Solidarity vs. Separatism

In Search of Family Alliances

 

“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 no dispute.

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. Don’t 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 don’t associate with people who let the women and girls wear pants” another will say.

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 convictions.

I’m 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 Doctrine

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, God’s 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 third parties.

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 today’s 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 Church’s 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 Protection

The pure Gospel serves to protect the Church and her members as they are in the world doing the Kingdom’s 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 God.

Such a anti-tradition mentality, especially as expressed in many charismatic circles of Christianity, is a denial of the Holy Spirit’s 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 Luther’s 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 also.”

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 factions.

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.

Alliance Builders

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 alliances.

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 God’s kingdom. (Phil 1:6; 1 Cor 13:9-12)

While it is important that each of us be a part of the Holy Spirit’s superintendency of His Church and the members thereof, it is equally important for us to remember that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s 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 God’s calling in our life and that of our family’s to affirm and trust the superintendency of the Holy Spirit with our family. In the context of God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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, one’s 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 one’s 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 God’s calling, vision is the ability to anticipate and conceptualize the end result of faithful obedience to God’s calling. God’s 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. One’s ability to transform conception into reality depends on one’s 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. One’s perspective of future contingencies, whether they are a matter of sovereignty or of fate, will determine the scope of one’s 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 God’s 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 child’s individual calling from God, training their children how to apply God’s 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 one’s 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.

Conclusion

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 man’s 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 God’s plan in redemptive history will be a people that is focused on God’s 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.


Fortifying
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Patrick L. Hurd
Weatherford, Texas
PHurdWford@AOL.com

EST. 01/01/01