Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Honoring the Lord when we serve Him

When the apostle Paul met the Lord on the road to Damascus the first question he asked was "Who are you Lord?" The very next question was, "Lord what do you want me to do?" Saul of Tarsus was surrendering himself to the One who transformed his life by His amazing grace! The Lord is looking for that from everyone of us whose lives have been touched by the grace of God! It has often been said that "The Lord is not looking for our ability, only our availability." He will supply the ability and there is no greater honor than to serve the One who loved me and gave Himself for me!

To honor the Lord in how we live and serve Him should be our highest aspiration. An understanding of doctrine and fellowship will help us reach this goal.

Take for instance, the doctrine of separation, especially ecclesiastical separation. This is not a popular doctrine among many, for it sometimes carries the idea of one being belligerent, superior, unloving, or overly negative. I would be the first to admit that there are some people like that, but this does not cancel the teaching from God’s Word. The apostle Peter may have thought Paul, the apostle, could have been more tactful and caring when Paul “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” for leading others astray (Galatians 2:11). My purpose in writing this article is to seek to provide help to those who desire to serve the Lord. We must do so with a balanced view of doctrine and fellowship.

The doctrine of separation appears first in Genesis 1:4, “And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” God Himself was the instigator of separation as He separated the light from the darkness. This separation, light from darkness, follows throughout the entire Bible.

When believers present the gospel to the unsaved, the goal is separation. Acts 26:18 tells us that Paul’s ministry was “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light.” Here again the separation is from darkness to light.

Luke 9:49-50 relates an occurrence in the life of the Lord’s disciples that may serve as an example of ecclesiastical separation during this gospel age. The Word says, “Now John answered and said, Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us. But Jesus said to him, do not forbid him, for he that is not against us, is for us.” Note that the Lord told the disciples not to forbid the man from ministering, but He did not tell His disciples to join the man in his ministry. There are no doubt many who love the Lord and desire to honor Him and His Word. But the Bible clearly teaches that the true New Testament assembly’s fellowship or cooperation in the Lord’s work is based on doctrine. Let’s look at this a bit.

Fellowship is based on doctrine

The Bible says, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). According to this all-important verse, doctrine and fellowship are mutual friends. It is also significant that doctrine precedes fellowship, because doctrine is the basis and the foundation for fellowship!

The word “doctrine” appears in 44 verses in the New Testament. According to Strong’s Greek Concordance, doctrine means “instruction (in function or information), learning, and teaching.” Doctrine is simply Bible truth and Bible truth is doctrine! Doctrine is important! We must know what we believe and why we believe it! The Word of God speaks of several types of doctrine.

There is sound doctrine as we see in these four verses, “for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10). “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but according to their own desires… they will turn their ears away from the truth.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). “Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).

Then there is profitable doctrine. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Next, there is good doctrine. “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1Timothy 4:6).

Therefore, there is sound doctrine, profitable doctrine and good doctrine. In 1Timothy 1:3 Paul says to Timothy, “I urged you to remain in Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” Any other doctrine apart from the “apostles’ doctrine” was not to be taught. That means that what one believes and teaches is important! Doctrine is foundational to fellowship when it comes to either ecclesiastical cooperation or separation.

In the study of Bible doctrine, many believers would list as important doctrines the Doctrine of God, the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Doctrine of Man, the Doctrine of Salvation, the Doctrine of the Church, the Doctrine of the Scriptures, the Doctrine of Angels, and the Doctrine of Satan. Certainly the study of Bible doctrine is a vast subject. However, there is one doctrine that we really don’t like to focus on and that is the doctrine of ecclesiastical separation.

We must keep in the forefront of our minds that the holiness of God is the foundation of all separation, whether personal or ecclesiastical. The Apostle Peter declares in 1 Peter 1:15-16 “but as He who called you is holy, you also should be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7 says, “For God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness.”

Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Hebrews 7:26 says, “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens.” So individually, we are to be holy as He is (1 Peter 1:15-16; Hebrews 7:26). The New Testament assembly, corporately is to be holy too, and separate from sinners or unbelievers, as 2 Corinthians 6:17 admonishes, “Therefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.”

Seeking to live a holy, separated life before the Lord includes obedience to His Word, which is Bible doctrine. Paul tells us in Romans 6:17, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves to sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” Then in Romans 16:17 Paul says “Mark those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” Matthew Henry notes, “If truth be once deserted, then unity and peace will not last long.” Bible doctrine is truth, for the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by your truth: your word is truth.”

The challenge for today

It is God’s holiness and Bible doctrine that establish the individual believers and the local New Testament assembly’s ecclesiastical position, more than anything else, as to who they can fellowship with and with whom they cannot.

In Ephesians 4:15 Paul exhorts, “But speaking the truth in love, (they) may grow up in all things into Him who is the head, even Christ.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 6, and 14 Paul says, “Finally brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you. But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition (instruction) which he received from us. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person, and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.”

Many Christians either do not know the biblical doctrine of ecclesiastical separation or they ignore it altogether, or they simply do not believe it to be a relevant doctrine. We are living in a day such as it was in Judges 2:10, “another generation arose after them, who did not know the works which He had done for Israel.” We should spend time and be reminded “of these things…but not to strive about words to no profit to hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14). So “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14), and be found ignoring the Word of God and only doing that which is right in our own eyes as Judges 17:6 observes.
It is important to notice that it is doctrine which should determine fellowship or cooperation in the gospel. Doctrine should always precede fellowship, as Acts 2:42 declares. There may be some with whom we may not agree doctrinally on every point, but individually we may enjoy fellowship at dinner or over a cup of coffee. However, when it comes to local churches fellowshipping or cooperating in evangelistic campaigns and other ministries, the doctrine of separation negates any such cooperation. Agreement on the doctrines of salvation, eternal security, and on the principles of gathering to the name of the Lord is important as to whether or not we could ever cooperate with denominational churches or Christian organizations. We need to remember the principle that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6 and Galatians 5:9).

For example, how can we fellowship in evangelism with someone who does not believe in the doctrine of eternal security? A person who does not believe this teaching calls into question the power and ability of the blood of Christ to cleanse forever! Does fellowship in evangelism take precedence over this all-important doctrine? Years ago before I realized this truth, I started working in an outreach to the unsaved with a brother in the Lord who did not believe in eternal security. When I began to get more involved he told me that his goal in this outreach work was to “get people saved and to keep them saved!” We ended up having many discussions about eternal security. It wasn’t too long before I realized the truth of Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together unless they be agreed?”

Some would say, “Let’s just go along with what we have in common,” which is good! But even the apostle Jude found out that this can only go so far. He desired to write concerning the “common salvation” but found “it necessary to write to exhort you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). There is a time to teach and enjoy that wonderful doctrine of salvation common to all believers, but there is also a time to “earnestly” – not “viciously” contend for the faith! Contending has to do with separation as well, for in the next verse Jude warns of those who turn “the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We need to be aware of these things. Paul tells us in Acts 20:31 “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” There is a time to warn against men, movements and organizations. We live in the day of the Ecumenical Movement, which asks us to lay aside doctrinal differences. Ecumenical evangelism neglects doctrine and when the new convert is led into a local church, doctrine will no doubt be taught. But will that doctrine be biblical doctrine or denominational doctrine? Paul states in Ephesians 4:14 “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Ecumenical evangelism is such a wind!

Bible doctrine establishes biblical fellowship! Can we say with the Psalmist who said this to the Lord, “I am a companion of all who fear you, and of those who keep your precepts” (Psalm 119:63)? It is a wonderful thing to work together for the Lord, but we need to remember that it must be on the basis of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

There are many people with whom we can enjoy individual Christian fellowship and yet not agree with the other person’s position on many things. Most Christians know what they can discuss in a friendly get-together, and they normally shy away from contentious issues. But when it comes to cooperating with other Christians in the service of the Lord, let us remember that doctrine is the foundation for all true Christian fellowship in the Lord’s work. It is His “Word that is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105), as we walk together with others this side of heaven.