Know Your Bible

VOL. 14                                                                                                                         February 12, 2017                                                                                                                            NO. 48



Liberal is an oft-used term in the church. I consider some Christians liberal. Some whom I think of as liberal warn against others whom they consider liberal, the "ultra-liberals." Is this just a bunch of name-calling? (Liberals identify themselves as "mainstream" or "progressive" and call me "anti.") What do we mean when we speak of liberal or conservative churches?


On the Surface

You do not have to be Solomon to discern the differences among churches of Christ. A quick glance reveals a variety of practices.

* Some contribute to institutions such as homes for orphans or widows, schools, hospitals, missionary societies, etc.  Others care for their own needy and support preachers directly (Acts 6:1-6; Phil. 4:15).

* Some participate in arrangements where one church takes on a project way beyond its means, then begs other churches to pay for it.  Oversight of the project is the business of the elders of the "sponsoring church." Others work within their means, being careful that their elders limit themselves to the flock among them (2 Pet. 5:2).

* Some build facilities called "family life centers" or "fellowship halls." These house recreational and social activities including dinners, athletic events, shows and entertainment, exercise and weight loss classes, etc. Others limit their facilities to auditoriums and classrooms for worship and Bible study, leaving social activities in the realm of the home (1 Cor. 11:22, 33).

* Some sponsor special events around popular holidays: Easter egg hunts, fall festivals at Halloween, Christmas plays, etc. Others limit their observance of days to the first day of the week when they gather to eat the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7).

* Some use carnal appeals to attract people to services, especially with bus ministries directed toward children. They provide special outings for different categories of people such as camps, retreats, skating parties, and jaunts to amusement parks for the young, and sight-seeing trips for the seniors. Others rely on the power of the gospel to draw sinners (Rom. 1:16).

* Some have an extensive staff of specialized ministers: education minister, youth minister, singles minister, seniors minister, hospital minister, prison minister, music minister, pulpit minister, etc. Others are served only by evangelists, elders, and deacons (Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:1).

* Some take up collections on a variety of occasions, insist on pledges from their members, and engage in a host of different fund-raising activities from sales to rentals to investments. Others are financed only by the freewill offerings of their members on the Lord's day (1 Cor. 16:2).

* Some use instrumental music in worship. Others are content to sing and make melody in their hearts (Eph. 5:19).

* Some teach that divorce for most any cause is acceptable, and maintain fellowship with brethren who are so divorced and remarried. Others teach that adultery is the only scriptural basis for putting away one's mate and remarrying (Mt. 19:9).

* Some use women as preachers and worship leaders. Others do not (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

* Some openly fellowship people in denominational churches. In fact, a few are beginning to accept denominational status for themselves.  Others refuse to fellowship those who do not abide in Christ's teaching (2 Jn. 9-11).

It is difficult to say precisely what a liberal church is since not all are equally liberal. Some do everything I have described at the beginning of these paragraphs. Others go along with only a few of these things. Others are doubtless doing things that I am unaware of.


The Underlying Problem

Despite the difficulty in precise descriptions, liberal is an appropriate term to designate these brethren because it accurately describes their approach to the authority of God's word.

Bible authority is established in one of three ways: 1) by direct statements or commands; 2) by approved examples, which illustrate what was commanded; 3) by necessary inferences, conclusions necessitated by the facts.

A few liberal brethren still recognize these principles and attempt to justify their practices thereby. However, these constitute an increasing minority. More and more liberals are denying that the Bible was intended to be a pattern to be followed for all time.

They deny the force of examples and inferences, saying the only authority is in commands. (What about the command to follow examples, as in Philippians 3:17 and 4:9?) Some commands are dismissed, too, as belonging only to the less advanced society in which the gospel was introduced. Silence is viewed as permissive - a thing is right unless the Bible says not to do it despite the Bible's warnings against going beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6). Make no mistake: attitude toward authority is at the root of the differences in practice.

Liberalism is snowballing.  Thirty or forty years ago brethren would not have dreamed of things that are commonplace today.  And it shows no signs of slowing down. Those who want only a little liberalism are in an awkward position: they do not like what is happening but they cannot preach against it without condemning themselves.


"Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified . . ." (1 Pet. 4:11).

—Frank Himmel

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A strong warning is given in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” Those with whom we surround ourselves will impact the kind of people we are. Some friends are a blessing, others can be a curse. Who should I choose as a friend?  What does the Bible say?

Psalm 1:1 says a blessed man will make some choices:

Walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,” When our advisors are those who do not respect God, we set a course for disaster. 

Nor stands in the path of sinners,”People who transgress the commands of God, will encourage you to be like them.

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” Those who are cruel and oppressive to others, will influence us to take on those same ways.

There is a very deceptive nature of peer pressure. We don’t always see the influence that others have on us. Notice in the passage above that first we walk, then stand, then sit down with those who are evil. We can become comfortable with things that should shock us.

Choose your companions carefully. Real friends help you to please God. We would love to be your true friend and teach you God’s way.

—Paul Adams 

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