Only let your conduct
be worthy of the gospel of Christ...that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind
striving together for the faith of the gospel . . . Philippians 1:27
While some mainline denominations fall in line to the drum of female ordination,
homosexual orientation, same sex marriages, and abortion on demand, the rest of the Church
in America splinters over eye-logs such as head coverings, music, laugh or stoic,
authorized or another version, dress or pants, how long or short, makeup or not, women
quiet or vocal, dunk or sprinkle or neither, etc., etc., ad infinitum. It is a little
paradoxical in that one segment seems quite willing to adopt that which the Bible speaks
much against, while another segment insists on emphasizing issues spoken of very little in
the Bible. What they do have in common is the well-practiced ability to set Christian
brothers against Christian brothers in areas of the Christian faith where there should be
The homeschool community, where convictions of holiness, moral purity, and protecting
children run very high on the list of priorities, is not immune to its share of splitting
hairs over every jot and tittle. Dont get me wrong, having strong biblical
convictions is good. However, a distinction should be made concerning biblical
convictions. There are those that are essentials of the Christian faith that necessarily
cause us to separate from associations (i.e., fellowship breakers). Likewise there are
convictions that may be biblical but are also matters of the Christian conscience and,
therefore, should not be in the category of fellowship breakers.
Or we may find ourselves being swept along with the rest of the Church in America where
anything goes, everything (especially interpreting the Bible) is a matter of choice,
personal preference, and personal conscience, and anyone who says otherwise is a
legalistic Pharisee who should be disciplined by the Church (were it so possible).
However, where there is no standard of piety, there can be no effective Church court, nor
common alliances that focus on a method of complying with Jesus Great Commission,
and no vision articulated from the Church that would convince anyone that the Church might
be able to address the moral and societal ethical issues of our nation more effectively
than humanistic philosophy.
Many of us within the homeschool movement rightly wrestle with the balance of determining
who is OK for our family to fellowship with and who is not, who is OK to church with and
who is not, who is OK to join alliances with and who is not. In this regard I have heard
and seen many weird things. Generally, homeschool families more often tend to sacrifice
their duty to be salt and light in the world on the altar of isolation and protection.
My children might be exposed to some heretical teaching without me being
aware, some will say. More devastating, though, is the further tendency to sacrifice
duty to be salt and light in the world on the altar of personal regulations of behavior
and style that may be justified by some single or vague Bible verse or interpretation all
of which has little or nothing to do with the essentials of the Christian faith. We
just dont associate with people who let the women and girls wear pants another
Before you get overheated at me, lets step back, count to ten, and look at this in light
of the whole of redemptive history and with respect to the time in history that God has
assigned to each of us. I submit to you that if we want to see ourselves, our children,
and our grand children be the kind of salt that might cause our nation to be more salty
(in the biblical sense, of course) due to the Christian influence of the Gospel in society
AND do so without losing our own saltiness, then we must draw very distinct lines in the
sand regarding what does and what does not constitute Christian fellowship breaking
Im not suggesting some ecumenical formula that will unite the fragmented Church at
large. What I am suggesting is that, first, the Church damages the credibility of the
Gospel message in the marketplace of ideas when it cannot present a consistent Gospel
message with solidarity. Secondly, the effectiveness of the individual Christian (and,
therefore, the whole church) suffers when people isolate themselves or, worse, are
excluded from participating with other Christians in the local geographic work of their
community, that could be done on behalf of the Gospel, because of petty differences in the
interpretation and application of scripture that have nothing to do with the essentials of
what defines being a Christian.
The Two Faces of Biblical
I recently had the pleasure of
visiting with a gentleman from a near city who is planning a church start. He and some
other men desire to have a church that is more family oriented than those already in their
area. One of his concerns was how to address the differing doctrinal issues of the men
that had already surfaced during their brief and informal meetings. This is a very
important question, one that I will address later in the article. By asking the question,
the gentleman demonstrated his appreciation for the significance of the issue.
On the one hand, he does not fall for the argument that asserts doctrine is divisive and,
therefore, we should not have any doctrine or, at least, not talk about what doctrine we
do have. First, when speaking of Christians, right doctrine is unifying whereas it is
wrong doctrine that becomes divisive. When speaking of non-Christians, right doctrine
serves to separate the wheat from the chaff. Conversely, wrong doctrine unequally yokes
the wheat and the chaff.
Second, since doctrine is nothing more than a belief system, we all have a full set. It
may be underdeveloped, deformed, or ignored, but it is there and it does influence the way
we process information and behave. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the body (and
actually a mandate to the office bearers of the Church) that the correct system of belief
be advanced and that incorrect systems are exposed and denied.
Accordingly, his concern demonstrated, on the other hand, an understanding of the
importance of ideas and the consequences that ideas bring to the individual and the whole.
It is the Biblical way to perceive the ideas of men, for neither Jesus nor any of his
apostles were slow to challenge the way people expressed ideas, slow to
...bring[ing] every thought into captivity to the obedience of Jesus ... (2
Cor 10:5), nor slow to expose wrong thinking directly and emphatically. (Galatians 2:11)
Truth or Consequences?
Correctly discerning the ideas
and motives of men is an essential function of the Church and of every believer. (John
7:24) Contrary to the belief of a large segment of evangelicalism, discernment is not a
mysterious, supernatural undertaking of intangible feelings or intuitive metaphysics.
Discernment is to perceive the true nature of something; to distinguish things from each
other. Accordingly, discernment is based on a standard or a rule. For Christians,
Gods word is the standard of truth, the rule of right and wrong. From the Bible we
learn who our allies are, who the enemy is, and that there are no innocent and neutral
The Bible asserts the position that Christians are to discern the ideas and motives of men
(Matthew 7:16,20; 12:35) and either receive them for the truth of the Gospel they possess
or separate from them if they are professing a different Gospel. (Galatians 1:6ff)
Scripture aptly warns the Church that certain people will rise up, even from within the
Church, to lead away even the elect, were it so possible. (Matthew 24:24; Acts 20:29,39; 2
Peter 2; 2 Cor 11:12-15) Accordingly, Christians are not even to give ear to such false
teachers. (2 John 10) This is a clear area of separation, that is, if one knows what is
the true Gospel.
However, if you were to take a poll among the professing believers of our
nation asking them to list the bare necessities of salvation, the stupefying answers would
make one wonder if they were truly all of the same faith. Some would point to the thief on
the cross to rule out things such as baptism, accompanying signs, and church membership.
Others would hold that his was a special case and not the biblical redemptive norm. How
does one separate a false gospel from the true Gospel when the Church cannot even agree on
what is the Gospel? This lack of solidarity among Christians has resulted in a sectarian
segmentation of the Church based on what[ever] was right in his[their] own
eyes. (Judges 21:25) More recently, the result is just to ignore it. What
difference does it make anyway? the non-denomination denominationalist asks. You
see, ideas do have consequences.
A Matter of Credibility
Because of the fragmentation of
the Church in America over nonessential issues of the gospel, the Church today is about as
impotent as she has ever been in American history. Jesus said, Let your light so
shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in
heaven. (Matthew 5:16) Unfortunately, the light of todays Gospel has somehow
been refracted through a prism constructed around personal preferences, habits, and
experience. The result is not a pretty rainbow. Instead of being the salt of the earth
that transforms culture according to the word of God, the Church is forced to conform to
the whims of culture in an attempt to maintain some semblance of relevance.
The cause of this fragmentation is the Churchs inability to bring the Gospel of
Jesus Christ into a focused, single beam of light that penetrates to the very root of sin
issues. Because of our ineptness, no one gives the Church a serious ear even if she should
venture an opinion here or there. She has lost credibility even among her own
constituents. Too many Christians sell the Gospel short. Most Christians will celebrate
the power of the Gospel with respect to transforming the life of an individual, perhaps a
marriage, and even perhaps a family. But too many Christians willingly profess the
powerlessness of the Gospel when it comes to transforming a neighborhood, a community, a
city, a state, and especially our nation.
The effectiveness of the individual members of the Church, and ultimately the Church
herself, in carrying out the prime directive of their King is enhanced when we equip the
members with a gospel that is unencumbered with a lot of side issues. Likewise, a gospel
message without the extra luggage is easier to bring to bear on the issues of life and
society, results in more consistent judgements, and thus, lends itself to increasing the
credibility of people using it as a standard of rule and to the Church.
A Matter of
The pure Gospel serves to
protect the Church and her members as they are in the world doing the Kingdoms
business. The Church has been easily distracted from her prime directive of making
disciples of the nations because of the nonessential baggage attached to the Gospel
message. A weak and anemic gospel is easy prey to the philosophies of the world. This is
especially so for our young people who have not experienced much of the warfare between
different philosophical ideologies. Likewise, a gospel loaded down with nonessential more
often serves as a watchdog against other believers who do not hold to the same priorities.
This framework breeds distrust, accusations, and a lack of cooperation.
Instead of isolating our young people from the subtle lies of perverted philosophies, we
should be diligent to equip them with a solid basis of judgement centered around the pure
Gospel of Scripture. Jesus was no stranger to the company of sinners, but he and everyone
else knew exactly where he stood on the issues. Paul boldly took the evangelistic message
straight to the religious centers of the nations: the arena of philosophical debate.
Defining the Standard
While everyone agrees that the
Gospel of Jesus Christ is found only in the Holy Bible, there has been a lot of discussion
the past 2000 years about the essentials and application of the Gospel. Herein lies part
of the problem the contemporary Church faces, in that, during the anti-Establishment era
of the 1960's, the Church eventually joined with the rest of society to jettison the old
stale traditions of men. Unfortunately, much of the Church threw out the baby with the
bath water, as it not only jettisoned the traditions of men, but also many traditions of
Such a anti-tradition mentality, especially as expressed in many charismatic circles of
Christianity, is a denial of the Holy Spirits perfect superintendency of His Church.
It is a slap in the face of the pious men of Church history who have done the work of
articulating and defending the standard, many of who gave their life willingly for the
cause of a pure Gospel. Within the works of these men, the Church has the answer to every
heresy and aberration of the faith that plagues the Church today. Instead of making use of
the heritage of capital that exists for her good and protection, the Church chooses to
ignore the work done preferring, rather, to rebuild the wheel repeatedly each generation
as the need arises. More often of late, the Church simply acquiesces out of apathy and
ignorance, succumbing to the desire to be lusted for by the world.
The heritage of capital I am referring to is the centuries of study, discussions, debates,
and writings represented by various Synods, Confessions, Creeds and Catechisms of the
Church. The beginning of the New Testament synodical heritage is recorded in Acts 15 where
the Church first decreed the very essentials of the Christian faith in response to the
claim that Christians should be circumcised. Later, the Church adopted the Apostles
Creed, The Nicene Creed (325 & 381 A.D.), and the Athanasian Creed (500 A.D.) Other
authoritative Church documents include the report from the Council of Chalcedon (451
A.D.), the Council of Orange (529 A.D.), and the Councils of Constantinople. The highlight
of the protestant reformation is not only Luthers infamous 95 Thesis, but also
includes the Scottish Confession of Faith (1560), the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561),
and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1619) to mention just a few.
Within these works are found the very essentials of the Christian faith and the defenses
of the Church against anti-and un-biblical ideologies and practices. One of the
significantly important aspects of these documents is that, while defining the essentials
of the Christian faith, they remain silent on issues that are a matter of the Christian
conscience. The Westminster Confession of Faith says about Christian liberty:
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and
commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to His Word; or beside it, in matters
of faith or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of
conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit
faith, and an absolute and blind obedience is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason
Coupled with the writings of people such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Knox (just to
name a bare few), who expounded on the concepts contained within Holy Scripture as well as
the creeds and confessions, the Church has every tool necessary to answer the issues with
which it is plagued. Issues such as the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, extra-biblical
revelation and many others that have enticed people off the path of salvific faith in
Jesus Christ has already been thoroughly and eloquently examined. Perhaps less critical
(in a salvific sense) are other ecclesiastical issues that tend to distract the Church
from its prime directive (e.g., church government, worship, ordination, etc . . . ). These
have, for the greater part, already been argued and decided by the Church historical. The
work is done for us to have and apply to the issues of our day.
With so great a cloud of witness surrounding us (as Paul might say) let us press on to the
work of the Gospel that our Lord Jesus Christ has ordained to us. Let us join together the
human and material resources to the task that the Father has so graciously bestowed on us.
Let us hold true and faithful to the essentials of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us
put aside the petty personal preferences and prejudices that only serves to separate,
isolate, and discredit His people into fragmented, dysfunctional, impotent, and irrelevant
Easier said than done, eh? How does one develop effectual lifelong alliances with other
Christian families when there is so much diversity of core beliefs within modern
Christendom? In a time when biblically basic and sound doctrine has been neglected (or
replaced with petty man-made doctrine) for so long, can Christians work together while
advocating the highest of biblical, moral and ethical standards among the constituency? If
so, how? I believe it is not only possible, but imperative.
The work of the gospel is the
responsibility of every Christian, is to be carried out in the geographic locale of where
God has so placed the Christian, and is to be done in conjunction with and in cooperation
with other Christians. There are no lone guns for Jesus.
The relationships we have with other Christians, as we work together in the cause of the
Gospel, can be generalized into two categories: acquaintances and alliances. Acquaintance
relationships are those encounters with other Christians that are for a specific cause and
time (e.g., church related duties or activities) yet generally end until the time for the
next specific event. Alliances, on the other hand, are not event oriented but are
perpetual and intimate relationships with other Christians. Alliances may seem to be more
natural within the setting of a local church body, but that is not necessary. Alliance
type relationships can transcend church membership boundaries just as acquaintance type
relationships often do.
Alliances are important to the work of the gospel because it is at this level of
relationship that the Christian is encouraged, trained, and made accountable for the work
of the gospel. Alliances provide for the dynamics of efficiency and effectiveness for the
work by engaging resource pooling and divisions of labor. If the Christian is the tool of
the gospel work, it is at the place of true Christian alliance where the tool is sharpened
for the work. (Proverbs 27:17)
But how is it possible for Christians to align together in such a manner that makes the
whole stronger and more effective than the individual parts when there is so much
diversity of beliefs and priorities within the individual parts? I believe there are five
main points of our Christian faith that should serve as the building blocks of Christian
1. Superintendency. One of the great strengths of the Church is her diversity of gifts.
Not everyone is called to be at the same place or to do the same thing. Not everyone is at
the same stage of spiritual development. We join with Paul in affirming with all believers
that it is the Holy Spirit, through the word of God, who is at work in the hearts of His
people, causing the spiritual development necessary for each person to fulfill their
specific calling of God in the ministry of Gods kingdom. (Phil 1:6; 1 Cor 13:9-12)
While it is important that each of us be a part of the Holy Spirits superintendency
of His Church and the members thereof, it is equally important for us to remember that it
is ultimately the Holy Spirits job to mature the believer in the faith. Therefore,
we serve the body of Christ more effectively when we give each other the benefit of
the doubt and affirm that the Holy Spirit is faithfully superintending the faith of
believers when it comes to disagreements in matters of the nonessential of the Christian
faith. We agree with Paul, who wrote, . . . being confident of this very thing,
that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
just as it is right for me to think this of you all, . . . (Phil 1:6,7a)
Likewise, it is essential to the faithfulness of Gods calling in our life and that
of our familys to affirm and trust the superintendency of the Holy Spirit with our
family. In the context of Gods specific calling for your family, there are going to
be beliefs, events, and circumstances that you do not agree with or that you perceive to
be a danger to your family. Far too often, protection and isolation from such
circumstances win over Gods call to duty to be a part of the means to a solution. It
is sometimes a hard line to draw, but one that must be evaluated constantly in view of
Gods faithfulness rather than defaulting to easy protectionism.
2. Calling. There are no onlookers in the kingdom of God. Everyone has a job and a God
ordained duty as a Christian. There are no pacifists and no conscientious objectors when
it comes to duty and calling in the kingdom of God. While most of us would agree with
these statements, our very nature strives against us, making it difficult to get a hold of
and maintain a focus on the specific calling of God, in this time of redemptive history
and this geographic station of life, for ourselves and our family.
Like differing parts of the same machine or, as Paul illustrates, differing members of the
same body (1 Cor 12:14), Christians work with other Christians who share the same calling
from God and in close coordination with other Christians whose calling differ from theirs.
It is natural that those who share similar callings would gravitate toward each other.
Such a commonality of calling serves the body and each other very well as we pool our
resources together toward the accomplishment of a common goal. In this setting, ones
calling is to take priority over nonessential differences of theological opinion.
Likewise, believers who cooperate based on a common calling in their life from God are
still a part of and accountable to the whole Church. They must be able to work with those
whose kingdom job may be very different and, therefore, their application of scripture
different from that of their own. Again, focusing on ones calling in the context of
Jesus prime directive to His Church will facilitate Christians working together
whether within the bounds of duty common to others or when working with those whose
calling is in another area of the body.
3. Vision. Closely related to Gods calling, vision is the ability to anticipate and
conceptualize the end result of faithful obedience to Gods calling. Gods
calling to His people is the means toward His goal throughout redemptive history. Vision
is the ability to see the link between the means and the end. If calling is the fabric of
the Christian life, vision is the glue that keeps it together.
Vision is the ability to look to the future and plan according to a specific desired
future event or result. Ones ability to transform conception into reality depends on
ones ability to recognize, create, manage, and, in some cases, avoid future
contingencies that arise as work is done toward a specific goal. Accordingly, short and
long term planning, with specific milestone goals set along the way, is an essential
aspect of vision.
An interesting notion associated with the modern definition of visionary is
the notion of the impracticality of the idea. After all, how much more impractical can one
get than to base his current actions on the hopes of future results when faced with the
reality of future contingencies that seem to dash plans indiscriminately and at random?
Yet it is at this very point that visionaries are (or should be) distinguished between
Christian and non-Christian. Ones perspective of future contingencies, whether they
are a matter of sovereignty or of fate, will determine the scope of ones vision.
The Christian has every reason to have hope in the future for he serves the living God who
is the author of all history: past, present, and future. (Psalm 31:23,24) Additionally,
there is no other basis for the Christian to place his hope. (1 Peter 1:20,21) However,
modern evolutionary thinking, both in the secular arena and in the Church, embrace the
idea that people are at the mercy of metaphysical events of fate that have little or no
obvious cause and effect relationship with each other. Things just happen. With fate as
their god, what basis of hope do unbelievers have for the future? The bible says none.
(Ephesians 2:12,13) The non-Christian is hopeless not only with regards to his eternal
destiny, but is also left with no hope during the course of his present life since he is a
stranger from the covenants of promise, that is, the blessings of covenant obedience.
Establishing a vision for the future calling of individual Christians is to be a
cooperative function between the Church and the family. The Church is to be proclaiming
the word of God and teaching the parents to understand and apply Gods word
comprehensively in every sphere of their life. Likewise, parents are to be teaching the
same to their children and, based on their knowledge of each childs individual
calling from God, training their children how to apply Gods word to specific
circumstances that the family encounters during the course of family life.
4. Teachability. For one to be superintended, to comprehend a calling and a vision, one
must be teachable. He must be one who can receive information, correctly evaluate it in
light of his present conviction and circumstance, and be willing and able to adjust his
attitudes and actions accordingly.
There are basically two attitudes that contribute to ones lack of teachability. Some
people become so ingrained and dogmatic in their beliefs and customs that they
automatically write off as nonsensical or heretical anything to the contrary without a
second thought. They are not teachable. They are not willing to do the work of critically
examining their belief system in light of new information given them or where God would
direct their work. They tend to be argumentative and obstinate.
Then there are those who lack the personal fortitude to take a stand for a standard. They
flow with whatever the popular vote is at any given time. They, like the dogmatic, are not
teachable. They listen but are unwilling to do the work of examining the information given
them or consistently apply it to their life circumstances. They never argue but give the
appearance of compliance. This type of apathy is very subtle and dangerous. While they may
say all the right words, in time, one sees that no real action backs up the talk. Apathy
destroys decisiveness which leads to hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and bitterness.
5. Repentance and Forgiveness. We live in a fallen world. Our closest allies are going to
do and say things that are careless, thoughtless, selfish, and otherwise just plain wrong.
Our ability to maintain long term relationships that are effectual depends on our ability
and willingness to recognize when offenses are given and taken and to extend repentance
and forgiveness to one another.
Most Christians do not start the day determined to see how many people they can be
insensitive toward. More often, it is an unconscious behavioral pattern that ebbs and
flows with emotions and time. Accordingly, insensitivity must be rightly recognized and
exposed by an observer or the one offended in order for the relationship to thrive.
Usually, the offender is quite apologetic, completely unaware of the offending behavior,
and forgiveness can be readily offered and received. An offender who is not apologetic or
remorseful may be showing signs of unteachableness.
Where the insensitive may be blind to his insensitive tendencies, the oversensitive person
is usually aware of their oversensitivity. They most likely know the cause of their
oversensitivity, such as unresolved broken relationships or personal insecurities. The
oversensitive person tends to evaluate the ideas and opinions of others in terms of
themselves. Believing that others are doing the same evaluation, the oversensitive then
accumulate offenses unbeknownst to the others with which he is in fellowship.
Reconciliation is important in this area, too, but often tends to be more difficult. While
there may be an occasion for an offender to ask for forgiveness, the primary part for
repentance is with the one who is being easily offended. Their willingness to work through
such feelings within a relationship will depend on their perception of the importance of
the relationship. In any case, it can be a difficult part of a relationship requiring much
patience and grace on all sides.
Jesus assertions that His
Church will be one (John 17:21), that the world would know His people by their love (John
13:35), and that the gates of hell would not prevail against the onslaught of the Church
(Matthew 16:18) will not be thwarted by mans unwillingness or inability to be the
means that God has so ordained to accomplish His goal.
The question is whether we are willing to be the means of His redemptive work in history
today and whether we are able to train up another generation for the same purpose. The
people of God who are an effectual part of Gods plan in redemptive history will be a
people that is focused on Gods priorities and not that of their own. They will be
where the action is, where ungodly thoughts await captivity to the obedience of Jesus
Christ. (2 Cor 10:5) They will be a people who exemplify and hold the world accountable to
the highest of biblically ethical standards. May we all humbly seek to be that kind of
kingdom citizen of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King.