Issue #93 -------
December 20, 2003
There is one thing worse than an absolutely
loveless marriage: a marriage in which
there is love, but on one side only.
--- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Many of the questions and concerns of the Corinthians involved their interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the most delicate and sensitive of these were tackled head-on by Paul in chapter seven of his first epistle. Paul very methodically and logically counseled those experiencing marital difficulties, resulting in the most intensive and extensive treatment of these matters found anywhere in the New Covenant writings. Thus, it behooves one to carefully examine the inspired advice he gives to these troubled men and women.
"To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife" [1 Corinthians 7:10-11]. One should not overlook the fact that the apostle Paul is speaking to a specific group of individuals in this text: married believers. In the five verses which immediately follow, he addresses his thoughts to "the rest" ... i.e., believers who find themselves married to unbelievers (religiously mixed marriages). Understanding to whom these various statements are being made will help one to more fully appreciate, and more correctly interpret, the teaching of Paul on this vital matter.
Although Paul on occasion, during the course of his instruction to the church in Corinth, indicates that his advice falls under the heading of personal preference, it is important to note that in this first statement dealing with troubled marriages he clearly declares the source of the teaching to be from the Lord.
It is the will of the Lord God, Paul informs these married believers, that “a wife must not separate from her husband” [vs. 10]. The word translated "separate" is the Greek verb chorizo, which means "to sever, disunite, put asunder, divide, separate." Some have suggested an actual divorce is not in view here, but merely a temporary separation. This seems unlikely in light of Paul's statement in the next verse: "But if she does (i.e., becomes separated from him), let her remain unmarried." Paul obviously regarded them as being unmarried following the "putting asunder, severing, disunion" of their marital relationship.
Further validation that this is indeed a termination of the covenant of marriage, and not merely a temporary separation while the marriage itself remains in force, is seen in Paul's choice of words in the passage. He begins the statement by saying, "To the married..." [vs. 10]. This is the Greek word gameo, the common word depicting the state of marriage. Then, following the act signified by chorizo, he said, "But if she does, she must remain unmarried..." [vs. 11], which utilizes the Greek word agamos. In the Greek language one negates a word by prefixing the letter alpha (a) to it. Thus, the word agamos signifies the negation of the state of marriage; it has become a state of non-marriage. The couple has severed their marriage bond; their union has been dissolved; a division has occurred; a state of marriage no longer exists between this former husband and wife. The Greek words employed by the apostle Paul clearly signify this reality.
Another fact which is vital to note is that chorizo appears in the passive voice, rather than the active voice, in both of its occurrences within this passage. Look at the text again: "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does (literally, the Greek reads: 'But if indeed she should be separated'), she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife" [vs. 10-11]. This passage is often translated as if Paul used the active voice with this verb. However, he does not! The text is more correctly translated: "A wife must not be separated from her husband. But if she should be separated..." This phrases the statement in the passive voice, in which it was originally written. This has the effect of making this statement far less specific with regard to the responsibility and culpability for the breakdown of the covenant of marriage. By using the active voice the implication is that the woman herself is guilty of severing the relationship with her husband. However, by correctly translating the passage with the passive voice, Paul conveys it is more the state of separation itself that is being condemned, rather than attempting to determine individual culpability.
God's original design was that the two become one flesh. A wife should not be separated from her husband. A husband should not be separated from his wife. "'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel" [Malachi 2:16]; it falls short of His IDEAL for marriage. The man and his wife were designed to remain united; to be disunited is deplored by both God and Paul.
In the ancient world, customarily, only the husband had the legal right to seek out a divorce; Paul says he must not exercise it [vs. 11]. The woman was deemed to be more passive in such situations, often having a divorce imposed upon her by a cruel mate. Separation, whether actively sought out by the man, or passively experienced by the woman, was a devastating detour from God's original plan for marriage. Paul tells these believing couples that they need to keep His IDEAL uppermost in their minds, and that a state of disunion is undesirable.
The implication of the passage, however, is that in spite of the goal of believers to live in harmony with one another, and according to the will of God for their lives, trouble has somehow arisen in the marriage of two believers. Although Paul does not specifically assign responsibility for the divorce, it seems rather clear from the use of the passives with reference to the woman, and the command against husbands putting away their wives, that the woman in this illustration has probably been victimized. For whatever cause, she now finds herself in an unmarried state; she has become (passive voice) separated. As a Christian, what should her response be in this situation? This is really the issue Paul is addressing in this first section. Paul advises her to "remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband."
God's advice to this put away woman through His inspired apostle is that she focus on the goal of a reconciliation. Although she is no longer united to her husband, rather than immediately seeking out another relationship, she should first make every effort to confront the problems in her present situation and then actively work for a solution. The purpose of not seeking another relationship at this time is because it would remove all hope of a possible reconciliation. Give it some time, Paul advises; who knows but what the rift in this relationship may come to be repaired.
One cannot help but think of the efforts of God Himself as He repeatedly sought to restore His relationship with His unfaithful spouse Israel. God held on to hope for a reconciliation when most would have given up in frustration. Unfortunately, as was the case with God and Israel, reconciliations aren't always realized, regardless of the time invested or the energy expended. God finally had to acknowledge the fact that His faithless spouse simply was not coming back to Him. At that point He turned from His efforts at reconciliation and entered into a union with her sister Judah.
Neither God nor Paul are suggesting that a put away woman must spend the rest of her life single in the hope that her husband may one day come back to her. Don't forget: God Himself did not wait forever! What is being commanded, however, is when married believers find themselves, for whatever reason, in a state of disunion, their first order of business, as children of God, is to do all in their power to effect a reconciliation. The covenant of marriage is too sacred and precious to be given up on so quickly. The idea of remarriage should not even enter their minds as long as there is even a glimmer of hope that the relationship may at some point be re-established. The believer is to pursue every possible avenue, no matter how small, before finally conceding to the irreversible demise of the relationship.
To suggest, as some have, that a woman who has been divorced by her husband must remain unmarried and celibate for the rest of her life is to suggest that God in effect has delivered to this victim the knockout punch, after her husband had first dealt her the knockdown blow. Not only is such out of character with God and His written revelation, it is also inconsistent with the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion" [vs. 8-9]. Why would this passage not apply to the unmarried woman in verse 11 as well?! Some suggest that in verse 8, when using the word "unmarried" (agamos), Paul refers exclusively to those who have never been married. That's a rather large assumption in light of the fact that just three verses later [vs. 11] agamos is used to describe the state of being "unmarried" by virtue of divorce! Paul obviously did not restrict the meaning of this term to "single by virtue of never having been married" ... neither should those who seek to interpret his writings.
It is true that Paul encourages the unmarried and widows to remain in that state if they are capable of doing so; especially would this be true of those "unmarried" because of divorce, so that time may be allowed for a possible reconciliation. However, if the unmarried are unable to control their sexual passions, it is far better for them to marry than to fulfill their desires in an illicit manner.
"Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" [1 Corinthians 7:1-2]. Each man and each woman! Which aspect of this passage suggests the woman in verse 11 is excluded from the principle given here? Does Paul state, "Each woman, except those who are divorced"? Does he write, "If they cannot control themselves, they should marry; everyone, that is, except the woman I'm about to discuss .... let her burn!"?
Through careful examination of the text and context, and by restraining oneself from imposing his/her religious biases upon the passage, one can quickly perceive the simple message conveyed by the apostle Paul. When relationships end, tremendous effort must be made to restore them; an effort that cannot and will not be made if the separated believers are eagerly seeking out new relationships. Believing spouses should not terminate their relationships. Not only are they in a covenant with one another, but as believers they are also in a covenant with God. Thus, the IDEAL for marriage should be a goal which they work together to achieve. When serious problems do arise, severe enough even to bring about a severing of the relationship, every effort must be made to solve those problems and restore the marriage. Don't even consider another relationship; focus entirely upon the one you were in. Only when all traces of hope are gone, and every potential avenue leading to reconciliation has been pursued, does the believer, like God with Israel, acknowledge the reality of their irreparable loss.
RELIGIOUSLY MIXED MARRIAGES
Paul has just finished speaking to married believers who are experiencing the tragedy of a relationship gone bad. Now, in verses 12-16, he turns his attention "to the rest" ... marital relationships in which only one spouse is a believer. In this case, Paul states his advice to them comes from his own wisdom; these are his insights and judgments. There was no direct revelation from God, nor any specific command in the Scriptures, to which he could appeal with regard to the situation he was about to address. Although Paul clearly declares these forthcoming views to be solely his own opinion, yet he writes, "I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy" [vs. 25], "and I think that I too have the Spirit of God" [vs. 40]. If indeed one regards Paul as trustworthy and in possession of the Holy Spirit, one should have no difficulty confidently embracing these opinions as reflections of the mind of God. Approximately eight years after Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Corinth, the apostle Peter characterized his writings as a part of "the Scriptures," stating Paul wrote according to "the wisdom that God gave him" [2 Peter 3:15-16]. Thus, one should not be too quick to discount these statements simply because Paul declares them to be his "opinions."
"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him" [vs. 12-13]. It should be noted that Paul, like Jesus, was aware of the fact that women were beginning to assert themselves by initiating divorces against their husbands. Such behavior certainly did not meet with the overwhelming approval of society at that time, especially among the conservative Jewish element, but the fact of its occurrence, and its increasing frequency, was undeniable. Thus, both Jesus and Paul acknowledged their awareness of this movement within society, and they modified their remarks accordingly so as to make them relevant to this sad reality.
It should be noted at this juncture that religiously mixed marriages, although recognized by God as legitimate covenants of marriage, nevertheless fall short of the IDEAL. Ideally, the covenant people of God would form covenant relationships with one another, not with those outside of God's covenant. "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers .... What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" [2 Corinthians 6:14-15]. Although this command is certainly open to numerous applications, many feel it is especially pertinent to marriage, which has the distinction of being the most intimate of all our interpersonal relationships. Paul further emphasizes this principle when he instructs widows that they are indeed free to remarry, "but he must belong to the Lord" [1 Corinthians 7:39]. A vital element of God's IDEAL for marriage is that husbands and wives are to be "heirs together of the grace of life" [1 Peter 3:7].
In spite of God's IDEAL being repeatedly held up for display among His people, not all choose to embrace it. It is simply a fact of life that a great many believers enter into covenants of marriage with unbelievers. Such seems to have been the case with the parents of Timothy, whose mother was a Jewish believer, but whose father apparently was neither [Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5]. There are also numerous occasions where two unbelievers marry and later one of them becomes a believer. This also results in a religiously mixed marriage. It is to believers who find themselves in just such a marriage that Paul addresses himself in this particular passage.
His advice to them is: Do not terminate your covenant of marriage simply because your spouse is not a believer. Such a situation does not constitute a "just cause." If an unbeliever is willing to live with a believer, and to abide by the conditions of their covenant of marriage, then a divorce must not be sought. The goal of the believing spouse, in such situations, should be to win over their unbelieving spouse, and to raise their children in an atmosphere of love and reverence for the Lord. Most interpreters feel this to be the major significance of Paul's statement in verse 14: "For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." Although a few have interpreted this to mean the faith of the believer will be conferred upon his/her unbelieving family at the judgment, and that they will thus be eternally saved along with the believer (since God wouldn't want to break up families in heaven any more than He does on earth), this seems to be far more wishful thinking than sound exegesis.
In a sense, Paul was encouraging these believing spouses to view their families as a mission field. Rather than berating them for their religiously mixed marriages, even though they fell short of the IDEAL for marriage, Paul challenged them to seize this opportunity to bring their loved ones into a saving relationship with the Lord, and thus achieve the IDEAL. "How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" [vs. 16]. Such should be the goal for which the believer tirelessly labors. At times the goal is realized, at times it is not, but the striving for it should never be abandoned. Eunice was successful in imparting her faith to her son Timothy, but there is no indication that she enjoyed that same success with her Greek husband. There are no guarantees of ultimate success, but without the effort there is a guarantee of failure. The apostle Peter agrees with Paul's advice to these believing spouses: "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives" [1 Peter 3:1-2].
It was partly for this reason that Paul stressed these believing spouses must not seek to terminate their marriages; these were opportunities to bring unbelieving spouses to a saving knowledge of the Lord. Some in the city of Corinth, perhaps reflecting upon the situation among the post-captivity Jews in which they were commanded to put away their pagan wives (see Reflections #85), might have been considering the same action against their unbelieving mates. Paul instructs them that in their case this would not be a viable option; the situations were dissimilar, and therefore the solution to the former was not applicable to the latter.
Thus, the believer must not initiate a divorce simply because their mate is an unbeliever. The goal of the believer, in keeping with God's IDEAL, is to preserve the marriage. But, what if the unbelieving spouse decides to end the relationship? How is the believer to respond in such a situation? "But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace" [vs. 15]. It is not uncommon for religiously mixed marriages to fail. The unbelieving spouse may eventually become extremely uncomfortable with the lifestyle of the believer. Their attitudes, actions and aspirations may be so completely incompatible, with one spouse devoted to the world and the other devoted to the Lord, that a release from the marriage is sought by the former. If the unbeliever, for whatever reason, chooses to leave, thus ending the relationship, Paul urges the believer to allow them to do so.
Two things should be noticed here: It is the unbeliever who is said to initiate the severing of the union; Paul depicts the believer, who would be aware of God's IDEAL for marriage, as being unwilling to take such action. Also, it should be observed that Paul urges the believer to allow the disunion even though no mention is made of the unbeliever having committed an act of sexual infidelity. This would appear to be a serious contradiction of the traditional interpretation of Jesus' so-called "exception clause," which traditionalists staunchly maintain allows divorce only if an act of sexual infidelity has occurred. Is Paul here contradicting Jesus? Is he making an exception to the "exception clause"?! With a proper understanding of the Lord's intent in the so-called "exception clause" (see Reflections #90), and in light of the true meaning of the term "adultery" (which will be examined in-depth in an upcoming issue of Reflections), the matter is quickly resolved and one perceives there is no contradiction whatsoever.
Nevertheless, such advice has troubled a great many people! Paul is essentially saying, "If your spouse is determined to leave, don't fight it; let them leave! Even if they have not committed sexual infidelity with another, even if they just don't want to be in a relationship with a devoted disciple of the Lord -- let them leave! God has called us to peaceful relationships, not to warring and fighting to preserve a relationship with someone who obviously does not desire it." Yes, efforts should be made to reconcile; pursue every option; but if the situation is beyond hope, and if reconciliation is unattainable, then let it go! For a believing mate to agonize through months of tumultuous legal wrangling to preserve what their unbelieving mate has chosen to terminate would be foolish and futile. The advice of Paul is succinctly stated: Let them go! "The believer is to become involved neither in the turmoil of seeking to terminate such a partnership, nor in the conflict of seeking to preserve it against the will of the unbeliever. If the unconverted partner desires a divorce, the Christian is free to permit it .... no further compulsion to preserve the marriage remains on the believer" [The New Layman's Bible Commentary in One Volume, p. 1434].
This raises some questions with regard to the status of the believer following the departure of their mate. Is the believer still considered legally married? If not, is the believer free to remarry? The answer to both these questions seems to be found in Paul's statement: "A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances" [vs. 15]. If one is no longer bound to a spouse, then a setting free has occurred. That which formerly bound them together as one has been dissolved, and they are two once more. Clearly a severing of the covenant of marriage has occurred, at which point there is no law, from either God or man, which forbids them from seeking out a new marital relationship.
When an unbelieving spouse leaves the believer, "from that day onward the fetters of the marriage tie have been broken and remain so, now and indefinitely. The deserting spouse broke them. No law binds the believing spouse. Let us add that no odium on the part of Christians has a right to bind such a believing, deserted spouse. It goes without saying that a believing spouse will by Christian kindness and persuasion do all that can be done to prevent a rupture. But when these fail, Paul's verdict is: 'Thou art free!'" [R.C.H. Lenski, An Interpretation of 1 & 2 Corinthians, p. 295].
SOUND ADVICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES
"Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife" [1 Corinthians 7:27]. With this statement Paul provides additional commentary with regard to his remark in verse 20: "Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called." The context within which these statements occur must not be overlooked; to do so is to risk reaching some rather erroneous conclusions. Paul foretells a time of great persecution for the people of God; a difficult season fast approaching, and in some locations already present. It would be a time of tremendous affliction in which personal relationships would be severely challenged. In view of these impending circumstances Paul writes, "I think that it is good for you to remain as you are" [vs. 26]. If one happens to be a virgin, then remain in that state; if married, maintain that covenant; if divorced or widowed, don't seek out another relationship. The days ahead are going to be difficult, Paul explains, therefore don't further complicate your life. Focus on maintaining your current position in life, and your present relationships, and pray for the strength to endure the trials that lie ahead.
In verses 28-35 he further elaborates on these coming years of stressful crisis, saying in part, "I am only trying to spare you" [vs. 28] and "I want you to be free from concern" [vs. 32]. Involvement in a marital relationship would add significantly to one's cares and concerns, and would distract one's focus and divide one's interests. In light of the difficulties soon to be unleashed upon these believers -- years of trauma that would cause many to lose sight of their heavenly goal and forfeit their faith -- Paul sought to encourage Christians to order their lives in such a way that they might remain focused completely "upon the Lord without distraction" [vs. 35].
In no way was Paul condemning the state of marriage, nor was he suggesting that those who entered into it were engaging in sinful behavior. Paul merely expressed a personal preference, one he did not perceive to be in any way binding on all other believers the world over. It was his feeling that during times of extreme persecution and affliction, those who were married would experience greater anxieties than those who were single. His desire was simply to spare them this additional stress. In a similar vein, Jesus said, "How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!" [Matthew 24:19]. Jesus certainly did not oppose parenthood, nor did He have something against children, He simply was aware of the stresses and anxieties which would have to be endured by these mothers during the persecution that was fast approaching. He merely sought to spare them that distress.
Further, neither was Paul in any way encouraging those who were married to terminate their relationships, which some believe Paul was teaching in the latter part of verse 29: "From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none." What Paul was stressing was that those who were married should not let the many domestic obligations and concerns of their daily lives distract them from a devotion to the Lord that would carry them through the coming persecution. If they hoped to endure, their relationship with God must come first. Yes, work diligently to maintain your marriage, but don't lose sight of the Lord. A successful marriage would mean little if it came at the expense of one's relationship with God or the surrendering of one's faith. Those who are married must strive all the more, far more than one who is single, to keep the many responsibilities of life in perspective and in their proper priority; all of which becomes even more difficult during times of crisis. Thus, in the sense of one's singleness of devotion to God, be as though you had no other relationships or responsibilities. This is the message Paul sought to convey to the brethren in Corinth.
With this understanding of the context in mind, Paul's advice in verse 27 becomes much more understandable: "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife." Although some translations (such as the NIV) have rendered the third phrase in this verse, "Are you unmarried?", it is not only textually incorrect to do so, but very misleading as well. The Greek word for "unmarried," as mentioned earlier, is agamos. That is not the word being used here, however. Paul uses lusis, which means "an unbinding, a loosing, a release, to set free, to break or untie." Further, Paul adds the phrase: "from a wife." Thus, the phrase in the original text reads, "Are you unbound from a wife?" Although this certainly would result in an "unmarried" state, it was a result reached via divorce, not by virtue of the fact that one had never been married. In some translations (such as the NIV) the latter is implied by using the word "unmarried" and by deleting the phrase "from a wife." This has led some to declare divorce is not even being discussed in this passage; a false conclusion derived from a faulty translation of the original text.
Other interpreters of this passage have suggested that the "release" being discussed by Paul is a release resulting from the death of the wife. Although this would definitely bring about the husband's "release" from his wife, there is simply nothing in the text itself to suggest such an assumption to be valid; indeed, there is much to suggest it is not. The word lusis appears twice in this verse, and should be translated consistently in both locations, unless there is some compelling textual or contextual justification for doing otherwise. If it is to be interpreted as meaning "a release from one's wife by means of her death" in the second occurrence, as some maintain, the laws of sound biblical interpretation require it to be so understood in the first occurrence as well, unless there is some specific, demonstrable cause to the contrary. If lusis is thus consistently translated in both locations according to the above interpretation, it would read, "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released by her death. Are you released from a wife by her death? Do not seek a wife." The unmistakable implication of Paul, if the above interpretation is allowed, is that he sought to discourage husbands from seeking the deaths of their wives as an alternative to divorce! Although murder would certainly be wrong, there is simply no evidence within the context that justifies interpreting lusis as signifying "release by death," nor is there anything inherent within the meaning of the word itself which would validate such a position. At best such a stance is merely an unwarranted assumption hastily proffered; at worst it is an intentional effort to manipulate the text so as to bolster one's personal, biased theology.
Paul neither condemns nor condones divorce in this passage; he merely acknowledges the sad reality of it. One should also not assume Paul forbids the right of remarriage to those who have been divorced. He would prefer they remain single, as he himself was, especially in light of the difficult times ahead, "BUT, if you DO marry, you have not sinned .... But, those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this" [vs. 28].
This is perhaps one of the most significant passages in the New Testament writings on the subject of remarriage, and, sadly, one of the most overlooked. Is it a sin for one who is divorced to remarry? Paul unequivocally declares: IT IS NOT! This view is consistent, by-the-way, with the teaching of Jesus, who also did not forbid remarriage. It is further consistent with the Law of Moses, and with the Lawgiver Himself, who not only did not forbid remarriage to His people, but practiced it Himself after divorcing faithless Israel. For one to forbid remarriage to the divorced, or to declare it to be sinful, or to characterize it as a state of "living in sin/adultery," is inconsistent with the teaching and practice of Paul, Jesus, the Law, the Prophets, and God. There is simply no biblical basis for such a denial of marriage to the divorced. Such a doctrine, or dogma, comes from tradition, not from Truth. We might even suggest it is a "doctrine of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Reflections #92 is priceless. I could add my story, but others have said it well. My life was changed when I was taught Romans by K.C. Moser while living in Lubbock many years ago. As a "good legalist," I fought him "tooth and nail" as a "defender of THE faith" was trained to do (proof-texting). His love and teaching won the day. My intellectual understanding of Romans preceded my emotional understanding and acceptance by three years. But, until one's intellectual understanding AND emotional understanding and acceptance are truly one, one cannot truly experience our freedom in Him. I will never forget his opening and closing statement regarding the study of this great letter. "If one gets Romans, God gets him."
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, What can I say about Reflections #92? How's this? Amen! .... Amen! .... Amen! ..... Amen! AND Amen!! ..... I love you, brother ... still looking forward to meeting some day!
From a Preacher in Tennessee:
Brother Al, I agree with your thesis in the last two Reflections and have actually confronted the issue of rebaptism where I am a minister. I started as the minister here in January. In about March a couple that had attended faithfully ever since I began my ministry here asked for me to come visit with them. They explained that they would like to place membership with the congregation and wanted to know what they needed to do. Assuming they had never been baptized, I taught them about salvation and told them that it is not man's place to accept into or deny access to the church, but that the Lord adds people to His body. Both of them said that they had been baptized upon a confession of faith according to what I had just told them, however not in a Church of Christ. Since they had gone for quite a period of time not worshipping God anywhere, I told them they needed to repent of any sins in their lives and let the congregation know their intention of worshipping with us as part of the body of saints. Before they did this I conferred with the elders, and one of them asked the question, "If they weren't baptized in the Church of Christ don't they need to be baptized again?" He was going with the "standard practice" or "that's the way it's always been done" mentality. I explained like this: We condemn others for using baptism as a sign of "joining" a congregation, and rightly so. For us to bind upon a person a rebaptism just because theirs didn't take place in a Church of Christ building is to do the same thing ... we make ourselves a denomination. These people were already added to the church. Thankfully, the elders agreed. Keep up your good work!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Thank you so much for the work you are doing in the Lord, and for helping those who have grown up with condemnation in the Churches of Christ. My preacher introduced me to your Reflections six months or so ago, and I can not thank him enough! Again, thank you very much for taking the time to help those who are so desperately in need of breaking the bonds of legalism.
From a Reader in Indiana:
In the words of those from a generation or two younger than we are, "Hang in there, dude." Nothing ever comes easy, you know, and that includes preaching the truth in love. Tell you what -- give my fellow Hoosier (the caustic critic mentioned in Reflections #92) my name and email address, and tell him I'd like to engage him in debate. Maybe he'll have to divide his time and that will eliminate some of the aggravation in your life. I do what I can!
From a Reader in Washington, DC:
Brother Al, Martin Luther has been quoted as saying, "Man is saved by faith alone, but not that faith which is alone." Another quote attributed to Luther is: "Man is saved by faith, not works, but by a faith that works." Both of these statements are consistent with the five great "solas" or "onlys" of the Protestant Reformation: i.e., by grace alone; by faith alone; by Christ alone; by Scripture alone; and, to God alone be the glory.
Like Max Lucado, I believe that in the early years of the church a believer was baptized by immersion as soon as they recognized they had come to a saving faith in Jesus. F.F. Bruce has said something like: "the concept of an unbaptized believer is foreign to the New Testament." Yes, but we do not live in the first decades or century after Pentecost. Today many of our Christian brothers and sisters are just as confused as we are -- simply in other areas of theology. There are many different things taught about baptism, and many folks who come to a genuine faith in Jesus may not understand they should be baptized right away, and that immersion is the appropriate mode of baptism. They believe what their pastors tell them -- much like us. So, does one have to have genuine faith that leads them to genuine works PLUS knowledge that they should be baptized immediately in order for them to be justified before God? Or, can they be ignorant of this doctrine and still be justified? In other words, is salvation by grace alone through faith alone (i.e., through the FINISHED work of Jesus)? ... or, does it require not only knowledge, assent and trust in Jesus, but ALSO knowledge of and assent to the doctrine of baptism? God bless you in your ministry!
From a Reader in Louisiana:
If salvation is knowledge based, I have a few questions. What about children? Generally, it is believed that before the age of accountability they are saved ... yes? What about the developmentally disabled person who may never know right from wrong? Just positing things in my head. I am forever amazed by what some of my brothers and sisters think. Just sounding off.
From a Reader in Montreal, Canada:
I continue to receive your Reflections, and it is the one thing I enjoy receiving besides Edward Fudge's GracEmail. Thanks for your continued efforts, Al. You are appreciated, believe me. I do have a longer letter already penned for you, but I'll wait till after the holidays to send it. There may be an outside chance that I'll be sent to Tucson, Arizona early in the new year for several weeks. If that comes to fruition I would dearly love to visit with you sometime. Have a joyous holiday season, Al ... you and your family and all the brethren in the congregation there.
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