The Restoration Principle

14 — ‘Pluralism’ and the Local Congregation

“. . . holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

EARLY ON, CONGREGATIONS SAW THAT UNSOUND DOCTRINE HAD TO BE DEALT WITH. From inside the church as well as outside, members would be exposed to harmful concepts, so there was a need for sound teaching to show the error of those ideas.

Today, with easy travel and communication making the world increasingly interconnected and pluralistic, a congregation can become as much of a theological melting pot as any of the congregations in the bigger cities of the first century. If there was ever a time in America when churches were made up of folks who shared the same background and believed the same thing about major doctrines, those days are gone. Inside our congregations today, radically different ideas jostle up against one another in close quarters.

As the diversity of doctrine in a congregation grows, the diversity often becomes unmanageable. Fatigued, the elders (who don’t always agree among themselves) give up and simply let the ship drift with the tide. They may intend to teach some members “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26), but in too many cases, the job does not get done — not privately, and certainly not publicly.

Doctrinally, a modern church tends to become a motley crew. Unable to find consensus on very much, the church reduces itself to the bare-bones core of “Protestant” belief, and beyond that, anything goes. It is now doctrinally interchangeable with any other “community church,” and its members have selected it as they would choose any other consumer product — simply because they “like” it.

The answer is not to burn dissidents at the stake. It is to teach . . . to persuade . . . to explain apostolic Christianity clearly. But please hear me when I say: we must do more than pay lip service to the idea of “welcome them and then teach them.” The first part is easy, but the second can be very convenient to forget about. Today, our opportunities are exciting — but open doors still require what they’ve always required: saints who not only can, but will, teach.

“What can we do about denominationalism and sectarianism among brethren? The same thing we do about it among those who have never known the truth! We love them, treat them fairly, try to teach them the truth both by plain speech and Christlike example” (Robert F. Turner).

Gary Henry — +

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