Works of the Flesh: Sects

During our investigations into the works of the flesh, we discussed divisions, and discussed the term and how it is applicable within the Lord’s Church. It was said that while this term could apply to other groups, such as denominations, such are better considered under the work of the flesh known as “sects” (translated as “parties” in the ASV below; translated also as “heresies”) in Galatians 5:19-20:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties…

The word translated in various versions as “sects,” “parties,” and the like is the Greek word hairesis, from which our English word “heresy” derives. Thayer defines the term as:

1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city
2) choosing, choice
3) that which is chosen
4) a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party)
5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims

The term is used in Acts 5:17, Acts 26:5, and Acts 28:22 to refer to various “sects” within a larger body (the Sadducees and Pharisees within Judaism; also the belief expressed by the Jews in the first century that Christianity was just another Jewish sect). The term is also defined as “factions” in 1 Corinthians 11:19 and “heresies” in 2 Peter 2:1:

For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you.

But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

We see, therefore, that the New Testament usage of hairesis denotes the fourth and fifth definitions as expressed by Thayer, either a sect or party within a larger group or one bringing forth a message contrary to that which had already been given, or a combination of both.

We can see from the usage of the term hairesis that it is very similar to the term for “divisions;” both incorporate the ideas of dissension and disagreement over doctrines and practices, yet it seems apparent that Paul uses “division” to denote more of the disagreements and divisions that occur within the Lord’s Body; the term “sect” seems to be used more generally to describe any group that would remove itself from the Church of Christ. This is especially apparent in our world today with the proliferation of denominations and a denominational spirit– when divisions on the basis of doctrines and practices is hailed as “diversity.” Therefore, a blended version of the definitions given by Thayer for hairesis— a sect or party following after doctrines that are in disagreement with the doctrines of others– we shall use for our examination of this work of the flesh.

We may see an unfortunate tendency in the world of so-called “Christendom” that is an attempt to reconcile the obvious Scriptural difficulties with “denominational” or “sectarian” groups all claiming to be Christians in good standing with our Lord. The result has been ecumenism, a most extreme form of “unity-in-diversity,” the belief that the differences in doctrines and practices between various denominations are not a roadblock to unity, that different denominations can recognize the “diversity” within “various Christian tradition” and can respect these differences, and therefore that all these Christian denominations, despite the differences in doctrine and practice, are all valid portions of the Body of Christ and their members are true Christians. While their goal is most admirable– unity in faith, as Jesus desired in John 17– we may see that their methodology is not in harmony with the Scriptures. Unity in the Scriptures is not based simply on “agreement to disagree,” although we have seen that sometimes this attitude may be expressed concerning a liberty, as long as no one is compelled to sin– but the unity is based on unity in the truth of our Lord Jesus. Examine the following Scriptures from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 1 Timothy 3:15, Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, and Ephesians 4:4-6:

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.

I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.

Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: if so be that it is righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.

Are we given the ability to conclude from these verses that we may establish a form of unity based on divergent practice and doctrine? By no means! We see in these passages the clear truth of God: There is one God, one faith, and one truth. There is one true collective, the Church, that is the pillar and support of that truth, and those who represent that collective obey the message of the Scriptures and seek the Scriptural answer for all things that they may do.

We may even see from the attitude of the denominations the difficulty of their mindset: they have no desire to achieve unity through an agreement on the fundamental doctrines and practices of Christianity, but seek to achieve some form of unity while holding on closely to their traditions, unwilling to examine the Scriptures and to humble themselves to accept the one truth of God and not the varieties of error that abound. We may see that in the case of the denominations today, unfortunately, it has happened truly according to the Scripture in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.

We have been hard on our friends in the denominational world, but rebuke rightly, considering that the sectarian spirit that abounds within these groups surely are manifestations of hairesis within them. We must recognize, however, that this message is not confined merely to those in the denominational world; we ourselves in the Body of the Lord are just as prone to sectarian spirits and heretical doctrines and practices, and we may heed well the warning concerning those people that would bring in such spirits and doctrines and practices in 2 Peter 2:1 quoted above. We see that the acceptance of these types of persons fosters divisions and sects, as seen in the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:19 demonstrates. How, then, are we to avoid ourselves being tempted to have a spirit of hairesis?

The Scriptures teach us that the only way to avoid sectarianism and heresy is to study the Scriptures, obey their principles, and be able to objectively analyze one’s beliefs and compare them with the message of the Word of God. These things are found in 2 Timothy 2:15, Romans 6:16-17, and 2 Corinthians 13:5-7:

Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.

Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.

Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobate. But I hope that ye shall know that we are not reprobate. Now we pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we may appear approved, but that ye may do that which is honorable, though we be as reprobate.

Before we finish our examination of hairesis, sectarianism and heresy, we must respond to many who wish to teach that those who desire to obey the Scriptures are the ones who are sectarian and not the ones who wish to bring innovations within the church of our Lord. The accusation is generally that those who would deny the innovations are “legalists,” impugning the “grace of God.” To this charge we might examine Galatians 1:6-9 (quoted above) and Romans 14:16-17:

Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

We may see in the Galatian letter that any different Gospel– no matter who preached it or how, and no matter how little difference it might have with the true Gospel– is no gospel at all, and in fact is anathema. We can see in Romans 14:16-17 that Paul makes a delineation between issues that are of grave concern and the issues that are of liberty: the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and the rest is liberty. If a deed or belief is not in accordance with righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and is not contained within or in any way allowed by the Gospel preached in the New Testament, then such a deed or belief is NOT a matter of “interpretation” nor is it impugning the grace of God to reject it outright, but a matter of necessity: such things must be false, and we may see an example of such things in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15:

And if any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

It is true, however, that if the deed or belief is not necessarily a matter of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, it is a matter of liberty. This concession, however, is not absolute, for the guidelines of the Scriptures in Romans 14:23 and Romans 14:13,15,21:

But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling…For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died…It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth.

As long as the one who believes in the liberty recognizes as much and does not attempt to compel or coerce those who do not believe in the liberty to practice it, then such things are of “eating and drinking” and not necessarily of the Kingdom of God. If, however, there is compulsion to perform the practice or leave to find another church or to create another church, then the peace of the Kingdom of God has been disruptive and a sectarian spirit is present. Yet we must ask, according to the Scriptures, the following: what group is most guilty of the sectarian spirit, hairesis? The group compelling another to sin against their consciences, or the group compelled to leave so that they may not sin? This entire difficulty is caused by a complete neglect of the Scriptures and a rejection of Paul’s message in Philippians 2:1-4:

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

We may see, therefore, that the sectarian spirit generally rests with those who would compel their brethren to either accept a practice they find no authority for or to find another congregation. This spirit is no more justifiable than the sectarian spirit in denominations, and neither is the “unity-in-diversity” pretense devised to attempt to justify their practices.

We have seen that the term hairesis is truly aimed at the spirit of sectarianism through heresy, the introduction of doctrines not in harmony with the truth of God that leads to division and denominationalism. Let us continually examine the Scriptures and bring our beliefs and practices into harmony with them, with all humility counting one another greater than ourselves and in all ways attempting to facilitate the edification of one another and helping one another avoid sin than to tempt one another to do so, that by all means we shall avoid the condemnation described by Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?’
And then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.'”

ELDV

17 thoughts on “Works of the Flesh: Sects

  1. Interesting discussion, I must say. But I also see that it all ties in with your belief that the church of Christ denomination has all the “right” theology, and all other denominational churches are therefore “in error” and outside the “body of Christ.” When one is able to “read between the lines” and has an understanding of the coC position, it’s not hard to see your agenda!

    You make some misleading and outright false statements in this piece. For example, you say, in reference to Thayer’s definitions of hairesis, that NT usage “denotes the fourth and fifth definitions expressed by Thayer, either a sect or party within a larger group or one bringing forth a message contrary to that which had already been given, or a combination of both.” The misleading part of that is, that Thayer – IF you gave his precise definitions above this statement – never said anything about “a message contrary to that which had already been given.” You make it sound like Thayer defined the word in a way he did not.

    In the next paragraph you offer a “blended version of the definitions” Thayer gives: “a sect of party following after doctrines that are in disagreement with the doctrines of others” – which you say you will use in the remainder of the study. I see nothing wrong with such a definition IF you stick with it, but you haven’t! Simply put, just because my doctrines differ with yours doesn’t mean that one of us is teaching “false doctrine!” That is, unless what we teach different things about the fundamental or essential doctrines of the Christian faith! Just because we differ on matters of opinion, does not mean one of us is teaching “heresy.” As you yourself have admitted, the Bible can be and is interpreted differently by individuals – thus the differences between the denominations. Your belief that denominations differ on “essential” doctrines of the faith is completely unfounded – I have yet to see any solid proof otherwise. You may disagree with me on instrumental music in the church, or that one who has remarried is in a continual state of adultery, or on millennial views – but these things are not “essentials” of the faith! We understand the Scriptures differently on these issues, that is all. I’m not going to lose my salvation because I use an instrument in the church! You’re not saved because you don’t!

    I agree with you that there is “one God, one faith” (I don’t see “one truth” listed in Eph. 4!) – but this “one faith” is understood differently by different individuals, as mentioned above (different interpretations). NOT on the fundamentals of the faith, as you mistakenly believe, but on the issues of LIBERTY (which apparently the coC do not allow for, despite your claim to the contrary!).

    You make a flat-out false statement next: “We may even see from the attitude of the denominations the difficulty of their mindset: they have no desire to achieve unity through an agreement on the fundamental doctrines and practices of Christianity . . .” You’re just wrong here, Ethan! As I’ve said many times and in other places: we have a unity in the faith on the fundamental/essential doctrines of the Christian faith. We believe in one God who has revealed Himself in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, including (but not limited to) His virgin birth, His deity, His death on the cross for the sins of man, His bodily resurrection from the dead and His physical return in the future. We believe man is a sinner in need of salvation, that he cannot save himself, and that only through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross can one find salvation. We believe that salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work at Calvary. We believe that the Bible is the sole and final authority for the Church today. THOSE are essential to Christian unity – not whether or not we use an instrument in the church, or whether we use one cup or multiple cups in communion, or whether we’re “premillennial,” “postmillennial,” or “amillennial.” And so on . . .

    You claim that other denominations are “unwilling to examine the Scriptures and to humble themselves to accept the one truth of God [meaning, coC doctrine, no doubt!] and not the varieties of error that abound.” Difference of opinion on the non-essentials does not equal “error.” So your statement is false.

    Yes, you “have been hard on our friends (??) in the denominational world” but the majority of the time you do NOT “rebuke rightly.” You rebuke those who believe differently than you do on the non-essentials, the matters of opinion – even within your own ranks!

    You do admit, however, that even within the church of Christ, there are “secterian spirits and heretical doctrines and practices” – though you don’t name any. And calling yourselves “the Body of the Lord” is a clear indication that you believe that those in the “denominational” churches are NOT a part of that Body – which couldn’t be further from the truth!

    Towards the end of your article, you discuss the accusations of others that the coC are “legalists” – but you give the wrong basis for this accusation! Others do not accuse you of legalism because of your rejection of “innovations” – but because you insist that everyone must DO the “right” things – don’t use instruments, believe exactly the same on the MDR issue, don’t do this, do that . . . . This is the same legalism the Pharisees were condemned for by Jesus Himself. You want to follow the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. You claim to follow Paul in his differentiation between “issues that are of grave concern and the issues that are liberty” – but I still see absolutely NO “issues of liberty” among the coC! Where are they? What are they? The coC makes the minor issues into the major ones – everything (so it seems) is a major issue, or “issue of grace concern” to the coC!

    You talk about the “true Gospel” – but do you really know what it is? It’s not those matters of opinion that the coC makes into matters of salvation or fellowship – the Gospel is the “good news” about salvation offered through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Paul’s explanation of the Gospel in a nutshell: 1 Cor. 15:1-4, as I’m sure you’re aware of. Paul did not make matters of opinion out to be matters of faith/fellowship/salvation, such as the coC does.

    IF you recognized that there are matters of opinion or liberty, then your own statement would apply to you/coC: “As long as the one who believes in the liberty recognizes as much and does not attempt to compel or coerce those who do not believe in the liberty to practice it, then such things are of “eating and drinking . . .” However, since I see no such recognition (nor do others who look at the coC in-depth), then this part of your statement applies to the coC: “If, however, there is compulsion to perform the practice or leave to find another church or to create another church, then the peace of the Kingdom of God has been disruptive and a sectarian spirit is present.” For it is the coC who are “compelling another to sin against their consciences” by insisting that unity can only be had by a conformity to (coC) doctrine!

    I know of no other denomination that is forcing the coC to believe like they do on the non-essential, matters of opinion! But I see an awful lot of it on the part of the coC! Your closing statement betrays this fact:
    “We have seen that the term hairesis is truly aimed at the spirit of sectarianism through heresy, the introduction of doctrines not in harmony with the truth of God that leads to division and denominationalism.” In other words, “truth of God” = “coC doctrine” and “denominationalism” = “outside the body of Christ.” How excluvistic can one get?!

    Again, the church of Christ’s call for unity is commendable, but in reality it is not a call to unity at all, rather it is a call to conformity or uniformity, i.e., that everyone believe exactly the same on all points of doctrine – specifically, the coC position. This is nothing less that what the cults demand. No wonder some are asking the question, “Is the church of Christ denomination a cult?”

    As for myself, I cannot answer that question fairly yet. I am beginning my own in-depth study to determine the answer.

    I know this is a long reply to your article, but I felt it necessary to cover the misleading and out-right false statements you make.

    1. Again, who gets to define “essentials” versus “liberties”?

      It seems that your argument is less with the principles of the article and more with the applications. And so we’re not really on new ground here.

      Paul wrote Galatians as well as 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Corinthians 15 never was, isn’t, and never will be intended to be a thoroughgoing declaration of “the Gospel,” since Paul adds many other elements to “the Gospel” in other passages not present in 1 Corinthians 15. I have little doubt that the false teachers in Galatia were entirely on board with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and yet Paul still said that they taught a different Gospel since they were advocating for binding the Jewish observances.

      There’s more to the “essentials” than you would like to admit. And there’s the rub.

  2. Your problem, Ethan, is that even though you’re seemingly intelligent, you’re just not very smart. You are so closed-minded to the idea that the church of Christ denomination just might be wrong on a lot of things, that you’re afraid to even venture out into the “real world.”

    The “essentials” of the faith have been there for centuries; if you had any training at all in a Bible college setting (sorry, your degree just doesn’t cut it when it comes to biblical interpretation at all) you just might know what the Church has taught on these essentials down through the centuries. Yes, there have been disagreements on them during different periods of history, thus the various creeds, which the coC denounce – to posit the truth of what the Scriptures teach. The coC cries “no creed but the Bible” – but it’s really “no creed but OUR interpretation of the Bible”! There are things to learn from others outside the coC! You don’t have a corner on the truth, despite your claims!

    No, 1 Corinthians 15 isn’t a full exposition on the Gospel; but the basics of the Gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ – THOSE are the essential points of the GOSPEL! Not instrumental music, not the “correct” view of the millennium, not the “correct” understanding of MDR, or any one of countless other “correct” understandings of those doctrines which have absolutely nothing to do with one’s salvation! (I say “correct” meaning, of course, the coC understanding, which is always right according to coC folk!). The GOSPEL is just that – the GOOD NEWS about salvation in Jesus – not in “doing all the ‘right’ things.”

    Your problem is simply this: you (coC folk) think you have all the “right” answers – you are out and out legalists; no one else has the right to call themselves “the Lord’s church” because of all your petty little issues: we use the instrument, we don’t use the “right” name, we fellowship all Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation, etc., etc., ad nauseum. You SAY there are areas in which there may be opinions or liberty – but you NEVER SAY WHAT THEY ARE! Truth be told, I don’t think the coC believes in opinions at all! If someone doesn’t agree with the coC stand, then they are branded “heretics” – period.

    Yes, you’ve struck a nerve; throughout all your writings (that I have read) your elitist attitude comes through loud and clear. You fellowship no one in the denominations because to you (coC) claim they are “outside the body of Christ and therefore are not saved.” This is nothing more than a cultic mindset; no wonder people are asking if the church of Christ denomination is a cult!

    Your lack of biblical training is evident. You really have no idea about proper hermeneutical principles (CENI isn’t a legitimate interpretation model); you give lip service to the Bible as your creed – in all honesty you deny the OT, except when it suits your purposes. I doubt you make use of any commentaries except maybe those written by coC authors. I am amazed that you even use Thayer, since he was not coC (besides there are much better Greek references available today). I doubt you make use of anything that doesn’t agree with your opinions/those of the coC, unless it’s to create straw men and then knock them down with your unfounded criticisms. I’m sorry but your education and your working with a preacher or two doesn’t qualify you to speak on the things you’ve chosen to speak on.

    Open your mind – learn from Christians outside the coC (if you dare!). Then maybe you’ll have a real understanding of what is taught, and why we “denominationalists” have real unity!

    1. First of all, insulting your opponent merely shows the inadequacy of your position. And if you think some kind of seminary training is what really makes a person competent in theological conversation, I’m quite sorry for you.

      The “essentials” that you mention have not been there for centuries– if that were the case, there would not have been the round condemnation of various groups of each other for doctrines relating to ecclesiology and soteriology. Are you seriously going to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and other Reformers of the sixteenth century would limit the essentials to what you have mentioned? They condemned each other for their views on the nature of the church and the way in which one is saved. Half of the “heresies” of the first millennium have less practical relevance than the major disputes within the Protestant associations. “Disagreements?” How many died on stakes, in battles, and how much animosity existed because of disagreements over doctrines throughout the centuries! Their blood testifies against you. In reality, your brand of ecumenism is the modern novelty– barely a century old.

      No, denominationalists do not have “real unity.” Real unity, according to Jesus in John 17:20-23 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10, Philippians 2:1-4, is being of the same mind and purpose, being one as the Father and the Son are One. This involves far more than doctrine but is not less than doctrine. The “unity” of denominationalism is attempting to declare victory in defeat– there is no substantive ground for unity, since each group won’t really move doctrinally, so declaration is made that there is “unity in diversity” and everyone feels fine about themselves. That’s not unity. That’s a pretense of unity.

      Real unity always comes when believers come together to an understanding of the Gospel message divested from the inherited deviations from the message of God in Christ as revealed in the New Testament.

      And, just to show you how little you know despite what you profess:

      1. I don’t deny the OT. I read the OT daily. I have training in Hebrew. It is a wonderful resource to understand all sorts of things about the nature of God, the prediction of the Christ, and how God works with His chosen covenant people. Your bluster is based in your opposition to Paul’s declarations that what is old is old and to impose it on the new is to fall from grace (Galatians 4:24-5:4, Ephesians 2:11-18, Colossians 2:14-16).

      2. My commentary library is full of patristic authors.

      3. I own and consult, when necessary, BDAG, HALOT, and other such resources. For the purposes of most articles, it’s simply not necessary.

      4. Most of the outside literature I read is by people with whom I disagree, often from Evangelicals. If you paid attention to my book reading habits, made evident on Facebook, you would know better.

      It speaks volumes, Michael, that when you are challenged about your belief system, you must reduce yourself to insult, ad hominem, and character assassination.

  3. And you have continued to skirt the issues I’ve raised regarding your position that the church of Christ denomination is the “one true church,” as well as remained silent on just what matters of opinion or liberty the church of Christ teaches.

    I stand by my accusation that the church of Christ denomination claims to be the only true church, and that the unity she cries for is nothing more than what the cults expect – uniformity or conformity. In your eye, unity is not possible unless everyone agrees with the church of Christ denomination on every point of doctrine. That is not the unity for which Jesus nor Paul calls for.

    Yes, I believe some formal training is necessary – Bible college, seminary, preacher training school, whatever you want to call it. Or have you forgotten Paul’s admonition to “STUDY to show thyself approved . . .” (I don’t often use the KJV, but I like that word, “study.”)

    You’ve got the same lack of understanding of Church history as other coC pastors I’ve read/talked to. I’m not denying the differences of opinion throughout the centuries – but when it comes to the ESSENTIALS of the faith (and I’ve looked at numerous lists by various authors of differing backgrounds), what I have listed stands. You want to add such trivial things to them as instrumental music in the church, etc., (I get tired of listing the same old things over and over) – things which have no bearing on one’s salvation. (I don’t know what’s so hard to understand about salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ; we’re not saved by being non-instrumental!). We can disagree on all this stuff til the cows come home – and neither one of us will change our position.

    I will stand corrected, however, on some of your points. OK, so you read outside the coC circle of writers; but do you do so to learn, or just to degrade because the authors don’t present things the way you think they should be? Have you ever given further thought to the fact that there are Christians in other denominations? Or that by claiming to be “the LORD’S church” to the exclusion of other denominations, you are claiming the same thing that all cults claim?

    You don’t understand the term “unity” at all. You don’t understand what constitutes the “essentials of the faith.” And until you come out of your protected little world and get into the real world – and actually dialogue with us “heathen” in the denominational world, you’ll never really understand us. I was in the same position as you are at one time! But when I opened my mind, I found out I was wrong about a lot of things. And I learned a lot more about the Scriptures than I ever dreamed possible. I guess that’s my challenge to you – if you dare accept it. But you probably won’t; I don’t know of many coC people who would.

    I do apologize if you feel I’ve “assassinated” your character; I never intended to do so. My patience isn’t what it should be at times. I still think you’re a fairly intelligent young man; but you have an awful lot yet to learn, and your secular degree just doesn’t cut it in the theological realm. It may help somewhat with the Hebrew and Greek, but then again it depends on whether it is the biblical languages you studied or, for instance, classical Greek – there is a difference.

    1. I don’t make any claim that the “church of Christ denomination is the one true church.” Whatever “church of Christ denominations” there are out there are no better than any other form of denominations and certainly do not represent the intention of the Lord that there would be One– undenominated– Body (Ephesians 4:4-6).

      The Lord and His revelation in the Scriptures are the final determiner and arbiter. He will judge people’s souls, not me (James 4:12). We can know for certain that His Word is the standard for Judgment (John 12:48), and that there are going to be some who profess Him yet will not be saved (Matthew 7:21-23). What matters is doing the will of the Father– and not every group that claims to do so really does so.

      As to matters of opinion or liberty, there are some clear ones from Romans 14– matters of food and drink, observance of days, etc. I, personally, believe that it extends to many other matters. You have mentioned views of Revelation; any view that can make sense of the text and yet still honors the Lord, His resurrection, and His Kingdom, in my estimation, is a matter where there is enough vagary to allow for different opinions (I would exclude the AD70 hyperpreterist view and dispensational premillennialism since they are quite heretical about the resurrection and the nature of the Kingdom, respectively). There are other matters where there is indeed textual vagary. But there are not as many as would be alleged by ecumenism.

      As to unity/uniformity: I quite understand the ecumenists’ definition of unity– I do not disagree with the abstract concept, but quite disagree with its application, and Galatians has not yet been appreciably been addressed in that context. Paul’s definition of essentials is demonstrably wider than that of modern ecumenism– and that should pose a problem for you. Modern ecumenism is nothing more than a declaration of victory in the midst of defeat. John 17:20-23 and 1 Corinthians 1:10, let alone Philippians 2:1-4, are quite sufficient to show that the Lord expects believers to function in quite a strong degree of uniformity, to be on the same page so as to serve Him properly. To accept the ecumenist view is to embrace relativism and defeatism. There is truth and there is error when it comes to the role of man in salvation. There is truth and there is error when it comes to the poles of the human freedom/divine sovereignty argument. There is truth and there is error regarding ecclesiastical order. It is one thing to be humble enough to admit that one might be wrong; it is quite another to take that to mean that we should just accept any other viewpoint because of it. Better to stand before God having firmly believed something as true than to have no firm conviction at all– or undermine any conviction by what one accepts in others.

    2. As to training–

      2 Timothy 2:15 does not read “study.” It reads “be diligent.” Paul is exhorting someone to do so yet not in the confines of the modern educational system.

      I remain quite sorry for you, Michael, if you cannot mentally separate the modern educational system from education itself. I am entirely in agreement with you that study is important, and that hearing different views and opinions is vital for critical thinking. But to delude oneself into thinking that seminary is the only venue– or even the best venue– in which to receive such an education is quite sad.

      In fact, my degree acquainted me with much of what you deem as theology, and not even within the evangelical echo chamber. Yes, I learned Attic Greek, but Attic Greek is more complicated than Koine; it is like learning to drive a manual transmission and going to automatic. I have a better understanding of the nuances of Greek grammar from Attic than the average seminary student would from learning Koine. But you would rather put me in your predetermined box than to ask about my experiences.

      Ironic, isn’t it? The one proclaiming tolerance and wanting someone to be open-minded is being rather judgmental, closed-mind, and dare I say, intolerant.

  4. As to the “essentials” and history– I am sure that if you take a preset definition and look into a preset list of groups, you can come out with the claim that it has been agreed upon over time.

    Is that what is taught in seminary? If so, I definitely don’t want any of it.

    In historical reality, your statement is flawed on many levels. First– there has not been agreement over the “death, burial, and resurrection” of Jesus. The Gnostics first disputed the physicality of it all in the late first century and did so, through various groups, into the medieval period. The same Jewish observances concerning which Paul condemned any binding on Christians in Galatians are still there in Messianic Jewish groups, Seventh-Day Adventists, and among many others. Many among dispensational premillennialists would claim that Jesus’ death was a mistake, that He should have been proclaimed physical King in Jerusalem, and everything that has happened since was a contingent plan B.

    As to the nature of God, often considered part of the “essentials,” the whole first millennium is a testimony to disagreement and confusion on the issue. Modalists, Arians, Monophysites– all sects based on disagreements about the nature of God. To this day, the LDS, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Oneness Pentecostals teach doctrines at variance with Chalcedonian Trinitarian orthodoxy.

    You will call some of these groups heretics and cults and use that to justify why you did not include them, but doesn’t that just go to show your prejudice? It just shows that since my definitions don’t match your definitions, and you look at things differently than I look at them, I must be wrong. And it must be because I haven’t studied enough, haven’t gone to seminary, or had enough outside experience, otherwise I would clearly have accepted your line of thinking.

    Do you not see how such thinking is really the pinnacle of the type of arrogance that you would deign to condemn?

    Ultimately, your argument fails on every historical level. First of all, the agreement on your list of essentials is not really there. There is only mostly agreement within the boundaries of certain groups to the exclusion of others. Furthermore, no one before the twentieth century would agree to your definition of essentials. They strung each other up–literally!– for far less. Thus, the question remains– who gets to define the essentials? You, merely on the basis of what you think everyone agreed on for 2000 years that was not really agreed upon by everyone? Why is your definition better than Augustine’s? Aquinas’? The Renaissance popes’? Luther’s? Calvin’s? the Anabaptists’? And so on and so forth?

  5. Finally, on “agreement.”

    It is not for me to judge one’s state before God. I have no control over that. What I do have is control over association.

    In terms of association on a local, congregational level, yes, there must be a strong level of uniformity, else there can be no working together, according to Romans 14:23, Philippians 2:1-4, etc.. I have no confidence in the use of the instrument; I cannot, in good conscience, praise God with it being played. Therefore, I cannot assemble with those who insist on its use. What God will do with them is up to God, not me– although I would hasten to add that the concern should be far more with how they treat those who disagree with them more than the object itself.

    As to association outside the local congregation, I can be and often am in conversation with a wide array of people with whom I disagree on many issues. I have never arrogated the claim that I can only learn from those with whom I agree on everything. But being in conversation is not necessarily an endorsement of all that is believed, which I am sure that you can understand and can clearly appreciate, since you’re posting here.

    There are certain things I cannot get around in terms of association and its closeness. One, as shown above, is on working with people so no conscience is offended. The other is immersion in water for the remission of sin as the culminating act of entrance into association with God and believers. Sure, I could argue that there are people who prayed a prayer instead and who sound sincere and who act in more Christian ways than baptized believers…but if they were truly humble and sought God’s ways, why is there such heavy resistance to following God’s purposes in terms of baptism? And on what basis do I cavalierly dismiss such hostile and (quite frankly) rebellious attitudes about that issue?

  6. There are several things I can agree with you on. But rather than go into that at this point, I must (again) take issue with you on your inclusion of such groups as LDS, JW’s, and Oneness Pentecostals – and probably SDA – among “denominations” of Christianity. These groups are cults, not Christian denominations. It does not matter that they claim to follow Christ – the “Christ” they follow is a shallow copy of the biblical Jesus! As one who has studied the cults for nearly 40 years (mostly outside the educational system!) I can say most assuredly that they share nothing with true Christianity, except for perhaps some of the same terms – although they redefine them to mean something totally foreign to what the Christian means. Example: the LDS defines their “trinity” as “three gods” (I could give you the source for this, but I do not have it handy at present; Joseph Smith taught this in more than one sermon, however). You should know that the Christian definition of the Trinity is something quite different from the LDS one.

    Yes, I can differentiate between the “modern educational system and education itself,” despite what you may believe. There is a place for formal education – Bible college, seminary, preacher training schools, etc. The problem, for the most part, is finding those schools which are true to the Scriptures, i.e., those who are not liberal. I am pretty sure that for someone from the church of Christ denomination (sorry, but I’m stuck with the “d” word to make the distinction between the non-instrumental coC and the Church [capital “C”] of Christ, which is the whole body of Christ scattered throughtout all of Christendom), there is no such thing as a school “true to the Scriptures” except for coC schools. This shows how closed-minded those in the coC really are.

    You say you make no such claim for the coC as the one true church; not to offend you, but this is a flat-out lie. I have read enough of what you have written to know that you are like all the other “conservative” or “old school” coC “evangelists” who make that very claim. You continually call the coC “the Lord’s Church” all the while indicating that all denominations are “outside” the “Lord’s Church” – i.e., that there are no Christians in any group/denomination excepting the coC. This claim is make both directly and indirectly by the “old school” coC – I’ve read it in articles from the Gospel Advocate, articles in the Living Oracles (Tennessee Bible College), and other coC periodicals and newsletters. I have had coC evangelists say it right out. I see no difference in what you write – the claim is still there. And again I will say, this is the same claim all cults make.

    Back to cults. There are, to be sure, several definitions for the word “cult.” Dictionary definitions aside (they are not very useful at all when talking about religious cults) – I use a theological definition as the primary definition, which I feel is only fitting when talking about cults of Christianity. This definition is from a cult expert named Alan Gomes:

    “A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.”

    Your belief that there exists no “central doctrines” (e.g., essentials) for the Christian faith down through the centuries really has no basis. I agreed with you before that there have been differing opinions – but the groups you mentioned above as those who disagreed (e.g., Gnostics, Modalists, Arians, etc.) were in fact heretics – and the creeds of Christendom were attempts by the Church to state their understanding of those central doctrines, and preserve the true teachings of the Apostles and Christ. I will stand by my “essentials” of the faith. Thus, if a group denies the triune nature of God, or that Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead, or that man has to perform certain “works” to merit salvation, then that group places itself outside the Christian faith.

    A secondary definition of “cult” which I find of use is a sociological one. Most generally, I don’t make use of it if the theological definition is satisfied. However, I do find that cults of Christianity also have at least some of the sociological signs of a cult. These include: Authoritarian Leadership; Oppositional (beliefs, practices, values are counter to those of the dominant culture); Exclusivistic (the “one true church” or belief that they alone have the truth); Legalistic; Subjective (as opposed to objective); Persecution-Conscious; Sanction-Oriented (require conformity of members or punishment is meted out); Esoteric; Anti-Sacerdotal. (List is from Ronald Enroth’s pamphlet, What is a Cult?)

    I hope the foregoing information is useful. But I doubt you will change your mind about us heathen in the other denominations! Yes, I see the coC as a denomination, simply because the name “church of Christ” is used to describe a certain group (a dictionary definition of the word) as opposed to other groups. You are “church of Christ.” I am “Christian Church.” I have friends who are “Methodist” and “Baptist” – all names designating a certain group; i.e., “denominations.”

    I will grant you this: there is too little emphasis on baptism amongst most churches. I believe that if the Gospel is preached, then baptism is definitely preached (Acts 8). And that if a person refuses to be baptized after hearing the Gospel, then that person’s salvation is questionable at best. Does baptism save anyone? Not in and of itself. I have known too many people who have been baptized, but all they did was get wet!

    Do I believe if someone is not baptized they are lost? Not necessarily. You’ve heard the “if I die before I get baptized” theory, I’m sure. What about someone who is physically unable to be baptized? What’s more important – getting baptized or the condition of one’s heart? Only God sees the heart – only He knows for sure who are His children. It is not for us to judge, as I’m sure you agree.

    As far as instrumental music, I respect your OPINION not to use it in worship. All I have ever asked any a capella coC person is to respect my OPINION to use it! That is all it is – an OPINION. I don’t expect you to go against your conscience and worship with a congregation that uses the instrument. I, on the other hand, can worship with those who do not use it, although I prefer the instrument (after all, I am a musician!) ‘Nuf said . . .

    I know I’ve rambled on here. Probably haven’t answered all the points I wanted to, or felt I needed to. Just going from memory for the most part. We disagree on several issues. We agree on some. You believe in uniformity; I believe in liberty, and thus “unity in diversity” as the evangelicals put it. The only way there will ever be uniformity is if we all lay aside all our convictions and become one big cult. As I’ve said before: uniformity is NOT unity.

    1. I am by no means justifying the groups which you call cultic, but you’ve essentially justified my argument. You’ve defined what you deem to be the essentials and have found continuous unity on those essentials throughout time, but only because you’ve summarily dismissed all groups dissenting from those essentials as “heretical” and “not truly Christian.”

      Now, change the list of the “essentials,” make them more expansive, and you have most of what passes for historic Christianity.

      Your list of essentials + RCC ecclesiastical polity = RCC view of their own exclusivity held until the last century.
      Your list of essentials + essential Augustinian/Calvinism soteriology, theology = Calvinist view of their own exclusivity held until the Enlightenment
      Your list of essentials – adult immersion = persecution of Anabaptists in the sixteenth century.

      That’s what I mean by saying that few, if any, before the twentieth century would agree with your list of “essentials.” Even the “fundamentals of the faith” definition of the early 20th century included premillennialism.

      Ultimately, if the definition of “the essentials” is more broad than you’ve defined it, then the list of “not truly Christian” groups grow. Our differences are not really a difference of quality but in depth. My view of the Biblical list of “essentials” is a bit more expansive than just adherence to Chalcedonian orthodoxy. It also includes matters of soteriology and Kingdom theology for certain, as expressed by Paul himself in Galatians. In such a view the RCC and most of what passes for Protestantism is not up to snuff.

  7. Those things which you have added to “my list” of essentials are by no means essentials of the faith, for they are not explicitly, nor clearly taught in Scripture. Those essentials which I have listed – and which, by the way are not “my” own doing, but that of countless others’ studies – are taught in the Scriptures.

    I do not believe I have in any way “justified” your argument; if you were at all knowledgeable in the area of cults and early Christian heresies, you would agree with me concerning those heretical groups and their false teachings that necessitated the Church councils and the formulation of the Creeds in response to the heresies. Since you apparently cannot tell the difference between a ‘cult’ and a ‘denomination,’ (as evidenced by your unchanged “Study of Denominations”) it is no wonder you cannot seemingly comprehend the struggles of the early Church against these heresies.

    The coC dismisses all the Creeds, as useful as they are in explaining Christian doctrine (to the best of the abilities of the early writers). Will the coC in like manner dismiss all the writings of their own, when they – to the best of their abilities – attempt to explain Christian doctrine, same as the writers of the Creeds?

    I honestly think the only reason you want to expand the list of “essentials” is so that you, yourself, can exclude from the Christian faith, ALL WHO DO NOT BELIEVE AS YOU DO! This is exactly what the coC does. The coC wants to include the issue of instrumental music in the “essentials” of the faith – along with conformity of belief on all other secondary issues. The coC says, you have to believe that premillennialism is a false teaching; that using the instrument is a sin; that if you are in a second “unauthorized” marriage that you are continually committing adultery; etc. . . . The coC makes THESE things “essentials” so as to make themselves appear to be the only TRUE Christians.

    I’ll be one of the first to agree with you that Roman Catholicism is not true Christianity – theologically they deny some of the central doctrines of the Faith. The bulk of liberal Protestantism likewise. But don’t lump the Conservative Evangelicals in there with them! But then, to the coC ALL denominations are LIBERAL, right? Because all denominations are heathen, and unsaved – only the coC folk are saved. That’s the mindset I read in what you and other coC folk write/have written. Sorry if this offends you, but you know the old saying: Sometimes the Truth hurts!

    In all honesty – and I do not mean to offend here – it is my opinion that you need to do further study into the history of Christianity. I sense a lack of study in this area on your part. Not that I have it all right – it wasn’t exactly my favorite subject, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. My own “specialty” was in the area of theology and cults. But apparently my understanding of Church History is a bit different than yours!

    Don’t know if I’ll continue posting. I’ve just about come to the conclusion that it’s a hopeless case to discuss such things with coC folk – after all they apparently are satisfied with “their” truth.

    1. Matters of soteriology and the Kingdom are not clearly taught in Scripture? Are you seriously suggesting that there is vagary in terms of how one can be saved and the nature of the Kingdom? It’s one thing for there to be human-caused confusion; it’s quite another to blame the text for it.

      It is still quite flummoxing that your “opinions” always assume that because people view things differently than you do, their problem obviously is that they haven’t studied a matter enough. I have studied quite extensively into church history– have you read all five volumes of Pelikan’s history of doctrine throughout the past 2,000 years? Can you envision any scenarios where either (a) you’ve studied something, yet not in depth, and have just imposed your 21st century assumptions onto matters of the past, and argue on that basis in error, or (b) someone else can come to entirely different opinions while having engaged in no less examination into the matter than yourself?

      This presumptive attitude is not befitting.

  8. Salvation is indeed taught in the Scriptures: salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from any kind of works which one might do – including baptism. This is part of the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Or do you deny Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8-9? Even if we call baptism a “work of righteousness,” it is still a work! That makes it no less important. But again, it is not one’s baptism that is important, it is the state of his heart, which only God can see!

    The nature of the Kingdom? Is the Kingdom the Church, or is it still future? The Scriptures are not clear on this subject, therefore it is not an ‘essential’ of the faith. Indeed, the case can be made for both sides of this question: the Kingdom is here now (in the sense of the Church, i.e., the called out ones) and the Kingdom is still future (in the sense that Christ will establish it upon the earth for the Millennial reign; and/or that it will be our eternal habitation in heaven).

    Again, I will stand by those essentials I have annotated. that is my understanding of the issue. I admitted above that I don’t have all the answers. That’s more than what you have ever done. You evidently speak to yourself: “This presumptive attitude is not befitting.” Such is your attitude. I will reply no more.

    1. I see that you’ve bought into the false dichotomy invented by the Reformers regarding faith and works. I submit that Paul was never basing what he said on the Reformer’s definitions and would never have thought of baptism or obedience as “works” in the way Luther et al did. This is evident within Romans itself– Romans 1:5, all of chapter 6, chapters 12 and following are by no means considered inconsistent or incongruent with the rest of the letter. The problem again is not with God or the Bible but with man.

      The Scriptures are not clear on the Kingdom’s existence now? Colossians 1:3, Revelation 1:6-9, are unclear that the Kingdom is to be understood as here and now, even if its full expression awaits? The answer, from Scripture, cannot be that the Kingdom is both now and future, much like salvation in 1 Peter 1:3-9? Again, is this really a problem with Scripture or with people and their distortions? And is the argument of confusion being made just to keep it a matter of “liberty”?

      We keep running into Galatians and Paul’s declarations there. I’ve never claimed to have all the answers, but I do claim that we can know the Source of all the answers and ought to be able to make a stand. Not making a stand in the name of a misguided ecumenism is not what Scripture intends. Something tells me that it is better to be wrong with a conviction than to never take a stand at all and be as water flowing as it will.

      And your complete silence over the matter of your presumption– about the study habits of others, the arrogant assumption that clearly anyone who has actually studied the matter would obviously come to your conclusions– is noted. No such presumption has ever been suggested on this end. I hope that will be noted also.

  9. OK, you suckered me into one more reply.

    1. I don’t think there is a “false dichotomy” of faith and works. I believe the Reformers understood it correctly. We are not saved by our works; they are a result of our salvation. Paul stressed the fact that works do not save us – only faith saves us. IF we are saved by works, then “it is no more of grace” (Rom. 11:6). As far as calling baptism a “work of righteousness,” this isn’t my label, it happens to come from another church of Christ minister (sorry I can’t recall his name right off, but I read it on his site). So it’s not me who’s calling baptism a “work.” But it still stands that baptism, in and of itself, does not save anyone. Salvation is solely on the basis of Christ’s FINISHED WORK at Calvary – there is nothing to add to it, not baptism, nor any “work” of any kind.

    2. As for the Kingdom – again, it is not an issue of salvation, or an “essential” of the Christian faith. Some believe the Kingdom is here now, in the form of the Church. Others believe that the Kingdom is still future. And some (like yourself, apparently) believe that the Kingdom is here, but not yet “fully realized.” I happen to agree with you. But it isn’t essential that one believe that to be saved. I’m making no argument of any kind, just stating the fact that there are at least 3 ways of understanding the Kingdom. You can’t bind your opinion on others when they understand it differently, and can support their position by Scripture – same way with millennial views, for example. It’s a matter of opinion or interpretation, and cannot be labeled “essential” in any way.

    3. You say, “I’ve never claimed to have all the answers,” but your tone comes across saying otherwise. I will agree with you that we have The Source for the answers; but the answers we get are different! And why is that? Because, as we both have admitted, different people interpret the Bible differently.

    4. “Making a stand” – we all make stands on what we believe. And we support our beliefs with Scripture, as we understand it. And again, different understandings lead to different beliefs. You guys in the church of Christ claim unity of doctrine, but this isn’t quite true, for even the coC has its share of factions (one cuppers, no Sunday School, no kitchen in the church building, etc.) – these are just as much “doctrine” to them as salvation and such! My point is simply that everyone makes a stand on what they believe the Scriptures teach. Just because we don’t agree on a lot of “non-essentials” doesn’t mean that one is right and the other is wrong – it just means our understanding of Scriptures on those things is different.

    Now, if you were to tell me that God was some guy about 6’4″ tall, about 225 pounds, living in the heavens with a harem of wives making spiritual children, then I’d have to say you were wrong, because that’s not what the Bible teaches about God at all. But if you were to say, for instance, that you believed Jesus would return before the Great Tribulation, and someone else would say they thought He would return after it, then I’d have to let each of you have your own belief, as the Scriptures aren’t easy to understand concerning this issue. Thus 2 different opinions or understandings of the same Scriptures.

    You say, “it is better to be wrong with a conviction than to never take a stand at all and be as water flowing as it will.” I agree. You have your convictions, and you may be wrong on some of them. Those in other denominations have their convictions as well, and take a stand on them. They MAY be wrong, but at least they take a stand (contrary to what you apparently believe). But I don’t see anyone NOT taking a stand. That is just your own preconceived notion.

    5. Now, about your accusation of my being presumptuous. Never said anything about “anyone who has actually studied the matter would obviously come to [my] conclusions,” not did I remotely hint at it. I merely suggested you do some more in-depth study for yourself, open-minded of course, to the idea that what you’ve concluded thus far may be wrong.

    You, on the other hand, have cried “presumption” from the start, for it is you who do in fact claim – both implicitly and explicitly – that you are the one with all the “right” answers; and that anyone who is outside the church of Christ denomination is wrong and not saved. (NOTE: I use denomination because the ‘church of Christ’ label is used to differentiate between that group and those in other denominational gropus, i.e., Baptist, Lutheran, etc. The continued claim by coC folk that they are not a “denomination” is completely unfounded in that sense.)

    This will most definitely be my last reply. I find it is beginning to waste my time to repeat myself to one who has no interest in theological honesty or integrity.

    1. So because I refuse to honor your pigeon-holing of me into the categories you imagine I must fit in because of my associations, and I don’t agree with you, I clearly have “no interest in theological honesty or integrity”? And you seriously claim to have made no presumptive or arrogating claims?

      At what point does one obtain “theological honesty or integrity”? And, quite frankly, who are you to declare who is theologically honest and has theological integrity and who does not?

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