21). (3) 1 must walk charitably toward my brother and allow to him the same consideration in matters in this field which I claim for myself. While I act in “full persuasion” in matters of this character, I must accord to my brother the same right and must not condemn him in the exercising of that right (Rom. 14:3-6, 10-12).

It must be understood that these principles do not apply to matters of “the Faith” about which God has given us no choice, but has legislated according to His own Will. Our duty in this field is to reverence the choice that God has. made, so that we will not seek one of our own but will gladly obey His Will and that without compromise for the sake of peace with anyone. Truth and righteousness cannot be forsaken without forsaking God. The “unity of the Spirit” is to be kept in the “bond of peace.” It is not the “church of our choice” that we must be a part of, but the “church of God’s choice.” The Gospel revealing the mind of God is not the faith and message of our choice, but the faith and message which God has ordained is what we must reverence. It is not the doing of our will but the doing of the Will of Christ that makes us Christians. In the Kingdom of God, the body of Christ, the Lord is “head over all things” and the only authority by which we can be guided. Here the will of the Lord must prevail for all such matters pertain to the “kingdom of God.”

But how can we tell the difference? How may we distinguish between matters of faith and matters of opinion? How may we know when to let our charity toward our brother rule our action? Here is the problem and that is the crux of the whole lesson. There must be some way to determine the responsibility we have toward God, our brethren, and ourselves!

The first fundamental to be remembered can be put in this form-has God specifically revealed His Will in the matter? If so, then there must be agreement concerning it both in faith and practice. This is true whether it is a matter of individual righteousness or church activity. Jesus said concerning the Old ‘Testament, “The commandments must not be broken” (John 10:35). An illustration of this in the realm of personal righteousness would be the law governing marriage. Jesus said, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” This was not the practice under the law of Moses or during Judaism but it was God’s law from the beginning and for the whole human family. While marriage is not a “church ordinance” or “sacrament,” whatever that is, it is absolutely essential that all men observe it in order to be righteous. Modern practice or popular approval does not change such a law or righteousness and those who would change or alter it had just as well modify any other law of righteousness. (This line of discussion will be continued).

Truth Magazine XX: 34, pp. 537-538
August 26, 1976