Freedom from Obedience?

This is the fourth in a series of articles dealing with some of the false doctrines which are widely proclaimed and espoused today by those who seem to think that freedom in Christ is freedom to teach any doctrine you can imagine.

One of the strangest ones we have noticed, though it may not seem as dangerous as some others on the surface, is that a false teacher is not one who teaches false doctrine, but one whose 'nature' is false, insincere, haughty or immoral. That concept forces one to do what God condemns and forbids, namely, to judge a man's motives. One must decide whether the person who is teaching false doctrine is doing it because he is ignorant and misunderstanding, or because he is insincere and haughty. The real truth is that we are not to deal in personalities at all, striving to discover the motives and be judgmental about why he teaches what he does. There is no way we can properly do that. But we can know if his doctrine differs from what God has revealed and turn away from such.

All doctrinal matters are important, for they involve what God teaches. But not all are equally important. Just as some parts of the body are vital to life. Others are necessary to proper functioning, but are not vital. The distinction some of these false teachers make between doctrine and gospel is improper and not a Biblical distinction. The truths about Jesus, His nature, life, death, burial and resurrection are doctrines, although they are also good news and therefore Gospel. The doctrines about the resurrection and other related facts are vital to life. Paul speaks of those who depart from the faith, "giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose conscience is seared" (1 Tim. 4:1f). This strange teaching we have mentioned would logically force a person to take this position: One man who is teaching the doctrine of demons must be evaluated and determined to be dishonest, deceitful and licentious, then he can be rejected. Another man who is teaching the same doctrine must be evaluated, and if you assume that he is not dishonest and licentious, you must receive him as a brother, no matter what doctrine he may teach!

We are continuing to hear a number of voices that are denying that God has any regulations regarding worship. They usually start with this kind of statement: "When one's life is dedicated to God, whatever he does is worship." Since the meaning of the term, "worship" is the same now as it was in Old Testament times, we can easily show any thoughtful person that this idea is not so. Let us take Abraham as an example. His life was dedicated to God. When he fed his livestock, he was dedicated to God. When God told him to offer his son on the altar, and they gathered the wood, it was a part of a life dedicated to God. If he had reasoned as these false teachers do, he would have said, "It is silly to talk of 'going yonder and worshipping', for we were worshipping as we fed the donkey this morning. To go through the silly ritual of offering my son is ridiculous, for I can demonstrate my love and faith in God any way I choose. My conclusion is that since my life and my son belong to God, I will not make God a 'God of quibbles' by assuming that I need to do what He said. His purpose in asking me to offer my son is that I may demonstrate my faith in Him. Since I can fulfill that purpose by offering the donkey instead of my son, I will do that instead of trying to fulfill some legalistic requirements simply to pacify an egocentric God with a 'colossal ego problem'." I thank God that Abraham had not imbibed the false philosophy of these false teachers!

Abraham knew that although all of his life was to be lived to the glory of God, not all of his life was worship. Worship is an act of homage or reverence PAID TO GOD. It is not that God has a "self-esteem problem that must be bolstered by man's praise," (as one author says), nor was it ever true that God could be worshipped only by demand. Contrary to what these false teachers may say, no faithful gospel preacher has ever taught that one can worship God only in a church building by going through "the five acts of worship."

One false teacher, in trying to explain away the plain example of Nadab and Abihu who sinned by offering strange fire, not authorized, says, "Nadab and Abihu had been given complete instructions which they defied." What he is trying to prove is that they were not condemned for doing what was not authorized. They were only condemned because they deliberately refused to do what God said, thus defying God. The argument is, "Those who use instrumental music (or do anything else not authorized by God) are not really defying God by refusing to do what He said. They are merely adding what they think is just as good, or better." Why should they not have defied it if they reason like he does? He would have advised them to do exactly what they did! His reasoning goes like this, "One fire is as good as another. If you think you can show the reverence due to God by offering strange fire that he has not commanded, you should not think of God as a harsh, unloving, egocentric God who makes any demands on you. So, go ahead and offer any thing you choose, any way you choose!" Note carefully: Nadab and Abihu were not told, "The only place or way you can worship God is to go through 'the three acts of worship' in the tabernacle." They, David, or Abraham could worship God out on the hillside or any other place. Nor were they required to use the fire from the burnt offering each time they worshipped. But that was no excuse for their substituting something different for what God had commanded. Abraham did not have to take Isaac to the mountain and offer him on the altar in order to worship! He DID have to take him to obey that particular command. That would not have been a proper excuse for substituting the donkey for Isaac, or deciding they would go to some other place than the mountain.

What does that have to do with the situation before us? I have worshipped God lying on my back in bed, hanging out of the bomb bay of an airplane, at 35,000 feet in the air, and in various other strange places and times. A housewife can worship God while she washes dishes, prepares peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her children, or at any other time or place. That is no excuse for substituting peanut butter and jelly for the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, even if she "thinks on the atonement" at that time. Nor does it mean that the preparation of the sandwich is an act of worship. It is an act authorized of God, approved of God, and pleasing to God to thus prepare food for one's child. But no careful reader of the Bible should fail to see that in all ages worship was the deliberate act of paying homage to another. In order to be valid it must be done in accordance with God's commandments, for it is vain if it is done according to man's ideas (Matthew 15:9).

Is it possible that a Christian could fall into the sin of worship of an idol? The person who might see Paul eat meat offered to an idol (2 Cor. 10:27- 29) and might, though honest and sincere, eat meat as an act of worship to an idol, could not thereby sin, according to the reasoning of these false teachers. Even if he worshipped the idol, he would actually be worshipping God, for he meant well, and was honest and sincere. Remember that every act a Christian performs is supposed to be worship to God! What a confused mess! If this peculiar theory is right, the writers of the Gospels did not understand about worship, for they represented people as "running TO Jesus, falling down and worshipping." The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:27) was silly to think he should go to Jerusalem to worship, for when he got up that morning, it was an act of worship; when he went to the bathroom to clean his teeth, it was an act of worship; when he got in his chariot it was an act of worship, if the reasoning of these false teachers is sound.

Most of these false teachers who think they have found a new freedom in Christ seem to make the same kind of mistakes in their reasoning. They realize that a person does not have to understand all sorts of doctrinal points that a mature Christian should know in order to be saved from his past sins and become a Christian. Then they ASSUME that since this is true, he does not have to understand and obey from the heart some important doctrinal truths in order to become a Christian. They therefore make no distinction between an immature Christian who is sectarian in disposition and nature (as were some of the Corinthians) and a member of some denomination who is sectarian in nature. There is a clear Biblical distinction between them. The former are Christians, for they started on the right foundation, but have not matured. The latter were never Christians in the first place and were sectarian from the start.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive