Tertiary Issues: Eschatology and Christian Freedom
|This is a fair scale on how to prioritize teachings.|
Finding common ground on an issue or even a set of issues can be difficult. The modern churches in America, and even other places in the world unite and divide sometimes over issues that aren't a Biblical standard, but a human preference. I personally hold to the major doctrines of Christianity while realizing I don't know everything, and am always willing to learn and adjust as insight from the sacred writ and the Holy Spirit allow. Just like all believers, I look to the written word as my highest authority concerning the teachings of the Church and God. I hold to Creeds in Scripture such as:
"And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?" And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Acts 8:36-37
"who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:6-11
I also hold to the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and most of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. However, that being said, I differ with the Brethren on a few issues. So when I was looking for a church, I had to find one who either totally agreed with my views (which is impossible), or find one that was open and at least tolerated my views. Most of the Baptist Churches where I live believe in the "core" doctrines of the faith, but they have added a few that go against Christian Liberty and loving toleration. A great article to read (after this one of course!) is Justin Taylor's blog post: "Levels of Doctrine." It is short and sweet, but reinforces the idea I am promoting here.
Historically, the oldest doctrines on the "end" are what we now call Historic Premillennialism, and Amillennialism. Since the early church a few other views have popped up such as Postmillennialism (which is still pretty old), Dispensationalism (new), and Pantelism (Full-Preterism is new). I personally hold to Amillennialism, but the most popular doctrine on Eschatology is Dispensationalism, which was first made famous by John Nelson Darby, and more recently Tim Lahaye, John Hagee, and a few others. Some of these views can go too far in my opinion against the grain of orthodoxy, but I go to a church with folks who hold to all of these views because this issue is difficult to pin down and there many times are more questions than answers at the end of the day. After all, Jesus did say that we don't know the day or the hour. In the town I live in though, if you aren't a Dispensationalist, then you either aren't a Christian, or will not be given consideration at all for leadership or teaching. This is wrong on many levels, and I therefore cannot abide in a fellowship so rigid in this area. This is especially true since Dispensationalism is a recent invention considering the age of the Church (historical fact) that is wrought with a plethora of hermeneutical errors (my opinion). You see, I've laid out my opinion and certainly feel strong about it. That being said, I have no problem fellowshipping with a Dispensationalist brother as long as he can tolerate my complaint. I will tolerate his as well. Who knows! Maybe God will prove us both wrong!
Paul did say:
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?"31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved." 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 ESV
It is true that we need to be considerate of our brethren, but that consideration should go both ways. Paul also said:
"16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." Colossians 2:16-23 ESV
We should temper our preferences with these verses above. Some prefer to celebrate holidays in certain ways, some choose to limit celebration for various reasons. There are people who try to eat according to the Jewish prescribed dietary laws, some don't. Some abstain from alcohol like John the Baptist, and some partake of an alcoholic beverage with their meal or at a family get-together like Jesus and his disciples. Some folks only love Southern Gospel music, some only like rap music, some like contemporary worship songs, some like to listen to secular music once in a while, and there are some like me who like it all! Now I don't listen to things that would degrade our Lord and His ways, so I am not advocating indiscretion. However, some think that if you don't only prescribe to their preferred style of music, then you are worldly. I would be careful there lest you find yourself in the position of the publican in Luke 18:9-14. There should be room to wiggle on many issues! I also think based on the scriptures given above that if you have a brother who is weak, and maybe something you are considering that isn't evil in itself could be a stumbling-block for him, then you should at least abstain when you are around that brother. I know men who struggled with alcoholism before conversion, I would never intentionally drink a beer around them (which isn't a sin) for the simple fact that I wouldn't want to tempt him to sin. Some people struggle with self-control in some areas like that. I have my own set of things I avoid due to weakness, but I would never foist my preference onto a brother who didn't struggle in that area. I know a brother who won't get on Facebook and has severely limited his presence on the Internet for the simple fact that he used to struggle with Internet Pornography. I would never encourage him to get on-line until he knew that he could control himself. There are many other areas here that I could mention, but these are the general principles that Paul was trying to share. Freedom with Love.
I'm not advocating grace without law. Some might try to foist that opinion on me here. However, I am recommending that we understand that we are limited in our knowledge and should only operate within the clear confines of the Sacred Text, not our preferential leanings. Jesus scolded the Pharisees and Sadducees mainly because they added to the laws of God so that they could make their system of religion attainable for themselves. When Jesus laid out the truth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), He wasn't giving out anything new, He was just setting the record straight because the religious leaders minored on the majors and majored on the minors. I also am not saying that the issues of Eschatology and Christian Freedom aren't important. What I am saying is that nobody should put restraints upon these issues that are unreasonable and un-biblical. The reason eschatology is in this category is because even in the early church there were differences on this and the Early Fathers didn't damage unity because of it. They held to the more important things (Matthew 23:23), and didn't divide over Eschatology or Christian Freedom. Diversity in Unity is a beautiful thing on more levels than one.