A Journey Toward Jesus: 7th Letter

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A Journey Toward Jesus
–Seventh Letter

December 10, 1973

Dear Edward,

You told me to write “along” and tell you how I’m thinking, so here goes. I’ve thought a little about the Leviticus 10 and II Chronicles 30 passages and have come up with one impression that I’d like you to comment on.

It seems to me that one thing stands out in these examples, that being that the people who disobeyed God and were forgiven or “healed” were people who knew what the Lord’s will was in their respective situations. Their sin was not one of “ignorance” as one might say. They “willfully disobeyed,” because of personal feelings (as in the case of Aaron’s other sons) or in a predicament in which they were not able to comply completely with the law (II Chr. 30). My point is that we really don’t have any examples of people who “sinned ignorantly” and were forgiven.

In other words, God did extend mercy perhaps in these cases, but these were not cases of “ignorance.” As you suggest, out of “weakness” or “false piety” these two occasions led to sin – but they’re not exactly “parallel” to a case of using instruments ignorantly in praise of God.

In either case it seems to me that God is still the judge – but that there is no “rosy picture” in the Scriptures pertaining to those who sin “ignorantly” so far as I am able to see. I think there may be something to be said for the possibility (perhaps probability) of mercy from God upon those who through “false piety” willingly disobeyed, though knowing the will of God; but on the other hand, it does not seem to me that the Scriptures portray any “hope of mercy” for those who did indeed sin in ignorance.

Perhaps I have missed some implications, but it appears to me that God forgave (as far as revelation tells us) those who “sinned ignorantly” but “lived long enough” to see their error and repent. I do not recall at the moment any examples of persons being forgiven without first becoming aware of their error and repenting of it, all of which does not prove that God will not forgive such people, but it certainly does not show forth any hope for them that they will be forgiven. Which is, I guess, in my way of thinking, a negative approach – preaching “repentance and reformation” to those I consider sinning in ignorance – that they may not be lost, rather than appealing to their wanting to “please the Lord in all things.”

I appreciate your aspect of the “positive quest” of the person seeking the will of the Lord. But let me ask some questions.

  1. Does it imply that the person who is not “correct” so far as “work and worship” (those categories again) is not seeking to please the Lord in all things?
  2. May it imply this? In other words – is that not one possibility in the matter?

For instance, isn’t it possible that many who use the instrument are not of the “heart of faith” and thus have never even bothered to consider what pleases the Lord, and thus are in danger of judgment for that reason. Likewise, the person who does not use the instrument, but (as you suggested) is converted to the “church,” and thus it is just “chance” that he does not use it – is he not in the same boat as the one who uses it but has never considered what may please the Lord? In other words, the person who wants to please the Lord will ask, “What may I offer to God in praise that will please Him?” and if he does not ask this question, whether he uses the instrument or not, he is not a “man of faith.” Is this what you are trying to say?

May I suggest then, optimistically, that this “man of faith” if he uses the instrument will someday relinquish his use of it? In other words, the Lord is pleased by the man who positively is seeking to please Him and “doing the right things” may not mean a thing if it is because he “inherited” this practice, or never bothered to seek the answer to the question above.

I have trouble understanding then, how there are any “men of faith” who still persist in what we would term unauthorized practices. In other words, potentially, will not all “men of faith” come to the same conclusions “we” do on these things? I do not mean “overnight” the first time the evidence is presented, but will not the true man of faith come to that knowledge? Maybe my “grid and screen” of former thinking will not let me see this clearly, but it seems to me that this “man of faith” seeking the help of God – will (by God’s providence or however it might be stated) come to this proper knowledge, whatever the “issue.” God is not pleased by presumptuous men – nor by men who practice (even wellmeaning men) unauthorized things; thus, God is not technically “pleased” when a “man of faith” disobeys Him in this way. So will not God grant this “man of faith” the wisdom to see the truth?

For instance, both you and I agree that the church operating through institutions is unwarranted by the Bible – hence “sinful,” missing the mark, and God is not pleased. However, would not then the “man of faith” ultimately come to these conclusions that you and I have come to? If he wants desperately to please the Lord in all things, he could not but “give up” such things in view of his devotion, correct? Perhaps I am confused on this; if so, please elaborate further.

Let me ask about division. Let us say that before the big split that occurred between institutional and non-institutional brethren the teaching you have introduced to me had been put to use, how would this have avoided such a split and how today could what you’ve introduced to me be used to ease such as these today? Would you suggest the “box-in the-vestibule” and further study? I am curious as to how these things might be applied.

Another practical question I’d like to ask involves personal advice. The Christian church preacher in town came by to visit us one day, and was warm and friendly, wanting to “welcome” me. How might I go about trying to teach him the truth, or do you think I should try? In other words, what kind of fellowship might I have with this man who is by ” membership” a part of a denominational body, though perhaps filled with baptized believers? They have their ladies’ groups and “parsonage” and gymnasium, etc. What might I do to teach him to “please the Lord in all things”? Now I know that we cannot read the hearts of men, but is there some sign or fruit that we may observe to realize whether this man is or that he is not concerned with pleasing the Lord?

I would like for you, when you have the time and opportunity, to elaborate more on the idea that this “approach” is the only effective way to combat denominationalism and sectarianism. This is the one very difficult thing for me to see. I can “almost” see it, and then I cannot.

I think I understand your point on the “work and worship” categories. Let me state what I understand, and you tell me if I am right. These rigid “categories” as such are not found in the Scriptures. Hence, well-meaning men have set them up as primary or even the only measures of faithfulness and fidelity. Since these categories are not mentioned in the Scriptures as such, we should neither insist upon them as THE main thing to the neglect of other equally important topics and subject matter.

This, then, is not to argue that such “categories” are not important but that they are no more important than any other of the Scriptural teachings. To state it positively: these things (“work and worship”) are as important as anything in the Scriptures, not more, not less. Consequently, we should work on these things diligently to come to a Scriptural understanding, but they are no more or less conducive to spiritual growth than anything else. We need to understand God’s will on these – but also on other things, and being right on “these” is no sure guarantee of salvation Thus, as long as the “brother in error” on this particular point is willing to study and be a “man of faith” and will not force me to be involved in his error, we may continue to work, worship and associate together. However, when he manifests that he is not this “man of faith” and is no longer interested in pleasing the Lord in all things – we must cease having fellowship with him, he condemning himself.

One further question on the “man of faith.” Is it conceivable, then, that this man could go through a lifetime believing that instrumental music was okay and still be a “man of faith.” In other words, we could go on forever studying with him – with him never coming to “our” understanding of the proper offering to God in worship (which we believe is God’s will) – can he still be a man of faith? Is he not as responsible as us to rid himself as much as is possible of “grids and screens” that would prohibit his objective (or more objective) consideration of the evidence? Will not God hold him responsible for not actively trying to rid himself of such? And if so, does this not argue that the man of faith will see like we do on this or that issue? I guess I am saying, “Can we see the Bible alike?” and if not, who is wrong – and responsible?

About that theoretical girl with all the problems I mentioned in one of the letters – you said you would tell her those things to be of God’s will that you think are, and also tell those things that are not. You then said that if she is really seeking to please Him in all things that this will be the most motivating thing you could do; but what if she disagrees with you? Then what – may she persist in those things, even those you have factually shown her to be in error? I do not mean rebelliously persist, but honestly believing she is right. Can she thus live, subverting others with her false doctrine and cause them to sin? This is what I have in mind when I say “perpetuate denominationalism.” It seems when we convert someone to the Lord, and then they persist in holding onto denominational doctrines (calling us “Reverend” or “Pastor,” wearing denominational names, etc.) honestly (not rebelliously) believing the error, will this not then perpetuate denominationalism? If we are not successful, then she will teach others her error undoubtedly and lead others astray – correct? This is why I bring up the idea of whether the true man of faith will not eventually relinquish his honestly held error.

Well, this is enough for now. I appreciate your willingness to continue writing, I see a lot of promise in the things you say, but I have these lingering fears that denominationalism will crop up in them. If you can allay such fears I will be obliged. I appreciate your willingness to hear me out. Thank you again.

Love in Christ,

Bruce