“You folks believe baptism is essential, but we believe we are saved when we accept Jesus in our hearts by faith.” “Why does the church of Christ think it is wrong to use a piano?” “You must not like women. You sure don’t let them use all their ‘gifts’ in your worship and leadership.” These are just three random examples of statements of perception made by our friends and family concerning “our beliefs.”
How would you answer these? Even within the Lord’s church, more than one answer is often offered. Sadly, too often the heat of emotion eclipses the light of scripture in these matters. How is truth determined? Is it man’s right to decide what truth is “for him”? Can I have my truth and you have your own, different truths, and we both are right? Please understand that I am not speaking of matters of judgment, opinion, matters that must be determined by principles of scripture, scruples, and conscience. Take the three examples mentioned-baptism, church music, and the role of women. Are these matters that must be decided by mere human judgment, opinions, and conscience? Or can we “know the truth” on these things (cf. John 8:32)?
All of this ultimately boils down to our attitude and approach to God’s Word. Do we accept it at face value and glean from it what it has already said, or do we infuse (insert) into it our predetermined values and desires? Consider the three examples.
Baptism is connected to salvation in the gospels (Mk. 16:16), the history book of the New Testament (Acts 2:38; 22:16; etc.), and the epistles (Rom. 6:1-6; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21; etc.). Why would we deny it? Do we really hope to make scripture fit our view by trying to make Bible verses conflict with each other (cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31)? If the Bible repeatedly says baptism is necessary for salvation, isn’t that a truth objective and universal? If not, why not?
Singing is specifically commanded in major worship passages like Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. We have no doubt that God wants us to sing. Now, some say that it is a matter of preference whether you sing with or without instrumental accompaniment. I find it interesting that a New Testament writer teaching a New Testament principle makes his point with an example from the first covenant. In Hebrews 7:14, the penman writes, “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” Moses did not forbid a man of Judah from serving as a priest. God simply specified that the tribe of Levi was to be the priestly tribe. Was priesthood selection a matter of personal preference? Absolutely not (see 1 Kings 12)!
Women’s role in the church is discussed in the midst of an epistle the thesis of which is that the church may know how to conduct herself (1 Tim. 3:15). Part of that conduct regards women’s role in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-15). The Christian woman is not to teach or have authority over the man (2:11-12). The reason is not tied to Greek culture, but way back to original design at the beginning of the world (2:13-14). When some push for an “expanded” role for women, are they letting cultural pressure of heavenly desire drive them?
Certainly, we cannot be callous or altogether dispassionate in studying or discussing these matters. But, without recognizing a sovereign, divine standard of truth, what are we doing with Scripture? Whether meaning to or not, we are subjugating God’s stated will to our subjective, ever-shifting will. John 12:48 reminds us that the latter will ultimately be irrelevant.