Editorial: A Call For Moderation and Temperance

“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Phil. 4:5. Wuest states that the word moderation is the translation of a Greek word that means “not being unduly rigorous, being satisfied with less than one’s own due, sweet reasonableness, forbearance”. The thought here is that we ought
to show to all our sweet reasonableness in light of the imminent coming of the Lord for His Church.

In another epistle Paul writing about the fruit of the Spirit states “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Gal. 5: 22-23. We will concentrate on the word “temperance” as one of the elements or manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit. Again brother Wuest defines this word as “Possessing power, strong, having mastery or possession of, continent and self-controlled”. It is used to refer to self control of sexual desire, 1 Cor. 7: 9, or of the athlete’s control over his body, 1 Cor. 9: 25.

Generally, however it is used for mastery of one’s own desires and impulses but not of any particular or specific desire. We will refer to it in this article as the control of one’s desire for being involved in strife and division.

The old historical divisions of the so called “Brethren” movement in a previous century are now past. And sadly there does not seem to be any way of reconciling those. But the looming danger of new divisions that are now current with us comes from a most unexpected source. Recently we have seen an increasing number of debates over the finer points of doctrine in Evangelical Christianity. These are not exactly doctrinal points of a heretical nature, but they rather constitute different schools of thought. They may represent differences of opinion over issues like the need for repentance in salvation and what the exact definition of repentance is. Again how the moral conduct of the believer ought to be after salvation? Whether our Election before the foundation of the world is corporate or individual? How much, if any, of the recognition of the Lordship of Christ is essential for salvation? Is there a real difference between a believer and a disciple? Who are the over-comers? Just to give a few examples.

Unfortunately the current scene in Evangelical Christianity has managed to turn these different points of view into battle grounds. Accordingly these differences are promoted as being totally irreconcilable with one another, thus dividing the people of God into warring factions. Unfortunately some of our leaders in the assemblies have seen fit to bring those controversies into the midst of our meetings. Brother is separating from brother over such issues and assemblies are fracturing because of them. But are they really incompatible with one another as it seems? Is there really no way that while differing we can still accept one another’s views and continue to have fellowship with each other?

At the beginning of the reign of David, king of Israel, a civil war raged between the house of David and the house of Saul. So bitter was the animosity that brother killed brother and laid in wait for him. A voice of reason was raised in the midst of this madness. It was when Abner called on Joab to cease from hostility asking “Shall the sword devour forever? Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long shall it be then, before thou bid the people to return from following their brethren?” 2 Sam. 2: 26. This may be thought of as a harsh example from an OT Scripture. But is it really so? Have we not witnessed the sad scenes of hostility between brothers? Have we not heard the vilifying of others because of their different views? Should strife and envy be even named among believers? And especially over issues like these? How it must pain the heart of the Saviour who prayed on His way to Calvary “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” Jn. 17: 21-23. Brothers and sisters this is not a call for compromise nor is it a call for creating artificial unity at the expense of truth as in the case of ecumenism. But it is a call for a less rigorous attitude and for the sweet reasonableness of Christ to prevail among us, so that our moderation may be made manifest to all.

When Paul called on those two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, in the church of Philippi to have the same mind, the clear exhortation was that it has to be “in the Lord”. He was not asking them to come to a compromise. But that they might seek the mind of the Lord. Paul realized that having the mind of Christ was the only rallying point for believers. And that ultimately being Christ-like will bring about true unity among God’s people. A wholesome measure of temperance would be necessary in such situations, as the saints will have to exercise self-control. This will demonstrate how that the best evidence of moral strength is spiritual discretion.

On the other hand Paul would warn his son in the faith, Timothy, of the dangers of foolish and unlearned questions saying “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 2 Tim 2: 23-24.

Some may argue that those debates may not all be “foolish and unlearned”. Yet just the same they surely breed strife, something that the servant of the Lord ought to avoid.
Again James in his epistle warns the believers of that era of the disastrous results of strife in the assembly saying “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” Jas. 3: 16. Earlier in the same epistle he had exhorted them to ask for wisdom from God, (see 1: 5). Here he would go on to admonish them to resort to that wisdom that comes from above. For unlike the vindictive retaliatory character of fleshly impulses, this wisdom is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” Jas. 3: 17. How wonderful it would be, beloved, if this loveliness of Christ should characterize our dealings with one another. And as long as we are not compromising on any major doctrines, we should have happy fellowship with one another, even though we may still have some differences on some of the finer points of doctrine. Paul writing to the Colossian believers admonishes them to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;” Col. 3: 12.

On a more practical note, however, one of the most distressing tendencies in this regard is what we call “Pigeon-holing” of believers. By which we mean how some of us tend to divide the saints into distinct categories without any regard for a possible spectrum of beliefs. That is to say once a saint verbalizes his belief in one point of doctrine he is instantly categorized as belonging to a group who hold a whole set of other beliefs. When in reality he is only so persuaded in that one particular area. Just to give an example: if a brother is seen to believe in the doctrine of personal election, some may want to have him categorized as “five point Calvinist”, when indeed he may not at all hold all the points of view of that doctrine. Or on the other side of the spectrum a brother, who is convicted that not all believers are disciples, is at once stamped as a “Free Gracer” when he in fact is not really so persuaded in all points. Judging matters in this way may seem convenient to certain people, but it would ultimately breed division and conflict. Furthermore a lot of the saints who have this tendency will assert that the choice on any doctrinal issue is between two extreme points of view. When in fact the more sound choice would be in neither of those extremes but in the balanced Scriptural view itself, (see 2 Tim. 1: 13).

This is a plea beloved to refrain from stereotyping our fellow believers into “convenient” categories. Remembering that what is committed to us is the Lord’s work and as much as in us we ought to be at peace with one another. “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;” Phil. 2: 12-15

Autonomy: the double edged sword

The term autonomy as applied to the assemblies of the people of God has for so long been a time honored practice among those known as the ‘Open Brethren”. Putting that concept into practice has served us well for so many decades. And it still seems to be the more Scriptural pattern. It specifies that each local assembly is governed solely by its elders and is in no way subject to outside legislation or leadership.

But what are we witnessing now in the assemblies? Are we seeing cracks in that system? This may sound like a heretical statement to some. As this writer travels among the different assemblies I can detect a new phenomenon! In some places a strong minded elder or elders who are convicted of a non-Scriptural doctrine or practice seem to take over the affairs of their congregation. And from there they go on a tangent taking the entire assembly with them. And the results are well known to all of us. The assembly ends up losing its NT Church character! Worse still when asked why are they going in that direction? Those elders usually would answer that no one has the right to ask such questions. And would then promptly hide behind the convenient cloak of “after all we are autonomous”. What can we do in such situation? We can of course boycott that assembly, but is there no better way of rectifying the situation? Is it a denial of our revered principle of “Autonomy” if counsel is offered by elders from other neighboring assemblies? Is it a real shame for people in fellowship from the beleaguered assembly to seek help from other assemblies? Are we indeed autonomous or independent? Do we not share the same itinerant preachers? And organize mutual conferences? And do we not sometimes share in sending the same missionaries? I do not claim to have all answers but submit to you that we may have in our enthusiasm for autonomy drifted into independence.

Brethren this is not a call for Ecclesiastical headquarters nor is it a call for circles of fellowship, but again it is a call for more moderation and temperance in the application of the principle of Autonomy. “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Eph. 4: 3 –6

Would that we all humbly seek the Lord’s face asking that He would graciously grant us to return again to the days of strong testimony to His Name. “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Show us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation. I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.” Ps. 85: 6-8

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