The Almost Christian DIscovered

The Almost Christian Discovered

By Matthew Mead, 1661 

A review by Stuart Brogden

This is a review of the 20th century reprint of Mead’s book, with a foreword by John MacArthur. The second sentence in his forward tells us that this book “reveals the force and fervor of Puritan spirituality as vividly as any work” he knew. Ask the early settlers of New England about the “force and fervor of Puritan spirituality” and you may want to ask what was Mac thinking.

Mead’s goal in writing this book, which Mac and I agree with, is that it is far too easy for people to think they are Christians when they know nothing of Christ and exhibit no fruit of His Spirit within. As I heard a fella remark recently, when Jesus saves a person, He changes a person. Mead says he intends no anxiety for the saint; his intention is to cause the “almost Christian” to examine himself. He asks the Christian if the state of the world is grievous to you (page 20) and tells the hypocrite to “read and tremble; for thou are the man here pointed at.” (page 21)

Our author introduces Agrippa (page 27) as an almost Christian, as well as the foolish virgins (page 35) and the rich young ruler (page 33) and he tells us (page 29), the “saint may almost perish but certainly be saved; the hypocrite may almost be saved yet perish.” And he goes on to tell us (page 40) “there can be no grace without knowledge, yet there may be much knowledge without grace.” This contrast between two categories of people is found throughout Scripture and it is good for people in both categories to understand them.

Throughout the book, Mead sets up contrasts to show these things more clearly. We are reminded again and again that attitudes and behavior can be evidences of saving faith, but they are not proofs thereof. This is the central theme of the book. The almost Christian may: be trembling at the Word (page 74), delighting in the Word (page 75), belonging to a church (page 77), confessing sin (page 59), have hope in heaven (page 78), and engage in behavior modification (page 82) and not be a Christian! Would you not agree? Any concerned pagan can do these things and not be in Christ.

And yet this same author, in this same book, says (page 43) that people who preach, pray, and serve people in the church have spiritual gifts and not be a Christian; that a man can have the Holy Spirit within (page 100) and not be a Christian. Mead develops this idea, conflating the spirit coming upon or speaking to a person (such as Balaam) with the Spirit indwelling a person. He claims Judas was indwelt by the Spirit because he cast out demons and says a man may have the Spirit “transiently, not absolutely.” The Spirit may be in a man yet not dwell in the man. “The common work of the Spirit” doesn’t save (page 126). Is it proper to say that the spirit that moves a man to do religious things but does not save is the Holy Spirit? I think such false actions are the work of the spirit of the age!

There is also a theme of perfectionism weaved through this book. In pointing out the dangers of what I would call false confessions, Mead (pages 62 & 63) seems to be saying that sinlessness is the mark a saint yet says (page 70) that Christians have regenerate and unregenerate parts in them. We are told (pages 131 & 132) that the one who loves God with his whole heart, soul, and strength is a Christian. Is it just me that has problems with truly being totally devoted to Christ? Mead would have me think so! He follows this thread, telling us (page 159) man must give all to God or not be saved. Pressuring people to confess these things makes them lie about their condition and makes them disciples of John Wesley rather than of Christ. Our ever present lack of perfection is meant to remind us of our ever present need of Christ – His mercy and grace that He freely gives the children of God. Isaiah was a godly man, but when he got a good glimpse of God, he was reminded how sinful he yet was. This is our condition – redeemed but not yet glorified.

Mead says (page 161) that none are excluded from the kingdom of God unless they exclude themselves. Does this mean people are in the Lamb’s Book unless they rub their own names out? He goes on to develop a works-based justification. This was noted early on as he said (page 43), “to know, to practice what we know – that is gospel-duty. This makes a man a complete Christian.” He tells us (page 207) that we must first show man his sin, then his Savior; calling this the “constant method of God.” I used to believe this, but a study of the effective call in Scripture shows some people are confronted with their sin (sometimes using the law to do so), but not all are. It’s simply incorrect to call it the “constant method of God.”

Our author gives us good counsel on what a Christian looks like, telling us (page 136) “the Christian disclaims self and Christ is most advanced.” Amen! Do we promote self or the Lord Jesus? And he leaves us (page 205-6) with another contrast that should settle down into our souls: “The saint’s peace is a peace with God, but not with sin; the sinner’s peace is a peace with sin, but not with God.” Let’s end with that – it’s so much better than some of the stuff this Puritan has written. It is needful for each of us to examine himself and see – with Whom or what do I have peace?

May the God of peace rule your life!

Rethinking Conditionalism – (Part 6a) Eternal Life and Immortality

Rethinking Conditionalism – (Part 6a) Eternal Life and Immortality

I read someone asking a conditionalist in a Facebook thread concerning how they define death. Then one of them responded with, “It depends on how you define life.” I couldn’t agree more! Unfortunately, this is an area that Chris Date and some within Rethinking Hell sorely deviate from. In a debate with Len Pettis during a Striving for Eternity Conference in September of 2016, Chris Date stated that Jesus does not define eternal life as knowing the Father and the Son just as He taught in John 17:3. Chris then wrongly exegetes this Scripture by comparing the translation of the Greek word “is” with other Scriptures that contain the same word. He neglects to make a linguistic and contextual interpretation of John 17:3 by failing to see the other words which Jesus used that explicitly define eternal life.  It is presented below in English and in Greek so that you can see why Jesus defines eternal life as knowing (having intimate fellowship with) God. And please don’t run. As I did in Part 2a, you don’t have to be a Greek scholar to understand what I’m about to show you.

John 17:3

  • (English – ESV) And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
  • (Greek – MGNT) αὕτη δέ ἐστιν αἰώνιος ζωή ἵνα γινώσκωσιν σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν

Now, if you noticed, I highlighted the words that Chris used to make his case in blue. The Greek word ἐστιν is the conjugated form of the word “eimi” that he mentions in the video link above.  It is this word that Chris wrongly interprets in this context. But since conditionalists tend to define death in hyper-literal terms, it is no wonder that they look at Scriptures like this and have to make it fit their own annihilationistic hermeneutic. Nevertheless, Chris explicitly states that “is” does not “equate” eternal life with knowing God the Father and the Son. But let’s look at the other words within this context to help us to understand the semantic function of “is” in this context.
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What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation – how does one get reconciled to God? It is my desire to show you how essential it is to grasp this doctrine rightly and how humbling and wonderful it is to comprehend what the Lord God has done in redeeming people. salvation

While there are many religions in this world, with myriad differences, they all have a few things in common and many differences. But no matter the religion, no matter the salvation, no matter the god, all systems of religion, including biblical Christianity, are based on salvation by works. All systems of religion are based on salvation by works. The differences lie beneath that truth. All but one system bases salvation on the works of those who need to be saved. The sole exception is based on men being saved by the finished work of another, a particular man who had no sin of His own to pay for. A man who is God and paid the price for others. The Lawgiver became the Law keeper for Law breakers. This exception, as I’m sure you already know, is our faith – biblical Christianity, based on the work of the God-man, Jesus.

Among professing Christian groups, many variants and shades exist, with most falling into self-saving works of the creature. These views are known as Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Universalism, etc. All of these are variations of synergistic modes of salvation – systems in which creator God is at best a co-pilot in redeeming people. The Scriptures, which are our only rule for truth and faith and godliness, depict God as the One Who created and sustains all things, directing the paths of kings and storm clouds, saints and Satan. Properly understood, the Word of God reveals a monergistic mode of salvation – children of God are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God alone (John 1:13). Since Scripture cannot be broken, monergistic salvation and synergistic salvation cannot both be true. The passages that appear to contradict each other do not. Our understanding and comprehension are limited and twisted by sin – the Word of God is perfect and by it the Lord searches out our intentions and thoughts. To rightly understand this doctrine of how sinners are made right with holy God, we must humbly submit to the Word of God and cry out for wisdom from the Spirit of God.

This dispute over how a sinner is reconciled to Holy God has been raging among men since Cain’s offering was refused. In the early 17th century a protest was filed with the ruling church court in the Netherlands by activist disciples of Jacob Arminius. Here are the five articles contained in the protest presented to the Council of Dort:

  1. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.
  2. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed.
  4. This grace may be resisted.
  5. Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation.

Only the third point reflects biblical truth and was later denied by many of this view. The bedrock of the Arminian objection to monergistic salvation is the notion that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom and that ability limits obligation. This is complementary to the Pelagian view that God would never command man to do that which man was incapable of doing. However, the Scriptures are replete with commands from God to the creature to do that which nobody but God can do, such as be ye perfect, and love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. These commands are meant to drive self-righteousness from us and draw us to Christ. The Arminians claim God gives every human the ability to believe on Jesus, and that God will never refuse anyone who exercises that ability and comes to Him in the faith that God gives to everyone; but only some exercise it and are saved. If this is the case, who gets the credit for the sinner’s salvation? And what do we do with 2 Thess 3:2 which tells us not all men have this faith?

Most professing Christians hold to Arminianism, having never heard anything else because most churches do not teach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I personally believe that all Christians are born spiritually as Arminians because we are only accustomed to what our natural senses can discern. And when one is born again, the first thing he is aware of is that he chose Christ; without yet knowing that Christ first chose and first loved him. The Arminian system makes sense to the natural mind, confirmed by natural senses. It shows up in our language: when we say someone “accepted Christ” we imply the person needing salvation decided to get saved. But Scripture denies this. This is why it is of utmost importance that evangelism be firmly connected to and rooted in discipleship. A new-born child of God must be shown and taught the Bible – what he was before he was raised from the dead and what soil preparation the gardener performed to make the seed take root.

In understanding what it means for anyone to be redeemed, to have been reconciled to Holy God, to be made into a new creature, we must grab hold of the biblical reality of our union with Christ. Ephesians 1:3 tells us we were blessed with every spiritual blessing by God the Father – that these spiritual blessings are in the heavenly places and they are in Christ. We mortal sinners get no heavenly, spiritual blessings apart from being in union with Christ, in communion with Christ.

There are several terms that describe what happens when a person is raised from spiritual death, referred to as the order of salvation:

  1. Predestination: Rom. 8:29 & 30; Eph. 1:3-6 & 11-14
  2. Effectual Calling (Regeneration): John 1:12 & 13; 6:44, 63-65; Eph. 2:1-5
  3. Faith/Repentance:
    (Faith) – Eph. 2:8,9; Acts 13:48, 16:14
    (Repentance) – 2 Cor. 7:9 & 10
  4. Justification (Legal Declaration): Rom. 5:1 & 2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2:16
  5. Adoption: Rom. 8:15-17, 23-25; Gal. 4:4-7
  6. Definitive Sanctification: Rom. 6:1 & 2; I Cor. 1:2; 6:9-11
  7. Progressive Sanctification: Eph. 4:11-16; Phil 2:1-4, 13-15
    (Preservation of the Saints) – John 6:37-40; 10:27-30; Phil. 1:6
  8. Glorification: Matt 25:31-34; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23; 3:20 & 21

The first of these, predestination, took place before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Predestination is not a reaction to The Fall. God has no “Plan B”. Predestination is “Plan A”. The balance of the steps in this process take place in time, although regeneration, faith, repentance, and justification cannot be separated; we know that they happen in this order but are unable to plot them out, they are so tightly connected. But notice – regeneration comes before faith and repentance. That which is dead cannot develop root nor produce fruit. The soil must be prepared before the seed can sprout. If we do not properly understand this, we are vulnerable of being drawn aside into the Arminian camp, who claim that the spiritually dead sinner exercising faith in Christ causes regeneration. It is this level of attention that is required to discern between good and evil, as we are told in Hebrews 5:14 – But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. We have the same fine degree of difference with the Roman Catholic doctrine of “salvation”, wherein the sinner is infused with grace and thereby enabled to be holy and pleasing to God, but never arriving at any assurance of having been saved. The Scriptures teach that sinners are imputed the righteousness of Christ and are thereby justified by grace that is apprehended by the faith that was itself a gift to us – lest anyone boast in anything other than the cross of Christ! Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling – this is how we all come to saving faith, no matter what our senses or churches tell us.

Kevin DeYoung, in Chap 7 of his book, The Hole in Our Holiness exhorts us: “… it’s appropriate … to talk about an “order of salvation”, whereby we are called by the Spirit of God, born again, moved to faith and repentance. Justified, adopted, sanctified, preserved, and glorified, we must never separate these benefits from the Benefactor. Every blessing in the order of salvation flows from our union with Christ.” John Murray is quoted as saying, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation, not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ.” We often talk about gifts we get from God – provision in things of this world, for the most part – and need to remind ourselves to not confuse the gift with the Giver. So it is with this greatest gift of all; while we will not truly understand the depth and richness of God’s saving grace towards elect sinners, we must not get so fixed on that spiritual blessing that we lose sight of the One in Whom we have that blessing. If we be not in Christ, we are not His and we vainly imagine that the blessings of redemption and reconciliation are ours. Contrary to what the pope said, sincere belief in whatever god you have chosen is not going to reconcile any sinner to holy God. Responding to a list of questions published in a newspaper, Pope Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

Sin is not the failure of a creature to obey his conscience! Sin is not a bad habit, a hurtful hangup, or “something less than God’s best” – as a couple of well-known preachers have called it (referring specifically to homosexuality). An inadequate understanding of sin necessarily results in an inadequate understanding of grace, redemption, reconciliation, and a number of other orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith. Sin is a moral act, word, or thought that contradicts the expressed will of God for human beings. In other words, it is a covenantal breach with the Divine covenant maker. It is not limited to the will, the intellect, or the emotion. Sin involves the whole person.

What is the practical aspect of getting this doctrine – how is one saved? – correct? There are many examples from church history, but this one is my favorite. If you have read any history of the church, you should be aware that the Church of England went through an extended period (after their separation from Rome) wherein they had difficulty finding regenerate pastors. Wesley and Whitefield and Spurgeon all rubbed up against this. In fact, both Wesley and Whitefield came to saving faith in college, after they each had spent themselves in trying to make themselves pleasing to God; following the doctrine of salvation of the Church of England. One pastor in the Church of England discovered this in a rather unique way.

William Haslam was an English country parson who was a hireling of the state, a warm body to fill the pulpit in small country church. One Sunday in 1851 following a period of deep conviction of sin, Haslam ascended into the pulpit with the intention of telling his congregation that he would not preach again to them until he was saved and to ask them to pray for his conversion.

He began to preach on the text ‘What think ye of Christ’ (Matt 22:42), taken from gospel passage handed down from the mother church. As he read about the Jewish leaders who did not see Christ as the Messiah, he saw himself as one of them – a Pharisee who did not recognize that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Haslam said, “I do not remember all I said, but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul, and I was beginning to see what the Pharisees did not.” At that moment, the Holy Spirit breathed new life into him and the effect was so obvious and marked that a local preacher who was present stood up and shouted ‘the Parson is converted, the parson is converted! Hallelujah!’ and the people rejoiced loudly and with much commotion.

If one fails to see the dire consequences of sin, the hideous nature thereof; if he fails to see Holy God as the judge who weighs the universe in His hands; if he doesn’t see rightly the King of glory Who paid the price for sin that man could never pay – he will die in his sin and be lost forever.

The doctrine of soteriology is not a dry theological construct that has no relation to how we live. It is the very core of the identity we as Christians have – that of being found in Christ. The jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” So they (Paul and Silas) said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It is simple in one aspect – believe on the Lord Jesus. But oh how deep and rich is the salvation we have in Christ Jesus! We are found by Him, secured in Him, preserved in Him, saved and sanctified in Him. We walk in Christ, labor in Christ, obey in Christ. We live and die in Christ; and we conquer and overcome death and hell in Christ!

The Apostle Paul fought against false doctrines that taught justification by any other means. It is an essential doctrine upon which our faith rests. All other systems of salvation rest on self-worth and deny the depth of man’s sin and the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1 Pete 1:3-5)

If Pelagius was right, Christ died for no purpose. If Scripture is right, and we were dead in our sins and trespasses, our life and worth depends on the death of Christ – in our place, to placate the wrath of God the Father.

Soteriology? It’s a matter of life and death.

Responsibility, Inability and Grace

A great review of important issues that bear on the essential doctrine of soteriology – how is one saved? By John Hendrix. accounted-as-righteousness_t_nv

Responsibility, Inability and Grace

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me…” – John 6:37

The truth of God’s word is honored not in holding exclusively to one truth to the exclusion of another truth, but in believing the whole counsel of God. The Bible plainly teaches that man is responsible to obey the summons of God to repent and believe the gospel just as it plainly teaches that he is morally unwilling and unable to do so. These two seemingly contradictory assertions can be reconciled when we understand that, after the fall, God’s perfect standard for holiness for man does not change … so even the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Christ who justifies sinners, can only belong to us, not by nature but by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness. Jesus says, “no one can come to me [i.e. believe in me] unless the Father who sent me grants it.” (John 6:54) Again, the Apostle Paul says, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

Furthermore some teach that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his regenerative grace, we believe, will and desire to believe, but do not confess that it is by the work of renewal by the Holy Spirit within us that we even have the faith, the will, or the desire to do all these things; If we make the assistance of grace depend on our own wisdom, humility, prudence, obedience, sound judgment or good sense, but don’t agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, we then directly contradict the Scripture which says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).

The following chart shows that the Bible clearly teaches both man’s responsibility to believe the gospel and his inability to do so. The third column helps us to understand how those whom God has set his affection on infallibly come to faith, in spite of this inability and, most of all, how this gives all glory to God in the work of salvation: Augustine once said, “God bids us do what we cannot, that we may know what we ought to seek from him.”

(This chart is loosely based on a chart by Lamar McKinney)

The Responsibility of Man

The Inability of Man

Monergistic Grace of God

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matt. 11:28

No man can come to me, . . .

John 6:44a

. . . except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:44b

…whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16

…men loved the darkness rather than the Light…and will not come into the light…

John 3:20, 21

..”But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

John 3:21

Note: there are, indeed, those who come to the light — namely those whose deeds are the work of God. “Wrought in God” means worked by God. Apart from this gracious work of God all men hate the light of God and will not come to him lest their evil be exposed.

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

Isa 55:6

There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

Rom 3:11

. . . I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.

Rom 10:20b

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ…

1 John 3:23

“…the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

Romans 8:7

you do not hear, because you are not of God.

John 8:47

“…and these whom He called, He also justified;

Rom 8:30

…and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

Acts 13:48

God…commandeth all men every where to repent.

Acts 17:30

…the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him

John 14:7

“…if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”

2 Tim 2:25

. . . whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

Rev 22:17b

So then it is not of him that willeth, . . .

Rom 9:16a

“…but on God, who has mercy.” – Rom 9:16b

…Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,. . .

Ps 110:3a

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

Isa 45:22

. . . Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

John 3:3a

. . . The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest . . . see that Just One, . . ..

Acts 22:14

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

John 1:12

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Cor 2:14

But as many as received him, . . . were born, not of . . the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:12-13

. . . if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, . . .

ROM 10:9

. . . no man can say that Jesus is Lord . . .

1 Cor 12:3b

. . . but by the Holy Ghost.

1 Cor 12:3b

. . . make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, . . ?

Ezek 18:31

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: . . .

Jer 17:9

A new heart also will I give you, . . . and I will take away the stony heart . . .

Ezek 36:26

“If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Matt 19:21

“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”


Matt 19:23

“Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matt 25b-26

God knoweth we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requireth no more than he giveth, and giveth what he requireth, and accepteth what he giveth.” – Richard Sibbes

John Hendryx
Monergism

Divided We Fall

7100094_f496It was a post from my friend and fellow evangelist, Bobby McCreery, that got me thinking. He wrote, “I’m no expert, but it seems one reason revival tarries is the fact that there is so much division in the body of Christ. So many brothers biting and devouring each other over secondary and tertiary issues like baptism and eschatology grieves my heart. I am not saying these issues are not important. I am saying my prayer is that our love for Christ would cause us to love one another in spite of our differences.” I could not help but echo the sentiment of my friend. So often in the Christian community we are ready to go to the mats over issues that, while important, are secondary to the essential doctrines of the faith.

These essential issues – such as: the nature of God; the deity of Christ; the Trinity; salvation by grace alone, through faith, in Christ alone; the sufficiency of scripture (and that scripture is inerrant); justification; and imputation – are what all Christians should be willing to go to the grave over. They are so essential to the very nature of our faith, that to remove any one of them would do irreparable damage to Christianity. These are doctrines that we must be absolutely unified on. Yet today, the doctrines which, while important, do not cause the cause of Christ to crumble have been elevated to first order status. Christians are going to war over doctrines which have been debate by good and godly men for centuries. What is worse, where some of the learned men of the past have been willing to call each other brethren despite their differences, today, Christians are declaring each other false believers, false teachers, or even worse, heretics. And all the while, we ignore the words of our Savior, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:35 ESV).

This is not to say that every discussion or disagreement over doctrinal issues is a failure to show love to each other. In fact, it is very important that we as Christians be willing to wrangle over tough doctrinal teachings so that we may come to a full and mature understanding of our faith. But in so doing, we are not to despise one another for differing beliefs. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul teaches more mature believers in the faith that while we are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols (because it is only meat and the idol has no power at all) those who are weak, or lacking maturity in doctrine, may see this as sin. Paul calls on the more mature Christians to be willing to abstain from eating meat around them in order to keep from adversely affecting the weaker brethren’s conscience.

Inherent in this teaching we see a couple of principles. First, that of the opposing views, one is right, one is wrong. Those who are right have a greater and more mature understanding of the teachings. Second, those Christians who are more mature are taught to not lord over the weaker brethren due to their advanced wisdom. They are in fact, called to work with the less mature brethren at their own level. Incumbent in this is that the mature brethren will instruct, in love, the weaker. In other words, we are told it is less important to prove our being right in this matter than it is to love our weaker brethren and to build them up in the faith.

Now, I would agree that this matter of meat sacrificed to idols is not a debate of eschatology, soteriology or baptism. However, the principle, I believe remains. When we discuss our viewpoints of doctrine, it must always be with the mindset that we are talking with fellow believers. One of us is going to be wrong in our beliefs, but unless this is a core matter, one can still be a Christian if they are indeed wrong. Thus, the debate is not about finding a tare among the wheat, but the education and edification of our brethren. If we approach the matter purely from the standpoint that anyone who does not understand the wisdom in this view of doctrine must change their mind or else, then we have wrongly declared hosts of brethren anathema, even though they have agreement on the core essentials.

Often times, disagreements on secondary issues can turn into nasty, knock down, drag out arguments. The unfortunate result is that some Christians end up becoming unwilling to affirm other Christians as brethren when they refuse to see their “wisdom” in an area of doctrine. However, in Romans 14, Paul admonishes Christians who debate over the eating of certain foods or days on which one should worship. Remember, in this passage, Paul is talking specifically about Christians. So when he asks, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (v. 4a) he is pointing out that those who are in disagreement on this secondary matter should not be calling into question the salvation of the other. He goes on to say, “It is before his own master that he stands or falls,” (v. 4b). Paul is saying that only God can make that final determination when it comes to a brother’s wrong understanding of a secondary doctrine. That means it is not up to us to declare them anathema!

In this same passage, when writing of the debate over days of worship, Paul writes “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind,” (v. 5b). Did we just read that correctly? Did Paul just say that two Christians could have two separate viewpoints on a matter of secondary doctrine? Yes! Paul just taught us that we can disagree and still be brethren. Why? Because “the one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God,” (v. 6). In other words, even though we may disagree with brothers and sisters in areas of secondary doctrinal matters, we all worship the Lord and submit to our beliefs in honor of Him. It is in fact possible to rightly worship God with differing views on non-essential matters.

Paul repeatedly teaches for unity among Christians who have differing view points. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul calls out those who evidently decided that some apostles and teachers were better than others. Believers had aligned themselves under Paul, Peter and Apollos. Some were rejecting the other three and saying, “I follow Christ,” (v. 12). Paul admonishes this manner of division saying “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (v. 13). Like matters of secondary doctrinal matters, we can even get into arguments over who preaches better, or which preacher has the right doctrine (because after all, that’s the doctrine I believe!). Paul calls the brethren into unity under Christ, even though there were differences between the teachers they sat under.

Again, I know some are going to say, “but (insert doctrine here) is not what Paul was writing about! So this does not apply to my situation.” The issue at hand though is the principle that Paul was teaching, which goes back to what Christ taught His disciples. There are going to be differing viewpoints among Christians on a variety of secondary doctrinal matters. We can discuss and debate the matters, but only if we are doing so with unity amongst the brethren and love for one another in mind. If we are seeking to prove ourselves right at the expense of others, if we are willing to declare brethren anathema because they do not believe as we do, if we just become downright mean and nasty to one another, then we have failed to obey the command of our Lord and Savior. And to make matters worse, as my friend said in the quote at the beginning of the article, revival tarries. Why? Because, while we are hacking and slashing at each other, the gospel is not preached to the world. And what little of the gospel message that does make it into the hands of unbelievers is now tainted by our lack of love for those within the Christian camp. So, the world marches on, blindly unaware of its headlong plunge into Hell, while we sit arrogantly smug that we proved ourselves right to someone we should have been linking arms with in the proclamation of the gospel.

Christians this must not be so. We must be above the petty bickering, back biting, and name calling. Let us discuss and debate, let us educate and edify. Let us be a blessing to one another, even when we disagree. But more importantly, let us be unified in the core essentials of the faith and let us proclaim, as one voice, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation.