The Fine Line—When Apologists Can Be Dangerous to the Body of Christ
I came from what apologists called a cult—was it? Except for not believing in the trinity doctrine, which the early Sabbatarian Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor didn’t have a concept of from 31AD to the late 200s AD, the Worldwide Church of God believed in keeping the 10 Commandments, as they were modified and enhanced by Jesus in the New Testament. Romans 14 clearly states that be it according to your Christian conscience as to which set of “days of worship” you observe. The Worldwide Church of God, as well as all the Sabbatarian Churches of God going back to the Colony of Rhode Island in the 1660s to Sabbatarian Churches of God around London England from the 1300s to 1600s, all chose the Seventh Day Sabbath and Holy Days of Leviticus 23 as their chosen days of worship according to their Christian consciences, as allowed by Romans 14:4-5, 22-23. The trinity doctrine itself was not teased out of Scripture for the first 250 years of the existence of the Church. It was not a valid standard of orthodoxy of the 12 apostles in their writings, especially of John in his writings. The apostle John had come up against heretics and heresies attacking and actually splitting some of his congregations in Asia Minor. And John emphatically stated that the proof of orthodoxy was whether those espousing belief in Jesus also held and taught that Jesus was God in the flesh. The Gospel of John veritably teaches that Jesus was actually the pre-incarnate Yahweh of the Old Testament (see John 8:58; Exodus 3:13-14). The heresies attacking the early Christian churches were clearly written about and listed by the disciple of Polycarp (which himself was the disciple of the apostle John), Irenaeus in 178AD in a six volume set titled “Against Heresies” (Latin Ad Haereses ). Irenaeus never in the whole six volumes mentions that belief or non-belief in the Trinity doctrine marked the difference between a heretical church and an orthodox one. The trinity doctrine had not yet been teased out of the Scriptures. It was a mute question, because it didn’t exist yet. The nature of what or who the Holy Spirit was, as compared to who God the Father and Jesus Christ were, just was not a question in apostolic writings. To see view the heresies that were attacking the early Judeo-Christian churches, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/misc/whyorthodoxy.html.
There is one so-called Christian ministry which has set itself up as a judge and jury against legalistic churches, and particularly the Sabbatarian Churches of God that branched out from the Worldwide Church of God after the death of Mr. Joseph Tkach Sr. in 1995. They have written online articles which border on being rabid against legalism of any kind. While I do admit some church denominations can be extremely harmful for a believer to get involved in, the constant attacks of PTM-Ministries upon their Sabbatarian Churches of God brothers goes above and beyond. I found one legalistic church denomination on an apologists website that is so very bad in being legalistic and over-controlling of it’s members, that it makes any Sabbatarian Churches of God look like they are harmless school children in a kindergarten playground. (See http://www.carm.org/list/bcc.htm, to see what I am talking about. And this apologist website does not even mention Sabbatarian Churches of God in their analysis and listing as cults or legalists, and has a benign mention of the Seventh Day Adventists.) Recently PTM-Ministries has come under fire for their scathing articles against legalism, which are veiled attacks against the Sabbatarian Churches of God that broke away from the Worldwide Church of God in 1995. Monte Wolverton wrote an article in response to some of these letters which were bringing PTM-Ministries under fire. I wrote a letter back to Monte, which follows. “Is it legalism to strive to obey God’s law (whether for those who are Sabbatarian Churches of God, adhering to the OT Holy Days and Sabbath, along with the other 9 Commandments, which find their spiritual counterpart [all 9] in the NT, and for Sunday observing Christians striving to adhere to the NT ‘law of Christ’ [9 of the 10C, found re-iterated in the NT], as Paul admonishes throughout the NT Epistles (ie, to say “sin not” is just another way of saying “obey”, since sin is the transgression of the law [whichever ‘law of God’ one chooses, cf. Romans 14])---as long as one is striving for obedience in and by way of God’s Holy Spirit, thus in faith? You may have to read that twice to get the jist of the question, but it’s important, for some groups label legalists as they who strive to obey God’s law. That’s not a proper definition at all. Legalists demand one keeps the law of God as a requirement for salvation, often without regard to whether the obedience is done by one own efforts, or by and through the influence of the Holy Spirit. Pastor Chuck Smith once remarked that when man tries to look at the subject of ‘Law & Grace’, it’s like looking at a triangle for some, looking sideways at it, and a circle for others looking straight down on it, both irreconcilable definitions, yet both are described in the Bible as being a part of ‘Law & Grace’. But when God looks at the subject, he sees a cone (both a triangle and circle)! If one seeks genuinely to obey God’s law (whichever version should not effect the definition, Sunday or Sabbath keeper) by and through the faith of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t define this as legalism, now would you? And no matter how the preacher may be pounding the pulpit about obedience, if his audience is genuinely Holy Spirit indwelt and obeying God’s Word not on his or her own, but by having the Lord write his royal law on their hearts and minds via the Holy Spirit, would you define that as legalism or this audience as legalistic? Well I know many Christians, both Sunday and Sabbath observing, who are in this category, imbued with the Holy Spirit, and their lives are marked by overcoming in God’s power. Would it be proper for me to label (libel) their various denominations as legalistic and slam them, when this would be a personal affront to my friends and brothers in Christ? Would I be amiss to support a ministry which practices and does this as an integral part of their ministry? If the Body of Christ has been given the overall job of proclaiming the Gospel of Salvation to the world, shouldn’t that be our central focus, and let other denominations later answer to God for themselves on how they handled the assignment, according to the knowledge they were granted? Is it for us to judge or be judgmental toward other groups? Now I could see warning other Christians about the genuine heretical groups such as adoptionists or ‘Christian’ Gnostics (I’ve known one, and boy, a space-shot doctrinally! Way out there, and when I studied Gnosticism, very dangerous). I could even see warning about legalistic groups that are so legalistic that they are a danger to those who get entrapped by them (the one I gave a link for ). But you could call the Southern Baptists, or a lot of the Baptists legalists by the standards being used by PTM-Ministries. But I know some Baptists, and many are Holy Spirit indwelt. Should I label them legalists? I often wondered, when PTM-Ministries got going, why they took on what might be described as falling under the category of being apologists or a quasi-apologist ministry, especially aimed a what they perceived as legalists? Many legalistic groups are genuinely Christian, and attacking any such group, since we’re all part of the Body of Christ, is like one part of the Body of Christ attacking another part, when they all need each other to live and function as a body. The apostle Paul had something to say about this. And what he said had more to do with showing respect and love, since we’re all a part of Christ’s body of believers. He said the more comely parts need the less comely parts---am I correct? In this respect, shouldn’t we be heeding Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”? If our (mis)judging offend one single member of the body of Christ, causing him or her to stumble, aren’t we going for a deep-water swim with a big weight-belt on? Since I have visited and fellowshipped with a lot of believers on both sides of this Sabbath-Sunday “great divide”, this question has been on my mind, especially since I have seen so many differing interpretations for ‘Law & Grace’, and yet have genuinely witnessed believers within all these differing parts of the body of Christ exhibiting the same exact Christly lifestyle. Maybe all our definitions for ‘Law & Grace’ lack the depth and understanding God has on the subject, but our lifestyles all reflect the same spiritual “code-of-conduct” for believers in Jesus Christ, all living “in the Spirit”, living in the ‘faith of Abraham’, who is the father of the faithful. I am confused. Maybe I’m reading these Scriptures wrong. Please tell me, what would you do? Would you support such a ministry? Or would you choose to lean on the side of caution, and forego being judgmental, no matter how “right” it looked? I have to look at the various denominations carefully, and be seeking to understand them and show understanding---seeking to inspire all toward their God and Christ given assignment found in Matthew 28:18-20. And I leave the apologist’s job to the apologists, and try to pick the apologist that has no personal interest in the group I’m looking at. Since most legalistic denominations or churches do have many Holy Spirit inspired and led individuals within them, as do the non-legalistic ones, is it correct to attack legalistic churches and denominations? Maybe in a totally clinical environment, abstract from being able to identify any group, one can attack legalism, per se. But when an apologist ministry’s descriptions point toward one or another denomination so clearly that you can easily identify it, or know for certain the group you’re in has been “targeted”, this then, I would gain to say, is attacking another part of the Body of Christ. Is that a proper thing to do? Wasn’t Paul one of the biggest teachers of Christian sensitivity for the sake of other believers? If many of my friends, ones who have clearly demonstrated the indwelling Holy Spirit in their lives, still attend in one of these Sabbatarian Churches of God, and I were to viciously attack their prophetic beliefs (pre-millennial prophetic, with a slight twist) as “Armstrongism”, would I not offend those who still hold those beliefs, and perhaps cause some of them to stumble (especially new members whom I personally know)? I know I would. Should we, by extension, be a part of a ministry that could cause other believers to stumble?
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