The Fork in the Road: The Path to Safety

A reader asked,

It would seem to me that we should try to worship, etc. as closely as possible to the way they did in the NT. We would know that that was right. Why take a chance on something that at best would be questionable and at worst condemning?

To answer that question, we have to first see where the scriptures promise that we’ll find safety. The answer is found in our hymnody —

  1. What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
    Leaning on the everlasting arms;
    What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
    Leaning on the everlasting arms.

    • Refrain:
      Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
      Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
  2. Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
    Leaning on the everlasting arms;
    Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
    Leaning on the everlasting arms.
  3. What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
    Leaning on the everlasting arms?
    I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
    Leaning on the everlasting arms.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Bless’d hope, bless’d rest of my soul!


And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.


To borrow from K. C. Moser, our hymns often have better theology than our sermons. Where is safety found? In the arms of Jesus. In the cross.

(2 Cor 3:4)  Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.

(Eph 3:12)  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

(Phil 3:3)  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh–

(2 Tim 4:18)  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(1 John 5:18)  We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.

(Heb 4:16)  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

(Heb 10:19-22)  Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Assurance and confidence and safety all come from the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Now, I don’t teach perseverance of the saints, but I do teach salvation by faith — so long as we aren’t in rebellion. If we submit to Jesus as Lord — if we continue in the penitence we began with — we remain saved to the end.

Our salvation does not depend on our expertise the Laws of Generic and Specific Authority or the Regulative Principle. It doesn’t depend on our expertise in hermeneutics or logic. It depends on our continuing in the faith and repentance with which we began.

Now, let’s consider worship briefly but carefully. I think a dialog might help.

Q: Wouldn’t worshiping as they worshiped in the New Testament be the safest course?

A. Safe from what?

Q. Safe from damnation, of course!

A. What makes you think we might be damned for how we worship?

Q. Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah …

A. These are Old Testament examples, from a time when God had given very specific laws for how to worship. Has God given such laws to Christians?

Q. Yes, we must worship on the first day of each week, when we take the communion and four other acts of worship.

A. Where are these “laws”? I’ve not seen any such laws in my reading.

Q. Well, we come to these laws by means of examples and inference.

A. So there are no commands as such?

Q. To be honest, no.

A. And so you figure that when we fail to correctly infer laws from examples and silences that we’ll be held to the same standards as Israelites who were punished for violating specific laws?

Q. Same God …

A. But not the same thing. There’s a difference between violating a plainly stated command and violating an inference drawn from an inference — such as taking the idea that the lack of authority is a prohibition (an inference) and the idea that we have no authority for instrumental music (an inference, largely from post-apostolic history), and concluding that instrumental music is sin (an inference from inferences). That seems to make our salvation depend very much on our deductive skills, our knowledge of Greek words, our knowledge of post-apostolic history, and such. In the Old Testament, God at least said what the rules were. You’re arguing that our salvation depends on this level of intellectual accomplishment and training?

Q. Well, even a child could …

A. Millions of people read their Bibles and don’t reach the same conclusion. It’s not obvious, and the overwhelming majority of those who study the scriptures as devoted followers of Jesus reach a different conclusion.

A. It seems that you’re substituting some doubtful inferences for some plain statements. For example,

(John 3:18)  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

(Rom 3:27-28)  Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

(Rom 4:4-5) Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

(Rom 6:23)  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The verses pretty plainly promise salvation to all with faith — as a gift and not as a matter of works. And coming up with the right inferences from inferences and then conducting the assembly exactly right is a work. Indeed, it’s a basis for boasting — I’ve seen it happen — whereas salvation by faith, correctly understood, leaves no room for boasting.

(Gal 6:14)  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Q. But what about obedience? Don’t we have to obey God’s commands?

A. Yes, but not as a condition of salvation. Rather, we are required to remain true to the faith and repentance (submission to Jesus as Lord) that we began with.

Q. But if you submit to Jesus as Lord, won’t you necessarily obey?

A. Yes, in your heart. But you may misunderstand an inference or two.

Q. So you’re saying the test is subjective? It’s enough to be sincere?

A. Yes and no. You have to have faith in Jesus. You have to submit to him as Lord. The fact that Jesus is the Christ and our Lord is objective. And if you’ve submitted to him as Lord, you’ll obey as well as you understand. But if you misunderstand, you’re still saved. Here’s the test —

(Heb 10:26-27)  If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

It’s rebellion — rejection of the Lordship of Jesus — that damns. And that’s subjective. If you believe it’s wrong to take communion on Sunday night, and you take communion on Sunday night in rebellion against God, you are sinning and in serious jeopardy for your soul — even though I think God is perfectly pleased with Sunday night communion.

And if you think God wants us to keep kosher and so eat only vegetables when kosher meat is unavailable, God accepts your obedience, even though there really is no such command. Your faith is weak, but it’s still faith.

Q. But wouldn’t it be safer …

A. No. It wouldn’t. It is no safer to bind a rule that God doesn’t bind than to loose a rule that God doesn’t loose. Therefore, you cannot find safety in being extra cautious or in being extra not cautious. Both are sin. And both are covered by grace for those in grace. Hence, you must do as Paul said —

(Rom 14:3)  The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

(Rom 14:5)  One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

Paul plainly teaches that we must act as we are convinced in our own minds. Obviously, we are to study and pray and discuss these things and so try to reach the best conclusion possible, but ultimately the test is whether you’ve submitted to Jesus as Lord, not whether you’ve mastered the Laws of Generic and Specific Authority.

If this weren’t true, and if safety were to be found in taking the cautious approach, what would that mean for the church? Well, is it safer to use one cup or many? Which did the early church do? Is it safer to build or not build a fellowship hall? To build a church building or meet in homes? To hire a preacher or not?

Very nearly every issue that the Churches of Christ have disputed over has a “safe” side and less-safe side, and under your theory, the safe side is always to impose a rule where there is doubt. And there is no limit on the ability of our brothers to find things to argue and have doubts over.

Daniel Sommer split the Restoration Movement in 1889 over having paid preachers! He damned those who hired a preacher, because it was safer not to. The list is endless.

No, when in doubt, safety is found in the everlasting arms, on the cross, in Jesus’ perfect obedience. We can only do the best we can. And we are fallen, imperfect people who have always had disagreements and always will. Therefore, believe in Jesus, submit to him as Lord, and obey him as well as you can without imposing rules just to be safe.

Imposing rules to be safe is, in fact, very unsafe because it adds to the Bible if you’re wrong. And it’s just as wrong to add to the Bible as to take away.

We’ve always taught that. We’ve not always lived it, but we’ve always taught it.

(You’ll love this one.)

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

5. Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

6. Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

41 Responses

  1. Wow, are you sure that its safe to base salvation on songs? Actually all pick and choose NT examples. One cup, volunteer preachers in house churches is very NT but when the extra chairs are uncomfortable, sermon drones on,, and someone coughts in the cup, then maybe those plastic cups, good preachers, and pews are more what God had in mind!

  2. Hi Jay,

    Where did you get ‘bind a rule that God doesn’t bind’ from what I said? Is that an inference? I don’t believe we should make rules either. That sure got the Pharisees in a lot of trouble.

    Maybe we could sit down some time with our Bibles. I’m obviously not going to disagree with any scripture you quote, but I understand some of them a little differently than I think you do.

    I teach our salvation is 100% grace and 0% human merit. I don’t see that as conflicting with obedience as I understand obedience. I think we likely are in agreement at the most fundamental level, but then we may vector off that at slightly different angles.

  3. Jay, this is one of your best articles. And that is saying a lot.

  4. Here’s an interesting exercise: Google “Nadab and Abihu.” Count the Church of Christ sites in the top results.

    Now Google “Eleazar and Ithamar.” You know, Nadab and Abihu’s brothers that deliberately disobeyed God… and were forgiven. Google their names. I just did it and finally found a Church of Christ site on page 3: Al Maxey’s.

    Funny how even Google can show us how badly we’ve misused some biblical texts.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. I grew up in the Church of Christ, even preached a few years, but no longer a member. I just found your blog and find it interesting, as well as enjoyable. I can’t pretend to say something you haven’t heard already, but in regard to “what is safe”, I find that one reason, though not the only one, but a real one none the less, that conservatives view “safe” as “what God wants” is because what is safe in religion is the only thing left of childhood. I have to admit that if I walked into a Church of Christ this coming Sunday I would feel like I was 12 years old again. Besides the old songs, I would hear echoes of sermons saying “this is the way it’s supposed to be”; sermons that made me feel secure, that made me feel good about myself. However, finally recognizing this about myself has freed me to be able to walk into a high church service of the Episcopal Church and be carried away. I know there’s nothing deep in what I have just said; but I believe it to be the situation of many who are wrestling with the tension between the old ways and the changes that are coming.

  6. In my view, this concern for “safety” is one of the driving emotions among many congregations. But the bigger dilemma is the imposition of one person’s safety rules on another.

    It is the central dilemma of Romans 14. How do we remain in fellowship with each other, when we disagree?

    I get the theory — but the practice seems almost too difficult.

    For example, if a single congregation, following whatever process, decides to have one worship assembly with a cappella music and one worship assembly with instrumental music, why have we not learned to allow each group to worship without threats of splits or condemnation?

    I think it is simply an example of how deeply engrained the legalistic view of the Text is. And I don’t really know how to overcome that. I try to take a long term view, but it remains very troubling.

  7. I’m sure this has been said before, but the idea of what is safe is deeply wedded to our understanding of who God is—what we think of His nature. So this brings to mind the Parable of the Talents in Matthew—for didn’t the one servant not bury the money because he was ‘playing it safe’??? Was this not because he knew that God was a hard man?! Did he not do exactly what he was specifically told—keep safe that which was entrusted to Him? But because His understanding of the nature of his master was skewed he ended up with a wrong inference!
    Playing it safe can be a bad thing.

  8. It’s the teaching that we can be right(eous) on our own that causes this thinking.

    “We would know that that was right. Why take a chance on something that at best would be questionable and at worst condemning?”

    We’ve been taught that we need to be right(eous) – as evidenced by the question that prompted this post – but we’ve not been taught how we are right(eous) according to the Bible. We’ve been led to believe that we can be right(eous) on our own through our own obedience, obedience to convoluted “inferred” commands no less. This is not the Gospel.

    “Why take a chance…?” Indeed, why take a chance? Isn’t believing the Gospel, believing in the promises of God, taking a chance?

  9. Your post has me thinking. Thanks for sharing. God bless!

  10. Great post Jay. You make it too simple. We need laws to regulate our worship and to please God.

    Really….If we are free from the law of sin and death and under the law of the Spirit of life, Romans 8:2 and if two or three are gathered in my name., Math. 18:20 God will be there also. Can’t we just simply worship in Spirit and Truth? John 4:23-24.

    I say keep it simple, but i am just a simpleton.

    We use the simple approach in engineering, and it works there also.

    Thank you Jay. Amazing grace..


  11. One more shot and I will go out and walk my little dog. He is on my lap as type. He also uses the simple approach to get what he wants. A roll of his little brown eyes and a yelp….works every time.

    If a first century Christian were allowed, by some great miracle, to witness our worship, he or she would be bewildered or stunned if not totally confused as to what we were trying to do, especially communion.

    The Apostle Paul would whip up on us like you would not believe and John would say if this is love I missed it. They would be bewildered at our complete and total division. Go to go, got a yelp. OK Max I’m ready.


  12. John,

    To me, it’s inconsistent to say “Why take a chance on something that at best would be questionable and at worst condemning?” and “I teach our salvation is 100% grace and 0% human merit.” I’m trying to explain why I see it that way. I know you don’t.

    I grew up in the Churches. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a class that sought to determine the correct rule on a matter, with the class ending with “That’s all well and good, but we know that the safe thing is to do is ….” In my opinion, that’s a very dangerous approach to the scriptures. I’m going to try to think up a better way to explain why.

  13. I’m just amazed at the statement of John’s:
    “It would seem to me that we should try to worship, etc. as closely as possible to the way they did in the NT. We would know that that was right”

    Whose example are we to follow? Which church got it right? Why did Paul keep writing to them to correct them if they got it right? And where is there a detailed record of how they worshipped anyway? And – what is worship? Do you mean what their corporate gatherings looked like – or worship in the sense of how they worshipped with their lives?

  14. Thanks, Alan. It means a lot coming from you.

  15. David,

    You make an important point. If I want to refuse to eat vegetables or refuse to use an instrument because I think that’s the safe course, I have no real complaint, other than wishing you had what I consider a deeper understanding of faith. On the other hand, when you impose your scruples on others by making them salvation issues, you’ve become a divider or worse. That would be a dangerous, harmful practice.

  16. Konastephen,

    Exactly. It’s all about who we think God is.

  17. I still want to know why I’m going to hell for using an instrument and others aren’t when they reject the command to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” I thought CENI placed the emphasis on “commands” as higher than “inferences”.

    Hyprocrites and blind guides.

  18. I see Chief Roberts is coming to UA Law School on March 9. Going to take in his speech? Sarah Palin is coming to Faulkner. Did you know that? It’s in October.

  19. John,

    My dad is going, but I’m not. Nor to see Gov Palin. Just not into it. I’d rather write.

  20. Jay

    I’m a little late but the groups singing were awesome.

    Who is the group singing “it is well with my soul”

    I could worship hours with that type of music.


  21. Bob,


    PS — you can double click the video image to go straight to YouTube.

  22. Bob,

    PS — Go to and set up a station for the artist GLAD. Free music for as long as you sit by the computer.

  23. Jay,

    i understand that you dealt with the “safe-from-damnation” angle because that is our history. But why couldn’t imitation of NT practice be “safe” in the sense that it affords the most blessings God intended us to have from His design of the church?

    i think it’s more interesting to note that if we’re committed to a strong imititation of NT practice, perhaps we should observe how much first century people worried over their personal salvation as though it was constantly in jeopardy. i don’t know of any disciple in the NT who felt like he was teetering over the edge of hell at any given time. the closest i can’t think of is Paul saying he beat his body into slavery to avoid disqualification. Other than that, the NT church was characterized by confidence and assurance. Why not imitate them closely?


  24. Guy,

    I have no objection at all to those who wish to emulate First Century practice. I actually favor studying those practices in search of wisdom for how to practice today.

    However, I oppose those who draw lines of fellowship based on First Century practice or who insist that we do things just because the early church did so. Not all First Century practices need to be continued.

    For example, the First Century practice was for the evangelist to appoint the elders. I think that’s a good idea for a mission church, but a really bad idea for a mature congregation.

    Just so, I can find no requirement to appoint men to the office of deacon when the New Testament doesn’t even tell us what a deacon is supposed to do.

    I think we need nonprofit organizations to help us do church plants and foreign missions, even though some see no authority for such things. But the times have changed, and we really need such organizations because we don’t have the necessary skills and experiences in most of our congregations.

    I think our culture (and the scriptures) allows us to treat women as fully valued members of the church, just as free to use their gifts in God’s service as men — even though the First Century culture did not allow this. And if we don’t, our evangelism will suffer because the world sees our discrimination against women as sinful.

    Of course, we can’t violate the actual teachings of the scriptures, but we have to carefully distinguish teachings given for the peculiarities of First Century culture from those teachings meant to last until Jesus returns.

    And we sometimes get so caught up in emulating the First Century church that we build churches that might have worked well in First Century Asia Minor but work very poorly today.

    The far more important work is to emulate First Century love, unity, faith, hope, and life in the Spirit. That’s a lot harder, but will get us far closer to God’s heart — and will make us far more effective.

    You see, the substance is a million times more important than the form — and our insistence on the form — which we can’t even agree on — has led to some very unloving, unfaithful, disunited, hopeless, Spirit-less churches.

  25. Jay,

    While i agree some things may very well have reflected the culture at the time, i still am not sure which is which. And frankly it’s all too easy to play the “culture” card if i just plain don’t like something. Furthermore, Jesus was not at all afraid to behave and speak in very counter-cultural manners; thus i tend to think that very little instruction given to disciples was “conform to the surrounding culture” in nature. (even after reading a bit, hoping to find some cultural background to help me to explain away some less than PC passages, i’m still not convinced on the egalitarian vs. complementarian issue.)

    But i heartily agree that we need to imitate the ‘weightier’ matters of character and sacrifice and community exhibited by the first century people. Some people may criticize the CoC that too much emphasis has been put on first-century imitation, but surely that point there suggests that there wasn’t ever enough emphasis on it, no? CoC’s thought they could only imitate a short list of things from the first century. While some think CoC’s messed up by insisting on imitation, the truth is CoC’s typically didn’t live up to their professed standards. Did they restore the level of community, loyalty, benevolence, forgiveness, etc. of the first century church? If as much effort had been poured into that restoration project, maybe a lot more people would be a lot less disgruntled about instruments (pro or con) or other issues since what is gained in cammaradery far outweighs what is lost in preferences.

    Oh, and i don’t see how it is at all unreasonable or even outlandish to suggest that *someone* had to learn Greek for me to go to heaven. (And supposing that God expected you personally to learn Greek (or some other difficult thing) to find salvation, would you be any less grateful? Would it be any less a gift?)


  26. Guy,

    This goal of the Moral vs. Positive Law series was to show how to tell the difference.

    (Gal 5:6b) The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.

  27. Jay,

    i still feel like you gave to much credit to the original source about the moral/positive distinction. Still seems more contrived than scriptural to me. But supposing that it is a legitimate lens through which to look at scripture, i don’t at all see how the lengthy lists of “positive” laws in Leviticus are all cultural in nature (unless i’m misunderstanding how you meant to use it to conclude cultural questions).


  28. Guy,

    The new covenant is different from the old covenant. One difference is the transition away from positive commands.

    This is evident from, for example, Jesus’ repeated quoting of Hosea’s “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” And the approach Jesus takes to interpreting the Law in the Sermon on the Mount.

    Paul repeatedly contrasts with the way of the Spirit with the way of law, and insists that salvation is found in faith rather than law.

    Some want to replace old law with new law — and expand new law with the products of inferences on top of inferences on which few can agree. I find the NT to point us in exactly the opposite direction.

  29. Jay,

    first and foremost, you don’t cut conservatives any slack about terms like generic and specific authority or regulative principle etc. on account that the scriptures don’t really mention them. Yet i don’t see you doing anything different with “moral” and “positive” commands. If you can say Romans 13 implies these categories which can be used as an interpretive tool elsewhere, then i don’t see why conservatives can’t go to Hebrews 7 or elsewhere and say such implies *insert-prohibitive-silence-term-here* and use it as an interpretive principle elsewhere. It’s still inference upon inference–something i don’t see you let “the other side” get away with. Why should i spot it to you here?


  30. Guy,

    I don’t take inferences from inferences and declare that they are salvation issues and marks of the church. Rather, I agree with Thomas Campbell, who wrote in the Declaration and Address,

    That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God–therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.


  31. “The new covenant is different from the old covenant. One difference is the transition away from positive commands.”

    How can this really be the case unless Marcion was right in his separation of the two testaments to two different gods? If there is only one God and he doesn’t change (“I am Yahweh–I do not change” Malachi 3:6) then it doesn’t seem possible. Either we are dealing with two gods here, or one God who secretly repented and changed without willing to admit it being too prideful to admit he was wrong when he said he doesn’t change.

  32. Jay,

    Do i understand you correctly then, that you don’t consider the view that the NT-is-anti-positive-commands binding on anyone? Also, do i understand you correctly that anyone who inferred the regulative principle then made additional inferences based on that but didn’t say anyone was damned for disagreeing with their conclusions–that person is okay in your book?

    i’m not about to say it’s clear to me either way, but i really don’t see how a person could say *both* “i believe that Bible teaches that all men are obligated to X” *and* “i consider people who do not believe nor behave as if they are obligated to X to be faithful brothers.” Any insights there?


  33. Johnny,

    Everyone concedes that the new covenant is not the same as the old covenant. Therefore, God can introduce a new covenant and not himself change.

  34. Guy,

    Only commands are binding. My hermeneutics are neither binding nor non-binding. However, I think they are dictated by the scriptures.

    While I think the Regulative Principle is based on deeply flawed logic and not supported by the scriptures, it’s not a salvation issue — unless you damn others over the Regulative Principle. While I disagree, those who consider instrumental music sinful — but not damning — are my brothers and we’ll get to ask Jesus together in heaven who was right.

    There is a critically important distinction between saying “X is commanded” and “X is a salvation issue.” Those are not the same thing, and the Bible treats them as different.

    If that’s not right, then you have to treat every single command as a salvation issue — which is fine if the only commands are to believe in Jesus and love your neighbor. But if you start piling hundreds upon hundreds of commands up, then you are forced to divide and damn over every one. If we disagree regarding any duty at all, we must separate and treat each other as damned. That’s not scriptural.

  35. Jay,

    i thought you position was that disciples can be lost by way of willful disobedience(?) If so, then how is there a difference between “X is a command” and “X is a salvation issue” if someone refuses to comply?

    i also don’t really see the significant difference you seem to be drawing between an obligation and a commandment/law. What functional difference is there between the two?


  36. Guy,

    I someone disobeys willfully, they are in serious jeopardy. If they disobey because they are unaware of the command or didn’t reach the right logical conclusion via inference, they are not guilty of willful disobedience.

  37. Jay,

    i think in the end i agree with you. But i still wanna push just a litte– Does this not imply that it’s in our eternal-best-interests to know less of God’s will rather than more? The less commands i know about, the less i can willfully disobey.


  38. Guy,

    Some have argued that if ignorance of God’s will is an excuse, we should all be ignorant. It’s much the same as shouldn’t we all sin so that grace may abound.

    The mistake is in thinking legalistically rather than relationally. Do you want to know how to please your children and your wife — even if they’d overlook mistakes caused by ignorance of their wants?

    If you love them, yes, you want to know their will. If you’re a selfish jerk, no, you don’t. The kingdom of heaven is not comprised of selfish jerks.

  39. Jay,

    All true and good. But we encounter social situations where we have a strong hunch that if we were to inform our friend of such and such, that friend would take it very, very badly; and so often we feel justified in simply not telling them. (i went to a counselor once who informed me that he had once and only once informed a husband that he shouldn’t confess his infidelity to his wife. The husband was a WWII vet, and practically the day he got off the boat back home, some near-stranger “rewarded” him for his service with a tryst. Decades had passed since the incident. The counselor genuinely believed that confession at this point would do more harm than good.)

    Perhaps there is a disciple who really doesn’t know how something ought to be handled in a Christ-like way. But we (me, you, several Christians with reasonable-judgment, however you wanna set it up) could have a strong hunch that, despite the fact that this person is otherwise very good, this subject is a touchy one, and if informed, it will likely go bad–that disciple in question will be very resistant. If you’re right that them not knowing renders them safe for the duration of their ignorance, are we helping or hurting by informing them? That’s not to say he/she isn’t personally responsible for his/her reaction, nevertheless, are *we* helping or hurting by informing?

    i think you’re probably right about all this, i’m just trying to face the consequences of a position i’m adopting–if you’re right, then it seems either we’re wrong to inform in the first case, or else the two cases are disanalogous in some relevant way. Which do you think?

    What i really had in mind was our earlier discussion a couple months ago about the fate of the ignorant-lost. Now i know some of your fellow bloggers take the position that if a non-Christian is uninformed (never heard the gospel) they are safe, and are only in jeopardy when they actually hear and reject the gospel. i understand you rejected that position which i also reject vehemently. And i reject it for a reason similar to what we are discussing now. If the lost are safe in ignorance, then our preaching the gospel becomes something akin to a weapon or a trap rather than a tool of hope and redemption. It puts hope in ignorance and danger in knowing. That seems very, very backwards and wrong. We could make the argument stronger and more pointed than that, nevertheless, the point is: it seems if you’re right, then we’re adopting a position susceptible to the same criticism.

    Is it selfish to want to be saved rather than lost? Is it selfish to want our fellow disciples to remain faithful rather than willfully disobey? If not to both, then how are there not circumstances where ignorance is best?


  40. Is it selfish to want to be saved rather than lost? Is it selfish to want our fellow disciples to remain faithful rather than willfully disobey? If not to both, then how are there not circumstances where ignorance is best?

    Ignorance is never best because, if ignorance is all that is keeping someone from rebellion, they’re already rebelling somewhere and we just can’t see it. Learning might just place them in a crucible where God challenges them to address their rebellious spirit. In fact, learning hard things is one of those places where God does precisely that for ALL of us.

  41. Nick,

    i have to admit that i find myself agreeing with what you said, but at the same time feeling very strange about it.

    Considering that we can define rebellion or submission not by particular acts, but by counterfactuals like, “If Jones were to encounter circumstance C, Jones would react rebelliously/obediently”–that sounds very sensible.

    However, i think it’s a slippery slope to a new breed of perfection requirement. Is the distinction between “rebellious” and “obedient” categorical in nature? You’re either one or the other, period? Or could there be degrees? Is there “hard” and “soft” heartedness by no inbetween? i’m inclined to say that surely there’s a spectrum. People can be at varying degrees of tested-ness and success regarding matters of rebellion or obedience. If people can lie on different points on a spectrum, then i don’t see how any counterfactual “Sam would be rebellious if he encountered circumstance C” could necessarily imply that Sam is categorically rebellious or damnably rebellious.

    It just seems that if what you’re saying is true, then in order to be saved, every person has to be flawlessly-obedient counterfactually speaking. That is, for any circumstance C, my heart must be such that *were* i to face that circumstance, i would react obediently rather than rebelliously. That leads straight to a POTS doctrine doesn’t it? For any thing i learn to which i react rebelliously, that just indicates that i was rebellious all along.

    Is it not also sensible to say this?: There are baby Christians who have things they may need to fix, but we know their faith may not be strong enough to handle it yet. Were we to wait and give them time to mature and grow, they may see it for themselves and fix it, or they may reach a point that, when confronted, they will react obediently. In other words, we’re allowing them ignorance for the sake of growth because knowledge now would have bad results.

    i’m also reminded of Jay’s post about less-than-perfect baptisms. i disagreed with quite a bit of what he said there. But if you think he’s right, can’t we ask the same thing about less-than-perfect repentance? Or is repentance something about which God requires flawlessness?


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