By Steven Wallace
Some among us have argued for a subjective approach to unity with those who teach error on divorce and remarriage. This approach is different from simply seeking unity based on truth (Eph. 4:3; John 8:31-32) and allows for unity-in-diversity among brethren who teach and practice opposing views. A recent news story demonstrates the weakness of the subjective approach to unity:
Witches prompt walkout
CHICAGO Diversity died in harmony when an Orthodox Christian group walked out of a religious conference because it included witches.
The goal of the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions was to promote harmony among the world’s major faiths, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
But Orthodox Christian representatives dropped out of the eight-day conference that began Saturday to protest the participation of Wicca believers, or witches, and other neo-pagan groups.
“It would be inconceivable for Orthodox Christianity to establish a perceived relationship with groups which profess no belief in God or a supreme being,” the Orthodox Christian Host Committee said in a letter dated Monday (The Stars and Stripes, 3 September 1993).
While we recognize that the above mentioned “Christians” are not New Testament Christians, we believe that this story shows some weaknesses in the subjective approach to unity among brethren. Please consider the following lessons that it teaches:
1. The subjective approach to unity rests upon what man “conceives.” “It would be inconceivable … ” (above). The word “subjective” means, “of, affected by, or produced by the mind or a particular state of mind; of or resulting from the feeling or temperament of the subject, or person thinking, rather than the attributes of the object thought of; as, a subjective judgment” (Websters New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, p.1813). If the “Orthodox Christian Host Committee” had been using an objective standard, such as the Bible or their particular creed, they would have cited the place where their basis of judgment could be found (cf., “It is written,” Matt. 4:4). Instead they spoke of what they could “conceive.” Whether you are dealing with unity among the Lord’s people or relation-ships among world religions, the subjective approach to unity rests upon what man conceives. Let us all remember that “it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
2. The subjective approach is a rejection of the Bible as the standard for determining whom we should accept or reject. It is instructive that the above Christian group could apparently “conceive” of a “relationship” with Jews, Moslems, Hindus, and Buddhists. There is no more Scripture for unity with such people than there is for unity with witches (2 John 9-11). However, this manifestly shows that the subjective approach rejects the Bible as its ultimate grounds of appeal. This is similar to the position our brethren find themselves in when arguing for the subjective approach to unity with regards to divorce and remarriage: The Bible teaches that we should treat as erring brethren both those whose teaching leads others to commit fornication and those who commit fornication themselves (Rev. 2:14-16; 1 Cor. 5:11). However, brethren who use the subjective approach to unity will argue that we should accept such brethren. (Note: The definition of the word “fornication” includes adultery [Thayer, pp. 531-532; Arndt and Gingrich, p. 693].) There is no more Scripture for unity with those who teach or commit adultery than with those who practice homosexuality. (Note: The definition of the word “fornication” also includes homosexuality, Thayer, and Amdt and Gingrich, Ibid.) However, this manifestly shows that the subjective approach rejects the Bible as its ultimate grounds of appeal. Those who use the subjective approach may still use the Bible as a standard of appeal. The “Orthodox Christian Host Committee” rested their decision to reject the “Wicca believers” on the Bible principle that man must believe in God (Heb. 11:6). Ed Harrell has argued that the false teacher on divorce and remarriage whom he would accept must be “honest” (Christianity Magazine, Sept., 1989, p. 6; cf. Eph. 4:25). In both cases the Bible is reduced to being a standard for determining our relationship with others instead of being the standard for determining our relationship with others (Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 2:14; Jas. 5:19; 2 John 9- 1).
3. When one gives up the Bible as the final basis of appeal anything is possible. The Bible is the only valid basis for Christians to use in determining with whom to have unity (2 John 4-6,9-11; Rom. 16:17-18). The above article shows us that the subjective approach allows for broader-than-Bible “relationships.” While we do not believe that brethren presently arguing for such an approach to unity among Christians will be so broad in their thinking as to accept Jews, Moslems, Hindus, and Buddhists, the point we make here is valid: If we stop using the Scriptures as our final basis of appeal, anything is possible (2 Tim. 4:4). With reference to unity-in-diversity, one need only look at where others have ended up who have gone down this road to see the validity of the point we make here: Such brethren have united with those involved in the errors of institutionalism, instrumental music in worship, and even denominationalism.
The appeal for unity with Christ and Christians begins and ends with the word of God (1 John 1:1-7). I plead with the lost to enter into this unity on the basis of at the word says (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). We recognize that erring Christians have departed from the truth (Gal. 2:11-14; 1 Tim. 4:1) and exhort them to return to this unity based on what the word says (Gal. 1:6-9; Jas. 5:19-20). We base our common and individual efforts and lives upon the word of God (Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27; 2 John 4-6). To use the subjective approach in any of these areas is manifestly an appeal to something other than the word of God.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 9 p. 5-6
May 4, 1995