restoration" is a phrase which Christians have used to describe
agreement to share spiritual relationship and activity based upon mutual
understanding and acceptance of truth as taught in the Scriptures.
"Restoration" is a word we have adopted to signify the recovery of first
century faith and practice in later centuries. We unashamedly believe
that the faith and practice of Christians in the first century, when
recorded in the New Testament with Divine approval, forms the pattern
for God's people until Christ returns
Cor. 4:6; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2; 3:10,14;
Tit. 1:9; 2 Jn. 9-11).
"Unity in diversity," on
the other hand, is a phrase which has been used to identify agreement to
share spiritual relationship and activity while disagreeing on what the
Bible teaches about mutually shared items of faith and practice. The
phrase often describes denominational acceptance of totally divergent
and even contradictory positions considered significant enough to
separate people into different "fellowships" or denominations. Baptists
and Methodists, for example, consider one another Christians and share
some activities (such as Easter sunrise services). They recognize that
their faith and practice are sufficiently different to keep them from
being together, yet they claim to be united. The phrase has also been
used to call for the uniting of those who hold differing views in
"Christian churches" and "churches of Christ." For example, advocates of
"unity in diversity" want those who believe in using mechanical
instruments of music in worship to join with those who do not, working
and worshiping together in spite of their differences.
I have been asked to
discuss which of these two approaches is biblical when we confront
questions concerning divorce and remarriage.
Unequivocally, I affirm
that biblical unity on any question about which God has spoken must be
based upon what God says. It cannot be based upon man's reasoning
rhetorically asked, "Can two walk together unless they are agreed?"
together" indicates mutual, shared activity. If I am involved in an
activity with another, I must agree, at least in that activity, or
violate conscience by participation. In spiritual matters the basis of
agreement must be the Word of God
Jesus prayed that all
Christians "may be one" in God and in Christ just as he had prayed that
those who were with him should be one
were the apostles one? The answer is in his prayer: "You gave them to Me
and they have kept Your word"
6); "They have
known that all things which You have given Me are from You"
7); "I have given
to them the words which You have given Me and they have received them"
8); "keep though
Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are"
11); "While I was
with them in the world, I kept them in Your name"
12); "I have given
them Your word" (v. 14); "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is
17); "for their
sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth"
19). There is no
question that Jesus taught unity upon compliance with the word of God.
One asks, however, "But
what about divorce and remarriage?" Two very direct references settle
that in my mind. First, when answering questions about divorce and
remarriage, Jesus asked, "Have you not read. . . ?" (Matt. 19:4) Jesus
called for a "restoration" of the will of God in their practice by
leading them back to the Word. He expected them to read, draw proper
conclusions, and then apply God's word to their questions. Second, when
the disunited Corinthians needed answers to their questions concerning
husbands and wives, they knew to go to God's word. They wrote Paul who
was a messenger for Christ. Paul responded with the commands and counsel
of the Lord
Cor. 7:1-40). He
did not call for unity on grounds other than "that you all speak the
same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be
perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment"
Cor. 1:10). Some
might say, "But Paul gave his own judgment in some of his statements on
Corinthians 7." A
careful reading of the text will clearly show that where Paul expresses
his judgment it is either apostolic judgment guided by the Holy Spirit
25,40) and/or an
admonition to follow a safe course in matters left to human decision
26-28). In either
case, "serving the Lord without distraction" is primary
overriding concern of the chapter is: What does God say for us to do?
We must acknowledge at
this point some biblical guidelines which are essential to "unity
through restoration" and which are most helpful in applying this great
principle to issues related to divorce and remarriage:
First, Christians make
decisions about fellowship or unity in keeping with the following clear
instruction: (a) we must preach and defend the Truth as revealed by God
in the New Testament
Tim. 4:1-5); (b)
we must not teach error or sin
1:6-10); (c) we
must not practice anything we believe to be sin
Tim. 5:22; Matt. 15:1-14);
(d) we must not condone or support error or sin in others
9-11; 1 Cor. 5; Rev. 2:12-29);
(e) we must not be hindered from accomplishing all which God expects of
7:21,24-27; Jas. 4:17; 2 Cor. 8:7; 13:7-11).
Second, some issues can
be decided by appeal to Scripture. In these, intense study and
reflection upon God's Word is often required. We must be uncompromising
where God has spoken but we must also be patient, kind and loving
4:13; Col. 3:12-17)
with those still in the
process of learning. We are all still studying some subjects. Some other
issues are not answered in Scripture and still others call for human
judgment. To agree to remain united when we disagree on matters of
opinion or human judgment is a separate matter and is not properly
within the scope of what has traditionally been referred to as "unity in
diversity." Let us not confuse terminology and thus open doors to error.
Third, all decisions on
unity must be decided personally or congregationally, not nationally or
by some individual Christian or association of Christians for all other
Christians. We are not bound to a human creed or human consortium. We
appeal solely to Christ as our Head. We must never forget what we teach
concerning: (a) the imperative responsibility of each Christian to act
from his/her own open investigation of the Word of God; and (b) the
autonomy of local congregations to act independent of outside oversight
or intimidation. We should allow the Lord to decide whether we are
united spiritually with those outside the sphere of our activity or
influence. Generally, I am united with all whom God accepts and I am
pleased to share spiritual relationship with anyone who is in good
standing with the Lord. Specifically, fellowship is at issue when I meet
a situation in which my life, responsibility, or influence is engaged
and I must make a decision regarding what or with whom I will share
active relationship. May God bless us with a spirit of wisdom and
understanding that we may meet our grave responsibilities in this area
of our spirituality! —-
Guardian of Truth , January 2, 1992