In Response to Ed Harrell -- #2

by Dudley Ross Spears

           Often in such a discussion as this feelings can outweigh common sense, but mutual respect excludes anything other than a very straight forward study of these things about which we now differ. Again, there were many things in his long series of articles with which there is perfect accord. The two major problems specified in the first article, and which Ed agrees are the points at issue, are whether one may continue fellowship where error is taught on matters of significant moral and doctrinal import and whether Romans 14 covers such differences as opposing views of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

          Ed’s use of the term faith in Romans 14 is wrong. He blurs any distinction between faith and opinion. He uses the term “faith” interchangeably with “the faith.” Had he given us his thinking on what was said about faith and opinion as defined by David Lipscomb and the basis one has for each, agreement would be much nearer than it is. If one is limited to personal and subjective understanding of Bible principles then there can be no standard by which to say emphatically, “This is a matter of faith.” The whole argument against Ed’s position on fellowship is based on the principle that what is clearly revealed is faith; what is not clearly revealed (but believed nonetheless) is opinion. Fellowship is only possible when everyone is united on matters of faith and tolerant on matters of opinion.

          Someone probably needs to map out my strategy for me, but Ed’s effort misses the mark. I do not intend to label every matter I am willing to overlook as opinion, nor every matter I am unwilling to overlook as faith. Again, the label faith goes on that which God has clearly revealed; opinion is attached to that which is not. It would have been vastly more profitable if Ed would clearly say whether he recognizes the saying, “In matters of faith unity” and if my addition of the word “only in matters of faith” is right or not. If it is right, then regardless of my interpretation, the standard remains just as God revealed it -- not as Ed Harrell understands it. This is one of our major differences at this point.

          Brother Harrell says his statement that we differ and remain in fellowship over matters of considerable moral and doctrinal import “is a truism.” Can he prove this? His statement is debatable. In fact, Christians should not remain indefinitely in fellowship with those who teach and practice matters of considerable moral and doctrinal import (II John 9-11; Titus 3:10). A case in point is: fellowship does not exist (at least hopefully not) with those who teach premillennial errors concerning the return of Christ. Why? Simply because the second coming of Christ is a matter of faith -- something clearly revealed in Scripture. But the imaginary millennium with Christ on a literal throne in Jerusalem is opinion, not based on clear testimony. Those who teach it teach it as faith.

          Someone will question: What about one who believes it but does not teach it. All must admit that is perfectly all right as long as he holds it privately, not teaching it or trying to persuade others to believe it. This brings us back to Romans 14. The issues in Romans 14 were to be squelched. Neither side of the issues mentioned in this chapter was to try and convince the other side. The first verse requires fellowship but “not for decisions of scruples.” The issues in Romans 14 were decisions of personal scruples, not decisions of divine revelation. Again, Harrell would have contributed more light on this difference had he addressed the major point that if matters of faith are involved, we must press them on everyone -- but if matters of opinion are involved we must hold them privately.

          Fellowship is possible only where there is unvarying agreement in matters of faith. Only in matters of faith is there scriptural unity. Where there is a disagreement over a matter of faith there will not be unity. When someone teaches that which is not clearly revealed, or not revealed at all, and teaches it to be a matter of faith there will not be unity. Brother Harrell missed the part of the statement that involved “continued fellowship” where there is disagreement in matters of considerable moral and doctrinal import. Who believes there must be a rigid adherence to some creedal dictum that stems from human wisdom or opinion? All should flatly reject the principle that our understanding of the text is the principal criterion by which to settle on something as a matter of faith or opinion.

          Brother Harrell has consistently equated the erroneous views on marriage and divorce with a woman’s covering during worship, and a person’s participation in a war effort. Likely no one holds the exclusive and definitive answer to all the ramifications of these two issues. However, were one to hold the view that a woman was not complying with a clearly revealed mandate from God when she worshiped God bareheaded, how in the name of reason could he not regard it as sin? The next logical step would be to conclude that she will lose her soul if she does not change. Thus, it should be held as a test of fellowship. I have never understood why those who now hold the position that a woman must cover her head when she worships do not also refuse to recognize those who do not agree with them as faithful Christians. I still don’t understand it. The same is true with the “war question.” Either these issues are matters of faith or they are matters of opinion.

          The same holds relative to the marital problems. Is Ed willing to deny that God has clearly revealed His Will on marriage, divorce, and remarriage?

          Because we do not have all the answers to the knotty problems that may be posed cannot argue that God has not revealed it clearly. It may mean that some have allowed any number of factors to bring them to a misunderstanding of the truth as God revealed it. It also means when those who teach that God allows a man or woman to have a number of successive mates in marriage and do not commit adultery, faithful men must oppose them. Error has been taught which cannot be proved by Scripture. To teach error on the divorce issue is to teach human opinion. Faith is still based on what God has revealed -- whether it is the covering issue, the war question, or the marriage and divorce issue.

          Ed says that many disagreements grow out of differing interpretations of biblical text. That is true. But there is also a sequel. Those who interpret Scripture incorrectly and teach their interpretation teach error. If they persist in teaching error, they become heretical. Those who practice what they teach become guilty of sin and must eventually be excommunicated from fellowship. But what is our duty? It is rather clear. “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching the same hath both the Father and the Son. If anyone cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh of his evil deeds” (II John 9-11). “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). “A factious man (heretic) after a first and second admonition, refuse” (Titus 3:10). So, the question is not how we interpret the Scripture -- it is how does our interpretation feet fellowship? It is also a matter of whether faith is established by our interpretation, or by what the Bible clearly reveals.

          Ed’s question of my view of Romans 14 amounted to a puzzle he poses. He thinks that if what I said is true we are still left with the practical necessity of deciding when to fellowship those who interpret biblical passages differently from us. Not so, Ed. We are to determine whether God has revealed His will clearly or not. The issues in Romans 14 were not based on clear and unmistakable testimony from God. Thus, neither side could have possibly been wrong in what they believed. Brother Harrell, please answer the question: which side believed error relative to diet or days? The question is not asking which side was wrong, but which side believed something wrong about diets or days. You ought to say neither of them. If one side believed error, then who can explain how both of them were acceptable to God (verse 3).

          Hopefully we arc progressing toward agreement. Please consider this summary. Whether we correctly interpret Scriptures or not, matters of faith are established by what is revealed. Divine revelation comes in direct statements and commands, approved apostolic examples, and necessary inferences. But this is not Ed’s view. He argues that even should one misinterpret a biblical passage he still could relegate a matter of faith to the realm of opinion, e.g., the marriage law of God does not apply to those out of covenant relationship with God. This is based on his statement near the end of his last article regarding the above matter being a “judgment among Christians that has not been settled in” his lifetime. Upon that posture how will he ever know he has clear evidence for the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper only on the first day of the week? How will he be sure that there must be a plurality of elders in each local church rather than just one elder per congregation? Remember, he must be sure he has clearly and correctly interpreted the passages involved in various issues. This puts him in the same position of virtually affirming that “every man becomes a law to himself.” If I am wrong, I will gladly retract it.

          It is good that Ed stands by his stated view in 1966. There is a discrepancy between his application of it to the above mentioned view of marriage and divorce, for he was precise in saying that he believed it is wrong to teach that aliens are not subject to Christ’s law on marriage, yet he seeks to maintain unlimited fellowship with anyone who teaches it. Read II John 9-11 again, please. He hasn’t yet said what he believes should be done in a local church where someone practices the doctrine relative to marriage and divorce which he says is wrong.

          Please consider the same question posed in the first article: Does the Lord allow us to believe false teaching? II Thessalonians 2:1-12 teaches that those who believe error are deceived and will be damned if they do not repudiate it. We have no more right to teach error than we do to believe it. We cannot condone that which we cannot preach as truth.

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