“DIFFERENCES IN APPLICATION”
THE NEW REASONING BEHIND TOLERATION OF DOCTRINAL ERROR
By Jeff Belknap
In recent years, we have seen the error regarding Romans 14 flourish and now come into full bloom. We have witnessed the seeds of an apostasy which were planted, in part, to justify the toleration of a brother who held and taught falsehood on marriage, divorce and remarriage (MDR). This error has germinated into the acceptance of all manner of lawlessness, including issues of “considerable doctrinal import.” We now have more and more “gray areas,” in which we are told we cannot be sure what the will of the Lord really is or what He truly means (John 8:31-32; Eph. 5:17). This digression has grown to the point that it and its offshoots cannot be eradicated among us. Its roots are simply too deep.
Regrettably, another “good” reason to tolerate disagreement in doctrinal areas has emerged among us — differences in application. Ironically, this idea is also being advanced to justify association with false teaching that leads to adultery (detailed in a previous article, “Mental Divorce, Revamped and Revisited;” Gospel Truths, October 2000, pg. 18).
Those desiring continued fellowship (despite this error) state that as long as brethren agree on a scriptural principle, they can differ over a specific matter of application regarding that standard. There is just one thing wrong with such a statement, there is absolutely no Biblical basis for it! Its entire foundation is flawed by the idea that one aspect of truth (principle) is more important than another aspect of truth (application).
It is disappointing that this new-fangled “reasoning,” a Pandora’s box for tolerating doctrinal differences, is being advanced by highly esteemed brethren. Even more disheartening is the fact that these same men are those who have fought valiantly against various other MDR digressions. Making things worse, other well-respected brethren are defending these men using this same false premise, which allows them to embrace the erring with impunity.
Our simple motto used to be,
“in matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; but in all things,
charity.” Where do differences in application fit into this motto? If we
misapply the scriptures, are we rightly
dividing the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15; I Thess. 5:21)?
In addition, when a man’s “application” of scripture
ultimately validates an adulterous marriage,
how can we say it is acceptable to disagree? When an erroneous application of
truth endorses a sinful act, it has disastrous consequences for the souls
of the sinners involved, as well as those who fellowship them (Eph. 5:11).
In contrast to the Romans 14 apostasy, this error has not been frequently proclaimed from various pulpits or magazines across the land. Instead, it is being discussed in more private settings. What ever happened to the saying, “Truth has nothing to hide, and the only thing that suffers from investigation is error?” If an alternate application of a principle is truth, why not proclaim it openly? If it is proven to be in accordance with scripture, then we can unite upon it. If it is exposed as error and repentance follows, we can all rejoice (II Tim. 2:25; Jas. 5:19-20). However, if no correction is made, then we can know which doctrine and which brethren to “avoid” (Rom. 16:17).
As it now stands, the seeds of this departure have already grown into plants, which in turn are disseminating their own seeds. Though the intent may not have been to spread and teach this position, informal sharing of these erroneous views has resulted in souls being carried away with this “strange doctrine” (cf. Heb. 13:9). Sequentially, those being led astray with these ideas are sharing them with others. The result is the same as that of public teaching, albeit at a slower pace. Brethren, if this latest premise isn’t nipped in the bud, it will creep up on us just like the Romans 14 kudzu vine (Acts 15:24; Gal. 1:6-9)!
We cannot modify the scriptures to justify false doctrine or those who teach it (Luke 16:15). We must preach the truth without fear or favor (Jas. 2:9). Because the gospel is God’s one and only power to save (Rom. 1:16), we must make sure that our application of it is as accurate as its principles! However, since some brethren think that we cannot unite upon certain applications of scripture, they would have us agree to disagree. Where do you think such a novel suggestion will lead? This premise opens the door to every conceivable and inconceivable perversion of truth.
Recently, a brother accurately wrote of the Romans 14 apostasy, “Those seeking a broader application of Romans 14 have told us that the inspired writer did not instruct the readers to ‘settle the issue on the basis of which was right or wrong.’ They have come up with subjective rules as to which doctrinal differences are ‘included’ and which are ‘excluded.’” (“Dimpled Chads in Romans 14;” Harry Osborne; Truth Magazine, 1/18/01, par. 7) The same observation can be applied to the issue under examination in this article. A “broader application” of the scriptures is proposed on the basis of purely “subjective rules as to which doctrinal differences are ‘included’ and which are ‘excluded.’”
I am saddened by the inconsistency of those who believe that one can be sound in the faith, while refusing to acknowledge sound words, whether they consider them to be “points of application” or to be “under the umbrella of Romans 14” (cf. I Tim. 1:3; 6:3-5). It appears that some believe we can differ on scriptural matters, as long as an “acceptable” rationale is offered.
We cannot simply resign ourselves to live in harmony with those who would deny words of truth just because they seem to have a “good reason” why we need not agree on that issue (Prov. 14:12). Since we will all stand alone on the Day of Judgment, we must be prepared to think and act for ourselves (Acts 17:11; II Cor. 13:5). We cannot, under any circumstances, exalt the unfounded ideas of highly esteemed brethren over that which is clearly revealed in the inspired pages of the written word (I Cor. 4:6; II John 9). Once we agree to fellowship error (or simply allow it to be advocated without challenge), it will take root and spread until it chokes the light from good vegetation. As the old saying goes, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
“...Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:13-14).