by Al Maxey

Issue #414 ------- September 25, 2009
Any attempt to replace the personal conscience by a
collective conscience does violence to the individual
and is the first step toward totalitarianism.

Hermann Hesse {1877-1962}

The Adiaphoristic Controversy
Sancta Indifferentia: A Reflective Review

Special Request -- Allow me begin this issue of Reflections with a request for input from the readers of these reflective studies. You've always been extremely helpful in your past responses to such requests, and I have no doubt that you will be with this present one as well. One of my fellow shepherds here (a dear friend and brother, as well as a devoted servant of the Lord and His people) recently said he would love to hear a sermon one day soon on the question --- What exactly is a "salvation issue"? I think that every group within Christendom, not to mention every sub-sect and faction therein, has its own list of party particulars that they regard as essential to salvation. These, therefore, are for them "salvation issues." But, the real question that must be considered is: What does God regard as a "salvation issue"?! What has He declared to be essential to the attainment of everlasting life? I'd like to hear from all of you on this question. What do you personally believe constitutes God's list of salvation issues, and how does one determine what constitutes a "salvation issue" (upon what basis is something declared essential to salvation)? Last, I would ask -- should fellowship and association be denied those individuals and groups who differ with us on NON-salvation issues?

I will be sharing the results of your input in an upcoming issue of Reflections (to be released within the next few weeks). Again, let me emphasize that although I am indeed seeking a listing of specific "salvation issues," I am far more interested in your input with respect to how one determines what belongs on this list. I think this may prove quite enlightening ... and perhaps a little shocking ... to some readers! The fellowship and association question is also quite central to the whole matter, and I sincerely solicit your insights on this as well. Additionally, I think you will find that this current issue of my weekly Reflections is going to be dealing with a very similar concern, one with a long history in Christendom dating back many centuries. It is my hope that the thoughts following will serve as somewhat of a catalyst for your thoughts regarding the above special request.

In the 17th century, a Spanish priest by the name of Miguel de Molinos (1640-1696) began promoting a form of religious mysticism within the Catholic Church that soon spread throughout Europe. Although some referred to this thinking as Molinism, it is probably better known to us today as Quietism. It was especially popular among the French aristocracy, embraced even by such a one as Madame de Maintenon, the wife of King Louis XIV. In essence, Quietism taught that one should utterly abandon all desires of self, putting to death one's own will and personal preferences in all areas of life, and become completely absorbed in the Divine Will. In its extreme forms it led to passivity and withdrawal from the affairs of the world. For such persons, nothing really mattered anymore -- and this was true not only of the affairs of the world, but also the dictates of the religious hierarchy. Needless to say, such a view did not go over well with the Catholic Church, and Pope Innocent XI condemned both Molinos and his teachings in 1687. This view of "Sancta Indifferentia" (holy indifference) to all things, whether of the world or of the church, also was opposed by most Protestant leaders. They simply could not accept the view that "nothing really mattered" since one's being had been mystically merged with God (rendering void the dictates of both the world and the church).

A modified, less extreme, form of this philosophy, however, has long been on the religious scene, and is embraced, at least in principle, by a great many disciples of Christ Jesus. It is known as "Adiaphorism" (from the Greek word adiaphora: "things indifferent"), which essentially teaches that a great many things, about which there may be much religious controversy and division, are just not important enough to warrant further debate. In other words, when it comes to our walk with the Lord, and our relationship and fellowship with one another, there are many things that simply don't matter. They are matters of divine indifference (although, quite often, mere men elevate them to matters of great significance). Adiaphorism promotes the view that there are many matters of both belief and practice about which convictions among disciples of Christ may legitimately vary without impacting one's salvation or one's fellowship with other believers. In short, a good many things just don't matter ... thus, we should cease the conflict over them!

As previously mentioned, this thinking has been around for a very long time. The ancient Stoics, for example, believed that all human pursuit could be divided into three distinct categories -- those things that were good, those things that were bad, and those things that were neither. This third group they characterized as being "adiaphora" --- they were morally, spiritually and theologically neutral; it didn't matter one way or the other if they were embraced. The apostle Paul informed the brethren in Corinth that some things, in and of themselves, were of no real significance in the sight of God. For example, he wrote, "Food does not bring us near to God; we're no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do" [1 Cor. 8:8]. A piece of meat that had been placed before some stone idol, and then later sold in the market at a reduced price, was still just a piece of meat. It was not invested with some special property that would draw one closer to God, or push one away from Him. It was just meat. It was adiaphora. Frankly, God didn't care one way or the other. If you ate it ... fine; if you didn't ... fine!

I think all of us will admit that, with respect to our Christian walk, some things are simply matters of indifference in the eyes of the Lord! Determining what things are matters of divine indifference, however, is where the conflict arises, and this has been the case for centuries! It was especially true during the great Protestant Reformation. Following the death of Martin Luther, efforts were made in Europe to unite all the Catholics and Protestants by trying to point out that many of the differences between them were "adiaphora." This was known as the Augsburg Interim. This was rejected by certain reformers (like Melanchthon), and so a compromise, known as the Leipzig Interim, was proposed. Both were rejected by most Protestants, who instead authored the Formula of Concord in 1577 which sought to define the genuine nature of adiaphora as "church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God." This document further declared that no believer should "yield in matters of adiaphora when these are being forced upon them." In other words, no one has the right to impose as law a matter of divine indifference. The Augsburg Confession (1530) clearly set the tone for this position, stating that it was not necessary for unity in the Church "that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike." Such traditions, rites and ceremonies, in other words, were all to be regarded as adiaphora for the sake of Christian unity (which sounds remarkably like the teaching in Romans 14, doesn't it?!).

In 1646 the Westminster Confession of Faith was released (written by the Puritans). In it they sought to further refine this perception of what constituted "things indifferent" (adiaphora). They made a distinction between elements or acts of worship and those things that they characterized as the "circumstances" of worship. Such things as praise (singing: the manner of both words and music), preaching, prayer, making vows, baptism and the Lord's Supper were regarded as matters of huge divine significance, whereas such things as the church building, its furnishings, and the time of day for a worship assembly were regarded as "circumstances" of worship, and thus not of any genuine concern to our God. According to chapter 20, section 2 of this Confession (which dealt with Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience), "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men." It is not man's place to legislate for God in matters of divine indifference. Each man is to be free to follow his own conscience. The apostle Paul touched on this when he wrote, "So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God" [Rom. 14:22]. "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" [Rom. 14:5-6]. It is not our place to pass judgment upon others over matters about which God has given no specific direction, and it is certainly not our place to try and impose our own convictions upon others.

With regard to this notion of various "acts of worship," as has been taught within our own religious movement, and the belief that these constitute divine essentials, it is rather obvious that we have been influenced by the thinking of the Puritans, although in the Churches of Christ today some feel that there are only five "acts of worship" --- singing, praying, preaching, giving, communing at the Table. The Puritans believed, and strongly proclaimed, that anything not explicitly allowed within the pages of the Scriptures was thereby forbidden. Sound familiar?! They, like we, however, soon realized that many of the things they approved in practice were NOT explicitly "allowed in Scripture." Thus, they formulated the category known as "circumstances of worship," much like some of us have formulated the "law of expediency" to get around our fabricated "law of silence." Oh, what a mess we make of things when we seek to legislate where God has not!! All of this, and it is clearly multi-faceted in nature, constitutes what has come to be known as "The Adiaphoristic Controversy." What truly matters in the eyes of God, and what can be relegated to the realm of divine indifference?

Within our very own faith-heritage this controversy has also existed ... and still exists to this day (the result of which, at least in part, is evidenced by the dozens of feuding factions among us, most of which are over "weighty matters" about which God has never uttered a single syllable). "In the Stone-Campbell Movement the idea of adiaphora has focused primarily on whether beliefs and practices not specifically commanded or endorsed by Scripture can be considered legitimate" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 307]. Thomas Campbell, in his monumental "Declaration and Address" (which came out in September, 1809 ... exactly 200 years ago), addressed this very issue, pointing out that the source of our divisions was not over those things specifically commanded by God, but rather over our own assumptions and opinions regarding matters never mentioned in the written Word. In his third proposition he insisted that only those things clearly specified within the Scriptures as commands of the Lord could ever be required of believers as "terms of communion." In our fallacious CENI hermeneutic, however, what God never said often bears more theological weight among these legalistic patternists than what He did. Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent ... we have a LOT more to say!! In essence, such a view utterly rejects the concept of adiaphora. "For David Lipscomb," by way of a singular example, "the category of 'indifferent' matters did not exist" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 308].

Needless to say, J. H. Garrison was right: the spirit of rigid narrow-mindedness that insisted on binding as law the assumptions of mere men drawn from the void of biblical silence has greatly contributed to the destruction of our movement's plea for unity ... and, indeed, to the splintering of our movement into countless feuding, fratricidal factions. Unity can be found in rallying to a Person, yet by seeking to rally the world to a position or pattern, we have only aided and abetted the enemy of Christ. The reality is, in the words of Jesus to Martha, "only a few things are necessary" [Luke 10:42]. All else is adiaphora ("things indifferent"). Like Martha, I fear that far too many of us have become so distracted and worried over inconsequentials and trivialities that we have lost sight of what the Lord truly regards as essential. And as a result of that spiritual blindness to what really matters, we have eviscerated our brethren over matters of absolute indifference to our God. We should be utterly ashamed of ourselves!! Brethren, pray with me, as I pray daily, that God will bring about a spiritual awakening among us!! "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" [Eph. 5:14]. Amen! May it be so!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister/Author in California:

Brother Al, Thank you for your latest Reflections study on degrees of punishment. You stated it very well, my brother! I have been trying for years to get brethren to understand that immortality is God's gift to the righteous, and that the wicked person will NOT receive the gift of immortality so as to be tortured for ceaseless ages. May the good Lord bless you and keep you!

From a NI Minister in Georgia:

Brother Al, With respect to your comment about the Non-Institutional (NI) brother who consigned the cookie-eater to the same torment as Adolf Hitler, I'd much rather classify this person as being Non-Brain than Non-Institutional. By the way, I actually did eat in the church building in Tennessee this week. The ladies of the Institutional church there prepared a meal for those of us who were attending the funeral of a relative. However, being diabetic, I didn't eat a cookie!!!

From an Elder in Missouri:

Brother Al, I really loved your piece titled "Pondering Pastoral Perfectionism." I believe that every member of a congregation should have to walk in the shoes of a preacher/evangelist/minister for a while. I heartily agree that there are too many worldly expectations of preachers by too many members of Christ's church. Further, these unrealistic and non-biblical views of the work and person of these devoted servants of God are not just restricted to the membership; they're also subscribed to by many elders/elderships. No wonder there are fewer and fewer men entering the public ministry!! They can see for themselves how "roast preacher" for lunch every Sunday is not what they want for themselves and their families. Again, I appreciated your comments, and think they need to be read by every eldership in the brotherhood, and also by every young preacher just starting out.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Al, A good friend called me today and told me about your Reflections article on Luke 12:47-48 ("Beaten With Fewer Blows"). Bravo!! Unlike the majority of typical preachers, you clearly have done your Bible research!! You squarely hit the target in your study.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Al, Today I read for the first time one of your Reflections articles. It was #344 ("Balance Within The Body: A Plea to my Beloved Brethren for Greater Congregational Equity"), which was sent to me by a new friend of mine. It reminded me so much of the books by Cecil Hook that I have read, as well as one of Carl Ketcherside's books. These books have been so encouraging to me, and they have spurred me on to further open-minded study of the Scriptures. Thank you for your courage in the Spirit to speak boldly and in brotherly love with regard to what God is helping you to see and understand. Please add my email address to your list of those receiving your Reflections. May God bless you and your wife as you continue this work!

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