GOD’S WORD, A “LITMUS TEST” FOR HUMANITY

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From time to time I hear people say that there should not be a “litmus test” used to determine what should be done on things that are of great importance. Over the past several years, this has become somewhat of a mantra in politics, especially when it comes to moral evils like abortion. Yahoo Answers suggests that the “best answer” to the question “What does a litmus test mean in politics?” is “. . . having a specific position on one particular issue that must be met in order for the person/bill/whatever to be even considered” (Yahoo). Basically, that is as good as it gets when defining the term.

People, who are interested in moral issues, especially when it comes to conservative perspectives, have no problem with the concept of a “litmus test” being used to determine for whom they will cast their vote. I can assure you, a candidate who is pro-abortion, or in favor of same sex marriages, or supportive of the so-called “gay rights agenda” stands no chance of getting my vote, no matter what their gender or race. If a candidate is on the wrong side of any of these issues they waste their time appealing to me for my vote. I have a “litmus test”, and I am not ashamed to avow such!

Surprisingly, about the same time that we began to hear politicians throw around the “litmus test” slogan we began to hear those who claim to be followers of God disavow themselves from any sort of such “test” when it comes to matters pertaining to the church. We interview a preacher, but no “litmus test” must be used to determine where they stand on important Biblical issues. I recall a “preacher” seeking support from the congregation where I labored several years ago who was “aghast” at the idea that we dare send him a questionnaire to determine his beliefs before we considered his request. Preachers are asked to hold Gospel Meetings, speak on Lectureships, teach in Schools of Preaching, and other areas with little or no concern as to where they stand.

The sad reality is, it has become more about who they are than what they teach. If they have a name in the “brotherhood” then they are to be desired. I seem to remember a church that the Lord indicated had “a name” that they “lived,” but who in reality was “dead” (Revelation 3:1). It has all come down to numbers. If we can fill the pews, then let’s not use any sort of “litmus test” other than that. Let’s not be concerned that the one chosen is a false teacher. Let’s just be concerned about filling the pews. After all, he’s a “good speaker.” Well, so is Joel Osteen. If no “litmus test” is to be used, then how do we go about rejecting him or others like him? Consistency is indeed a rare jewel, as is so often affirmed. Maybe we’ve found the way to “have our cake and eat it too”?

The truth of it all is we have a “litmus test” given to us by God that is bound upon all humanity. It is called the New Testament. It is called God’s Word. As God was going to use “A plumbline” on Israel (Amos 7:8), He uses one on us today. His inspired Word “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). We have been given “. . . all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). We have the “truth”, and it sets us free (John 8:32; 17:17). God’s commands have been given, and He has expectation that we comply with them (James 1:22-25).

The love that we have for God compels us to “keep his commandments” because they “are not grievous” (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:3). To be a friend to the Lord, His commands must be kept (John 15:14). To suggest we know the Lord, and fail in the keeping of His commandments is nothing more than a lie (1 John 2:4). Walking in the light (1 John 1:7) means, well it means “walking in the light”. It means practicing that “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25) given to us by God.

There is no reason for God, through inspired men, to make reference to such things as “sound doctrine” unless there is the God ordained compulsion for us to adhere to such (1 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:1, 2, 8). Our emotional ties to friends and loved ones do not set aside what God has said on these matters. Our adherence to and our continued practice of the Scriptures must remain firm through it all. God’s Word remains as the one and only “power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). For whatever reason it is that we reject God’s Word, we must recognize the fact that we will be confronted at Judgment by its truthfulness, its power, and its absolute right as the standard by which we will be judged (John 12:48-50).

Never once in the 27 books of the New Testament do we see even a hint that God does not have a “litmus test” for doctrinal positions. Paul, to the Ephesian elders, spoke of his being “pure from the blood of all men” because he had “not shunned to declare. . .all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:26, 28). The Bereans were commended for having “received the word with all readiness of mind” (Acts 17:11). To Timothy, Paul gave the specific “charge. . .before God. . .” for him to “. . . preach the word; . . .” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). To Titus, Paul set forth specific qualifications for those who would be elders commanding them to hold “fast the faithful word” (Titus 1:9).

If there is no “litmus test” by which we compare the actions of brethren today how do the following Scriptures make sense?

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause
divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye
have learned; and avoid them.” Romans 16:17

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother
that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he
received of us.” 1 Thessalonians 3:6

“A man that is an heretick after the first and second
admonition reject;” Titus 3:10

What was it that Paul used to determine the need to confront another Apostle “to the face” (Galatians 2:11-14) if there was not a standard (plumb line, “litmus test”)? I fear that far too many of us would fail the test of being like the Apostle Paul who “withstood” Peter on that occasion. The example was set, and Paul’s ability to impress upon the Galatians to follow his example is seen. How much impact would his teachings in Galatians 6:1 have had, had he not have followed through with the confrontation with Peter? Suppose he would have said something about no “litmus test,” and turned away from the confrontation? Would anyone have paid any attention to what was written later?

Elders have been given the responsibility to feed, oversee and protect the flock (Acts 20:28;
1 Peter 5:1-3; Hebrews 13:7, 17). When this is not done as it should be, souls are put in jeopardy. This refers to not only the souls of those who stray being jeopardized, but also those of the shepherds who reject the work they have “desired” to do (1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:9-11; Hebrews 13:17). God’s Word must be held up as His plumb line (“litmus test”) and both elders and members must be expected to adhere to it. We must stop being “ashamed of the gospel” recognizing its power (Romans 1:16). Whatever the circumstances may be, His Word provides us with the “test” of what is right and what is wrong. Whatever the circumstances may be, we must be expected to adhere to these teachings. Every conceivable excuse has been offered to circumvent what the New Testament teaches. But in the end, it still says just what it did when God had it written. And, it still serves as His “litmus test” to mankind.

References

Yahoo Answers, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070906130701AAKQsNB

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“Behold I Thought”

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The story is found in 2 Kings Chapter 5, verses 1-15. It is of a man who held the position of being a “captain of the host of the king of Syria.” He is seen as “a great man with his master, and honourable”, one who was “a mighty man in valour”, yet he was “a leper”. Leprosy is not a disease to be taken lightly in any sense. It is “characterized by ulcers of the skin, bone, and viscera and leading to loss of sensation, paralysis, gangrene, and deformation.” (Leprosy). But that is not the “amazing” part of the story. As we read on, a young Israelite girl that had been taken into Syrian captivity “waited on Naaman’s wife.” She, no doubt due to her regard for her master, indicated that if Naaman were “with the prophet that is in Samaria” he “would recover him of his leprosy.” But again, this is not the part of the story that “amazes” me. To make a “long story, short”, the prophet Elisha sends his “messenger” to Naaman, instructing him to “Go and wash in Jordan seven times” and his “flesh shall come again” to him. “Amazing,” but not the most “amazing” part of this story in any sense, knowing the power of God as I do!

The “amazing” part of all of this is found in verses 11 and 12, where these words are recorded, “But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.” There it is, a shocking statement from a man destined to die an excruciating death from leprosy. Naaman, “thought” instead of listening and obeying what he was told to do. How “amazing”! How could anyone be so prideful that they would reject what was said by God’s “messenger?” Surely, there must be just one event like this in all the history of mankind. But, sadly to say, that is not true.

Religion continues to be the one place wherein man’s “thoughts” are elevated to a place above directions given by God through His Inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:3). When confronted with clear teaching from God’s Word, I repeatedly hear people say things like, “But, I believe. . .”, or “I think. . .”, or “I feel as if, even though God has said what was said, He must mean something else.” This reminds me of the comment made by a denominational preacher in reference to Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 2:18-25. When confronted with the truth taught by Peter therein, this “preacher” stated, “What Peter should have said, we think. . .” Perhaps, he could have, like Naaman, said, “Behold I thought Peter should have said.”

All around us we are seeing one article after another, claiming to have been written by elders and preachers in the Lord’s church, which subtly suggest they, like Naaman, know what is best for the church based upon nothing higher than their beliefs. For example, one article stated, “I do not believe that the question whether Churches of Christ will continue to sing a cappella is the most important question facing our fellowship, and I think the question of what we sing is more important.” (Emp. mine, R.W.S.). Notice the use of the “Naaman Principle” here. No passage of New Testament Scripture was offered in defense of the suggestion that what we sing is of more importance than how we do so. The reality is both the “how” and the “what” are of equal value in so far as our singing being consistent with Scripture. Our worship is to be in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It must be done “with the spirit” and “with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15), or it will not be the true worship God demands (John 4:24). Only scriptural songs (i.e. songs which teach the truth according to New Testament Scripture) and only a cappella singing is authorized by God for the New Testament church (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16, 17). We can “believe” and “think” anything we want, but doing so fails to make it right. Just as Naaman’s thought would not have served him well had he stuck with it, thoughts like these fail to serve us well today.

An “elder” in a congregation claiming to be a congregation of the church wrote the following.
“. . . this church has worked through several very significant changes–in my opinion (Emp. mine, R.W.S.), ALL for the GOOD” (Emp. his, R.W.S.). Some of those “significant changes” that are “ALL for the GOOD” involved a change when it came “to the practice of deacons as males and females” and “the use of men and women in public worship.” He, further, suggested that “we need to look again at the Bible about the place and function of women as pulpit preachers, elders [shepherds], and other functions in the church.” His “opinion” is that “We need to continue our study of worship of all kinds, including the use of instrumental music, lifting up hands, kneeling, bowing, all kinds of art models like theatre, dramatic presentations, paintings, sculpture, etc.” Never mind what the New Testament has or does not have to say on any of these matters (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16, 17; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9 [note the gender specificity found in these two texts that is disregarded]; Titus 2:15, et. al). What is important to these folks, so it seems, is what their “opinions” are. Long past is the plea once heard within churches of Christ for there to be “book, chapter, and verse” in support of our practices, or whatever was being considered would not be practiced. The “Naaman Principle” of authority rules supreme in the lives of such people.

It amazes me that God somehow “overlooked” the need for “art models” when He had the Apostle Paul write to the Romans that the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). How it was that people in the first century managed to “save themselves from” an “untoward [crooked, E.S.V.] generation” (Acts 2:40) I will never know without such aids (do you sense the “dripping sarcasm” here?). Surely James must have been mistaken when he wrote concerning the need for man to “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21). It seems that “opinion” is taking the place of the “engrafted” (“implanted” – E.S.V.) word as we incorporate the all-important “art models” into the teaching practices of the church.

This “elder” goes on to suggest that “We should constantly continue to attempt to reach out and co-operate with all kinds of groups outside ourselves, including other denominations, . . .” Here, too, the “Naaman Principle” must have been put into practice as no Scripture was provided to sustain such a practice. It is evident that our brother sees the Lord’s church as a denomination, as seen in the need we have to “reach out and co-operate with . . . other denominations,. . .” (Emp., mine, R.W.S.). Never mind that not a single passage of New Testament Scripture even remotely hints at the idea of the church being a denomination. Jesus predicted He would build His “church” (Matthew 16:18). Nothing is seen in this passage that would suggest that He recognized it as “a religious grouping within a faith that has its own system of organization” (Encarta, n.d.). The singleness of the church approved of by God is seen in passage after passage in the New Testament (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:22, 23, et. al). No New Testament Scripture provides authority for the existence of denominations and, as such, how do we go about reaching out and co-operating with them with God’s approval?
The question posed by Amos, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3), rings true when it comes to the suggestion that we somehow “reach out and co-operate” with those of the denominational world. The Lord’s church has been presented with the need to pursue that which would result in unity, not diversity (John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 1:27; 4:2; Colossians 2:2; et. al). How can unity possibly be accomplished by reaching out and co-operating with those with whom we disagree? Paul’s questions penned to the Corinthians well speak to this suggestion, “what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). The answer to each is self-evident, are they not?

The “Naaman Principle” is seen on every hand as one congregation after another follows the path laid out by brethren such as these just referred to. So long as we are allowed to express our opinions on matters of faith, and they are put into practice, congregations will continue to “turn away their ears from truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:4). True elders, who have been commissioned by God to stop the “mouths” of “deceivers. . .who subvert whole houses” (Titus 1:10, 11) must step up. As predicted by Paul, and is easily seen today, even from within congregations and elderships are men who are arising, “speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). If the Lord’s church is to remain “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13), then “sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) and “sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9) must come forth from men who are, like the Apostle Paul, committed to please God rather than men (Galatians 1:10).

May God continue to bless the efforts of those who defend His Word.

REFERENCES

Encarta Dictionary, Microsoft Word Version
“Leprosy”, American Heritage Dictionary, n.d., http://www.answers.com/topic/leprosy