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JUDGMENTAL CHRISTIANS: Breaking Fellowship Over Non-Salvation Issues

         About a decade and a half ago there was a Christian conference relatively close by and would take place in just a few days. It featured a man I’d seen on television countless times. I made it a point to be there.

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         His name is Hugh Ross. In 1986 he started a ministry called Reasons To Believe, “Where Science and Faith Converge.” I encourage you to visit this website and look around.

         As a young man he began looking for spiritual truth and, like so many of us with a hunger for God, began searching world religions. When he began his research into Christianity he was immediately struck by what he found in the first chapter of Genesis—it made perfect sense from a scientific point of view. He was amazed by the accuracy. He soon became a Christian. He also eventually became an astrophysicist.

THE CONFERENCE   

         I planned on getting there early with hopes of meeting Mr. Ross. I walked into a relatively mid-sized conference facility about the size of a very large classroom. There were many people milling about as new arrivals wandered in. I took a seat on the front row. At some point Hugh Ross walked in and went up to the front. He gave an informal talk and said we would wait a little longer until everybody arrived, and then sat down a couple of seats from me.

         People who know me very well know I pray about everything, and I pray about everything in the context of God’s will, knowing for a fact that God’s will is always the best. A person can never do better than the will of God. Well, on the way over I had asked the Lord if it would be okay if I could talk to this man. Then when I got there the man sits down two seats over. No one approached him. I didn’t waste any time introducing myself and we began a brief discussion.

         Hugh Ross is not a young earth creationist. For this reason alone many Christians don’t like him. Some see him as a heretic. It does not matter how well he explains everything from both a purely Biblical perspective and from pure science, many Christians judge him right off the bat as soon as they find out he doesn’t believe the Universe was created about 4000BC.

         We had a great talk. I was trying to shed light on the nature of God and how the Bible clearly states that the Lord Jesus is the Creator though so many Christians recoil at that fact. He agreed. We spent most of the conversation, however, discussing young earth versus old earth creationism.

         Hugh Ross is a solid Christian. He believes the Bible is the absolute Word of God. He makes an excellent case both Biblically and scientifically why young earth creationism is lacking. He is a very gracious man but has certainly seen his share of Christian persecution (that is, persecution from Christians). Then he said something very profound. Remember, this is a very brilliant man who loves the Lord Jesus with all his heart. He lives to serve Him. He is low key, humble, relaxed, and the very opposite of professorial.

         We were discussing why so many Christians can’t see eye to eye on the creation issue. I have also faced many fights in this area even though most of the time I really don’t have a dog in that fight. Why can’t the young-earthers, who have traditionally composed the much greater percentage of creationists, find it in their heart to fellowship with those with a different perspective? Why can’t they honor the beliefs of others? Hugh answered my question perfectly:

         “Because they see it as a salvation issue.”

         I was somewhat taken aback and went silent for a few seconds. I was thinking. “Of course. I knew this, or I should have, and I have certainly applied this to other Christian doctrines and beliefs.” But still, in that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It is why so many Christians favor separation over unity. It is why there are approximately four billion Christian denominations. The separatist Christians believe EVERYTHING is a salvation issue.

         Though I always spend much more time in study and research than the average Christian, I am almost always forced to prove everything. This is impossible, of course. When Christians believe they have all the light and truth on an issue, they become not only dogmatic but very judgmental. They close their eyes and ears. Those who do the larger work and pay the greater price know the truth, however. They work very hard to see an issue from as many perspectives as possible. Those who rarely or never do the work usually only believe something because that is what they have been told. They can only see it one way.

         What if a Christian is walking in all the light he has? What if he loves the Lord? Must he also be absolutely perfectly right in every doctrine taught by a particular denomination or pastor or single believer in order to be saved? Are Catholics saved? Are Protestants? Are Pentecostals? In all actuality we have millions of distinct beliefs within Christianity in general and there is no possible way anyone can believe it all. Much of it is contradictory. Much of it comes forth from people who insist they are right and never budge. What is being preached on one side of town is often the very opposite of that which is preached on the other. There is no way both can be right. But both can be wrong.

REAL CHRISTIANITY

         This is why I always make my final and only appeal to authority to the Lord Jesus. It is only His curriculum that is perfect and it must be His entire curriculum that we learn and live by. Not everything in His teachings, however, is a salvation issue. We should never, ever be divided as a result of such. If two Christians believe the Lord Jesus CREATED the universe but differ on how He did it or how long it took, that’s okay. Both of these Christians can still be saved. Besides, we were not there. We don’t know exactly how He did it.

         The Lord came across this problem often and just as often He had to do some rebuking. His greatest rebukes were always for the hard core religionists who refused to see anything other than the way they saw it and would disfellowship a person in a heartbeat for not seeing it their way. What we should be doing is working harder and studying more and praying more and fasting more instead of thinking we’ve cornered the market on truth.

         I found out later that evening that Hugh Ross and I did not believe everything the same way. But it didn’t matter. Wherever we differed on beliefs, they were not salvation issues. I’ll never forget that brief though deep discussion we had. He was humble enough and approachable enough to give me a few minutes of his time right before he was to give a major talk to so many of his ministry’s supporters.

         Please readers, keep up all the great work. Keep doing your study and research. Keep reading the Word. But most of all, knowing we are all at different spiritual places based on our discipleship and knowledge level, let us not make everything a salvation issue and thus a disfellowship issue. The Lord only has ONE community. At the end of the day, the only opinion that matters with regard to who is in it and who isn’t is His. Let us all try to keep the salvation issues among the salvation issues, such as the simple teaching that decides salvation as quoted here:

         For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

         For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

         But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

         AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. [Ephesians 2:8-22] [1] 

         © 2017 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

RECOMMENDED READING FROM MY FRIEND LISA:

You are saved by grace? or works? or faith? or fruit? Can Grace save you?

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Longing for Camaraderie and Missing a Friend

        A good friend went home last month. He was a part of this blog from the beginning and was nothing but a support from the start, almost six years ago.

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         Every follower of the Lord needs someone like Don. He only ever had an encouraging word and a smile, and was willing to consider any truth. He left many messages here, in comments spread throughout my many posts.

         He was a gentle man but strong, and much loved by his family and so many friends. I don’t think it was even possible to not like him. Having already raised a family, he was still working at his profession into his mid-seventies. I met him and his wife at the end of a church service right before I created this site. He was pretty much my only reader in the beginning. I remember I kept plugging away. In my first year I wrote over a hundred posts and was still much invisible, but Don was always there.

        We would get together for Bible studies at his place. He even let me teach on many occasions. We had a good time. After I returned from a few years working on the oil rigs, we continued to meet every week or so, having informal study sessions, which is actually a euphemism for Don allowing me to talk. He was a great listener. He understood, I think, that I had a lot to say and few to say it to, but it’s always been that way. He would add, though, many wise words, even though he was not all that proficient or up to speed on all the voluminous spiritual knowledge we have available to us today.

         The Lord made me a teacher from the beginning with an anointing to search and seek out knowledge and truth, especially of course, His truth. I could never get enough and still can’t. I joke with people that I’m glad eternity is forever because I have so much work to do and so much to learn. Don would always allow me to tell him about all the recent revelations I was receiving from heaven’s downloads. He didn’t understand sometimes but never allowed that to be a cause of rejection. He was a traditionalist, I think, at heart, and had a disciplined west Texas upbringing, one of those kinds of raisings that so many Americans received, in which the number one rule was to serve the Lord in the light they had, in the way they felt was right. The second rule was to survive.

         This is a dynamic that so many have lost touch with. Back then and for so much of the history of America it truly was always a matter of survival. You had the Lord, if you did, and then you had some family and maybe a friend or two. And you had your wits and an understanding that life is very hard and only the strong survive. There was no government, for the most part, back then. There was, but it was so small, and it was distant, and for most Americans it had little effect. They were on their own. There was no nanny state. America was still very far apart and far away and distant horizons were everywhere. Those days have long since passed.

         Americans sprinted out west and then backwashed to the center and America became a place where all the detail started getting filled in and everyone started building out everything that could be. In time it became the equivalent of a person turning inward and then America began experiencing all levels of mental constructs and the problems that ensue when people lose their dreams and their way.

         Yet, it was only eighty years ago when there was still a frontier in places and so much yet to discover. The famed Route 66 began in 1926. People had an insatiable desire to seek out a good life with much energy and joy. Families stayed together. They had to. They needed each other. Their focus wasn’t on themselves.

        Then the whole thing blew up. The devil invaded with an evil agenda and most Americans didn’t know it was him. He would do his usual dividing and destroying and generally just deceiving everyone and bringing temptation and the resultant sin to epidemic proportions. Many American Christians continued to remain loyal to what they had always done, not understanding that the battle had expanded far beyond what it was before and would require much more Lord Jesus and much more of His Holy Spirit.

          The Lord obliged. He knew what we would need. And as always He was way ahead of us. It began about 1960. I have written about the phenomenon here several times. And while the 1960s were blowing up on the political front and on university campuses and in the streets, the Lord was bringing forth new spiritual life on a level never before seen and doing the impossible. Christians from all denominations were experiencing a new spiritual time in this country. Many Christians didn’t see it and most rejected it. But the Lord was proven right.

         My friend Don was on the cusp of all this. He felt more comfortable in his traditional beliefs and approach though he certainly progressed into the future. It had made him what he was. Yet, in my experience, he was one of a kind.

        Our many informal sessions are over now. There will be no more spontaneous Bible studies or talk sessions out on his driveway or in his garage. I think he understood that though I often engaged in much of the verbiage that it was what I needed. I needed someone to listen and gain positive feedback. It was a form of silent counseling on his part, yet he most often was always listening and open. He told me on occasion how much I had done for him and how much he had learned. This was truly real koinonia in action. We both attended to our callings and both received a spiritual benefit that would otherwise never be possible. Here was an older brother listening to a much more informed and knowledgeable younger brother. His hair had long since gone white. Mine was on the way.

         And now he’s gone. This is the fate of us all. Summer always gives way to fall and falling leaves, and an inevitable turn to dark winter skies and gently blowing snow.

        Yet, the winter is going. The annual rebirth is underway. Spring is almost here. Life is being born again yet again. The Lord is trying to tell us something. We must cross the spiritual frontier in the here and now and receive all He has for us and needs us to have, for His sake and the Gospel.

         Life is short and for some it is shorter than others. Though we possess God’s blessings and strength in the here and now and live to serve Him, and though life is often wrought with pain and tragedy, there is something good at the end of this temporary and often heart-rending realm for those who stay in faith.

          That’s where Don is.

         © 2017 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.

FELLOWSHIP

         The following is an excerpt from Real Christianity, The Nature of the Church © 2001 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.

 

FELLOWSHIP

         This word is taken from the Greek word koinonia.[1] It general, it means ministry within community. It denotes the active participation of each member in the body. Koinonia stresses body life, the functioning of each person according to the Lord’s will in a specific manner. This is how a person carries out his or her calling and finds personal fulfillment. By ministering to one another, each member can give and receive. Yet, such giving and receiving is not confined to the intangible, but to the material also. True fellowship is possible only within the body of Christ, which is expressed well in the following passage:

         For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

         For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be?

         But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it.

         But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. [1 Cor. 12:12–27]

         This excellent illustration goes a long way in explaining the comparatively curious lifestyle of the early church and why it appears so foreign to much of modern Christianity. Those people were the real deal. Their community life was not burdensome, however, nor was it strained, but quite the contrary. Because the Spirit of God was present and greatly welcomed, life flowed and brotherly love came naturally. And that was the key—since each member took on the nature of Jesus, care and compassion for one another was almost effortless. The community was quick to react to the needs of others. They lived to serve, to help, to build up, and to strengthen. Maturity was gained by helping others, and each matured by receiving help. The more one delves into the genuine love displayed by our forebears of the distant past, the more one should recognize how infantile and disorganized we are in the present.

         Our principles of organization are largely based on human perception and tradition. Many of our practices are never questioned. We simply continue onward with our faces pressed against the invisible barrier apparently constructed to restrict the invasion of heresy, but which actually forces our ignorance and disobedience. True fellowship recognizes the great worth of each person. It expresses a complete understanding of the fact that Jesus is the Owner and Creator of all things, and yields to His dominion. This is why the first Christians held all things in common. They were selfless. Jesus taught them to be always willing to give to one another and the less fortunate. And contrary to “sensible” thinking, they learned that proper giving would not exhaust their supply, but actually cause it to increase.


[1] Koinonia (koy-nohn-’ee-ah): Fellowship, community, joint participation, association.