Freedom from Doctrine?
This is the first in a series of articles in which I want to deal with some erroneous concepts of freedom that I have seen espoused by some who claim to be Christians. Because I do not want to deal in personalities, I will not name specific persons, books or articles, but only the false doctrine that is taught. This does not imply that it is improper to specify those who teach these or other false doctrines, but at this time I do not choose to do so.
No doubt, in the heart of every man on earth there is a desire for freedom. One sees it in the struggling efforts in almost all nations. One finds that desire expressed in writings of a religious nature. In too many cases the way one manifests the desire leads to the wrong kinds of freedom. The Prodigal Son yearned for freedom. He got freedom from his father's constant provision for his needs; freedom from the loving fellowship of his father's house; freedom from all the blessings he had enjoyed from his birth; freedom to waste his living with harlots; freedom to eat with the hogs and freedom to starve to death with no friends to help.
One author suggests that since we are divided, the very message that we proclaim in hopes of creating unity has been the cause of division. His suggested cure is, do not be concerned about the content of the message, for no doctrine is important enough to cause division! Of course we are divided. There has never been a long time, nor will there ever be a time the church does not have division. Jesus said He would cause division (Luke 12:51). It comes between those who teach what Christ and the Apostles taught and authorized, and those who teach what men suppose MAY be true, contrary to that. If the message we proclaim in the hopes of creating unity is the same message proclaimed by Christ and His Apostles, and it does not create unity, it is NOT the nature of the message that is wrong, but the nature of those who refuse to receive it! Those who think, like this author, "We can never understand the truth anyway, so we cannot be expected to teach the same thing" do not solve the problem, but merely add to it.
Some are suggesting that if unity and fellowship are based upon doctrinal agreement, this rules out any thought of unity, for by our very nature, the only kind of unity we can have is "unity in diversity." That is NOT SO! There is no preacher of my acquaintance who teaches that we must or should disfellowship a person simply because he disagrees on some doctrinal point. It depends on the nature of the disagreement and the doctrine. None of us denies that there are certain kinds of "unity in diversity" that not only are permissible, but absolutely inevitable, and God-ordained. There is unity in our own bodies, yet diversity in looks, function, etc. There is unity in a forest, but diversity in the trees and plants. That is not the kind of unity in diversity that is being urged on the brotherhood by these false teachers. The common popular use of the phrase is that we should be unified as brethren, no matter what false doctrine we may believe or teach. That is false doctrine according to the Apostles and Christ himself. If this viewpoint is true, what possible sense could there be in Paul's admonition in 1 Timothy 4:16, "Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching (doctrine). Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee." Why would Paul give the warning in Ephesians 4:14 "that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error?" Even the most ardent devotees of the "unity in diversity" doctrine teach that there can and should be unity on some doctrinal points, such as that Jesus is the Son of God. They do not explain why -- if there can be unity on one truth that God teaches -- there can not be unity on other similar plain truths.
The logic of that position (if we may call it logic) seems to be this: Since salvation dies not depend on rightly keeping the law (that is, every point of the law must be known and practiced in detail), then there is no law of God (command or rule) that makes any difference whatever concerning salvation or fellowship! They claim that the only exception to that is that we must love.
That error is a serious one and apparently hard for many to detect. It is true that the basis of salvation is not LAW-KEEPING. We are saved by grace although we have broken God's laws. Otherwise, none of us could be saved, for we have all broken God's laws. But the appropriation of the grace by which alien sinners are saved involves repentance for having broken the law of God (which is what sin is). When one teaches that the laws of God are immaterial, irrelevant and unnecessary (or nonexistent) if only we love, for that is really the only law God has, then there is no way he can repent for having broken any other law (commandment of God). If this is true, then one does not need to repent or feel guilty for having disobeyed anything God said to do. The reasoning is, even when God gives us commands, examples, exhortations, warnings and principles, they are merely guidelines for the expression of love. Then they teach that we may express this love any way we choose without any particular regard for the specific commands, examples, exhortations and warnings! When one accepts that false conclusion, then he cannot repent for having broken ANY of God's laws, except his failure to love, and thus avail himself of God's saving grace!
The following kind of reasoning we find in many writings now: "Because of their very nature, praise, adoration and devotion cannot be demanded. Therefore, no command regarding worship has any validity." It is true that it would be silly for God simply to make a law saying, "Adore me" and expect it to be effective. That does not change the fact that God himself has determined the kinds of praise, adoration and devotion that He wants. Some of the Jews may have thought that "In Jerusalem (alone) men ought to worship." They were wrong! The fact that they were wrong in thinking they could worship only in Jerusalem did not mean they had a right to disregard God's command to go to Jerusalem to worship!
The statement has been made, "Doctrine, instead of the Savior, has become our center. The binding of scruples has limited the liberty of others." There is little question in my mind that there are many who live as if correct doctrine is more important than having the mind of Christ. There is no question that some have attempted to bind laws upon men that God did not bind. There is nothing new about the fact that men have been binding where God did not bind, and loosing where God did not lose for many years. I, with thousands of other gospel preachers, deny that doctrine has become MY center, and I am opposed to the "binding of scruples" that limits the liberty of anyone. Yet, the conclusion that when we teach what Christ and His Apostles taught and urge no one to "go beyond the things that are written" (1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18,19; 1 Tim. 4:16), we are "binding scruples" is false and dangerous. "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching (doctrine) of Christ hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son. If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching (doctrine), receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil deeds" (2 John 9-11).
There are three statements that are in one author's writing that are particularly dangerous, partly because two of them are true, but they do not properly lead to his conclusion. Let us examine them that we may see the type of specious and dangerous arguments that he uses. He says, "A command without a principle is arbitrary, only satisfying a despotic whim." Then, "Man's tendency has been to emphasize the lawful demand and to minimize or fail to discern the principle." His conclusion is: "It is the principle that should rule our conduct rather than the command."
Note some important things about these statements: First, God gives no command without a principle behind that command, but man is not always required to recognize the principle before he can obey the command. Naaman probably did not understand the principle behind the command to dip in the river Jordan. That did not make the command "arbitrary or despotic."
Second, although it is true that man's tendency has been to emphasize the lawful demand and to minimize the principle, that does not properly lead to the conclusion that one has the right to de-emphasize the lawful demand. His conclusion that "It is the principle that should rule our conduct rather than the command" is an improper, invalid and dangerous conclusion. The proper conclusion is, "One should try to find the principle behind the command as he strives to obey it, but if he cannot understand WHY God commanded the act, he should obey it anyway as he strives to better understand God's will."
Satan knows that a truth, perverted or misapplied, is far more dangerous than an outright lie. So these false doctrines, interwoven with partial truths, are far more destructive to the church that some of the blatantly false doctrines of denominationalism. In future articles, we shall deal with other similar false doctrines that are taught in the name of freedom.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive