Dialogue with Robert Prater: Robert’s Doctrine of Apostasy, Part 3 (God’s Patience)

dialogueRobert next argues,

Jay, what should be our posture toward those who, by their anti-biblical ideas, promote, encourage, or, at the very least condone, immoral acts or doctrinal errors? Should the blanket of “toleration” be thrown over them indefinitely? In his letter to the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18ff), Christ, though commending these brethren for some things, nonetheless said of them, that they were clearly “tolerating” immorality and doctrinal errors. There was, within the church of Thyatira, an influential woman who is called Jezebel. (would suggest that she was similar in character and teaching to that ancient queen who corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:29ff; 2 Kings 9:30ff). As wicked as she was, the Lord had given her time to repent, but his patience had been ignored by this evil woman, hence, judgment was imminent. But here is another matter: Christ had a strong rebuke for the brethren in Thyatira because they continued to tolerate (apheis-present tense) her false teaching (v. 20). Surely, we ought to learn something from this inspired narrative.

How long can the church go on, tolerating compromising views such as these? The church has been patient with some teachers who advocate and promote unscriptural practices without authority and which have causes and continue to cause great division within the body of Christ, yet they show no sign whatever of changing their corrupting views. Should we ignore their corrupting influence forever?

It’s an argument commonly made by many conservatives — God judges the immature generously, but there comes a point where we are accountable to get the answers right — all the answers — well, not all the answers, but the important answers, and we know which answers those are, but we really don’t have a list.

Let’s test the argument by the scripture Robert cites.

(Rev 2:18-24)  “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you):

What is the sin that so concerns the Son of God? Well —

  • In some sense, she is like Jezebel — a prophetess of Baal and opponent of God’s own prophet Elijah
  • She claimed to be a prophetess
  • She encourages fornication
  • She encourages idolatrous practices
  • Others commit “adultery” with her

Mounce notes in the his New International Commentary that fornication was a common feature of pagan feasts — which of course also involved eating meats sacrificed to pagan gods. Hence, he suggests that this was the likely context of the warning — especially given how central such feasts/orgies were to business guilds and Greek society. To refuse to participate was not like choosing the Methodist Church instead of the Church of Christ — it was to surrender one’s position in the business community and society in general.

The trade guilds practically controlled the city of Thyatira; every industry was strictly regulated by these guilds. In order to work in a trade; you had to belong to the guild – sort of like a powerful union. But to be a member of a guild also meant worshipping the pagan god connected to the guild. Any Christian involved in any trade was presented with the problem: his or her faithfulness to Christ would affect his livelihood.

Now, to the question before us: does, for example, worshiping God with an instrument somehow equate to worshiping a pagan god through fornication? It’s an absurd argument, isn’t it? In fact, the amazing thing is that God shows “Jezebel” any patience at all! I mean, how could someone be true to her faith in Jesus and submission to Jesus as Lord and yet not only teach these things but also encourage others to do the same?

No, this passage shows God to be astonishingly patient! But his patience is not unlimited, and he will at some point give up on those who deny Jesus as Son of God and Lord.

This passage is entirely consistent with the teaching suggested in the earlier posts: God will condemn those who reject faith in Jesus or the Lordship of Jesus. It adds a couple of wrinkles we’ve not considered in the earlier posts —

* Faith in Jesus is exclusive. You may not worship idols, too.
* God will be patient even with those who are this sinful — but not forever.

Moreover, this passage affirms what we already know from 1 Cor 5 —

* Immorality contradicts the Lordship of Jesus.
* There comes a time when those who promote immorality or idolatry must be expelled from the church to prevent their influence from spreading.

Robert next argues —

Jay, the Scriptures predict that some will “abandon the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1) and John even tells of those who have done so (1 John 2:19). Those who apostatize by leaving the truth in doctrine and practice are the ones who establish a new branch. If it was wrong to depart, as the Scriptures clearly say it is, then it must be right to go back beyond that departure to the Bible to find what to believe and practice.

Yes. But remember, “faith” is faith in Jesus, not a doctrinal system. It’s the same faith we require our converts to confess before being baptized.

(1 Tim 4:1-2)  The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

This is not remotely talking about the many millions who believe instrumental music is acceptable to God. They have not abandoned “the faith.” Nor are their teachers men without a conscience. It’s actually a pretty outrageous argument, you know.

(1 John 2:18-19)  Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

Nor are those who practice instrumental music the antichrist.

(1 John 2:22)  Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son.

Manifestly, disagreeing over how to worship God is not the same as denying that Jesus is the Christ.

I am thankful to Robert for laying out his views where they can be examined. All teachers should do this. And upon examining his views, I find some in accord with my own and others not. But where we disagree, it’s not because of a different hermeneutic or some “liberal” bias — it’s because the passages he refers to don’t support his claim. It’s really that simple.

I mean, not a single passage says that at some point baptized, penitent believers become so mature that they will be damned for misunderstanding God’s commands regarding worship. On the other hand, I certainly agree that anyone who rebels — who intentionally violates God’s will — is in serious jeopardy of losing his soul (Heb 10:26ff).

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5 Responses

  1. Also, if indeed we are damned because we don’t follow God’s express commands for worship then why don’t our assemblies even remotely resemble 1 Cor. 14:26- 35? Face it, our assembly is just an acappella version of standard low church protestant fare. It in no way resembles what we see in the text and instead of allowing the Family to participate forces all “worship” to flow through the hands and mouths of the professional or at least trained elite. And yet despite the fact that what we do in the CoC/CoC (whatever) on a usual Sunday morning is the opposite of what God has commanded, I think He accepts us as we are – grace works for us.

    Jesus is Lord, Godly living is required, the rest is just stuff Satan gets us to arguing about.

  2. “Yes. But remember, “faith” is faith in Jesus, not a doctrinal system.”

    Jay,

    This is the key. Do we have faith in Jesus or do we have faith in some systematic doctrine derived from scripture. If the passages Robert is citing refer to all possible errors (doctrinal, moral, ethical) then everyone of us our in trouble since I do not know one person who is perfect. And just to be sure…it is our Lord who said we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us…how many of us have matured to the point of living out this command just as Jesus did?

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. I certainly don’t begrudge people trying to figure out “the answers,” but lets be real here, doing so is just one way that we seek to obey God out of our love for Him. If salvation depends on understanding the nature of the trinity, the exact, precise function of baptism, or what constitues an exactly perfect worship service, then lets face it, I’ll be seeing all of you in Hell.

  4. Robert,

    You have a great list of scripture but little actual practices that are seen in the modern denominational church or even the CoC. Could you be more specific about doctrinal error and give us a list of errors like the use of power point or non King James bibles? We have had folks walk out because of both.

    My only problem with instrumental music and praise teams is that no one sings.

    The book that Tod Deaver wrote nailed me on about every one of the many doctrinal or fellowship items. We came from the non class non preacher Church of Christ. What about those contentions. My uncle would condemn most of you over classes and preachers.

    Bob

  5. Jay,

    What can I say but that you got straight down to the heart of the matter of what Jesus (and the Apostles) taught…

    “Yes. But remember, “faith” is faith in Jesus, not a doctrinal system.”

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