Ask Norm!

By Norman S. Edwards

From SVM – Winter 2013-1

February 12, 2013

Dear  Norm,

I read with interest your paper on a [a new church group’s] Doctrinal Position? It was excellent.

I wanted to get a copy of the April 7, 1997 [new group’s publication]. I was very much interested by the statements of [a new group minister], “Not everyone is aware that our fundamental beliefs came directly from the fundamentals of belief drafted by [the parent church group’s leader]. We took our fundamental beliefs directly from those approved by [the parent group’s leader] for a very specific reason”.

If I understand correctly, many of the teachings of the [new church group] are really old teachings of [the parent group’s leader].  Am I correct?

If possible, can you email mail these statements from [the new group’s minister]? I have had those tell me that our teachings are not from [the parent group’s minister], of course I knew better. That’s one reason they broke off from the [the parent group] after [its leader’s] death.

Can you help me with my request? Thanks,

James

James

Dear James,

Yes, I can help you but maybe not in the way that you were hoping. I have studied and tried to live by the scriptures for quite a while since I wrote that paper. I am going to explain why I don’t believe you need to know what was said in that old publication.

Jesus Christ is the active, living head of His body, the Church (Ephesians 4:15; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is quite able to teach all believers wherever they are through the power of His Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 John 2:27). A church group should not be concerned about which human teacher its teachings came through.

“For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?” (1 Corinthians 3:4-5).

“Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1: 12-13).

Do not feel bad about asking these questions, they have been asked thousands of times by people in a great variety of church groups that have had doctrinal differences, splits, mergers, etc. Realize that most of the letters of the New Testament contain correction for congregations and individuals, but in only a few places are people declared unbelievers for their errors. Even the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 point out serious errors in most of them while still calling them His churches. The message is never to leave the church in error, but for individuals to repent:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place— unless you repent…. He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:5-7).

Christ’s message to most of the churches is similar: There are general problems in the church and individuals are to repent of the problems and overcome them to receive a reward. There is never a message to leave a troubled church to go to a better one. We can stay in a troubled congregation to help make it better. Indeed, Christ was frequently challenged for associating with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. The apostle Paul clearly stated that a spiritual believer is one who can help someone overtaken in a fault without being tempted, not one who avoids everyone with faults:

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

To specifically answer your question, we do not need to know the path of human leaders whereby doctrines entered an organization or even worry about which human leaders are teaching them now. We need to study the Scriptures, listen to what human teachers say and pray for our Father to teach us what is true. We can remain in a congregation even though it may teach some errors. Sometimes we can stay there and influence them for the good; other times it is clear that we cannot fellowship with them and we must look for a new congregation or begin one ourselves.

It is much easier to point out error in others, than it is to do what is right in spite of opposition—but that is what the Christian life is about. May our Father bless and strengthen you in your present situation.

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