Thoughts on Unity, Diversity, and Holiness

unity.gifI have to admit–I struggle with all the issues everybody else seems to within fundamentalism: 

What attire is acceptable for believers?  Is it hypocritical if I dress up on Sunday morning but not on Sunday night?  Will my wife be a stumblingblock to other believers if she wears pants in public?

What music can I listen to?  When does too much syncopation become too much?  Should I choose that choir anthem with a CCM author?

Which films can I watch?  Should I even rent DVDs from a video store?  What about cable/satellite TV?

It's summertime and my family wants to go swimming.  Is public swimming a sinful activity?  Should I make my girls "cover up" more when swimming?

I enjoy cooking.  Love it.  Several of my favorite recipes include cooking with wine.  How can I, as a Christian, go into a liquor store and purchase alcohol?  How will my testimony be affected by the Christian brother who sees me at the checkout line with a bottle of wine?  We have an addiction recovery ministry in our church.  How can my liberty coexist with my ministry?

As many of you know, I am a contributor to http://www.sharperiron.org/, the finest blog on the Internet.  I also love interacting with fellow brothers and sisters from around the world.  One thing has always troubled me, however.  It seems as though we never tire about debating these issues.  Never tire.  I have always wondered why these issues hold so much passion and militancy in our fundamentalist circles when the Bible says so little (if anything) about all of them.  It seems as though the truly great topics worthy of discussion such as evangelism, missions, discipleship, doctrinal purity, biblical worship, Christian suffering, walking in the Spirit, and the like don't command such passion and devotion.  Now it seems to me that this must be because of one of two reasons: (1) we all agree on those topics and have little to discuss or (2) we don't really care about those topics.

Well, I want to take a stab at this and see what you think.  I'm not working entirely from Scripture here, so much of this is just opinion.  Here's my premise: I think fundamentalist believers are consumed with these issues because they believe that the issues are fundamentally connected to holiness.  In other words, for some, wearing pants is not optional–it's morally wrong.  For some, using a CCM song, whether in the automobile or auditorium, is morally wrong, not just a different musical style.

The Bible, of course, does not address these issues specifically.  They are cultural issues.  The biblical principles we work from in these areas would include modesty, association, liberty, deference, and the like.  So how do the personal applications we make in these areas become attached in our minds to holiness?

Well, first, of course, there may be a preacher who has connected the dots for believers.  When a preacher gets up in the pulpit and says "Deuteronomy 22:5 says a man and a woman should wear distinctive clothing." and then goes on to say "Pants are for men and not women." he has in effect made personal application and preached it as universally binding.  He has attached holiness to application.  If you are such a pastor, beware.  We will answer for our teaching.  We have no business preaching what is not revelation.  In fact, a false prophet was defined in exactly that way, speaking for God where God had not spoken.  Beware!

There is a proper sense in which personal application will become attached to holiness.  According to Romans 14:23, when an activity cannot be done in faith, it must not be done at all or it will be sin.  "When in doubt, don't!" is a motto I have heard throughout my life.  There is wisdom in that quote.  But what happens in the church when individual believers have different conclusions on issues and will practice them differently?  How can both be right?  How can both exist in harmony?  This is the subject of Romans 14-15.

The key to having a harmonious church where diversity in areas of opinion flourishes is simply this: realize that while you may be personally limited in certain activities, not all other Christians are similarly bound.  God accepts both the "weak" and the "strong" in these issues according to Romans 14:3.  There must, of course, be love between brothers.  "Strong" brothers (those who have liberty in an area of opinion) must be willing to rescind their liberty when necessary to prevent a "weak brother" (those who are bound in conscience in an area of opinion) from sinning.  The "weak" brother, on the other hand, must not judge (separate) from the "strong" brother in these areas.  Does this eliminate all tension with regard to these issues?  No, but it should resolve that tension as quickly as possible.

Of course, one of the main reasons we fight so frequently and passionately over issues is because we do not believe them to be areas of opinion, but rather truth vs. error.  If you are such an individual, be prepared to demonstrate that your "truth" comes from the Truth; otherwise, you are simply a modern-day Pharisee, my friend.

The discussions will continue, I'm sure.  That's not a bad thing, as long as we are wrestling with the Bible and not with each other.  There are areas where I have been "weak" and now am "strong."  There are also areas in which I am still "weak."  Don't discourage me by trumpeting your liberty.  Don't allow me to judge you and sow discord over such an area.

The bottom line: personal application is not universal application.  Personal holiness does not always look the same as corporate holiness.  Unity is what God calls His church toward.  If we should fight for anything, brothers, let's fight for unity.  It's that important.  Is holiness more important?  No, unity and holiness are now and always will be compatible.  Without unity, we are not holy.  Without holiness, we will never find unity.  Both are necessary.  One does not exclude or limit the other. Meat is just meat, but a brother is a brother.

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One response to this post.

  1. Brian,

    Excellent article! Your article highlights the exact same point I just made on my blog when I linked to an article by Ryan DeBarr on this same issue. Personal applications are important, but fundamentalism has often seen many pastors preaching personal applications as universally binding Bible truth.

    A quote from that article by Ryan is applicable here:

    “It is fine to stay away from things that might ensnare you, and it’s good to look out for the welfare of others. But those are personal applications, which like the use of birth control, vary according to circumstance. It is not okay to set “strong policies” like any good sports team or corporation has. The pastor is not the CEO, and the congregation is not the Board of Directors. The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and it is He who decides what is and isn’t okay….”

    Thanks again for your thoughts, and I agree, unity and holiness are both equally important.

    God bless,

    Bob Hayton

    Reply

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