|Vol. 13 No. 10 October 2011||
Robert D. Rawson
The words used in Acts 20:28-32 regarding the eldership of the church leads us to believe that rulership is involved. “Feed the flock among you” and ‘appointed you to be overseers’ and ‘draw away many after themselves’ are such expressions that involve rulers. The warning of Paul in the passage certainly alerted the elders at Ephesus that ‘from your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things.’ By drawing others to themselves, they were drawing men away from Christ who shed His blood to purchase the church. It is a shame for such to happen. This would be the first wave of division from Christ, and it would come from within the eldership. Could it have been avoided and how?
In 1 Peter 5:1-4, we read a sobering thought from an elder who was as well an apostle, Simon Peter. He warned to shun ‘lording over God’s heritage’ and reminded elders that each one has to account for himself to the Chief Shepard! Yes, the way to avoid ‘lording’ in the rulership of the church rests within each of the elders recognizing his accountability to the Lord. It is not ‘his church,’ rather the church is the Lord’s heritage. It’s not ‘his rule,’ rather the Lord’s rule ought to be honored by all. It is good to be reminded of this. It is an effort for brethren to have to remind an eldership not to go too far. There are many ways to ‘lord it’ over the brethren besides rude speech.
[Editor’s Note: A correctly functioning eldership is a balancing act between assuming the God-given responsibility to rule (Hebrews 13:17) on behalf of Christ as well as for the welfare of the flock of God and bullying a congregation with extra-biblical mandates or even with unnecessary harshness. ~ Louis Rushmore]
A common expression used by those who wish to justify a belief or practice for which there is no biblical authority is: “After much prayer and Bible study, we have concluded that _______________ is not a salvation issue.” In so doing, they attempt to classify a matter of faith and doctrine as a matter of opinion. We need to understand the difference between matters of faith and of opinion. In regard to things Christians must or must not do, there are several important matters to be understood. We need to know what things are essential and those things that are not essential. We need to know God’s full teaching on a given matter and how to ascertain biblical authority. It is also imperative that we understand and can distinguish between matters of faith and matters of opinion.
A matter of faith is something that is authorized in the New Testament and is required for the followers of Jesus (Romans 10:17). Matters of faith are proven or founded on Bible authority. Bible authority is established by approved example, implication, direct statement (e.g. commands) and expediency. Christians are obligated to conduct their lives in accord with matters of faith.
A matter of opinion is a belief but not a requirement. It may be an optional matter. It may have to do with the “how and when” of a matter of faith. A matter of opinion cannot be required as a condition for fellowship.
Thomas Campbell in his “Declaration and Address” said that “nothing ought to be…required of [Christians] …but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God.” He is right. Christians must abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9).
A case for a matter of faith versus a matter of opinion would be the obligation to assemble. Christians must assemble with the saints (Hebrews 10:25). It is not an optional matter. We must assemble on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). These are not matters of opinion; they are matters of faith. The hour that we assemble is a matter of opinion. The place where we meet is also a matter of opinion and a matter of expediency.
Another illustration contrasting matters of faith and matters of opinion is music in worship. The way we worship God is a salvation issue – a matter of faith. Christians are authorized to sing as an act of worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). This is a matter of faith. How many songs we sing in our worship is a matter of opinion. Whether we sing the parts or sing the melody in unison is also a matter of opinion. However, if we add to God’s Word and include unauthorized instrumental music along with the authorized vocal music, that is not a matter of opinion. It is a doctrinal issue because the Scripture specifies that we are to sing in our worship. It is a matter of faith to sing since God’s Word instructs us to sing. The silence of God’s Word on instrumental music in Christian worship is deafening. There’s not a word found in the New Testament to authorize instrumental music in Christian worship.
Another much used example contrasting matters of faith and of opinion is found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). The responsibility of the apostles and all we who have come after them to preach the Gospel is a matter of faith. The means of going into all the world (boat, train, auto, etc.) and the method of preaching (e.g. tract, radio, pulpit, etc.) are matters of opinion and expediency. The obligation to go preach is enjoined by a direct statement, but as to the means and methods, God has not specified, and has left that to our best judgment.
One more quote from T. Campbell: “In matters of faith, there must be unity, in matters of opinion, there must be liberty, and in all matters, there must be charity.”