Distinguishing Between Faith And Opinion
In distinguishing between faith and opinion, as they affect the individual's obligation to unity, one of the math difficulties is the problem of making a proper, clear cut distinction. There must be unity in matters of faith; but in the realm of opinion there must be liberty, generosity, proper consideration and the right attitude toward one another in order for the "unity of the Spirit" to be kept in the "bond of peace". The realm of faith is the realm where there is no choice - "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17) - for God has chosen and man is not at liberty to follow his own pursuits or make his own decisions. He must either decide to obey or disobey. This is the alternative in the realm of faith.
In the realm of opinion God has not spoken, but has left man free in keeping with the principles of righteousness to make his own decision, follow his own choice, and exercise liberty. There are certain restrictions to be observed in this liberty: 1.) One must not violate his own conscience (Rom.14:23; I Cor.8:7). 2.) One must not by his example lead a brother to violate his conscience and thus to sin (Rom. 14:13-16, 19-21, I Cor. 8:7-11, I Cor.10:28-33). 3.) One must extend to others the same liberty which he exercises in such matters (Rom.14:3-6, 10-12). 4.) One must follow after those things, in faith and practice, that make for peace and that will edify (Rom.14: 19).
In seeking some elementary principles by which such decisions may be made we have already suggested that (1) we ask ourselves, "Has God revealed His will in this matter?" We surely recognize that if God has revealed His will, it must be accepted and followed by all, whether it concerns a matter of practice by the church or of personal righteousness in the life of the individual. Christianity is a way of life and attitude of heart that says about all matters concerning which the will of God has been made known, "Thy will be done, not mine." When we violate the faith and practice prescribed by the Lord for His Church, we are guilty of lawlessness and the same thing is true when we refuse to live in our own personal lives in harmony with the will of God in any matter. We compromise with error in the first and with sin in the latter and condemn ourselves in either case for not respecting the will of God.
When one can state his position or conviction in plain Bible language, it is safe to say it is a matter of faith in which there is no personal liberty to teach or practice anything else and no compromise can be made. But when a persuasion or position is taken that necessitates the use of imagination, presumption, human sophistry, etc., then it cannot be sustained by Bible teaching or expressed in Bible language and therefore cannot rightly be held as a matter necessitating common faith and practice, required or bound upon all or made a matter of fidelity to God or fellowship among brethren. We should be able to state in plain Bible language what we believe or teach to be essential matters of faith and practice and that which we can rightly make matters of fellowship. Circumstances do not alter the principles of truth and righteousness which God has revealed to be His will and man's duty. In this realm there is no compromise except with sin and error.
Whether or not God has made a choice, revealed His will or spoken on a particular matter is pertinent and material in whether it is a matter of personal liberty or whether a contrary persuasion or practice may be tolerated and fellowship remain intact. Let us illustrate:
1. The word of God does not teach that "how one may be baptized" is a matter of the "convenience and preference of the candidate" as some human creeds express it. Rather than that, God has made the choice in this matter and He has made it known. Baptism is immersion. The meaning of the original word, the unvaried practice of New Testament days, the circumstances surrounding the action, and the Bible description of the action, all demand this conviction and practice. When any man teaches pouring or sprinkling, he has denied the faith, defied the will of God and exercised a choice where God has not given man the right to make one. To fellowship such teaching or practice is rebellion against the will of God as much as to practice it. We can choose whether to be baptized in a natural or artificial pool, the hour of the day or night, and in a good many other matters, but we have no choice as to how it shall be done, whether by immersion or by some human substitution therefore. We either obey God or we do not obey Him.
2. God does not allow a choice about which day of the week is the day of assembly for the saints in memory of the Christ. The New Testament plainly teaches that the saints assembled on the First Day of the Week, upon which Christ arose from the dead, to commemorate his death by observing the breaking of bread as He ordained. (Matt. 26:26-30, Luke 22:1520, I Cor.11:23-30, Acts 20:7) When a Christian neglects or forsakes this assembly, he commits a willful sin (Heb. 10:25-26), and such cannot be tolerated in a spirit of generosity and God be pleased. We can choose the hour of the day, the place of assembly, etc. , but we either obey God or disobey Him as to the day in which it shall be done.
3. God has made the choice and man does not have one, in the question of what kind of music shall be used in praise to Him in Christian worship. All that the New Testament teaches is "sing". (Matt. 26:30, Rom. 15:8-9, I Cor. 14:15, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, Heb. 2:12, James 5:13) When we add another kind of music we are guilty of transgressing divine authority and doing our own will and not the will of God. Such an attitude cannot be tolerated, for it is sinful, however sincere and honest man may be. We can choose whether bass, tenor, soprano, or alto; but when we choose to use instrumental music to accompany our singing in worship to God, we transgress the commandment of God.
4. God has given the church an organization through which to accomplish the divine mission assigned to it upon the earth. Divine choice has been made in the organization of the church and its government and that choice has been revealed in the scriptures. It is the local church, made up of saints in its own community, with its elders and deacons. (Acts 14:23, Phil. 1:1, Acts 20:17-28, I Pet. 5:1-3) Men have no choice but to respect the will of God by following this pattern or organization and do the work of the church through this organization or like Korah (Numbers 16) rebel against the sovereignty of God. When human societies are substituted for God's organization to do any work of the church the same sin has been committed as when sprinkling is substituted for immersion, instrumental music is added to the worship, or another day of the week is substituted for the Lord's Day. We can choose particular methods, details and in other matters where God has not chosen, but the organization to do the work of the Lord's Church has been chosen by the Lord. We either confine ourselves to it or we rebel against God. Such rebellion cannot be tolerated and fellowshipped.
5. In the realm of personal life and character the same principle is true and must be respected. Concerning the right to put away ones companion by divorce and remarry, the Lord has again made the choice and legislated that "And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (Matt. 19:9) This is not what Moses said but "I say unto you", Jesus said. Either, there is no other scriptural reason for divorce and remarriage or what Jesus said is not true. Tolerance, generosity, popular practice and approval, leading to the endorsement and encouragement of some other situation violating the law of the Lord in this matter is sinful and just as wrong as to have another kind of music or substituting some other practice for baptism. It does not matter what any preacher teaches or approves, the Lord's will must rule if we are to avoid sin and destruction. In the case of fornication a man or wife may choose to forgive the guilty companion and continue to live with them (divorce in no sense was made mandatory), or not to forgive the companion who has been an infidel to the marriage relationship. But when one chooses to divorce a companion and remarry for some other reason than that which the Lord has given, he is guilty of the sin of adultery and will be condemned. Such an one cannot be fellowshipped by the church and the will of God be done. (I Cor. 5)