(Arguments For the Practice Considered 3)
Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions? (Song 1:7)
Question.—Where there is agreement in fundamental doctrines, shouldn’t we lay aside those peculiar teachings which are the source of differences?
Answer.—This question displays much of the underlying confusion of the age regarding the distinction between essential and non-essential, or circumstantial, doctrine. While we admit that some doctrines are foundational, or “first principles,” Heb. 5:12; 6:1; yet, none ought to conclude that some teachings of the Bible are essential and others non-essential, Matt. 28:20.
It should be apparent that all peculiarities are either consonant with Scripture or not. These tend to be matters deduced by “good and necessary consequence.” The Sadducees believed that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was a peculiarity which did not belong to the “fundamentals” of the faith, cf. Matt. 22:29-32. Yet, the apostle held this to be a “fundamental” which Christ deduced by good and necessary consequence, Heb. 6:2. Some allow that Christ alone is the head of the church, whilst others allow the king or pope to share the honor, cf. Col. 1:18. Some believe that Christ’s mediatory kingdom extends to all things in and out of the church whilst others restrict it to the church, cf. John 3:35; Matt. 28:18.
Peculiarities are generally viewed as matters of small concern; yet, those which possess Scriptural support are not to be discarded, Prov. 23:23. It is false to reason that minute disagreements do not influence broader matters of faith, Matt. 7:14. Men often mistake the grounds and parameters of their belief, Prov. 16:25. It should always be remembered that truth is no enemy to peace, Zech. 8:3, 16, 19; 1 Cor. 13:6; Ps. 122:6.
Question.—Occasional hearing is a common practice, should we condemn all who practice it?
Answer.—We are strictly forbidden to follow the multitude in the doing of that which is evil, Ex. 23:2. The idea of using the common practice of men for our justification is also forbidden, Luke 16:15. The flocks of the companions are often more numerous than the little flock of Christ, Rev. 13:3. Yet, we are commanded to follow in the footsteps of that little flock, Song 1:8; Luke 12:32. We ought to be moved neither by the low motives of custom or novelty, Jer. 10:3; 2 Tim. 4:3.
Some, not moved by consideration of custom or novelty, are moved to the practice of occasional hearing to avoid the charge of bigotry, cf. Matt. 5:11. They forget that the religion of Jesus is singular and peculiar, 1 Pet. 2:9; Isa. 30:21. If we were following the world in its amusements and vanities, men would not speak evil of us, but when we seek to follow hard upon our Savior, we should not be surprised that the world hate us, Isa. 66:5; 1 John 3:13.
It is true, many take encouragement for the practice from the example and permission of their teachers, cf. Matt. 18:6. Nonetheless, the command of the Lord is clear that we are not to follow a bad example even in an approved act such as hearing, Hos. 4:15. As in the state, so in the church, boundless toleration is productive of every evil work, Rev. 2:14, 15, 20.
Question.—If Christian association is allowed, why not ministerial association in occasional hearing?
Answer.—Christian communion, or private Christian association, does not necessarily recognize the peculiarities of a given church that ministerial communion does, cf. Romans 10:15. In cases of ministerial communion our judgment is to be joined with that of the Lord, Jer. 23:31, 32.
That communion which is founded upon the communion of the saints, which is catholic, we are free and even obliged to follow, cf. 1 John 1:3; 3:14. However, that communion which is ecclesiastical in nature, which consists in organic communion and union, wherein men are considered as church members, is based upon corporate professed principles and practices which must be adjudged as such, Ezek. 13:7-18. The first kind of association does not imply or entail incorporation, cf. Luke 15:6; the second kind of association does, Rom. 12:4, 5.