This debate is about “unity in diversity.” Ron Tate says that we can and must be united upon the “core gospel” (the essentials of faith), but that we can differ on doctrinal matters. His argument is that we can be united even though we differ on matters of worship (instrumental music) and the work and organization of the church, etc.
No Scripture Given
Mr. Tate agreed to affirm a proposition that said, “The Scriptures teach …” Yet, he made no appeal to the Bible to prove his proposition. I realize that he cited a few passages in telling us what he thinks the “core gospel” involves. But not even one passage was cited to support his “unity in diversity” concept. We will be watching for some Scripture in his next affirmative.
Tate’s Distinction in “Core Gospel” and “Doctrine”
He defines the “core gospel” as the “essentials” of faith, “clear, specific statements in the Scriptures” and “essential matters of faith to which we must hold.” To speak of “essential matters of faith” implies that there are matters of faith that are not essential. Would Mr. Tate care to tell us which matters of faith are non-essential? Which matters of faith are not the ones “to which we must hold”? He identifies six points in the “core gospel”:
Tate’s Core Gospel
1. Authority and existence of God (Heb. 11:6).
2. Deity and lordship of Christ (Jn. 14:6).
3. Scriptures as infallible, inspired & complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
4. Church as entity for which Christ died . . . (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:23).
5. The importance of immersion (John 3:5; Rom. 6:4; 2 Cor. 5:17).
6. Faithfulness as a way of life (Matt. 16:24; 1 Cor. 4:2).
How did he determine what fits into the “core gospel” and what does not? Is this all there is to the “core gospel”? What about faith in the Holy Spirit? What about the virgin birth? What about the resurrection of Christ from the dead? What about the doctrine of a resurrection of the dead in the end of time (I Cor. 15)? What about worship offered to God? What about the work and organization of the church? What about God’s law concerning divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:9)? What about homosexuality? What about the question of whether the church can have a Pope? I would be interested in knowing not only where he places these, but also how he determines where they go.
“Doctrinal matters” he defines as “those areas that are not addressed by specific commands.” He calls this area “matters of opinion.” We can differ here and still be united we are told.
I wonder about the doctrine of the virgin birth or the doctrine of the resurrection of all the dead? Are these “doctrinal matters”? What about elements for the Lord’s supper? It that a “doctrinal matter”?
To the contrary, the Bible teaches that we must be united on doctrinal matters and they are essential. John wrote, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Fathe and the Son” (2 Jn. 9). Paul said that we must all “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul thought it essential to hold not only to the six elements of Tate’s “core gospel” but also the “words in this epistle” saying those who do not obey the words of that epistle are not to be fellowshipped (2 ‘Mess. 3:14).
When Mr. Tate makes a distinction in essential matters of faith (“core gospel”) and non-essential matters of faith (“doctrinal matters”) he puts himself in the place of God to tell us what is important and what is not. Jesus warned the one who “breaks (annuls NASV; relaxes RSV; from Greek luoword for looseMatt. 18:18) one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so …” (Matt. 5:19). Mr. Tate is taking it on himself to loose some of God’s instructions. There is but one lawgiver (Jas. 4:12).
Mr. Tate wrote, “It is important to note that the men who began what we know as the Restoration Movement disagreed quite strongly among themselves over certain issues. However, in spite of this disagreement they did not divide.” Can we disagree and not divide over the issue of the “pious unimmersed”? Can we disagree and not divide over Baptist baptism? Can we disagree and not divide over the issue of the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures? Some use this same reasoning to say that we can disagree and not divide over the issue of divorce and remarriage.
Different Heremeneutical Approaches
Mr. Tate points out that those in the churches of Christ have followed the heremeneutics which calls for command, approved example or necessary inference, while the Independent Christian Churches subscribe to a different one. Theirs calls for obedience to direct commands, under-standing what is non-scriptural (what is not mentioned) and what is anti-scriptural (what is prohibited). He mixes apples and oranges under his list of things that are “non-scriptural.” He lists instrumental music (which is an addition to the word being a different kind of music) along with song books and communion sets (which are aids to carrying out the commands of God).
In Acts 15 when the matter of the necessity of circumcision was discussed, the answer was proven by a heremeneutics that Mr. Tate says came from man. Peter argued from the conversion of Cornelius and necessarily infered that the Gentiles do not need to be circumcised (vv. 7-11; cf. Acts 11:18). Paul and Bamabas argued from the example of God working through them among the Gentiles which was approved by the miracles (v. 12). James con-tended that a direct statement from God proved the same thing (v. 13-21).
We are chided for elevating this hermeneutics to the level of Scripture. Yet, that is exactly what he has done with his hermeneutics as he applies it to the proposition. That says that we can’t understand the Bible alike. If we cannot, how can we understand the six elements in the “core gospel” alike?
Tate asks, “Are people today required to imitate the actions of individuals or churches recorded in the New Testament?” Paul said, “Be followers of me…” (1 Cor. 11:1; 4:16). “Be followers of me … ” (1 Cor. 11:1; 4:16). The same writer said, “join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Phil. 3:17) and “The things which you … saw in me do …” (Phil. 4:9). See also Hebrews 6:12. If examples are not binding, then the Lord’s Supper could not be limited to the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).
There Must Be Diversity
Mr. Tate tells us that “Mindless cloning is out of the qustion.” Yet, he thinks that there must be “mindless cloning” on the six elements of the “core gospel.” ” He says it is “ludicrous” to suggest giving up matters of disagreement. Yet, he does not think it “ludicrous” to ask others to give up those matters that do not harmonize with his “core gospel.” Is “mindless cloning” out of the question on homosexuality or the question of a Pope?
All will agree that there will be some differences among those who are in fellowship with one another (Rom. 14). The question is concerning the type of diversity. Will there be diversity in matters of indifference (matters which do not involve sin) or in doctrinal matters? That’s what this discussion is about. How would our friend deal with the issue of sprinkling?
Questions for Mr. Tate Us
1. What is the Scripture from which you base your argument of unity in diversity?
2. How do you determine that acceptance of Christ’s Deity is an essential matter of faith and how we worship God is not?
3. What is the criteria for deciding whether the questions of homosexuality and divorce and remarriage will go under the “core gospel” or “doctrinal matters”?
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 19, p. 18-19
October 7, 1993