"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned; and turn away from them" (Rom. 16:17).        Marking false teachers. The word "mark" means to watch carefully, diligently. If one were in a tower watching the movement of an enemy, he would be marking the enemy (according to the use of this word). Those who are causing divisions and occasions of stumbling are the ones to be marked.
Just as "Rodney King" has stood for gigantic issues bigger than one man, "new hermeneutic" is a code phrase for much of the tension we're feeling in churches of Christ right now; TENSION that has brought forth resignations in some of our colleges and churches; TENSION that led one editor to invite readers to send in proof of apostasy in their own congregations; TENSION that has families in religious conflict, so that some have found it easier not to discuss spiritual concerns ... I believe the winds of change we feel are gusts of spiritual renewal; that the sound we hear is the sound of wineskins expanding from the new wine of the gospel ... Many of us grew up believing that God is just a heavenly prosecutor who winces with pain and anger when Christians veer one iota from some supposed exact pattern of worship ... As Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes point out in Illusions of Innocence, a great irony is that when restoration groups narrow their focus to begin firing upon "the denominations," they tend to become even more denominational.        Whatever happened to Randolph Scott or the Lone Ranger? You could always depend on these guys to foil the enemies' plan! They were on guard protecting honor, decency, and all that is right. Perhaps elders today could learn a lesson from some of those "old westerns."
You can obey the gospel by believing in Christ as the only begotten Son of God (John 8:24; 3:16; Heb. 11:6), repenting of your sins (Luke 3:23; Acts 2:38), confessing faith in Christ (Matt. 10:32-33; Acts 8:37) and being baptized (immersed) in water for the forgiveness of your sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). This will make you a child of God and you will be added by the Lord to His glorious bride, the church (Acts 2:41,47; Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27). The church of Christ is the only place salvation is found (Eph. 4:4-5; 5:23; 2 Tim. 2:10).
"But the greater problem, in my own mind, was my exposure to other people. You see, if you want to believe that you are the only Christians, you have to be very careful about whom you expose yourself to.        If you believe what Mike Cope says, the Lord's church is not distinctive. He doesn't believe that doctrine is important. He believes in fellowshipping error. He would endorse James Dobson, a member of the Nazarene Church, to teach in person or on film.
It's best to go hide in caves, like one group did in the first century. If you hide in caves and don't get around anybody else then you can hold to that belief -- that we are the only ones.
But what are you going to do with all the wonderful Spirit-filled, Jesus-like, prayerful believers who don't go to church where we go, weren't baptized like we were baptized, and whose doctrine doesn't line up exactly like ours.
That was the crisis for me.
As I read church history, I came across people who had given their lives for Jesus Christ. People who had watched their babies be killed rather than recant their belief in Jesus. People who prayed and wrote books on prayer like Jesus Christ was their closest friend.
And then I started noticing the people who are having an impact on me.
First and foremost, Billy Graham in the fervency of his evangelical message and his integrity.
Richard Foster and his commitment to prayer and holiness. Tony Campolo and his call for Christian service and resisting the world's influence.
But the biggest problem of all to me was a man whom many of you don't know -- some of you do, a man named John Stott. As I read more and more works by this Anglican preacher named John Stott, I was a John Stott wannabe.
Still am -- in a lot of ways.
And then I got to spend three days with twenty men that included him. The closer I got the more I saw that everything I had seen from a distance was even more true up close. A man of utter holiness. A man in whom the Spirit was powerful. A man of prayer. And yet, on the other hand, a man who didn't share my understanding of baptism. Full of God's word. Full of God's Spirit. And yet ... I just didn't know what to do with it.
We could earlier have called this a "James Dobson problem." Nearly two decades ago we had churches wanting to use James Dobson's film strips. But what do we do with James Dobson?
Well, I remember in my own city when we had Paul Faulkner film strips, we would say "this is a video series by Christian Psychologist Paul Faulkner". So Paul that was your title, if you are here today. That was Christian Psychologist Paul Faulkner.
But when we showed Dobson's videos, we introduced it as a "video series by James Dobson, Psychologist, who writes and speaks from a Christian prospective."
See the out there. No commitment. We didn't know quite what to do with this man. A man of deep holiness, and prayer, who is trying to save our families.
Then one day it hit me. I needed to come clean on this. Because I believe these are God's people, even though they are not a part of my little bunch.
And, it hit me, unity can't come by uniformity.
We are never going to be united by trying to clone people. By saying: "Okay, you've got to have one person's personality; You've to have one person's preferences; You've to have one person's understanding of scripture."
We will never get it that way. It gets back to the first lesson in this series, where I pointed out that if you want uniformity, the thing to do is not give everybody a Bible but go get everybody's Bible and hide it.
The Church at times, in middle ages, had a lot better unity because some person told them, "Here is what we believe".
But the minute you start translating that Bible and giving it to every child [and adult] and saying "Read this thing and follow it," then you had better be willing to accept some differences.
This past year, I guess it was after the first of the year -- this year -- Promise Keepers, the men's movement many of you know about, had the largest gathering of ministers ever in the history of the church, as far as anybody knows about, in Atlanta. I didn't get to go. I heard about it.
One evening Max Lucado, you know Max, minister of the Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio, spoke -- and spoke on unity. He called us to quit building walls between denominations, but to let those wall come down. And honor one another and give a witness to the world by the way we treat one another. Quit thinking that we are the only little ones having a game in this Christianity. It was a valiant call for unity.
Afterwards somebody told me they were behind a couple Charismatic preachers. And they were just laughing, laughing, laughing. And one turned to the other and said, "Isn't that just like God? Isn't that just like God? Use a Church of Christ preacher to call us to unity."
That, at best, we in one group committed to the ideal of non-denominational Christianity. Eager to study God's Word and obey it. In humility recognizing that we don't have all truth. In gratitude recognizing that faith in Christ alone is what brings salvation.
Aren't there some lost people out in denominations?, someone might ask. Well, yes, there are, just as there are in this assembly this morning. But there are also Christ followers out there, as well. As the best of our heritage has always know we can believe this without giving up our deep convictions about scripture, about baptism, and about worship.
My long term dream is that Highland be a part of leading in this. Leading in unity. I tell you, I would love to have a Sunday when Phil Christopher, the minister at First Baptist, and I exchange pulpits. Not just a chance to show that we are progressive. I'm not interested in that. Not as a chance to stick it in somebody's face so that they will be bothered. I'm not interested in that either. But as an opportunity to express our mutual faith to other believers and to witness to unbelievers through the unity of God's people. Think of the power if Highland leads out in calling all believes to unity in Jesus Christ."
Seek The Old Paths Lectureship
July 26-30, 1998
East Corinth Church of Christ
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