This particular article will be confusing for some as I am addressing a particular group of people with whom I have encounters dating back almost forty years. This group is known as the, so-called, “Grace Movement.” I have often felt over the years that this is somewhat a misnomer in that, in behavior, much of what I have witnessed contradicts grace, and what movement there has been is mostly a great deal of dissention and name calling. This isn’t said to be harsh but to, perhaps, move some to introspection.
While these characteristics put me off in the early years of my association, I at that time was hoping that it was more a stage of growth and that those involved would grow out of it. Now, unquestionably, there has been tremendous growth over the past thirty years in a numerical sense. I know of hundreds of local churches that have been planted throughout the world. There is much excitement as believers come to rejoice in God’s dispensation of grace and realize the manifold benefits that come with our being identified with our savior Jesus Christ. And yet the dissention is as prevalent and raucous as ever.
Intentionally it is my purpose to not call these people by name. I would rather they consider my words and weigh their behavior in light of the same. Even more importantly, I would that they take note of God’s words considering His design in the Body of Christ. For example; (Romans 14:10-13) But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. (KJV)
It is conspicuous that there is much “judging” these days and a great deal of setting “at nought” by the brethren. At times it seems to me that many are more concerned with whom they might separate from rather than whom they may edify. At the same time it is evident to me that some have established themselves as some kind of “grace police” issuing judgments and edicts as if they are the final authority on faith and practice. These types are so impressed with their self-proclaimed authority that they persist in their demands that others should “shun” those whom they have labeled in some way as “heretic”, or some similar classification.
Now, I would be the last person to suggest that there are not occasions when we are to identify dissenters and consciously avoid them. By way of example I quote; (Romans 16:17-18) Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (KJV)
But here’s the rub; the “grace police” view the doctrine mentioned here as an open ended list of which they insist are “essential doctrines.” However, the context of the passage would imply an entirely different context. In the passage Paul is saluting different believers in multiple churches and exhorts believers “to salute one another with an holy kiss.” It is the doctrine of unity and oneness that Paul emphasizes here. Paul is consistent throughout his epistles in this theme. And it should be noted that when the apostle commands separation it is almost always based upon behavior and not doctrine. In fact, in one instance Paul infers that heresies are necessary within the body of believers. (1 Corinthians 11:19) For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. (KJV) My conclusion concerning the Romans 16 edict is that it is related to behavior that violates the doctrine of unity and not to other specific doctrines.
Please note the following scripture.
(Romans 15:1-7) We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. (KJV)
It is obvious from this passage that we have an obligation to endure the shortcomings of others, and like Christ, seek the better for those that are weak and in need of edification. This can be difficult for us as in our flesh we would rather see others brought low or punished for things we perceive as egregious. However, Paul is as clear about our methodology in recovering believers from error as he is about how we are to study the scriptures, and both instructions are contained within the same chapter. (2 Timothy 2:24-26) And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (KJV) When the apostle says that God’s servant “must not strive” is he inferring that we get to choose our opportunities when we think strife is necessary? I think not. Our methodology, in approach to error, is not driven by judgmental attitudes and condemnation. It is all about edification (teaching) in meekness and patience. Qualities I see in few that are the cause of so much division in the Body of Christ.
Much of this is clarified in Paul’s epistle to the Romans when he says the following: (Romans 14:1-5) Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (KJV) Believers with different doctrines were at odds with one another and being judgmental. I am impressed with the apostle’s question, “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? It is a question that I have often asked myself.
The answer I arrive at is that it is usually someone outside the local assembly. It is usually someone connected to some organization that exists outside of a local assembly that is bent on exerting control that overrides the established leadership within the local church. These organizations are schisms within the Body of Christ that are run by individuals, or boards, that are not subject to the authority of a local church. While most of the people involved in these organizations would be shocked at this expressed concept it is clear in their practice that they are assured of their authority in interfering in the life of the local church. Paul said that it is the local church which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” and not some man running his own religious business or a parachurch entity wrapped in some papal-like authority. It is the local church where the believer is nourished, established, and protected.
All of this being said, I will not suggest that I have not been edified by some of these para-church organizations. I have benefited. The problem lies in their attitude and practice. If they would seek to excel in edification and acknowledge that they have no authority whatsoever over the church, things would be in much better balance. There would be far less unrest and division. There would be little, or no, name calling. There would be only edification and wouldn’t that be nice?