Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 1, 1967

Individual Or Collective Action?

Roy L. Cogdill

We have suggested in a previous article that there is a need for some plain principles or guide lines to help us to determine how we may know the difference between faith and opinion. Our individual duty in preserving the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" cannot be fulfilled without such a distinction being correctly made. The rules we have to suggest will not be infallible but we hope they will help some in finding the solution to this problem.

Rule 1), suggested in a previous article, is put in the form of a question - "Has the will of God concerning the matter in question been revealed?" Usually we should be able to state any position essential to Christian fellowship in Bible language. This rule in its proper application will eliminate all matters of personal preference, private opinion, personal conscience, etc., will help us to determine what is in the realm Of "the faith" for which we must "contend earnestly" against all opposition and at any cost.

Rule 2) Is it a matter of individual concern or does it affect the "faith and practice" of the church? This consideration is very essential. In matters of private conviction and personal conscience there is liberty. Paul teaches in Romans, Chapter fourteen, that one is to hold matters of private conviction to himself, before God, that he is responsible to God alone for such. (Rom.14:22-23) But remember that this is the realm where God has not legislated, in other words, the will of God is not revealed about such matters. In this realm belonged the question of whether or not a man should eat meat or herbs. (Rom.14:1-4) The special significance which an individual might attach to some special day also belongs in this realm. (Rom. 14:5-6) But the question of the church observing other days than the Lord's Day was not in the realm of personal liberty. (Gal. 4:10-11) In the realm of personal conviction and conscience, one is to exercise personal liberty with only the restriction that he must not violate his own conscience or by his example lead his brother to sin by encouraging him to violate his conscience. When we make a matter that is purely a personal matter a test of fellowship between ourselves and those who do not agree with us, we sin. (Rom.14: 10-19) In this realm one can afford to make any kind of concession or promise for the sake of peace that does not violate his own conscience.

The question of whether or not a Christian can use force under any circumstance is a question about which brethren have not agreed as far back as memory reaches but while the question of what the Bible teaches has been freely and perhaps fully discussed and unanimity has not been reached the question has not caused a rift in fellowship among Christians. It is a question to be settled within the conscience of the individual and does not demand either unanimity of conviction or practice. Each can and should be left free to decide for himself what the Bible teaches and to act accordingly. But suppose someone teaches on this question what he believes to be the truth and another does not agree with him? That constitutes no problem, if he is willing to let the other have the same privilege that he claims for himself. When brethren disagree in matters of opinion or judgment, they need to love one another enough to be generous with each other. Proper consideration for one another will grant to the other the same right in this realm that I claim for myself. Each should be "fully persuaded in his own mind" and remember that each is responsible to the Lord for his own understanding and conduct in such matters. (Rom. 14:7-12)

The question of whether or not a woman should have an artificial covering on her hear in order to worship God acceptably is another question on which brethren have never been able to agree. The wonderful part of the whole matter is that agreement is not necessary. Let the woman who has such conviction wear a covering and meet the demands of her own conviction and conscience but let her not condemn those who do not have the same "full persuasion of mind" that she does about such matters. Each should be free under proper circumstances and with the proper spirit to teach what they believe the Bible teaches about such matters. When we make such matters a test of fellowship and begin to gather about us only those who agree with us we have a sectarian spirit in our hearts and are wrong even if we are right in our understanding.

This realm of personal liberty would, of course, include a multitude of personal habits and practices about which no one would have the right to make rules for others but would be left free to practice according to his own understanding and conscience and teach whatever he believed the Bible says that is applicable to such matters. Human ordinances that say, "handle not, taste not, touch not", (Col.2:20-23) are of no spiritual value, whether they are made by preachers or elders, in the realm where the individual should be free to act upon his own understanding and according to his own conscience. This writer once talked with or listened in on a conversation between two elders of the church that had decided to disfellowship a preacher who did not agree with them about the use of tobacco and they were freely partaking of black coffee while discussing the sinfulness of the other practice. The thing that would make either wrong would be the harm done to the body physically by such practice and this would be difficult to determine in all cases even though it might be the general rule. Anything, of course, that destroys self control and enslaves one with a habit is detrimental to Christian character. But we so often are not content to teach principles and let it go at dealing with such matters as the Bible deals with them. We want to lay down our own applications and demand that all others conform if they are to enjoy our fellowship.

One of the best friends this writer has believes the Bible teaches that the only acceptable posture in prayer is to kneel. I do not believe this is Bible teaching, but if we can both hold our own consciences in such a matter and both be free under proper circumstances to freely express what we believe the Bible to teach, we can be at peace as we have been for many years.

We commend the fourteenth chapter of Romans to the careful and prayerful study of every Christian in connection with this principle and the solution of this problem. It is easy for us to claim such personal liberty when it is not ours and to seek to justify practices in the worship and work of the church that violates "the faith" once delivered to the saints. But careful study, reverence, for the will of God, and proper love and consideration for others will find the solution.