Freedom from Obligations?
This is the fifth in a series of articles dealing with some false doctrines of those who think freedom in Christ is freedom from any doctrinal restrictions. We are trying to point out that freedom in Christ is freedom from sin, and freedom to do whatever is authorized by Christ, unbound by sectarian rules and regulations and scruples of men.
One author says, "Because of their very nature, praise, adoration and devotion cannot be demanded." As usual, he confuses two different things. The father does not say to his children, "Love me, or I will slap you." The husband does not say to the wife, "Adore me, or you will suffer the consequences." However, if the father should say to the child, "I want my birthday gift boxed and wrapped in green paper and tied with a yellow ribbon" and the child loves him, the child will do that. He will not reason, "My preacher says that is an arbitrary, egocentric, ridiculous attitude, and I will disregard it and give what I want, however I want to give it." If the husband says to the wife, "I would like steak and potatoes tonight instead of fish and hush puppies," the wife who adores him will not reply, "I cannot adore on demand. Since I love you, I will take my preacher's advice and offer you what I choose, when I choose, the way I choose, for good marriages are based on love, not on arbitrary, egocentric demands like that."
The truth is that God has always told man how he wants to be praised, worshipped and adored at certain times. A person who cannot see the difference in a father simply demanding that his children love and adore him, and telling them how he wants that love to be manifested on certain occasions is not very perceptive. The fact that a husband says to his wife, "I would like bacon and eggs for breakfast this morning" does not mean that she cannot show her love and devotion some other way. It does mean that she cannot properly follow the advice of these false teachers and reason, "Since devotion cannot be demanded, I will serve you whatever I want, when, and as I want to, no matter what your indicated desire is."
A sample of the vain and misguided reasoning done by these false teachers is found in this quotation: "How can we be in communion/fellowship with one who is not of the Church of Christ when he comes to our services, and then deny that fellowship at all other times?" It is appalling to think of the lack of reasoning behind such a question. If an unbelieving, idol worshipping, murderer were to come into our services, he could sit on a pew, sing, take the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, but he would neither be having spiritual fellowship with Christ nor would he be accepted or recognized as being in fellowship with the church. Surely even these misguided teachers know that to sit down on a bus or plane by a person is not the same as inviting him into your home. To sit on a pew by a person who is not even known to you is not the same as recognizing him as a brother in Christ. It is not a matter of us "accepting him on his self-examination at the Lord's Table." It is the Lord's Table, not ours, so we neither accept nor reject a person at that time. It should not take a genius to recognize that there is a great deal of difference in allowing a lying, murdering rascal, the Pope of Rome, or a Mohammedan to attend the services and take whatever part he chooses as a visitor, and to recognize him as a brother in Christ with whom we have Christian fellowship. Is it so hard to see the difference between accepting a person as a Christian who tells us he has been immersed into Christ for the remission of his sins and accepting a person as a Christian who comes in for a visit and sits on a pew without professing anything? If a person who had been a Mohammedan should come in and tell me in specific terms that he had done what Christ said to do to be saved, demonstrating that he knew what Christ said to do, I would receive him in fellowship on that profession. The position of these false teachers would forbid my asking him anything else or finding out whether he was telling the truth about that. Furthermore, I would be required to have fellowship with him after I found out that he was lying and teaching false doctrine because I had "communion\fellowship with one who was not of the Church of Christ" by allowing him to sit on the pew and sing or participate in other parts of the activities of the church!
The truth of the matter is that if I am in fellowship with Christ, I am in fellowship with all others who are in fellowship with Him, whether I know it or not. There is little doubt that there are lying, hypocritical rascals with whom I act as if I have fellowship, for I have to respond to them in terms of what I can see, hear and know. There is also no doubt that I do not act as if I have fellowship with some others who are children of God, for I must respond on the basis of what I have seen, heard and known about them. Paul gives a list of persons in Ephesians 5:5ff that will not inherit the kingdom of God. He says in verse 11, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." However, there may be covetous, unclean persons, deceiving with empty words about whom I do not know, so I act as if I have fellowship with them. When I see or hear evidence that makes me conclude they have no fellowship with Christ, then I act as if I do not have fellowship with them. The fact that I may be mistaken about that does not change my responsibility to strive to follow the teaching of Christ and the Apostles in this regard. These false teachers apparently think they have solved the problem by acting in fellowship with one who teaches any sort of doctrine, for no doctrine makes any difference, according to them.
I now close this series of articles reviewing some false doctrines being taught by those who misunderstand and pervert the idea of our freedom in Christ. As I do, let us look at one last conclusion to which one of them came. One might have expected him to come to that conclusion as a result of his disregard of the many warnings and admonitions concerning the dangers of following false teachers. He says, "New Testament scriptures will not be necessary as they (that is, new converts) continue to call on their God in Christ." I thought this was surely a typographical error, but a re-reading of the chapter which emphasizes that the Ethiopian did not have the New Testament, and got along very well as a Christian by using the Old, convinces me that it is not a typographical error.
That particular preacher actually thinks that we do not really need the instructions, doctrine, teaching of the New Testament in order to be pleasing to God, for we have written on our hearts the command to love God and our fellow man. If we do that to the best of our ability, we will be saved. If we conclude that we need to know or obey the doctrine revealed in the New Testament, then we automatically are bound by a legalistic process of justification by works, and will probably be lost in spite of the grace of God which saves almost everyone else! It should not shock us to realize that this is the logical conclusion for those who start with the assumption that we have freedom in Christ to dispense with any doctrine. When we obey the gospel, that gives us freedom to disregard any thing else that might divide us! May God help us to accept the freedom that is in Christ without assuming it means freedom to reject His authority. Freedom from sin is not freedom to worship or serve as we see fit.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive