If a group of athletes, skilled in their respective sports came together to form a baseball league, would it be possible for them to play the game successfully? Would the official baseball rulebook be sufficient to guide them? Or would it become necessary, when serious disputes arose, for those who were deeply committed to keeping the game “orthodox”, to “reformulate the rules” in their own words?
Is this not, in effect, what has taken place in Christendom? Do we not, have a vast array of “baseball leagues” which have arisen as a direct result of “reformulating the rules”? Some play “baseball” on “golf courses”, others on “hockey rinks” while still others play “baseball” on “cricket pitches”. Some use “hockey sticks”, others use “lacrosse sticks” while still others use “tennis racquets”!
But don’t let anyone deny that we are, in fact, playing “baseball”! That fact is indisputable because we all use bases and we all use balls! (basketballs, footballs, volleyballs, soccer balls, golf balls and ping-pong balls!) Furthermore, we all solemnly acknowledge that “the Official baseball Rulebook” is our only and final authourity. At every game coaches read from the “Rulebook”, but the teams’ unspoken but consistent ambition is, “Forget about the rules, let’s get on with the game!”
Occasionally, some young upstart (who thinks he knows it all) comes to practice more interested in reading the “Rulebook” than he is in “playing the game”! Inevitably such “rebels” dig up some rule that the team has never heard of. (They’re too busy playing the game to be bothered reading the rules!) Whenever such rebels get too vocal and actually start playing by the rule they discovered, they always get kicked off the team.
Do you recall what team Saul of Tarsus used to play with? Or Stephen, that other rebel before him? Both, not only lectured the “national executive” from the “rulebook”, but actually claimed to have met the author! I think it was their emphasis on the author which got them in the greatest trouble. Emphasizing HIM also prevented the start of any new “breakaway baseball leagues” named after the rebels themselves. In the city of Corinth, some were all set to get some “new leagues” organized, (“I’m of Paul”, “I’m of Apollos”, “I’m of Cephas”, “I’m of Christ”.) Paul squashed the whole idea reminding them about the AUTHOR and OWNER and the price that He had paid to buy the “league” in the first place.(I Cor.1:12-17)
There have been many rebels since with a deep desire to “get back to the basics of the book.” (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Whitefield, Darby, Kelly, Nee, Lee etc.) But all too often their followers have been more enamoured with the “rulebook” and the most recently recovered “rule” than they have been with the author himself. Over and again the result has been the formation of a new “baseball league” named after:(1)the rebel himself,(2)the cause he took up or (3)the rule he rediscovered.
Such rebels, because they were “wise enough” to discover a rule in the rulebook were proclaimed (usually unwillingly) as “Presidents” of the new leagues. The major responsibility of a president was interpreting the rule book for all the teams in the league, which were usually too busy playing the game to read the rulebook for themselves.
League presidents came and went. But most took their jobs seriously and wrote volumes of interpretations of the rulebook. So now, while you can still fit the rulebook in your pocket, it takes huge libraries to accommodate the interpretations! It is precisely for this reason that “League Colleges” were founded. These institutions were not for baseball players but rather to instruct “executives” and “coaches” in the interpretations of the rulebook. These are the ones who must understand so they can teach the players how to play the game. (It would be most unreasonable to expect baseball players to be familiar with the baseball rulebook!)
There are even some leagues which note that the rulebook never advocates the establishment of league colleges. So players in these leagues are encouraged to study the rulebook at home along with the commentaries of the executives (which are widely circulated to the teams in the league). This insures that players will interpret the rulebook in a manner consistent with the league’s accepted game plan.
Thus, we find a vast array of “baseball leagues” all professing to be “playing baseball by the rulebook”. Yet, in actual fact, they are all playing by the commentaries written ABOUT the rulebook. The rulebook is interpreted in different ways. The leagues are organized on different schemes and the actual “games” that are played vary from league to league. Is it any wonder that the “spectators” and not a few players are confused?
But, I ask: Is it possible for a group of school boys, who have only a baseball, bat, and a copy of a baseball rulebook, to play a game of baseball entirely “by the book”? Certainly it is. But it will require of them three things: (1) to know what the book says, (2) to do what it says (3) to reject any proposed rule that is not expressly stated in the book.
Is God’s Word alone sufficient to guide believers in Jesus Christ as
they function as members in the body of Christ? Eph.1:22,23) Or did the Lord leave us with a guide book which needed to be refined, explained, and reformulated by men? Is it possible for ordinary Christians,(those who have received Christ by faith, have been justified, and are indwelt by the Spirit of God) from a wide range of religious backgrounds to enjoy and to demonstrate practical Christian unity???
When difficulties, disobedience and discord arise (as they always do) among the people of God, is God’s word alone sufficient to guide our conduct? OR do we need to formulate dogmas, decrees and doctrinal statements, in addition to scripture, to enforce human control over the people of God?
I believe that the word of God alone is absolutely sufficient to equip the people of God to meet whatever challenge confronts us. (II Tim.3:16,17) Further, I believe that only when we submit to the Word of God as the only guide for our lives (personally), and for the church (corporately) will we be able to enjoy and demonstrate true scriptural unity.
I believe it is not only possible but that I am disobedient to clear commands of scripture if I am not seeking to foster such unity!
One may ask, “What does fostering such unity require of me?
(1)To know what the word of God says, by consistent reading and diligent study of scripture (not books about scripture), in order to have a reliable standard by which to evaluate whatever we read or hear. Acts 17:11 illustrates this principle clearly. The Bereans “received the word with all readiness of mind,” (what Paul had to say about scripture),”and searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so.” (They expected scripture to verify or refute Paul’s teaching, not vice versa!)Sadly, very few Christians follow the Bereans’ example.
(2)To practice what scripture says, (not what men teach about it.)
(3)To reject, as unscriptural, any doctrine which is not stated in the pure words of God, not stated in words which the Holy Spirit teaches but which must be stated in words which man’s wisdom teaches which are additional to the Word of God. (See Ps.12:6; Prov.30:5,6 & I Cor.2:13) I have been absolutely amazed, and shaken to realize how many doctrines I embraced and taught to others which I had to reject when I found they failed this simple test. I urge the reader NOT to subject others’ doctrines to this test BEFORE applying it to their own. I’ve been embarrassed many times by reversing this order!
I’m convinced that the proper understanding of scripture is within the ability of any child of God who will diligently apply himself to know scripture, obey it and reject as unscriptural all that is not stated in words of scripture alone. If such a practice is followed, no believer need ever be “bamboozled” again by the complicated reasoning or mental gymnastics of theologians. All that is necessary is to ask one polite question, “Sir, I don’t think I understood all that you just said, but would you kindly show me your conclusions stated clearly in words of scripture?
If the speaker cannot do so, our job is simple: we may reject his
teaching as not being a scriptural doctrine. If he is able to show his conclusion stated in scripture, our assignment has just begun! We must now search the scriptures (as the Bereans of old) to see whether those things are so. We will be able to verify or refute what has been taught by (1)comparing scripture with scripture, (2)by examining texts in view of the whole context and (3)by allowing the Holy Spirit’s usage of words in scripture to define their meaning.
Furthermore, we will be able to explain the reasons for our conclusions in the very words of scripture!
I cannot speak for others, but I know that I have adopted and embraced many unscriptural doctrines and practices, while being fully persuaded they really were scriptural! Every unscriptural doctrine and practice I’ve held has been a hindrance to my relationship with Christ and to my relationships with other believers. I have found that submission to doctrines and regulations of men (the easiest course by far) always restricts fellowship with others who belong to Christ, and prohibits public ministry to many whom the Holy Spirit has placed as members in the body. Conversely, I have also found that obedience and submission to the Word of God (the most difficult course) always increases the circle of mutual fellowship and ministry that is enjoyed in the body of Christ.
The apostle Paul had an “enlarged heart” for the saints. (II Cor.6:11) The bowels (affections) of the Corinthian believers, to whom he wrote, were straitened (restricted). (II Cor.6:12) It is a principle of scripture that those who thrive on divisions and contentions (as the Corinthians did, I Cor.1:10,11) will always suffer from “restricted bowels”! (Is this scriptural proof of the old adage, “You are what you eat.”?!) Paul urged them to have “enlarged hearts” instead of “restricted bowels.” These two conditions seem to be mutually exclusive! May we submit our case to “the Great Physician” to remove the restrictions from our “bowels” and to enlarge our hearts” for the people of God.
Only as we submit ourselves to His radical surgery will we be able to enjoy the reality of the unity of the Spirit.(Eph.4:1-6) This is a divine work which can only be accomplished on divine terms. But whenever God creates, institutes or establishes anything, Satan will always seek to counterfeit and destroy it. Note the following contrasts:
UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
Is established by God on the basis of His highest common denominator for those who have received Christ, the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever.(I Pet.1:23)
Unity of the Spirit requires:
-all to change to conform to the image of Christ and to God’s Word,(Rom.8:29; 12:2)
-none to compromise scriptural truth,
-all to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, (Jude v.3,4)
-all to speak the same thing, the name of Christ (I Cor.1:10) who is the theme of all scripture. (Luke 24:27)
-all to be of one accord and of one mind (the mind of Christ,Phil.2:2,5)who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. Hebrews 1:9
Is established by Satan on the basis of the lowest common denominator for those who have rejected Christ (whatever is acceptable to all) this standard degenerates continually.
Ecumenical unity requires:
-no one to change
-all to compromise scriptural truth
-that no one contends for the faith
-all to speak the same thing (despising and rejecting Christ and the Word of God)
-all to be of one accord and one mind (the fleshly mind) which loves iniquity and hates righteousness.
In conclusion, would you consider the following questions with me?
(1)If believers in two different places are separated from each
other by doctrines and practices which each hold which are not
stated in scripture, what is the remedy?
-Is it for group A to agree with group B?
-Is it for group B to agree with group A? OR
-Is it for BOTH to
-agree with scripture, practice what scripture states, and
-reject the unscriptural doctrines and practices they once held?
(2)If both took the third remedy, what would remain to separate them? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
(3)How many scriptural doctrines would have to be sacrificed or compromised? ABSOLUTELY NONE!
(4)On how many doctrines would they have to “agree to disagree”? ABSOLUTELY NONE!
(5)How many consciences of believers in those places would be violated? ABSOLUTELY NONE!
(6)How many believers who would take such a step would be able to give scriptural reasons for their actions? ABSOLUTELY ALL OF THEM!
If these conclusions are true, (I am convinced they are), what obstacles stand in the way of “the endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? (Eph.4:3) I believe there are many, but three major ones of which I’ve been guilty on many occasions are these:
-“THE FEAR OF MAN bringeth a snare.” Prov.29:25
-THE LOVE OF MAN’S TRADITION SUPERCEDES GOD’S COMMANDMENTS. Mark 7:6-13
-UNWILLINGNESS TO ACKNOWLEDGE ONE’S WRONG PREVENTS OPEN CONFESSION OF THE TRUTH. Mark 11:27-33
What promises does God make to those who are willing to honestly face these obstacles, acknowledge their own weakness and trust in the grace of God to overcome them?
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Prov.1:7
“By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” Prov.16:6
“The fear of the Lord tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall
abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil.” Prov.19:23
“By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honour and
“Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my
footstool:…for all those things hath mine hand made…but to this
man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite
spirit, and trembleth at my word.” Isaiah 66:1,2
“IF ANY MAN WILL DO HIS WILL, HE SHALL KNOW OF THE DOCTRINE,
whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John 7:17
“TO OBEY IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE, AND TO HEARKEN THAN THE FAT OF
RAMS.” I Sam.15:22
May God help us each one to fear the Lord, to tremble at His word, and to be willing to do His will. If we do, will we not be letting the mind of Christ be in us and thus be of one accord and one mind?