Opinions on faith and life

Of Babies and Bathwater

2009-01-17

We have an old expression here in the US: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” It means not to discard a whole set of things just because one of them might need to be discarded.

Yet Christians do this all the time. Some will be your friend as long as you agree with them. But if a single point of contention is discovered, they are willing to cast you off without mercy. It’s their whole package or nothing at all.

Now there are some times when it is best to err on the side of caution, such as when recommending or promoting websites. That’s why I put up a Disclaimer page here. Without that, people could presume I approve of everything at every site I link to. Yet these same people, upon discovering some disputable point on which I don’t agree with them, will condemn everything I write even if it has no bearing on that point.

I shudder to think of all the insights I’d have missed if I followed that policy in my research. I’ve read some excellent articles on creationism, for example, from sites that promote male supremacy. I’ve read great material on equality of the sexes on sites that deny the virgin birth. I’ve seen thorough scripture-based arguments presented on eternal security by Calvinists, and some very good anti-Calvinism writings by KJV Onlyists. And I’ve learned from arguments by atheists against KJVO and female subjugation.

This is discernment, separating the wheat from the chaff. As long as a Christian is well-grounded in the scriptures and knows a false teaching or a bad argument when they see one, such forays into “mixed waters” are not dangerous. But if any believer is a novice or fearful of being confused, I don’t recommend you doing this. That is the function of elders and teachers, to protect the vulnerable against falsehood.

The apostle Paul showed such discernment in standing up on Mars Hill to speak to the philosophers (Acts 17). He even quoted their own poets in his presentation. How could he have done this without having read those poets’ writings? Even if the argument is made that he did this while unsaved, remember that he was a Pharisee and would have kept himself well away from Gentile influence.

But a greater danger is when Christians actually start to judge each other’s salvation on the basis of secondary teachings such as eternal security, Bible versions, equality of the sexes, predestination, and so forth. Salvation is still by faith in the crucified and risen Son of God alone, regardless of anything else. If anyone denies this basic teaching we can safely call them lost, but if they profess it, we risk great judgment upon ourselves if we play God and declare them lost anyway, on the basis of what we ourselves can see. Only God knows the heart.

Yes, we are to discern a professing believer’s spiritual health, but the key is our attitude and motivation when such health is in question. Do we throw them out without mercy? Do we condemn them? Or do we, as followers of our merciful Savior, show genuine love and concern for them?

Instead of questioning their salvation, we should instead ask them what they believe about the gospel-- without adding our own personal preferences! And if they give the right answer, our next step should be to make sure that they understand the concept of reconciliation and God’s loathing of evil. One who has accepted the gift of salvation in Jesus alone and thereby made peace with God should daily tun from sin and seek to please the Lord. They should be taught the scriptures and learn to listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Yet many well-meaning but over-zealous teachers seem bent on leaving the Spirit out of it and imposing a “growth” and conformity of their own, one the flesh can see. They substitute guilt, peer pressure, and instilling fear of “unapproved” authors for guidance and nurturing. Their goal is not so much spiritual growth as it is to make this person a clone of them. But Paul writes,

And do not be conformed to this age but be transformed by renewing your minds, for the purpose of testing what the will of God is, which is good, very pleasing, and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

And I pray that your love will overflow more and more in understanding and sensibility, so that you can test whether something is important, being sincere and sure-footed into the Day of the Anointed One. (Phil. 1:9-11)

Many believers are afraid of any idea outside their “box”, and I believe that fear comes from having never been properly trained. They were spoon-fed instead of “taught how to fish”; they don’t know how to search the scriptures on their own, to consider all the layers of context, or to recognize faulty reasoning. And this is the “fruit” of the “seeds” planted in seminaries into equally spoon-fed minds. Their training may be more sophisticated, but the students are no less indoctrinated.

We must never pull up the anchor and leave the safety of the Spirit and the Word, or we very well might be tossed by the waves of falsehood and confusion. Anchor yourselves in the scriptures, study them instead of easy-reading devotionals, and then go out and be the salt and light you were meant to be.

4 Comments

Lynne

I agree totally. My own choice of theological college was non-denom -- we had charismatics, baptists, old-style pentecostals, anglicans, even a couple of catholics! The college’s statement of faith could have come straight from the Apostles creed, and the motto was "Word and Spirit". In class all other matters were open to debate, providing you could back your case from Scripture. It was wonderfully healthy, and very rare. I am amazed by the culture of fear I find among so many Christians, somewhere behind it all is an inadequate view of the grace of God, and a fear of human condemnation if you depart from the party line. Truth is truth, whoever says it. Hey, I’m arminian, amillennial, egalitarian, sacramental, semi-charismatic etc etc -- if I only willing to learn from those with whom I agreed in all things i would be very lonely ..

Paula Fether

That’s right, Lynne. Truth is truth. You were blessed to be trained in such an atmosphere. Many would be too afraid that they’d be led astray.

There is something to be said for recognizing the possibility that someone else may be more studied than we are on something, and to be patient and make sure we know what we’re talking about before challenging them. I do think there is too little civility and respect in many Christian circles. But a much bigger problem is this arrogance and "touch not God’s anointed" mentality among leaders, especially if there is money or prestige involved.

Jamie

Thanks Paula, I agree.

The Pharisees would try to catch Jesus in His words according to Mark 12:13. They would look for something in his words with which to accuse him. I see this pharisitical practice constantly on the internet. I think so many on forums have fed on other peoples error until they have become like a Pharisee. They are quick to cast sinners to hell, and even quicker to cast their own brethren in as well, while thinking they are excluded from the rest because they are the truth bearers.

From the outside looking in, these people are arrogant, insensitive, hateful, miserly, and unable to discern their own error. They have slid (or are sliding) to the other end of the scale, lacking the life giving Spirit of the LIVING God.

The Lord has said to me, "come out from among them".

Paula Fether

Yep. I’ve been hearing that "call" for several years now.