Being a male chauvinist according to my wife, I was tempted to change the story to have the wife with the cloudy glasses. Ha! Seriously though, I am well aware that the message of this story can be applicable to me. I have my own perspective based upon my abilities, environment, history, knowledge, etc. as does everybody. I admit this and try to guard against it in my study of the scriptures and related practices. No mortal is 100% objective and knows it all perfectly as it is to be known. We are all growing and learners, or should be. We should recognize this and respect brethren regardless of where they are on the continuum of growth in the faith.
Unfortunately I don’t find this attitude, tolerance, and understanding in many party leaders. They think they have arrived and spend a lot of their energy and time trying to maintain the status quo, which is conformity to their perspective. They don’t want to be challenged or questioned. They refuse to seriously read opposing viewpoints. They have closed minds relative to “disputable matters”. They don’t want their followers to read any challenges or questioning of their viewpoints. Witness how many times you have heard in the last couple of years of brethren being “warned” about reading the likes of brothers Al Maxey and Dallas Burdette. Instead of engaging in fair and open dialogue they castigate and demean and blackball. All those who oppose them are apostates, dangerous, deluded digressives, erring brethren, false teachers, unfaithful, village idiots, etc. etc. You judge for yourself it this is right. Is this letting “each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3)?
Legalistic party leaders condition right standing with God upon their alleged correct knowledge or understanding of “disputable matters”. They place conformity to their opinions in these matters on a higher plane than brotherly relationships. They will “destroy” a brother who does not conform to their views. They refuse to “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” relative to the party creed. Brethren, we need to clean our glasses and realize that right standing with God is not of our own ability, doing, or knowledge. (I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be obedient.) We are in right standing with God because of His grace and mercy manifested in His Son. “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
Relative to what I just wrote is our sectarian use of the expression “in the faith”. This expression is bandied about and somewhat whimsically applied by the non-sectarian sectarians in the Churches of Christ. It is made to mean that being “in the faith” is agreement with the hermeneutic and interpretations and methods that identify the sect, especially those relative to what is called “the worship” and its five acts. If you don’t agree that one- cup only is to be used in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper you are not “in the faith”. If you think instrumental music is acceptable with God you are not “in the faith”. If you believe in a “unity of diversity” you are not “in the faith”.
In the first place this usage of the term and concomitant practices smacks of creedism. It is taking human understanding, inferences and deductions drawn from the scriptures written to believers, and placing them on a level with the gospel and the inspired word of God. It’s really adding to both. Those who agree and align are welcomed into the fellowship and those who do not conform are blackballed, excluded, or withdrawn from. Yet there is not scriptural authority for withdrawal of fellowship on the grounds of ceremonies, forms, mechanics, methods, procedures, rituals, traditions, per se. It is not indicative of an eagerness to maintain unity and forbearance, but of a desire to have one’s own way.
It’s a failure to distinguish between “the faith” and “matters of faith”. “The faith” has reference to the gospel, believing and trusting in Jesus Christ. Either you do or you don’t. “Matters of faith” are not conditions of salvation. They are not criteria for fellowship. “The faith” is. Sectarians make “matters of faith” their “the faith”, or at least a part of it. A believer who merely disagrees relative to “matters of faith” does not deny “the faith”, nor does that make him guilty of being an apostate, deserving of being called a digressive, erring brother, false teacher, unfaithful, or one who does not respect the authority of the written word.
Third, when you resort to creeds, whether written or unwritten, and their concomitant practices, you tend to minimize grace and turn to legalism and salvation by works. “In the faith” is made to mean that salvation is not a “gift of God”, but an accomplishment of own selves. Salvation is twisted to substantiate our creedal position.
Am I saying that we should not be concerned about our interpretations of God’s written word? No! In the final analysis my fellow believers, we are all erring brethren. Some of us may even be tares, but the angels of the “Son of Man” will “gather out” all “those who practice lawlessness” at “the time of harvest”. In the meantime let’s quit our harvesting in his behalf for I fear we are rejecting much “wheat”.
J. James Albert