6. My First Rebuttal
7. My Second Rebuttal
8. My Third Rebuttal
9. My Fourth Rebuttal
10. My Fifth Rebuttal
11. My Sixth Rebuttal
Although I know that, I want to spend some time addressing a topic that I mentioned in Lamentations, the idea: a creedal fellowship. Discussing this topic is like touching a raw nerve. So, I don’t engage in this topic with anger, or vitriol, or intent for offending, but I do engage in this topic because True Truth matters.
There will be some who will defend the opposite position. I understand that need. However, I simply want what I was taught that my heritage, initiated by Stone and Campbell, wanted: to be free from human creeds, and creedal fellowship. I invite my readers to consider my thoughts on this very difficult issue.
A Non-Creedal Creedal Fellowship?
Without doubt, my religious experience is a creedal fellowship. I identify one example: the conversion creed.
With the conversion creed, one’s reception of the good news, conversion, impartation of salvation, and final reception of salvation are enumerated in a system of five, perhaps six, steps. Bible Verses are given supporting each step, and this information is compellingly provided from bulletin to bulletin, class to class, pulpit to pulpit, and website to website. These steps are taught as doctrine – doctrine, not of man, but God; where men compellingly use Book Chapter and Verse testifying why true.
For full disclosure, I cannot and will not deny that these concepts are found in Scripture, and I believe these concepts are true. However, Verses and concepts removed from their context have limited meaning.
Teaching Bible concepts from Bible Verses is certainly valid. And, learning Bible concepts from Bible Verses is certainly valuable. And incorporating Bible concepts from Bible Verses into the lives of the disciples and church is the goal of every minister, church leader, and Bible teacher.
Well-intentioned men in previous generations brought the church a studied conclusion, an opinion, resulting in five or six steps for the conversion process. If this process were presented as opinion, it would not be a creed.
But the presentation went beyond opinion to being doctrinally bound, and is compellingly taught as the only manner in which God affects the soul for conversion from non-believer to believer. This conversion creed is no more than human opinion about how God interacts through His written word on the human heart.
Thus, applying Christian peer-pressure to fellow disciples, compelling them to believe and accept the conversion creed is compelling them to accept human opinion of how God operates. It seems unnecessary to state that this practice should be unacceptable in a non-creedal (non-denominational) fellowship.
Creedal Fellowships Divide
Although excellent men studied the Scriptures and derived an opinion about the nature of God and how he interacts through His written word on the human heart, those excellent men are still men, having their opinions. Opinions, no matter how Biblically justifiable, cannot be used to test another disciple’s fellowship.
Consider these words from Barton Stone when he answered the question: How shall all Christians be united?
I want to clarify Stone’s use of the word excommunication; because that word is not used in my heritage, the word used is disfellowship.
In essence and to their credit, my heritage tries to remain judgment free on the soul’s eternal resting place if one is disfellowshipped. However, being disfellowshipped and/or labeled a false teacher is practiced to identify those who do not comport with orthodoxy. Whether one uses the word excommunication or disfellowship, pain is imposed. Disfellowshipment is practiced in order to compel the one disfellowshipped to come to their senses, compelling them to the thinking of orthodoxy.
Disciples must consider how important it is that humans read and interpret the Bible, and then derive opinions about how God operates. Thus, applying pulpit and/or pew pressure upon fellow disciples compelling them to believe, accept, and toe-the-line regarding this human Biblical opinion about the method of conversion is unacceptable in a non-creedal (non-denominational) fellowship.
I want to express my benefit of the doubt and give credit to original intent. In the early days of the Restoration Movement, I think intentions were to answer questions, not to develop a creedal fellowship. But somewhere along the way, and I am not sure when, intentions went from trying to answer questions, to promoting those answers as the only answers. When that happened, a creedal fellowship emerged. I can hear the rebuffing now.
“But Ray. Without Bible verses what do you have?”
“But Ray. Emphasizing verses is good.”
“But Ray. Salvation is not of private opinion, but doctrine.”
“But Ray. The Bible is God’s Word and righteousness cannot be misinterpreted.”
“But Ray. The Bible tells us not to be unequally yoked.”
“But Ray. But Ray!”
My First Rebuttal
Addressing: Without Bible verses what do you have?
Through the years, as I have researched Bible transmission, many things have come to my attention. So, I feel constrained to limit my discussion of things learned. The greatest textual item I learned was that Capitalization and Punctuation were significantly different to non-existent in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.
However, the one thing I want to impart: we must recognize that Chapter and Verse markings are not, and were not part of the original scrolls and manuscripts. These common Bible identifiers have been inserted into the Biblical text as time as moved forward.
As for the New Testament Verses, several steps were needed for Verses to be found in the text. The Greek NT text received Verses before the English. This textual adaptation was accomplished as early as the late 1400s, and the English New Testament received Verse markings during the 1500s. The first English Bible to incorporate both Chapter and Verse markings was the Geneva Bible printed around 1560. Interestingly, the Geneva Bible is considered THE Bible of the Protestant Reformation.
An example of Chapter divisions that are not helpful is found in Romans. Romans 2.1 in English, begins with the word therefore. The word therefore does not begin a thought, therefore offers a conclusion. This ill-designed Chapter marking forces the reader to backup into Chapter One in order to understand Paul. Thus this division seems arbitrary, instead of well reasoned.
From the same chapter of Romans, using the King James Version, consider Verse Four. It begins with the word or. The word or is for comparison, not an introduction of a new thought. The Bible reader is forced to backup into the Third Verse to understand what Paul is saying. Again this type of division seems arbitrary, instead of well reasoned.
So from a very brief review of what is now called Romans Chapter Two, I have identified the weakness of the Chapter Verse system. If I can give one example of each, I am sure my audience can find their own examples of these types of Chapter Verse weaknesses.
From his editorial insert into the Preface of his fourth edition of The Sacred Writings, it appears that the first three editions of The Sacred Writings omitted the Chapter Verse divisions in their entirety. Thus, it appears that the Fourth Edition was a compromise, providing the reader with some visual identifier of where they were in the NT. Interestingly, in that same paragraph Campbell refers to an early 1800’s printing of the King James Bible being printed in Boston with the absence of Chapter Verse markings.
So recognized is Campbell’s NT, that in the open-source encyclopedia, Wikipedia, someone included The Sacred Writings as one of the Bible’s printed without Chapter and Verse identifiers. As of May 13, 2013, this is how the final paragraph of Wikipedia’s section about “Chapters” reads:
According to that paragraph from Wikipedia, Campbell was the first NT publication to remove Chapters and Verses. Notice the dates, Campbell was eighty years ahead of his time. It is events and landmarks like this that encourage me to appreciate my religious heritage.
I want my readers to understand that prior to the Geneva Bible (1560), upon which the 1611 King James Version is partially based, Bible Chapters and Verses were not a part of the printed Bible. Chapters appeared in the 1200s and Verses about three centuries later. Secondly, Campbell, in developing and issuing The Sacred Writings, was simply returning to earlier Bible standards. In essence, he performed a type of Restoration to the Scriptures.
I would have liked to have seen that historical moment, and still long to see that truth come to pass. However, much advancement has been made in Biblical understanding since the early 1800s when Campbell issued forth The Sacred Writings. And much of that advancement seems to link back to Campbell’s willingness to challenge the creedal establishment.
With Campbell, I must stand unswervingly: Chapter and Verse markers are of no real use in understanding the Scriptures. In essence, a Bible without Chapters and Verses is a Bible still. But more importantly, a Bible without Chapters and Verses is restoring the Text of God’s Word.
When Chapters and, in particular, Verses are stripped of their context(s), they become nothing more that proverbial non-conditional pithy statements. Chapters and Verses are not disconnected non-conditional pithy statements. Campbell recognized this truth.
Thus, when humanity makes Verses independent, the Verses get detached from their conditional meanings, and “feel” non-conditional. Making Verses artificially independent, and then conjoining those artificial Verses with other detached non-conditional proverbial statements gives poor Biblical understanding.
At best, these Chapter Verse markings are more arbitrary than well reasoned upon literary context. Additionally, these markings find themselves misused and abused. Misuse comes when well-intentioned disciples use these Chapter and Verse markings and inadvertently establish creedal systems. Worse comes when disciples use these Chapter and Verse markings to justify creedal structures.
My Second Rebuttal
While emphasizing scriptural concepts is laudable and certainly Biblical, emphasizing passages while ignoring other passages, or focusing on favorite doctrinal passages to the negating of other doctrinal passages is, at best, bad taste, and at worst, manipulative. Doing such is akin to only speaking of a star athlete’s great skills and not focusing on his personal conduct whether good or not-so-good. God seems to have proven himself author of the Scriptures by simply applying this truth. King David is described for what he is: a blemished king. The doctrine about David is both faithful and heroic yet devastatingly unconscionable.
It is simply ill practiced for the disciple to practice one thing and negate the authority or privilege God gives to another. From what I experienced, my heritage is not really known for lifting “holy hands in prayer” (1 Timothy 2.8). However, other disciples practice this teaching from Paul. Biblically, there is absolutely nothing wrong with lifting hands. I could, but choose not to, argue that just because another disciple practices a Bible doctrine incorrectly or incompletely does not prohibit me from correctly practicing that doctrine.
Drawing lines of distinction and fellowship because other believers lift their hands is creedal.
My Third Rebuttal
Salvation is a private issue between God, each human, and the arbiter – the mediator Jesus the Christ. From Jesus and his teachings about how to love God (Mark 12.29-30), we can know that there are four parts within each person: heart, soul, mind and strength. Thus, it should behoove the disciple to grasp the concept that God can reach an individual through their heart, through their soul, through their mind, through their strength, or through any combination of the four. The Christian should simply accept that the most mature disciple loves God with each and every one of these aspects. Thus, one can be a follower of the Good News and not be fully convinced in their mind of all that is Biblically sound; this is supported by Mark 16.16.
Mark 16.16 ESV states: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” This Verse addresses belief and baptism for salvation. It addresses non-belief for condemnation. But, and this is a strong but, this Verse is completely silent about a person who believes and is not baptized. Thus, we can only speculate about salvation. One could argue that salvation is not assured, but one cannot argue that a believer who is not baptized is lost to eternity. The concept is simple: one cannot draw a hard conclusion from a statement unspoken.
The simple point is: a believer can die without being baptized; thus making it possible, but not assured, that they will receive salvation. Why? Through immersion one receives cleanness of conscience (Hebrews 9.14) by touching the water of baptism we are baptized into Jesus’ death (Romans 6.3-4); and saved (1 Peter 3.21). But, God’s word does not address eternal salvation for those who believe in Him, believe in Jesus, but are not baptized.
According to Acts 19.1-5 it is distinctly possible for believers in Jesus to not be baptized into the name of Jesus. It is sound reasoning to say that believers in Jesus as Messiah should want to be baptized, and should be baptized at the earliest moment. However, to present baptismal arguments implying or stating that the lack of immediate baptism results in condemnation is not Biblically sound.
If such were true, then Paul would have had a grieving conscious about himself not baptizing. But such is not the case, Paul said, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 1.16-17)
How many heard Paul, believed his preaching, but were baptized after his preaching? No one knows.
How many heard Paul, believed his preaching, but were baptized at the “eleventh hour”? No one knows.
How many heard Paul, believed his preaching, but were not baptized? No one knows.
No one has the mind of God in order to determine eternal resting place, irrespective of one’s knowledge of God’s word.
Drawing lines of distinction and fellowship because other believers have not yet been baptized is creedal.
My Fourth Rebuttal
Humanity creates human invented doctrine: when doctrine is based upon a human’s limited understanding of what God said, and then used to adamantly determine who is and who is not practicing righteousness. Such is bold. To negate the force of such human derived doctrine, I have heard, “It is not I that said it, but God.” or “The argument is not with me, but with God.” This type of statement allows the one giving the statement to simply keep saying any Bible-based statement without ever fact-checking themselves. Such must grieve the Holy Spirit.
In Exodus 33.19, God said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” So profound is this concept, Paul repeated it, God said “to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.'” (Romans 9.15) As disciples, we should study the Scriptures and we should understand the Scriptures; but to pass judgment on other followers of Jesus because of the manner in which they interpret God’s word, simply seems to violate the intention of Romans Fourteen.
To draw lines of fellowship because one wants to worship on a day different than Sunday, simply violates Romans 14.5 “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” No matter the reasoning for Sunday only, this Verse (believed by many as given through Holy Spirit inspiration) provides the ability for another believer to worship on Saturday. Thus, one believer can worship on Saturday, the other can worship on Sunday. How is drawing lines of fellowship about the day of worship not passing judgment on the servant of another (Romans 14.3)?
Drawing lines of distinction and fellowship because other believers worship on a different day is creedal.
My Fifth Rebuttal
In the early days of the Restoration Movement, Alexander Campbell knowingly associated with two distinct groups. It seems well known that Campbell spent time with the Baptists. But, what seems less known is that Campbell actively associated with brethren from the Church of Scotland, it is this on group that I will spend some time.
Together, they gave a very non-denominational challenge to the then popular King James Bible of the 1800s. This was done almost eighty years prior to the American Standard Bible of 1901. Campbell’s association with those men from the Church of Scotland used the word immersion instead of baptism (e.g. Ephesians 4.5) and used the word congregation instead of church (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1.2). These words are still used within my heritage, and can be found among other modern-day Christians. It seems that Campbell, with his non-creedal fellowship, helped usher in either new or refreshed vocabulary for Christendom.
Though, Campbell was severely criticized for his efforts, he partially defended his work this way:
One side had to have control. When this happened we went from non-creedal to creedal. Where was Romans Fourteen? Thus was born the idea of the distinctiveness of the church of Christ. From then emphasis was given to the importance of doctrine, and the doctrinal creeds: a creed for conversion and a creed for worship. I know with certainty that my religious experience is a creedal fellowship when I hear and/or read brethren state “we can fellowship, when they give up their musical instruments.”
I have heard the arguments for and against the conversion creed. I have heard the arguments for and against the worship practice creed. But I am telling my audience that dividing over interpretation of permissions found within God’s word violates the very essence of Romans Fourteen.
For a consideration of practical religious purposes, let us look at the Apostle Paul. Paul knew what he was talking about in Romans Fourteen. Paul was a Pharisee (Philippians 3.5). By Paul’s own admission, the Pharisees were the strictest group of the Jews (Acts 26.5). Thus they often interpreted God’s word more strictly than other Jews. This means prior to conversion to Christ, Gamaliel trained Paul to think and interpret God’s Word as a Pharisee (Acts 22.3), and Paul naturally followed these Pharisaic thought processes.
However upon discipleship, Paul was still fully aware of his Pharisaic training, and his strict interpretive teachings felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to recognize that other disciples following Jesus had to make up their own minds in serving God through Christ. Some would interpret the Scriptures as permitting an action/behavior. Others would interpret the Scriptures as prohibiting an action/behavior. Yet according to Paul, each would have to learn not to judge the other.
Stone and Campbell believed that the only creed should be the Bible, not man’s interpretation of the Bible. So when those who interpret God’s Word as permitting the use of musical instruments are labeled unrighteous, and fellowship can only exist when they lay down their musical instruments, then there is a creedal fellowship.
My Sixth Rebuttal
No matter “the evidence” I bring, there will be those who adamantly disagree. So be it. Scripturally, that is their choice. Additionally, according to Romans 14.5 “…one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” So, if they are convinced, then they are convinced, why bother their conscience?
It seems appropriate to state within this rebuttal that in this section “Considering Fellowship” I have provided substantial and sufficient discussion about many topics, all which affect my answer to the question, “Why?” Those reasons are many. Those reasons are extensive. Those reasons help provide additional information shaping my discussion here in “Considering Fellowship”. As such, I encourage my readers to spend time in the following.
My Assessment of Six Theological Viewpoints discusses why Theology matters and my interpretive position. Also consider my Thesis Concerning the OT, which examines a portion of my church heritage’s hermeneutic “The OT has no authority for church practices”. Then spend time in Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, both of which provide quantitative expositions of the Book of Acts and the Book of Romans. Then consider the additional comparative information provided in Comparative Theology. After that study my exposition on the Lord’s Supper and my discussion of Communion and Comprehensive Context.
Jehovah is a God of FREEDOM and in Christ FREEDOM is powerful. The New Testament Scriptures resound about FREEDOM. The majority of passages are from Paul, and one from Peter. It should not escape our attention that Paul, prior to becoming a disciple of Jesus as Messiah, most likely praised the interpretations and traditions of the Pharisees. But after Paul became a disciple of Jesus, he most convincingly remained, in training, a Pharisee, but never took opportunity to usurp his brothers-in-Messiah. Instead, Paul spoke of Freedom in Christ, Freedom for people to be persuaded in their own minds and to serve God.
Consider these abbreviated thoughts from Paul:
And here is Peter mentioning Freedom:
That is why I speak. I speak not to persuade those who are convinced in their own mind. I speak for those who are curious about why I do what I do, and speak the way I speak. I have given my thoughts, my reasons, my conclusions. I know those things do not harmonize well with the orthodox in my church heritage. That is why I stepped down. I will not fight against the orthodox. According to Paul, they have their FREEDOM to choice, as do I. They have chosen. I have chosen.
However, while John makes it very clear “all wrongdoing is sin” he makes a very strong counterpoint in the exact same Verse “but there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5.17) From John, I am going to learn to not concern myself with the sin that does not lead to death.
I have witnessed my brethren practice things that God clearly identifies as sin, but that disciple’s heart cannot be known by me. Some might be disciples out of love for Messiah. Some might be disciples out of rivalry. I have no idea. Either way, they proclaim the name of Messiah, Jesus.
So, if my brethren-in-Messiah are convinced of Sabbath observance, then they are convinced of Sabbath observance. Thus, if my brethren-in-Messiah are convinced that Instrumental Music is unacceptable, then they are convinced that Instrumental Music is unacceptable. And as a final example, if my brethren-in-Messiah are convinced that head coverings are required, then they are convinced that head coverings are required.
My point brothers and sisters is that I am not willing to draw lines of fellowship along man’s creedal system any longer. I use my Freedom in Christ to serve God and others. However, I know that because the LORD has given me his Spirit, I have Freedom: Freedom to associate with any believer in Christ; Freedom from creedal fellowship.
I have chosen to live as instructed. I can only plant and/or water. I cannot change the heart, the mind, or the disposition of anyone. Only God does. That is why it is God who gives the increase. As such, truly, creeds are unnecessary within Messiah Jesus. But, if a disciple believes that creeds are actually necessary, find the one that best suits your understanding of the Bible, fellowship with that creedal alliance, love God and love others. However, compelling other Christians to follow a creed within a self-labeled non-creedal (non-denomination) fellowship limits freedom.
In the early days of the non-creedal fellowship of Stone and Campbell, both the Bible and Biblical doctrine were studied, and those early days seem to have had something that these latter days have forgotten – the encouraging of one another to draw their own biblical conclusions. When a non-creedal fellowship compels acceptance of one interpretation as the only correct understanding, then non-creedal morphs into creedalism, and changes from non-denominational to denominational. We must once again encourage and regain the freedom to draw our own conclusions.
2 – Works of Elder B. W. Stone, Christian Union, page 310.
3 – Works of Elder B. W. Stone, Christian Union, page 313.
4 – The Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ Commonly Styled The New Testament, also called: The Living Oracles; Alexander Campbell, General Preface, An Apology For A New Translation, page ix; ISBN: 0-89225-491-2.
5 – The Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ Commonly Styled The New Testament, also called: The Living Oracles; Alexander Campbell, Preface to the Fourth, or Stereotype Edition, page lii-liii; ISBN: 0-89225-491-2.
6 – Chapters and Verses of the Bible; Wikipedia; May 13, 2013 wikipedia.com.