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The Inerrancy of Scripture: What’s at Stake

Every now and then, people will kick around the idea of the “inerrancy” of Scripture. What does inerrancy mean, and why is it such a big deal?

What is inerrancy?

When we say something is inerrant, we mean it is without error, mistake, contradiction, or falsehood. Inerrant means “true, trustworthy, reliable, accurate, and infallible.” Thus, if the Bible is inerrant, it is totally trustworthy and without error in everything it says. This isn’t some new theory. If the Bible is God’s Word, we expect it to be inerrant (and we make no apology for this word).

The Bible claims verbal inspiration. By this we mean that God approved every word of Scripture. Every single word is inspired by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:13), and thus carries God’s divine authority. It isn’t merely the general thought behind the words that are inspired, but the very words of the Bible that are inspired. Jesus Himself implied that there is not a single word that is insignificant in Scripture (cf. Matt. 5:18; 22:32; Gal. 3:16).

The Bible claims plenary inspiration. This means Scripture is entirely truenot only in what it specifically teaches, but also in everything it mentions as it teaches. What I mean is, even though God did not design the Bible to be a history or science textbook, when the inspired writers do happen to mention something scientific or historical, their words are entirely factually true (cf. John 3:12). The historical accounts of places, the events, and people, along with any references to nature or biology, are true.

The Bible claims infallibility. Scripture can never fail or make a mistake. God “never lies” (Titus 1:2), therefore there can be no deliberate errors in Scripture. God “knows everything” (1 John 3:20), therefore there can be no accidental mistakes in Scripture. Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God proves true.” Jesus prayed to the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus happened to believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible when He said that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

What inerrancy isn’t.

Inerrancy doesn’t mean man hasn’t made mistakes in copying the ancient manuscripts. The printing press has only existed for 5 centuries or so, meaning for the majority of human history, Scripture had to be copied by hand (people who made duplicates of Scripture were called “scribes”). Sometimes the scribes made mistakes (mostly by accidentally leaving out/duplicating a word or forgetting to punctuate something). But, because of the rich pool of ancient copies in our possession today (we have thousands upon thousands), it is remarkably easy to pinpoint where the scribes made mistakes.

The term “inerrancy” only applies to the autographs of Scripture (the original writings), not the manuscripts (the copies). When we talk about the inerrancy of Scripture, we are affirming that the original transmission of God’s revelation is without error.

Inerrancy doesn’t mean God didn’t use the unique writing styles of the prophets. The inspired writers of the Bible weren’t exactly automatons. A cursory study of the 66 books of the Bible will reveal that Moses, Paul, and Peter read somewhat differently (as you would expect from different writers). Additionally, a casual glance at Scripture will also show that the inspired writers used different literary styles (such as parables, poetry, metaphor, anthropomorphism, and hyperbole).

Yes, God utilized the unique personalities of the prophets and the apostles when transmitting Scripture. But because the Bible is inerrant, we know God’s inspiration insured what the prophets and apostles wrote was exactly as God intended.

Inerrancy doesn’t preclude the use of layman’s terminology. For example, sometimes the Bible uses non-technical phraseology, such as “from the rising of the sun” (Psalm 113:3). Scientifically speaking, the sun doesn’t rise (that’s impossible). But in layman’s terms, it does. As another example, sometimes the Bible uses round numbers and inexact measurements, just as we do today in everyday conversation (Did literally all of Israel gather around Jeremiah in the temple in Jeremiah 26:9? I doubt it). This is just an example of God speaking rhetorically, with His words being no less true.

What if the Bible were not inerrant?

If the Bible is not inerrant, God either made a mistake or He lied. If there were errors in the original autographs of Scripture, then either God purposefully or accidentally misled us. Are you ready to serve a God who lies or makes mistakes?

If the Bible is not inerrant, there is no reason to trust God. If God can lie or make a mistake in small areas of Scripture, why should we trust His words in the more important areas? When we can’t rely on the specific words and historical/scientific accuracy of Scripture, then we are robbed of our trust in God Himself.

If the Bible is not inerrant, the wisdom of man becomes a higher standard of truth than Scripture. It bothers me how some deny the inerrancy of Scripture on the basis of their feelings. “I fear it turns people off.” “I am uncomfortable describing the Bible with such a concrete word.” But God doesn’t ask us to follow Him with our feelings – He asks us to submit Him with our mind on the basis of facts and objective truth. It doesn’t matter what you like. Feelings are deceptive (cf. Prov. 12:15; Eze. 13:3). We must define ourselves by the Bible, not the Bible to our own comfort level.

If the Bible is not inerrant, then we cannot rely on the spiritual truth it teaches. The moment you admit the inspired Scripture contain historical/scientific/peripheral mistakes, you have put a dangerous crack in the dam. How can you argue the doctrine of Scripture is true (eternal judgment, sin, salvation, the deity of Christ, etc.) if you cannot also argue that the smaller, intricate details of Scripture are also true?

Conclusion

Some feel uncomfortable using the term inerrancy. They say they do not want to use words the Bible doesn’t use (To be consistent, they shouldn’t use words like “Trinity” or “Bible,” either). One writer prefers to describe the Bible as “reliable and true;” others prefer to use the word “inspired.” But this is a false distinction between words. If the Bible is truly inspired – and if it is reliable and true – then it is inerrant. And if there is any part or degree to which the Bible in not inerrant, it is also to that extent not inspired, reliable, and true.

After we have properly defined the word “inerrant,” we must unapologetically embrace the fact that the Bible is inerrant. We love inerrancy. It is what gives us hope, peace, and confidence in the Word of God.

Hey, here’s a good place to shamelessly plug my book!

If you want to know more about how we got the Bible and how it is authoritative in our lives, You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About The Bible is a good place to start. Use it as a class at your church, or use it so you can hold your own when a skeptic tries to minimize the inerrancy of God’s word. Don’t let anyone ‘muddy the water’ about this topic – it is far too important.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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I don’t remember my high-school math and I’m okay

Between you and me, I have a confession to make: I hardly remember anything I learned in my high school trigonometry class. I also can’t write in cursive very well anymore. I have no idea how to calculate girth (or what girth even is). I still get “affect” and “effect” confused.

I took several Advanced Placement courses: American history, European history, chemistry, physics, etc. I made good grades. I graduated with honors. But I can’t name all the countries in Africa. I don’t remember all of the state capitals. I can’t name all of the kings of France or Britain, much less put them in order. The only chemical formula I understand is “H2O.” I don’t remember most of the state birds I had to memorize for a school competition (except Oklahoma’s, which is the Scissor-tailed flycatcher). I took three years of Spanish, but I only remember a handful of words.

And guess what: I’m not living on the street.

In fact, I’ve got a pretty good job. Sometimes my family splurges and buys the occasional brand-name item from the grocery store. We are living large.

Dear parent, I know you are under immense pressure to make sure your kids are learning a second language, involved in the local play, participating in after-school athletics, enrolled in the honors program, eating nutritious organic meals – all while maintaining a Southern Living-like Facebook profile and Pinterest board. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not minimizing these things. For all you struggling parents like me and my wife who are killing themselves to make sure your kids are prepared for college, keep it up.

But don’t forget to be realistic. Ask yourself, how much are your kids going to remember from school? How much do you remember from school?

In the hustle and bustle of being a responsible parent, don’t forget to teach your kids the things they won’t forget.

Let me tell you what I do happen to remember from my early years. I remember…

…Coming down the stairs after waking up in the morning and seeing my mom reading her Bible.

…My parents picking up people for church who no one else wanted to pick up.

…My mom apologizing to me when she made a mistake.

…My parents having Bible studies (some going late into the night) with Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses/Baptists/Catholics (or whoever else happened to knock on our door the day before).

…My dad telling me that I would always be welcome in their house after I moved away, unless I was ever unfaithful to my wife or unfaithful to Christ and had not repented.

…My parents not letting me take a part-time job if my employer wouldn’t give me time-off to go to every church service.

…My dad making dinner sometimes so my mom wouldn’t have to.

…My parents sometimes telling me “no” when I saw something I really wanted.

…My parents showing me tenderness and affection (not “effection,” right?)

…Going on walks with my mom.

…My parents taking me to visit elderly church members.

…My dad making me mow our lawn. With a push mower.

…My mom making me set the table for dinner, followed by washing the dishes. By hand.

…My dad reading to me.

…My dad learning about my unpaid debt to a church member, and forcing me to sell something I really liked in order to pay back the debt.

…My parents having “Bible time” with me, making me recite the books of the Bible, countless verses, the twelve sons of Jacob, the apostles, the judges, the plan of salvation, etc. I couldn’t forget those things today, even if I tried.

You want to give your children the best education money can buy. But while honor rolls, athletics, and other extra-curricular activities are well and good, they aren’t the most important thing you can give your children. If your children learn to speak French, but don’t leave your house loving Jesus and His Kingdom above everything else, what have they really gained?

There are only a few things in life that actually matter. Prioritize the stuff that will get them to heaven. The rest will fall into place.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Do Two Christians Have to Agree on Everything to be in Fellowship with One Another?

It is a fact that good, honest Christians sometimes disagree about various issues – whether elders should have more than one child, whether women should cover their heads in worship, whether Christians should be pacifists, and so on. To pretend honest, truth-seeking brethren always share identical beliefs is unhelpful.

This is the question we need to be able to answer: Can you worship and serve Christ alongside another Christian – in full, brotherly camaraderie – when you disagree with him/her on a point of doctrine? If so, at what point should you sever ties of fellowship?

I won’t attempt to address every doctrine (that would be both impossible and presumptuous of me), nor will I address what fellowship (or lack there of) should look like. But there are some principles found in Scripture that can give us greater clarity about this fellowship question. But first, let’s look at some false extremes so we can better see the truth.

Wrong Answers To The Fellowship Question

Extreme A: The “Core Gospel” Theory

Many teach that there is a “core” set of essential doctrines on which believers must agree – matters such as the resurrection of Christ, the necessity of baptism, etc. Some are quick to point to the popular sentiment: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” (It should be noted this phrase is not found in the Bible.)

We need to be careful about turning a man-made quip into a religious creed. What human gets to decide which matters are “essential” or “non-essential?” What about instrumental music in worship, or taking of the Lord’s Supper on Saturday, or how to properly handle church funds? The problem with this theory is that no one can seem to agree on what should be included in this “core” list.

Ironically, the idea that Christians must merely share a belief in a “core gospel” of fundamentals, while minimizing the importance of everything else, has caused a tremendous amount of division in the church. If this is the answer to unity, it is a poor answer.

One particularly novel idea (one which has seen a small resurgence recently) is that this “core gospel” should be comprised only of God’s explicit commands, and that Scriptural inferences from deductive reasoning shouldn’t be a reason to break fellowship. However, Jesus Himself didn’t believe this; during His earthly ministry, He expected the Jews to be able to make doctrinal inferences from Scripture (Matt. 22:29-32). Furthermore, the command to abstain from “things like these” is a command to make inferences (Gal. 5:21). There can be no Christianity without some degree of human inference. (Is not this false “core gospel” theory an inference in and of itself?) Christians must make Biblical inferences about things like full immersion in water for baptism, denominationalism, instrumental music, etc. – matters on which there can be no room for disagreement among those who share the mind of Christ.

Extreme B: The “Perfect Agreement” Theory

Some demand that their fellow believers agree with them on every single doctrinal issue before extending a right hand of fellowship. This approach forgets that Christianity is, in large part, a growth process – that we will never reach moral and intellectual perfection in this lifetime. Romans 14 clearly explains how Christians can sometimes still be in fellowship despite their doctrinal disagreements. It is unrealistic to expect someone to know everything about the Bible – and agree with 100% of your doctrinal conclusions – before administering baptism.

Extreme C: The Naysayer’s Theory

Some are quick to point to the doctrinal disagreements among Christians today as proof that restoring New Testament Christianity is impossible. The argument goes like this: “If two intelligent Christians who believe in the all-sufficiency of Scripture can’t agree on everything, then this is a failed experiment. Let’s turn the church of Christ into a denomination.”

The problem with this theory, however, is that it confuses unity of mind with an exhaustive unity of belief & opinions. Again, Romans 14 commands Christians to be in fellowship, despite having a few contrary opinions. While the Bible only teaches one position on any point of doctrine, the unity of mind among Christians is the simple acknowledgment that truth can be understood (at least eventually). Together we are dedicated to better understanding that single truth, no matter how imperfect we might be in the process.

So what are some Biblical principles that can help guide this matter of fellowship among two Christians who disagree?

Principle 1: Jesus Is Our Basis of Christian Fellowship

If we walk in the light, as [Jesus] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

My confidence that you are in fellowship with Jesus is how I determine whether I can be in fellowship with you. I do not have a right to extend spiritual fellowship to someone not first in fellowship with Christ – even if they claim to be a follower of Christ (Matt. 7:21-23).

I judge the faithfulness of self-proclaimed believers in Christ by (a) what they say, and (b) what they do. Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). Shame on me if I ever convey approval of someone’s error (Rom. 1:32; 2 John 10-11).

Fellowship Begins by Being “in Christ”

One must repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19) and be baptized for the express purpose of entering into Christ for the remission of sins (Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:21). Who am I to call someone my “brother” or “sister” in Christ if they have not satisfied God’s initial requirements to be saved?

Fellowship Continues by Sharing the “Mind of Christ”

Unity can only be found in a shared agreement of what it means to submit to Jesus. “Can two walk together unless they have agreed to meet?” (Amos 3:3). Paul commanded:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10).

Peter commanded, similarly:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Pet. 3:8)

This “unity of mind” is how we approach God and interpret His Word. Or, to use a more theological word, “unity of mind” is about sharing the same hermeneutic. Jesus is the example of the kind of “mind” we are to have as we submit to the Father (Phil. 2:5-11). There is a right way and a wrong way to approach His Word (2 Tim. 2:15), and to properly interpret it, we must:

  • Rid our lives of pride and selfish motives.
  • Understand the teachings of Scripture as timeless and relevant to all matters of life.
  • Recognize Scripture as the verbal, plenary, inerrant Word of God.
  • Understand that the 66 books of the Bible are the sole source of authority, and no man-made document or tradition carries equal weight.
  • Be willing to submit to the commands, apostolic examples, and all subsequent inferences as we realize them along the way – even at great personal cost.

Being “united in the same mind” does not mean we must always agree on every doctrine immediately, but it does mean we must be in agreement in our approach to God’s Law (i.e. the mind of Christ). Someone who has a high view of Scripture cannot, by definition, share the “same mind” as someone who has a low view of Scripture.

Fellowship Is Severed When One Begins “Walking In Darkness”

“Walking in darkness” inhibits fellowship with God and consequently severs fellowship with His children (1 John 1:6). A wrong hermeneutic will cause one to walk in darkness, and will manifest itself as neglecting His commandments (1 John 2:3; 3:22-24; 5:2-3), disregarding His Word (1 John 2:5), and living unrighteously (1 John 2:29), etc.

Principle 2: There Are No Unimportant Doctrines

Say it with me in your heart: There is no such thing as two equally valid, yet contrary, positions about a Bible doctrine. God has not spoken out of both sides of His mouth on any issue (though some Bible topics are more clear than others). The Bible only teaches one position on any given topic. If there is a doctrinal disagreement between two Christians, it is because someone has misinterpreted what the Bible teaches.

The often-abused example is given of the late Gus Nichols and Guy N. Woods who, a generation ago, publicly disagreed about the nature of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, yet still maintained fellowship with one another (with Woods holding the position that the Spirit dwells within the heart representatively, and Nichols holding the position that the Spirit dwells within the heart literally and personally). Let us not make the grave mistake of thinking that both positions were equally valid and thus of no consequence.

Though Nichols and Woods honestly disagreed on this topic, we believe both men are presently in glory. And we hold both of these great men of God were saved – not because this issue didn’t matter – but because the blood of Jesus cleansed them of the issues about which they were honestly mistaken (1 John 1:7). Which brings us to the third principle.

Principle 3: Jesus May Extend Grace To Our Wrong Positions (To an Extent)

There is no question that there is no salvation outside of Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). And baptism is the only way into Jesus (Gal. 3:26-27). But what if a Christian is honestly trying to serve God, but gets a few more difficult doctrines wrong along the way?

Thankfully, the blood of Jesus cleanses the Christian’s sins when he or she does not understand, or has no intention of breaking, God’s Law (1 John 1:7). There is a degree to which Christ is patient with honest Christians despite their imperfections. I will not presume the extent to which His grace covers error, but the fact still remains in Scripture.

For example, Jesus told the church in Ephesus to repent of their wrongdoings; otherwise He would “remove their lampstand” (Rev. 2:5). This implies that – at least for the time being – the Ephesian Christians in error were still saved, but they were on probation (so to speak). Christ had extended them grace in their wrongs, but they were expected to repent upon recognizing the truth.

In a similar fashion, perhaps it could be said that Christians today sometimes get things wrong. There is a degree to which the blood of Christ continues to cleanse them, yet when they come to a better knowledge of the truth, Christ expects them to repent and do better.

I am confident that there are some Biblical matters about which I am wrong. Yet, so long as I seek to humbly submit to Jesus, I can enjoy the security of having my name written in the book of Life (Rev. 3:5). As I mature spiritually, I hope to better align my beliefs with Scripture along the way.

Principle 4: Fellowship Should Never Endorse What Is Wrong

Christian Fellowship is largely based upon decisions that are the fruit of basic honesty. My beliefs are defined by how I treat other people. If I fail to clearly state my opposition or support of another’s life or teaching, I become a hypocrite. Christians are commanded to judge one another to determine whether fellowship can continue (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

I must honestly judge those with whom I am considering fellowship, otherwise I risk “taking part in his wicked works” (2 John 11). When I extend my “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9), I endorse the life and teaching of brethren I deem to be honest and share my mind in Christ. I must never engage in any form of fellowship which validates a wrong belief.

Elders are to protect the church on a congregational level from false teaching (Heb. 13:17). Yet I protect the church on a personal level by means of my fellowship. Paul told the Roman Christians to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). On the other hand, Paul told the Philippian Christians to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). Paul’s letters are filled with names of people to be avoided (e.g. 2 Tim. 4:14) and people worthy of commendation (e.g. Col. 4:7-17).

Of course, my judgments are human and thus sometimes wrong. I am open to honest discussion about my judgments. When Peter and Barnabas wrongfully excluded their fellowship from Christians, Paul rebuked them (Gal. 2:11-14).

Principle 5: Fellowship Sometimes Requires Judgment

The Bible repeatedly commands Christians to be patient with one another (Rom. 14:1; 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:7; Gal. 6:2; Eph. 4:2) – and it isn’t just referring to personality conflicts. We must be patient with fellow Christians as we hope to lead them to a “more accurate” understanding of Scripture (cf. Acts 18:26).

We need wise judgment as to how long we should patiently bear with people who are mistaken about a particular doctrine. However, Scripture must carefully restrict the degree to which we tolerate opposing views.

There are three dimensions to consider when making this judgment call:

The First Dimension of Fellowship: Discerning Right from Wrong

Sin is sin, error is error, and wrong is wrong. The Bible only teaches one thing on any given issue, and I either get things right or I don’t. But if this is the only dimension of fellowship, then few Christians – if any – could ever be in fellowship! Perhaps we could say that all Christians are theoretically wrong about something. Surely no two Christians agree about every matter of Scripture (if we consider even the most intricate of doctrines). I openly admit that I may hold some beliefs that are wrong. Yet by God’s grace I hope to come to a better understanding of God’s Word as I grow in my understanding of Scripture.

The Second Dimension of Fellowship: Being of the Same Mind

If I disagree with another Christian, I must ask whether we are operating with the same “mind of Christ.” Remember, the “mind of Christ” is how I approach God and interpret His Word. Sometimes it may take longer to determine whether someone shares the same mind as you, but over time a pattern will begin to develop.

For example, a self-proclaimed “Christian” who does not believe in the essentiality of baptism for salvation is woefully mistaken and thus I cannot be in spiritual fellowship with him. He has not obeyed the gospel. We disagree, not merely about baptism, but fundamentally how we approach God and interpret His Word. The Bible plainly declares that baptism is the occasion at which my sins are washed away (Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). To disagree about baptism reflects nothing short of a heart problem.

Yet, if two Christians share the same “mind” while disagreeing about a more peripheral doctrine, we can expect the truth to prevail over time. It is when someone exchanges the truth for a lie that two people must break fellowship.

The Third Dimension of Fellowship: Admitting the Relative Complexity of the Doctrine in Question

Some doctrines are simply more complicated than others. The Bible itself acknowledges this fact (2 Pet. 3:16). Thus, it logically follows that it will sometimes take longer for some Christians to come to the right conclusion about more difficult doctrines. We need to give Christians, who are operating with the same “mind of Christ,” time to study the issue and work out the matter on their own. We need to sympathize with brethren who have not yet found the truth on a particular subject, but who may still be searching for it. If I am honest, I know there are some issues I am still working through myself. This is simply part of “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7). The command to grow was written to Christians, not non-Christians (1 Pet. 2:2).

Thus, as it relates to my fellowship with Christians with whom I disagree, I need to use judgment in identifying the doctrines that are more difficult to understand. It is unfair for me to quickly sever fellowship with a Christian who is still honestly searching for the truth. At the same time, I need to take great care not to validate someone’s belief I know to be wrong (Acts 18:24-26).

It should be observed that New Testament Christians did work and worship in congregations where perfect doctrinal agreement did not exist – congregations where only a few Christians had not, metaphorically speaking, “soiled their garments” (Rev. 3:4). They worshipped and fellowshipped in imperfect churches, working to “strengthen what remains” (Rev. 3:2). Christians can for a season, in good conscience, remain in fellowship with other Christians who are mistaken about some issues if their aim is to bring them toward perfection. How long that season should be, however, is sometimes based upon wise judgment.

Conclusion

Do two Christians have to agree on everything to be in fellowship? Not necessarily.

The Limits of Fellowship

Yet we cannot have Christian fellowship with those who are not first in fellowship with God. This means people who are not in Christ and people who have left Christ cannot enjoy spiritual fellowship with other Christians.

Christians find fellowship by sharing the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:8). This means we share the same healthy fear of God, submission to Christ, and respect for His Word. This allows for the occasional honest disagreement over some specific doctrines, yet over time – if all parties are operating with the “mind of Christ” – more and more differences will be resolved.

All of God’s Word Is Important

There is no “core gospel.” No command is too small. God never speaks out of both sides of His mouth. All of God’s instructions are equally important (though all may not be equally clear). We must continually strive to get everything right.

The reason the “core gospel” theory is so popular is because it is so similar to the actual truth (all false doctrine has a little bit of truth in it). The Bible teaches that some doctrines are simply more clear than others, as Peter says (2 Pet. 3:16). Yet, all Biblical doctrines are essential because all are from God.

Protect Your Conscience

Christians must take great care not to violate the conscience (Jas. 4:17). Even though there are some matters about which Christians can disagree, it is important not to participate in anything that will communicate that you support that which is wrong.

Remember The Three Dimensions of the Fellowship Question

Fellowship is not always limited to a binary of right and wrong. If this were the case, virtually no Christian could be in fellowship with another, since none of us have reached Christian perfection. To what extent should Christians be patient with those who believe differently than you?

The second dimension takes into account whether two Christians are operating with the same mind, or the same hermeneutic. The third dimension takes into account the relative difficulty of the doctrine in question. I want you to treat me with the same degree of longsuffering as I am commanded to extend to you in Christ.

Be Thankful for Elders & Congregational Autonomy

We are thankful that God has established autonomous elderships to rule over individual congregations to help Christians work through these difficulties. Elderships are to exercise wise judgment in settling doctrinal disputes, and Christians have an obligation to submit to their decisions (Heb. 13:17). Yet what if a Christian still disagrees with their decision? It is important for him to consider the three dimensions to this question of fellowship.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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How to Trick People into Rejecting Biblical Authority (Hint: Many of Our Churches are Doing a Pretty Good Job)

The road to hell isn’t obscure or hard to find. It is a super-highway, lined with familiar faces and paved with sincerity and good intentions.

Many of its travelers are self-proclaimed followers of Jesus who are oblivious to their final destination (Matt. 7:21-23). They were simply pointed that way by other well-meaning ‘Christians.’

How did they wind up on this super-highway? For many, it wasn’t a quick, conscious decision. Yet slowly, over time, they learned to reject the authority of the Bible.

And they learned to do this by sitting in the pew next to you.

We set them up for failure. We domesticated the authority of Scripture. By “we” I’m referring to many of our churches and fellow believers – not the least of which are many preachers, teachers, and parents today. We have sanitized Scripture, so much so that it no longer tugs on the heart or troubles the sinner.

Note some of the subtle ways we practically beg churchgoers to reject Biblical authority:

1. Avoid Talking About Important Topics

There are some preachers who rarely, if ever, talk about certain Biblical subjects. This is due to any number of reasons. Perhaps they haven’t studied a particular subject enough to address it with confidence (the end-times, transgenderism). Perhaps they have doubts about a particular subject themselves (unauthorized worship practices, eternal punishment). Perhaps they know the congregation is divided about the issue (alcohol, divorce). Maybe they generally just don’t like talking about the subject, regardless of how clearly it is taught in the Bible (church discipline, holiness).

As a result, the people of the pew are left with a vacuum in their understanding of the Bible. The funny thing about vacuums, however, is that they always get filled with something, eventually. Sin begins to fester. Truth, if not consistently taught on even the most difficult of issues, will be replaced with misconceptions and lies. And if some brave soul eventually does comes along and teach the truth, he/she will be challenged.

2. Act Embarrassed by the Bible

Building on #1, some churches prefer to just sweep the touchy subjects under the rug. Or, even worse, they hire preachers who say stuff like this: “Today’s sermon is from Matthew 19:9. Like other passages about this subject, the Bible has some pretty harsh things to say about divorce. I don’t like talking about this, but then again the Bible says some things I’m not 100% proud of.”

Even though this preacher has theoretically submitted to the authority of the Bible, he [perhaps unwittingly] deceived people into thinking that he is more gracious and lenient on people than even Jesus Himself.

However, like Paul, we cannot be ashamed of any part of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16). All (parents, teachers, preachers, elders) must communicate the entirety of God’s truth – plainly and unapologetically.

We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:2)

3. Give an Ounce of Legitimacy to Things God has Condemned

The Bible is remarkably straightforward about many things: the existence of heaven and hell, the reality of sin, mankind’s impending eternal judgment, the singularity of the church, the existence of false teachers, the essentiality of baptism, the exclusive nature of salvation through Jesus Christ, the demand for Christians to live holy lives, etc.

However, by listening to many of our pulpits today, you wouldn’t know the Bible is clear about much of anything. In an effort not to “come on too strong,” many have all too eagerly embraced postmodernismparticularly the idea that virtually every religious view has at least some merit to it.

We’ve gotten soggy with deconstructionism. That is, the attitude that any kind of conviction about anything should be held with contempt and therefore pulled apart and displayed alongside an opposing view.

It is no secret that there are opposing views about virtually every issue. Yet, just because an intelligent person happens to believe, for example, that homosexuality is okay doesn’t mean that the Bible falls short of emphatically declaring it a sin.

We can get as “academic” as we want. But when people grow up hearing remarks about “different views” about sexuality, the inerrancy of the Bible, salvation, grace, sin, the church, etc., – with the preacher being so timid he can’t bring himself to say, “This is what the Bible says” – no wonder they learn to reject Biblical authority about these subjects.

Christians cannot afford to be anything less than emphatically clear when it comes to what Scripture teaches – directly or indirectly.

4. Adopt all the Latest Churchy Fads

It is to our shame that many followers of Christ read more contemporary religious books than they do the Bible (if they are reading books at all). This has caused several problems, not the least of which is a stunted ability to identify wrong beliefs.

Self-help sermons and how-to lessons reverberate in our auditoriums today. It is not uncommon to hear preachers talk about the importance of environmentally-friendly lifestyles, smart money management, coping with divorce, diversity appreciation, dealing with grief, appreciating grandma/grandad, becoming more tolerant, developing self-worth, etc. Self-help sermons in moderation are appropriate at times. Yet, while the Bible does speak to these subjects, it is not primarily about these subjects.

Unless we want to diminish the authority of God’s Word, we cannot neglect teaching the core themes of the Bible: what it means to have faith, the horror of sin, living holy lives before God, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the importance of the church, and learning how to suffer as a Christian. When we preach today’s fads at the neglect of the rich theology of Scripture, we minimize the extent to which the Bible is authoritative in our lives.

5. Compartmentalize the Bible to Accommodate Busy Lifestyles

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word. […] Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word (Isa. 66:2, 5)

We’ve forgotten how to tremble.

An inflated view of our self-sufficiency blinds us to our need to read and re-read God’s Word. Constant gigabytes of data from the world consume our minds and hearts and desires. It is a stretch to believe someone who is swimming in pornography, pursuing an illicit sexual relationship, or consumed with envy is also investing much time with God’s Word. Our churches have enabled this behavior by making sure the Sunday sermon is “under 30 minutes,” and all the other church services are considered “optional.” People are busy, after all.

Here’s What We’ve Asked For

Do these five things, and the people sitting in the pew next to you will begin to reject Biblical authority over time. It will manifest itself in one of two extremes:

  1. Churchgoers will emphasize Biblical authority in theory yet reject it in practice. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “We want the Bible, and the Bible alone, preached here.” Yet show them how to better distinguish truth from tradition, pursue holiness, and correct their misconceptions, and they will often turn their backs on you.
  2. Churchgoers will claim Biblical authority in practice yet de-emphasize it in theory. On the other extreme, churchgoers often refuse to talk about Biblical authority or inerrancy, and instead want to “get past the specific words of Scripture” and “find the message God is trying to communicate through Scripture.” History testifies to the fact that these groups tend to drift quickly away from the Bible. These type of churchgoers have zeal, but not based on knowledge (Rom. 10:2).

An Appeal to Correct Our Wrongs

A negative list like this should invite us to positively pursue the opposite. Let’s talk about the important topics (even if they are uncomfortable). Let’s embrace the entirety of God’s Word. Let’s not be afraid to paint the Bible as “black and white” on most issues. Let’s not get swept up by the latest self-help book on the New York Times bestseller list. And let’s learn to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, instead of bread alone (Matt. 4:4).

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Going to Church as an Act of High Treason

Getting my family to church on Sunday morning sometimes feels like we are recreating the first 10 minutes of “Home Alone.”

There is nothing glamorous about it, even for a preacher’s family. After a sleepless night of babies crying, half-consciously fumbling for the coffee maker, showering, waking the kids up (who are finally deep asleep, conveniently), bathing the kids, getting dressed, getting the kids dressed, settling property disputes between the children, scouring the kitchen for something edible, reviewing Bible class and sermon notes, we’re just lucky to be alive at the end of the day. (My wife is an incredible woman for doing most of this so I can focus on the preacher stuff.)

I know it sounds crazy, but we do this every week. Willingly.

And, while it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of going to church, we need not forget the gravity of our mission. Going to church is a bold act of defiance toward the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).

You see, each time your tired legs stand for another stanza of praise toward the King of kings and Lord of lords, you are declaring that the ruler of this world is not the prince he claims to be (John 12:31). You are part of a new Kingdom, have a new King, and are anxiously awaiting His imminent return.

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, going to church is nothing short of treason against the state of this world (John 15:18-20).

We know there are consequences to this. The commands of God now take precedence over the will of man (Acts 5:29). While we know the governing authorities of this world still have some limited power (Rom. 13:1-7), we are now citizens of a new Kingdom (Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 2:9). And it isn’t always easy being an expatriate (Matt. 10:34-39).

Thus, when you bow your head in congregational prayer – when you underline a passage in your Bible during the lesson – when you drink the juice of the Lord’s Supper – when you drop your well-earned money in the collection plate – you are wholeheartedly declaring your allegiance to the Almighty God and your noncompliance to the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).

I know there are other reasons we assemble with the saints throughout the week:

  • We go to encourage and be encouraged (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 3:13; Jas. 5:16).
  • We go because that’s what the early church did (Acts 2:42; 20:7).
  • We go for accountability (1 Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17).
  • We go to learn (Rom. 15:14).
  • We go to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).
  • We go to contribute money to the Kingdom (1 Cor. 16:2).
  • We go because the local assembly of Christians is representative of the “living stones” of God’s temple, with God dwelling among Christians in a different way when they are assembled than when they are isolated (Matt. 18:20; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5a).
  • And we go to every regular assembly because that’s what we are commanded to do (Heb. 10:24-25).

But also go to church so you can tell the world – by your utter exhaustion (I’m talking to parents) – by your not being anywhere else (I’m talking to athletes) – by your dedication (I’m talking to those who must commute long distances) – by your courage (I’m talking to those who are mocked by their own family members) – that there is another King. And you love worshipping Him alongside the other citizens of His kingdom.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Why I’m Not Ashamed of Different Gender Roles in the Church

God doesn’t make mistakes.

When He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), He was not saying “Whoopsie daisy!” Instead, He was teaching that a genderless world is not good. To highlight this, God commanded Adam to name every creature in an effort to teach Adam that no animal had the capacity to worship God with him, serve God with him, or bring him the companionship that only an equal could.

Then God gave Adam a helper perfectly suited for Him. The King James Version calls her a “help meet.” She was equal to Adam, but different in role and function. She perfectly complemented him in a way that mirrored both the equality and functional diversity of the three-in-oneness of God.

They were given a mission bigger than themselves: to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). Adam named his wife “Eve,” which means giver of life (Gen. 4:20). The act of naming someone is a demonstration of headship. Even after they both believed Satan’s lies and sinned, thus losing rights to the Garden of Eden, Adam’s headship over her remained (Gen. 3:16). Together they continued to model the equality and submission of the members of the Trinity.

Just as aloneness wasn’t good in the garden, it isn’t good in the church. A church without gender is just as incomplete as the Garden of Eden without gender. The church today is part of something bigger than itself; it is commanded to multiply and fill the earth with disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). The fact that women, in particular, are commanded to teach the younger women how to be givers of life in both the home and the church (Titus 2:4-5) makes this, in a way, woman-specific. Women can do things that no man can.

Jesus Gave Legitimacy to Women During His Ministry

Jesus teaches us something in how He recognized the inherent equality of women and men, in how He ministered to women, and in the dignity with which He treated them in His ministry. He impartially addressed women directly when in public (John 4:7-26; Luke 7:12-13; 8:48; 11:27-28; 13:12; 23:27-31), which was culturally unusual for a man to do (John 4:27).

As Jesus went through cities and villages proclaiming the good news about the Kingdom, the disciples were with Him, “and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities […] who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). Women served alongside Jesus, even at the cross, for “there were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him” (Matt. 27:55).

God chose to give women crucial roles in the resurrection accounts, despite the fact that in Christ’s day, women were not considered reliable witnesses. Josephus warned, for example, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”[1] Yet, it was the women who loved Jesus who came to the tomb to anoint and pay respects to His body, only to discover He was missing. They were the first to hear the good news, “He is risen!” (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:5-8; Luke 24:2-12; John 20:1-2). Jesus then appeared to these women before anyone else, saying “Greetings!” and “Go and tell” (Matt. 28:9-10). They faithfully reported what they saw to the disciples, and no doubt continued to tell others for years to follow.

Jesus Recognized Gender Role Distinctions

We should point out that Jesus was not afraid of breaking social customs when He felt it necessary. Against custom (to put it mildly), He publicly condemned many of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 23:13-36), healed on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 13:14; John 5:8-10), and cleansed the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; John 2:14-17). Against custom, He spoke with women (John 4:7-9), ate with dishonorable people (Matt. 9:11), and even ate with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-23). Notice when moral issues were at stake, Jesus did not bend to societal pressure.

But Jesus did not appoint any women to be apostles, nor did He choose any women to pen the New Testament Scriptures. Many of the apostles had wives (1 Cor. 9:5) – could not Jesus just have easily appointed them to the position alongside their husbands? It wouldn’t have necessarily been culturally taboo to do so, as both Jewish and Gentile societies occasionally allowed for women leadership (Judges 4-5; 2 Kings 11:3; Acts 17:4, 12). Yet Jesus still had role distinctions in mind when selecting His apostles, and the same is true today when selecting elders in His church.

Not long after His church was established, a problem arose regarding the neglect of a select group of women (Acts 6:1). Plenty of women were numbered among the Christians in that day (Acts 1:14; 5:1, 14). Yet the church was told to select seven qualified men (andras, Acts 6:3), which meant this choice of men to serve in this capacity (presumably deacons) was deliberate.

Regardless of gender, Jesus recognized the intrinsic equality of men and women. He valued their fellowship, prayers, worship, testimony, and financial support. There are no gender barriers between a believer and Jesus Christ. Yet we can also see in Christ’s choice of apostles, writers of the New Testament, and other leadership roles a pattern of male leadership.

The Church Needs Men & Women Who Treasure Their God-Given Gender Roles

Women play such an important function within the body of Christ. There are hundreds and thousands of ways the strength of the church depends on the work and devotion of women. But the devil’s strategy remains the same: “Did God really say you cannot hold a leadership office in the church?” The enemy always downplays the bountiful forest of trees in the Garden to focus on just one. Eating what God has forbidden will never make us like God; it can only separate us from Him.

The leadership of the church is to reflect the created order. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). Walking with God by faith means submitting to the fact that the Bible only allows for men to hold authoritative leadership offices – preachers, elders, deacons – in the church (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Cor. 14:34-36; 11:2-16). In our day, this is culturally preposterous. But by the grace of God, we will trust God’s commands and celebrate the God-given treasure of complementary gender roles.

It is tempting to give in to the world’s pressure and wave a rebellious, “women can do anything men can do” fist at God. This attitude can only lead to spiritual death. However, the attitude of humble submission to God’s plan of gender roles will lead to salvation (1 Tim. 2:15).

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Sources
[1] Josephus, Antiquities iv. 8. 15.

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Why is it Sometimes Difficult to Know God’s Will?

Sometimes I wish the Bible were more specific about some things.

When making big decisions – when studying particularly complicated, hot-button topics in categories of worship, morality, or ethics – when giving people counsel – sometimes I catch myself wishing that God had more clearly spelled out verbatim what He wants.

However, God didn’t ask me to write the Bible for Him. And that’s a good thing.

It’s ridiculous (if not blasphemous) to think that I (or anyone else) could improve on the Bible. “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). Not only is God’s Will perfect, but the way in which He communicates His Will is also perfect. “His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true” (Psa. 18:30).

But this doesn’t answer our question. Why is it sometimes hard to know God’s Will on a given issue?

Some Things Are Concealed

By God’s design, some things to be harder to understand than others. “It is the glory of God to conceal things” (Prov. 25:2). God has not chosen to reveal everything to us.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29).

It is a fact that there are Bible teachings I may not fully understand until I leave this world. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to study to present myself approved and work through these questions so I can pursue the most God-honoring option (2 Tim. 2:15). Should I take this job? Should I further my education? Is it ethical to ____ in this circumstance? Will it please God for me to wear ______ or go to _____ movie or drink ____? Should we homeschool? Does ____ have a Biblical right to marry ____? Do my parents need to be in assisted living? Should I talk to ____ about his/her problem? Should we participate in ____?

The Bible does provide answers to these questions (or at least principles as answers), but sometimes you have to do some hard study. In the struggle, we grow to depend on God. And over time – if we make decisions in humble, childlike faith – we will be able to look back and realize He has been working in our lives all along, even when we couldn’t see it earlier.

Inspired Difficulties

God has given us a Bible that equips with everything we need to know to live faithfully for Him (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But that is not to say He always gives a checklist or yes/no answers to our questions. Some issues are still hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

Why? One reason is surely because God would rather us be totally transformed in the image of His Son than be totally informed apart from any real struggle to better understand His Will. Thus, Paul writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2).

This means God has a purpose in allowing difficult subjects. The Christian life is a test. He wants to expose our true motives and priorities, which are most clearly seen in our decisions about more ambiguous matters that may not be “black and white.”

God expects us to follow His Will (Col. 1:10) and He has revealed everything we need to know to live godly lives (2 Pet. 1:3). But He doesn’t want us to be mere automatons that follow a cold set of binary commands. He wants our lives to be living sacrifices, making daily decisions aim to glorify Him in what we do (Rom. 12:1).

God is Glorified in the Struggle

God did not say to Abraham: “I want you to sacrifice your son Isaac as a burnt offering on Mt. Moriah. But don’t worry – I’m not going to make you follow through with killing him. At the last second, I will provide a ram in your son’s place.” Even if He had said that, surely Abraham would still have followed God’s command. But God would not have been as glorified and Abraham would not have benefited as much through the test.

It is the tough decisions that separate the wheat from the chaff. When you’re not entirely sure about something, the final decision comes down to what’s most important to you. Do you love the world, or do you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)? The answer is seen in the pattern of decisions that emerge over time and we will either conform to this world or be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

God is glorified when – after wrestling with what to do or believe – we choose God over anything else. The question will not be, “How close can I get to sin without actually sinning?” Rather, “What is the most God-honoring option?” As we mature in Christ, difficult decisions become less difficult. “For those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Conclusion

I don’t claim to know all the answers. When it comes to difficult decisions and complex doctrines, I doubt I will get everything right. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. And thankfully, we have a Savior who laid down His life so that even when we unknowingly err, the sins of Christians are covered (1 John 1:7).

He will never leave us or forsake us. As long as we keep our heads in the Book, He will eventually guide us back when we stray. And if we really will trust Him, like Abraham, we will see that He was guiding us through the difficult decisions all along.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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How To Handle Online Disagreements

You get an E-mail – a Tweet – a comment – a private message through Facebook, only to discover someone disagreeing with you (the horror!).

Maybe you said something in a Facebook status, blog post, or lesson and someone has taken issue with it. And now they are coming to you about it – or worse – taking you to task.

How should you respond?

1. Take a deep breath

Remember: Everything is going to be okay.

If you catch your heart rate or blood pressure rising, do whatever you need to do to not respond immediately. Wait ten minutes. Go on a walk. Take a nap (the world would be a better place if everyone just got a nap). Do anything that will allow you time to think things over. Don’t do something stupid like respond out of anger, only to eat your words later.

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Prov. 29:20)

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Prov. 12:18)

2. Ask yourself if it’s true.

Listen to what the person is saying. Even if they are mostly wrong, perhaps there is at least some truth to their words. Maybe you are right, but your tone was wrong. Or maybe your tone was right, but your message was wrong. Even if the person coming to you is rude or ignorant, try to find some common ground upon which you both can stand. You’ll be better for it.

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Prov. 19:20)

3. Invest your words and time wisely.

I see people on social media who are always in an argument with someone, or so it seems. And I wonder, “How do they have time for their families, visiting sick people, and studying the Bible?” I have so many other priorities in my life than spending hours of my precious time getting involved in a fruitless argument. (Let’s be honest; most online arguments are just that: fruitless.)

Online arguments are a matter of stewardship. Your life on earth is but a vapor, and you – O Christian – have a precious Message to communicate to the world, so don’t waste it on people who are not interested in the truth. Jesus warned us not to “give dogs what is holy” and not to “throw your pearls before pigs” (Matt. 7:6). His words mean something. Make sure you don’t waste the valuable time and message with which we have been entrusted.

Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16)

4. Don’t feed the trolls.

The internet is full of humans who have zero interest in the truth, let alone a civil discussion. I am convinced that some people simply exist to argue for the sake of arguing. They cannot be reasoned withthey cannot be satisfied – and they will not sleep until you die out of utter exhaustion.

The only way to respond to these people is by not responding at all. Don’t respond to their pokes or their passive aggressive jabs. Whatever you say will be used against you, so don’t say anything at all.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Prov. 10:19)

5. Don’t get caught up in worthless discussions.  

Many conversations are pointless. Do you seriously think Genesis 6:2 teaches that angels had sexual relations with women? Do you really think the concept of the Trinity is wrong? Do you actually believe those peddling the notion that Jesus literally returned in AD 70? Please, save it. 

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless (Titus 3:9)

6. Write as if your words will be published in tomorrow’s newspaper.

It’s only a matter of an unscrupulous person ‘copying & pasting’ your last, taken-out-of-context E-mail and forwarding it to a media outlet. Once that happens, it’s hard to undo. Choose each word knowing where they could end up.

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin (Prov. 13:3)

7. Read through the eyes of non-Christians.

The Bride of Christ must be protected at all costs. When non-Christians see Christians arguing about matters that highlight division within the church, no one wins.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers (2 Tim. 2:14)

8. Earn the right to disagree.

Maybe this is unique to me, but it really rubs me the wrong way when I only hear from certain people when they disagree with me. It’s, of course, okay to disagree with someone every once and a while, but it doesn’t take long before a pattern begins to develop and a person becomes “that guy who always disagrees.” Don’t be that guy.

On the other hand, when people have made it a point to befriend me and show interest in me, their opinions really matter to me. And then, the few times they do disagree with something I’ve said or done, I take their words to heart.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12)

9. Be charitable.

Love should automatically assume the best in someone’s words. Sure, maybe they said something clumsy or foolish. But perhaps they just didn’t think their argument through before speaking. Be kind as you “teach them the way more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Remember: You don’t like it when people split hairs with your words. So be sure to return the favor to those around you.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7)

10. Keep in mind the following points when dealing with people who disagree:

a. The stereotype that “liberals are the patient, loving ones” and “conservatives are a bunch of calloused grumps” is wrong.

Over the years, people who self-identify as being theologically liberal – as well as people who self-identify as being theologically conservative – have disagreed with me over various positions. In my experience, by far it has been the ones who are markedly liberal in their attitude toward Scripture that have been the most distasteful in their handling of disagreements. Don’t be surprised, when making a stand for your faith in Jesus, that the most vitriol comes from the ones who cry “tolerance” and “love” the loudest.

b. Hurt people hurt people.

In my experience, most trouble-makers are already troubled people. Maybe they have been sexually, emotionally, or physically abused as a child, or maybe they endured a traumatic experience growing up. As a result, psychologically, they are like a wounded bear. Be extra patient with these people. And keep in mind that often the kindest thing you can do to them is to stay away from their shenanigans.

c. People don’t have to agree with you about everything.

Seriously, they don’t. No one can claim to infallible knowledge and wisdom. Both you and I are probably wrong about something. Thankfully, there is a degree to which Christ cleanses me of my sins with His own blood despite my imperfect knowledge and obedience (1 John 1:7). Likewise, I need to treat my brethren in much the same way.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

This list appeared first in my interview last week on the Preachers in Training podcast.

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What Must I Do to be Lost?

Sometimes people get caught up in discussions about what sins will send a man to hell. Usually, the “really bad” sins, like adultery or murder, top the list with little question. Then there are the “little sins” – sins society tolerates more-or-less – like cursing, coveting possessions, recreational drug and alcohol use, or lust.

Perhaps we could talk about how even Christians often turn a blind eye to some sins. To our shame, it is not hard to find Christians full of pride, selfishness, ungratefulness, anxiety, and worldliness. The truth is any sin, no matter how small, can damn Christians. As Isaiah told God’s people:

Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. (Isa. 59:1-2)

“Is it a Sin to…”

Yet many Christians still ask the question, “What must I do to be lost?” Not with those words, of course, but with other questions. “Do I have to go to every church service?” “Is _____ a salvation issue?” “How far can I go with _____?” “How many drinks is too much?”

These can be legitimate questions. And if we are willing to listen, the Bible answers all of these questions with great clarity. But the problem is usually not the question itself; it’s the attitude behind the question.

What I mean is this: Many Christians are no better than the servant who was given one talent and went and buried it. When the master returned, the servant handed over the one talent. To which the master responded:

Cast this worthless servant into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:14-30)

The attitude behind, “What must I do to be lost?” is akin to, “What is the least I can do/get right/believe/commit and still be saved?” When we start drawing lines in the sand, we start forgetting that what belongs to our Master is our complete devotion.

All or Nothing

Of course, the Lord is patient and wishes for all to come to repentance. Yet that does not negate the fact that He is still coming, and will do so without warning. As a result, we are commanded to “be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish” (2 Pet. 3:8-17).

Peter did not command us to learn the art of distinguishing between so-called “essentials” and “non-essentials.” He did not tell us to “know how much we can handle” when it comes to alcohol, drugs, crude jokes, unbecoming language, lust, tempers, gambling, and “things like these” (per Gal. 5:21).

Instead, we are commanded to love God with every ounce of our being (Mark 12:30). We are commanded to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Pet. 3:18). We are to fleenot draw lines in the sandevery flavor of sin (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22).

Jesus told the Laodicea church of Christ that they were lukewarm. He told them He’d rather them be hot or cold – anything but lukewarm. God doesn’t want our partial, hairsplitting, apathetic, unbalanced, hypocritical devotion. He demands we sacrifice it all (Luke 14:33) and count everything as loss (Phil. 3:8).

What must you do to be lost?

Be indifferent. Get as close as you can to sin without sinning. Take a chill pill. Only worry about the “salvation issues.” Presume on God’s grace. Do nothing.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Protecting the Lord’s Supper: Why I Like that Little Cup & Wafer

If a Christian from the 1st century could travel forward in time to the 21st century and visit a typical worship service among churches of Christ, I doubt he would find any radical departures from the simple 1st century Christian worship to which he is accustomed.

Of course, he would quickly notice we typically meet in a church-owned building instead of a member’s house, he would hear new melodies and lyrics during our songs, and he would notice a different language, obviously. Perhaps the biggest difference would be the absence of spiritual gifts – such as the gifts of prophecy or tongues or the utterances of knowledge and wisdom – which were so necessary in the 1st century before Christians had the completed revelation of Christ’s New Testament.

But I do not think he would see anything wrong with how we worship, including how we do the Lord’s Supper.

What We Know

Just as was true in the 1st century, Christians today are not free to take the Lord’s Supper willy nilly. Scripture regulates how we take communion:

1. We are to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. The frequency and day we are to observe the Lord’s Supper are not directly stated in preserved Scripture in the form of a command. However, it is clear from the practice of the apostle Paul that God approves of eating the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. Acts 20:7 speaks of Christians in Troas assembling on Sunday for the purpose of breaking bread, and 1 Corinthians 11:20 shows that the Lord’s Supper is one of the primary reasons for assembling on Sunday. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 shows us they assembled every Sunday.

2. Unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine are to be eaten during the Lord’s Supper. We partake of the same elements that the Lord instituted: “bread” and “fruit of the vine.” We know this from the accounts of Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:17-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. All other additions, substitutions, or innovations are corruptions of his memorial supper.

3. Only citizens of the kingdom (Luke 22:30) can legitimately take the Lord’s Supper. While it is virtually unheard of for churches of Christ to practice “closed communion” (no one is going to walk up and slap the grape juice out of the hand of an unwitting visitor), we recognize that the Lord’s Supper is intended only for those who have come into communion with His body and blood by being baptized into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3-7; 1 Cor. 10:16). Thus, children are ineligible to share in the memorial.

4. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to memorialize Christ. We should remember the suffering and anguish that our Lord went through in dying on the cross (1 Cor. 11:24-25). If we engage in the Lord’s Supper in an irreverent manner, or if we do not separate in our minds the significance of this memorial, it will be damnation to us (1 Cor. 11:27, 29).

Critical of the Way We do it?

I occasionally hear Christians (who should know better) criticizing the way churches of Christ (and, incidentally, much of evangelical Christendom) take the Lord’s Supper. “It should be a robust family-type supper. Everyone – including children – should take part.” “It should be an actual meal, with whole loafs of bread and other food.” “Tiny cups and wafers are recent inventions and are unlike what Christians used in the 1st century.”

This kind of reasoning demonstrates a dangerous misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper. No human alive today knows the exact quantity of bread or juice that was typical in the 1st century observance of this memorial. Additionally, no human today has the authority to regulate the portions of the food for the universal church. To teach we must “super-size” the portions on the Lord’s Table is divisiveness.

The timing during worship and the portion of food during the Lord’s Supper is a matter of judgment and it seems to me that churches that rush through it are making a mistake. But I argue that it there is a benefit to keeping the portions relatively small in light of the fact that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is not to satisfy hunger, but to memorialize the Lord.

The Lord’s Supper is not Intended to Satisfy Hunger

The Lord’s Supper was never a common meal. Both Luke and Paul confirm this by recording the Lord’s Supper “after they had eaten” (Luke 22:20) and “after supper” (1 Cor. 11:25).

The only time the Bible talks about a meal in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper, it gives the command to separate the two (1 Cor. 11:21). The fact that some early Christians in Corinth had profaned the Lord’s Supper with a meal doesn’t authorize us to do so. Only bread and fruit of the vine are used to describe the memorial; where does God authorize us to incorporate other elements from a common meal?

I like the fact that it is our tradition to use a small cup and tiny wafer during the Lord’s Supper because it helps clear any confusion that this might be a literal “meal” in the common sense of the word.

The Lord’s Supper did not Provide Much Food for the Disciples

Furthermore, a large serving of bread and drink is not necessary in order to remember the Lord. Bear in mind that Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, broke twelve pieces from the small Jewish loaf, today called matzo, and gave them to the apostles, after which He told them to divide the cup among themselves (Matt. 26:26-27). The same word for “bread” is used to describe the young boy’s lunch consisting of five loaves (John 6:9). Each of the twelve apostles would not have had very much to eat and drink.

The spiritual blessings from the Lord’s Supper are derived from the focus of the Christian who is spiritually sharing the body and blood of Jesus, not on the physical quantity or quality of the elements. If it was about quantity, then fill my plate up! But the remembrance of Jesus is more important than the amount of the substance.

Let’s Make the Lord’s Supper Better

It is misdirected zeal to suggest we need to bring the entire church around a literal table and incorporate the Lord’s memorial meal into a common meal. If your elders have elected to use a small cup and wafer, they are justified in doing so.

I would argue, however, there is room for many churches to improve how they do the Lord’s Supper. May I suggest:

  • Don’t rush through it. I can’t help but feel a “let’s get this over with” attitude among some when visiting different congregation. Give people time to read one of the crucifixion accounts. Give people time to pray another private prayer. Give people time to meditate on the meaning of the bread and the fruit of the vine.
  • Separate it from the offering. As a matter of expediency, since the men leading the Lord’s Supper are already in front of the audience, it is typical for churches to move on to passing the collection plate immediately after the Lord’s Supper. I feel this is in poor judgment. Sing a song in between. Give people time to transition from memorializing the Lord to preparing their offering to Him.
  • Find a dedicated speaker for the table. Don’t just grab the first unsuspecting guy in the lobby 5 minutes before worship and ask him to direct the Lord’s Supper. Ask a Christian several weeks in advance to prepare a 5-10 minute talk. That is what he focuses on. Don’t ask him to pass the plates; let the other men do that.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.