Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Essays to a Friend - Part One of Three

I. Discourse in the Church

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 Tim. 6:3-8

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Let these principles guide you in your diligent search after the truth of God. Fruit in life is test of doctrine. Every apostle affirms this, but John, a Son of Thunder, hammers it home especially: You think you know God? You say you have faith? Let's see the proof. Love one another.

The church is the body of Christ, and the Christian is obliged to join and support a local church (1 Jn. 1:7, Heb. 10:23-25, 13:1, 7, 17). The choice to join such a body is not to be made lightly, and the choice to leave such a body is weightier still. The old adage "you don't pick family" comes to mind. And, like a family, the church is to hang together, not gang up on siblings, and not pick unnecessary quarrels.

The distinction between invisible and visible church is critical. Our true fellowship is with the brothers and sisters of the invisible church, because we share with them in the unity of Christ and His Holy Spirit. However, since we don't know who they are, our fellowship is with the visible church and we are called to love it without reservation. Officers make distinctions when absolutely necessary, and on substantial evidence. Lay persons in a healthy church do not make such distinctions. God has blessed them with not having that responsibility.

You will perhaps ask: what is a healthy church? Again, the question must be answered at two levels. A truly healthy church is one where everyone holds the mystery of the faith in a clear conscience and sound mind, and practices righteousness to the glory of God. We don't know who does either (except our own hearts, which fall far short so often). Thus, we may judge a church healthy as long as we observe, over a period sufficient to convince us of consistency, that 1) Christ is exalted in preaching of the whole counsel of God, 2) the sacraments are administered in a fashion consonant with the Word of God and 3) scandalous life or publicly displayed scandalous doctrine is not tolerated.

To sum up this tack, individual Christians are often called upon to make judgments of wisdom in the best light of circumstance and with prayer for wisdom and the counsel of the Scripture. It is legitimate, upon consideration, to call a spade a spade, and we aren't wrong to have done so even if later God reveals that He know all along it was a diamond. We can excommunicate people, pray for their salvation and restoration, rejoice to see it happen, and have no tension in this, because the Bible does not admit tension here (Jas. 5:19-20, Jude 20-23, Mat. 18:15-22).

Debates and discussions on doctrine in Christ's church must be framed this way, upholding His love for her corporately, the subsequent demand that we love one another corporately and individually, and noting that we are very rarely called to distinguish between the invisible and visible church. Deliberately disturbing the peace of a church for the sake of intellectual gratification is not permitted, but starting collegial discussions for the sake of fidelity to Scripture is always welcome.

Col. 3:12-17

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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