Tolerance of heretics disrupts discipline

Mr. Snow, 33, works as a customer-service representative for Lafarge Corp. He has an M.A. and a B.A. in history and a B.A. in philosophy and has attended the Church of God since 1986.

For background on Mr. Snow's subject, see "How Should We 'Mark'?," by Bryn Hendrickson, page 3, May 31; as well as "Point Missed," by Paula Wik, page 2; "Constipated Progress," by Brian Knowles, page 4; and "Stick Around, Eric," by Raymond Mirabile, page 4. These four wrote in response to Mr. Snow's editorial "History of 'Arianism' Calls for Drastic Step" in the March 31 issue in which he called for the United Church of God to disfellowship Gary Fakhoury.

Mr. Fakhoury, in an essay serialized beginning in the July 31, 1998, issue, had concluded that Jesus, although He is Messiah, Savior, the Son of God and the sinless sacrifice for the sins of humanity, is not God.

By Eric Snow

FERNDALE, Mich.--Ah! The road of a modern-day Athanasius sure is hard, isn't it? The fundamental dispute between me and my four critics in the May 31 issue of The Journal, however, concerns church government, not the deity of Christ.

To debate or not to debate

Today the fundamental question the church has to answer is whether it is to be a theological debating society in which everybody can believe just about anything he or she wishes, or will it stand for and defend fundamental truths against all who disagree, whether they be insiders or outsiders?

If the church as a group of believers is to stand for something, it needs a mechanism by which to expel members who uphold teachings that disagree with its major doctrines that can damage the faith of others and cause division.

The more a church argues internally on major subjects, the less effective it is in facing the world because internal squabbling takes up too much of the members' time. The fact a heretic may express himself or herself in an independent forum, such as The Journal, not controlled by a corporate church organization is irrelevant.

Brian Knowles mistakenly equates the identity of our Savior as a doctrine as having no more importance than "attending someone else's Feast or calling them on the carpet for casually hanging out with someone from a different group that teaches essentially the same doctrines but has different leadership."

Whether Jesus is the Creator or a creature or is God or just a man is not a minor administrative matter but has major consequences for the theory of atonement and our understanding of how God relates to mankind. The sacrifice of a mere man is infinitely less than that of the Eternal turned flesh.

The United Church of God's general spirit has been to treat the nature-of-God question as largely irrelevant since it has no practical effect on outward behavior, unlike Sabbath observance. Here I suspect the cultural influence of the Anglo-Saxon spirit of pragmatism is at work among us. This issue matters because, if we don't have a fundamentally accurate conception of God, we can't relate to Him properly. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews . . . God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:22, 24).

This is why we should look to dogma also, not just fruit. Sincere people can do all sorts of nice things, but that doesn't prove they have a correct relationship with God.

Hierarchical concepts

Paula Wik's condemnation of "hierarchical thinking" ignores the reality that the New Testament is saturated with hierarchical concepts, since all the major social relationships in society it mentions are unequal in nature. Equality in God's sight (Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 12:13) does not eliminate inequality on earth. Despite the Father and Son both having perfect divine natures, the Godhead still has an inequality of authority (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:27-28).

Human society is supposed to mirror the Godhead's unequal yet mutually loving relationship. Hence we find children are to obey parents (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20); slaves are to obey masters (Colossians 3:22-23; Ephesians 6:5-6; 1 Peter 2:18-19); wives are to obey husbands (1 Peter 2:18-19; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1, 5-6); and everyone is to obey his human government (Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-15; Romans 13:1-7).

The present-time common delusion, which uses Matthew 20:25-28 as the launch pad, claims that someone having a position of service to another person means the one serving has no authority over the one being served.

Although Jesus served us, as verse 28 shows, other texts reveal we must still obey Him (Matthew 28:20; John 15:14). Simply put, love and authority are not mutually exclusive.

Likewise, the requirement for the ministry to serve the laity does not cancel the authority in spiritual affairs of the former over the latter (Hebrews 13:17, 25; 1 Timothy 2:12; 5:17; Titus 2:15). The political model of Scripture clearly is a self-sacrificing paternalism, not egalitarian democracy.

(Those interested in a longer proof of this point should request a free audiotape of a split sermon I gave May 22 in the Ann Arbor, Mich., church called "New Testament Government." Write and refer to tape ID 1495.)

The fundamental mistake of the independents in the Church of God is to read America's (and the Western world's) reigning political philosophy, the spirit of 1776, 1789 and 1848, into Scripture, just as the Israelites demanded a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5-8, 19-20).

Apostolic directives

Because of space considerations, a full-fledged defense of hierarchical church government can't be mounted here. Those interested in two essays I've written on the subject of government, "Is an Ordained Ministry a New Testament Doctrine?" and "Do Elders Have the Power to Rule?," can check for their availability at these two sites: and

Bryn Hendrickson asserts that elders have no individual authority to disfellowship members. But notice that in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul was giving orders, not mere suggestions, about what to do with a flagrant sinner in the Corinthians' midst: "In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (verses 4-5).

(I wonder, incidentally, if someone would judge that this act would also be "the height of arrogance and [showing] a general lack of Christian love." Tough love isn't necessarily pretty or pleasant.)

Mr. Hendrickson's belief that 1 Timothy 1:19-20 wasn't about disfellowshipment is refuted by the mention that Paul had Hymenaeus and Alexander "delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme."

Since the same terminology is repeated in 1 Corinthians 5:5, this had to be a disfellowshipment, not a mere expression of "hopelessness toward people he knew who had given up." These two men had to be thrown out, "delivered up." They didn't just leave on their own.

Curiously enough, 2 Timothy 17-18, which mentions Hymenaeus again, receives no discussion here. Perhaps this text was ignored because (in conjugation with 1 Timothy 1:19-20) it sets a precedent for disfellowshipment over doctrine; namely, teaching that the resurrection had already occurred.

Need for discipline and protection

In conclusion, if the church is to stand for revealed truths with which to teach others, rather than a social-theological debating club that stands for little or nothing in particular (like the Unitarian-Universalist church I attended when I was a child), there is a need for church discipline on major doctrines (not picky minor points).

Too much openness will destroy the truth because, if a group gives no clear direction as to where it stands, many members will drift and get picked off one by one by the world, the flesh and Satan.

The church needs to protect members from the promulgation of false teachings from those within the church, not merely from without.

Furthermore, many in the world would avoid joining a group continually rent by major doctrinal disputes since they dislike hearing people continually arguing.

After the Christian Pharisees who disagreed with Paul and others over whether circumcising the gentiles was a condition for salvation lost at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15), they didn't start some independent group.

Instead, they and others obeyed "the decrees, which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe" (Acts 16:4).

The headline, "'To Continue to Exist, a Church Must Defend Doctrine,' " in the same issue of The Journal, gets it right.

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