Not long ago a brother in Christ who I have never met, and who doesn’t really know me except through some of my writings, but who has excluded me from his fellowship, stated that I ask “many foolish and unlearned questions” and have “no answers or peace of mind.” Well he can exclude me from his fellowship, but not the fellowship of God’s Dear Son. God determines the parameters of His fellowship and only He determines who is in that fellowship and who is not. This brother confuses fellowship with approval or endorsement of personal interpretations and opinions deduced and inferred from his study of the scriptures.
I admit I ask a lot of questions. Whether they are “foolish and unlearned”, I guess he has decided. That doesn’t deter me. As we grow in knowledge, our awareness of what we don’t know becomes more apparent and raises more questions, causing one to realize his own finiteness and increasing faith, as well as thankfulness for the grace of God. I think I have a lot of right answers, but I haven’t arrived, so to speak, and I’m not going to bully or coerce others to agree with my answers with the threat of “disfellowship”, as we say. As to “peace of mind” that isn’t predicated upon one’s answers or knowledge, but upon one’s faith or trust in God through Jesus Christ. If the former was the case there would be more mental breakdowns in the Churches of Christ than we already have which I am told is a high number.
Anyway, thinking about what this brother said about me got me to wondering. Let me share some of this wondering with you.
Have you noticed or realized from your reading and study of scripture that with the Churches of Christ (and maybe other denominations as well) there is a reversal of the pattern from Jesus’ personal ministry on earth relative to who we attract? Jesus attracted the down-and-out, the guilt-ridden, social outcasts, the unsavory. They saw him as a friend and felt somewhat at ease around him. The only perfect person in history drew the notoriously imperfect to him. On the other hand, the more respectable types were suspicious and wary of Jesus. The legalists thought him to be dangerous, and as one who did not respect the written authority of God. What has happened to cause this change?
One reason is we often manifest an air of respectability and perfectionism that makes the down-and-out, etc, feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. They feel we’re looking down on them and talking behind their backs. We convey a self-righteous spirituality. Do I think that we generally do this knowingly or on purpose? No! Nevertheless we think God loves us more because we are not down-and-out, alcoholics, drug addicts, adulterers, prostitutes, sex addicts, etc.
We can see a reflection of this attitude in our relationships with those we call “brethren-in-error”. We blackball them, castigate them, demean them, “disfellowship” them, shun them, merely because they disagree with us intellectually over non-salvation issues or what the Bible doesn’t say. What do you think goes through the minds of the unsavory like those Jesus attracted when they see us being so legalistic and divisive? We make them feel more hopeless and worse than they do already.
One reason the outcasts were so drawn to Jesus was that because of their condition they found it easier to believe in the love of God. They really knew they needed His grace and love. In our case we are tinged with varying degrees of legalism. We see ourselves as not as unlovable as the unsavory whom God loves. Our need of the grace of God and His love is not felt so deeply and significantly as those who live life profligately. We see ourselves on a higher rung of a ladder reaching to God.
Jesus taught this at the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50) when he taught Simon about the two debtors and contrasted Simon’s welcoming him with the action of the prostitute. Simon was not as conscious of being a sinner as was the woman. In fact, he referred to her as “a sinner”. Simon saw himself as a good man in the sight of God and the woman saw herself in dire need of the love of God. As he finished his contrast Jesus made this interesting statement: “But to whom little is forgiven, the some loves little.” What attitude are we conveying in our sectarianism and all of its ramifications declaring that we are the only faithful, loyal, right, and true Christians or church and all other believers not aligned with us are apostates, digressives, false teachers, unfaithful, on the way to hell?
Continuing my wondering along this same line of thought, Jesus manifested a willingness to work with anybody who manifested faith, even if it was just a tiny glimmer. Did he disown and shun the apostles when their faith flagged or fluctuated? Why are we so quick to “disown” brethren who manifest remarkable faith in their works of service and merely do not agree with us on some issue peripheral to salvation? Why do we drive them off instead of responding to them in a positive way like Jesus did to the father of the demon-possessed boy who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24.
Jesus honored the dignity of people, regardless of their degree of faith, or whether or not he agreed with them. We are superficial, suspicious, and quick to accuse, degrade, “mark” and “avoid” and divide. The person was most important to Jesus. Fellow believers should be more important to us than their positions or our positions on “disputable matters.” We have done some rather undignified things to brethren.
One of the basic misunderstandings of the Jewish people was their belief that the Messiah would physically overthrow the Roman government and establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus had the power to do such, but he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Rather than inciting his followers to rise up and throw off the chains of the Roman government, Jesus invoked a different kind of power in establishing his kingdom – love. He didn’t coerce people, but persuaded them and so directed his followers. Our attitude that we can unite by dividing, and our many divisions, are indicative that we have let the power of sectarianism drive out and smother love.
Enough wondering. No doubt some of my critics will view my wondering as “foolish and unlearned” wondering. Thanks for reading.
J. James Albert