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Vol.  9  No. 10 October 2007  Page 4
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D. Gene WestIn Matters of Faith, Unity

By D. Gene West

    There is a motto that came out of the restoration movement that says, “In Matters of Faith Unity, In Matters of Opinion Liberty, In All Things Charity.” We are not sure who coined the motto or popularized it, but as time goes by we hear it less and less in our Bible classes and sermons. It has virtually disappeared from the minds of modern members of the church. This motto has been much on our mind lately, due to the fact that we came across it not long ago in some book on the restoration movement. The author made the point that down through the two hundred years or so that we have been attempting both to attain unity in the religious world and restore the ancient order of things we have been great at making mottos, but very remiss in applying them to our religious life. Perhaps he is right. For when one looks back on the history of churches of Christ and notices the things that have divided various congregations at various times, such as the number of communion containers, Sunday school classes, ladies wearing hats or head covering to worship, Bible class literature and probably a half-dozen other things that have nothing to do with the salvation of our souls, we will have to admit we have not applied the motto as carefully as we should have, or could have.

    The first time we heard this motto was more than fifty years ago. It was long before we ever knew that such a thing as a division had ever come in churches of Christ. In a sermon preached on religious unity brother Jess Nutter quoted that motto and we never forgot it. It really has a way of sticking with you. But, what does it mean? Since it is an uninspired motto and since its originator is long since dead, we are not likely to know what he meant by it. We have to interpret the motto for ourselves. To this observer it means, on the matters that are clearly taught in Holy Scripture by command, approved apostolic example or unavoidable implication, we must all stand together—be united. In the matters in which there are differences of interpretation of Scripture that do not affect the salvation of the soul and in matters such as Paul mentioned in Romans 14-15:13, we allow people to believe and practice what conscience and private study demands. But in all matters we show that Christian charity (love) of which Paul so plainly taught in such passages as 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesian 4:32, and that John taught when he said, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

    Since there is little doubt that the motto is a good one, though not inspired, we can do one of two things with it. Firstly, we can simply forget it and go on doing what we have always done. This can lead to more and more “mental division,” even if it never becomes a reality. Mental division may in some ways be worse because it will allow jealousy and refusal to work together to take place without ever admitting that we are divided in the sight of God. That could lead to the loss of one’s immortal soul. Secondly, we can investigate the motto to see if it is based on Scriptural principles and if it is make an honest effort to practice it. Should we stand together in matters of faith, such as we have described above? Absolutely! We are thus taught in such passages as 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. In matters of opinion, which we are defining as any matter that is not of faith, including interpretations of difficult passages, can we grant the liberty for others to disagree with us? It seems we must, unless we are making the claim to have all and perfect knowledge. What about loving one another, even if we do differ in some matters; is it possible for us to do that? It is not only possible, but if the Bible is true we must do so. Since it is clearly taught in Holy Scripture that we must love our enemies, we must also love our brethren—some of whom may be our enemies!

    There does not seem to be a great deal wrong with the motto. The problem is with us. And we do not have the unity and closeness we should have because we will not allow the liberty of opinion and show the deep love we should have for one another.

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