One of the oddest parts of my brief exchange with Bro. Jesse Winn, to which I have made considerable reference over the last few weeks, was something he said about me personally. In my experience, “about me personally” is a prepositional phrase that is hardly ever a good thing in the context of brethren debating doctrinal differences. But this was an exception.
He called me “a different breed than what I’m used to.” I inferred (correctly, as it turned out) that he meant different from people who have taken issue with his teaching. He also said, “if every preacher/elder has your attitude I wouldn’t have felt a need to write the article.”
Needless to say, I am aware that praise from certain quarters should be seen as a potential warning sign more than a cause for self-congratulation. That said, I do not fear that my position on “progressivism” in the Lord’s church has been muddied by my exchange with Bro. Winn. Quite the opposite. He acknowledges our differences, respects them, and is willing to retire to his quarters and let me retire to mine without declaring any sort of ongoing state of war. I concur. And no one had to prepare the tar and feathers.
It may boil down to what we think regarding “brethren” with whom we disagree. As anyone with five minutes experience in the Lord’s church can attest, brethren sometimes differ. And although such differences are frequently, if not usually, over matters of indifference and personal judgment, not all are. (Matters of indifference and personal judgment are often causes for strife in God’s family as well, but we can deal with that tragedy another time.) Sometimes brethren disagree over matters that are doctrinal — what Jesus has required of us vs. what He has not required. What are we to do in such cases?
First of all, we must acknowledge the source of our familial bond. We become children of God when we submit to Jesus Christ by putting Him on in baptism (Mark 16:16). Those who are baptized are “added” (Acts 2:47) to the group of saved individuals — call it the church, the kingdom, the body, or any of several other Biblical expressions. The expression most central to the current discussion is “household” (1 Timothy 3:15). God makes us “family.” If family membership is to be withdrawn, it is God who will do so. I certainly have a role in determining whether fellowship should be limited or altered. However, it is not my job to, in essence, declare that my brother or sister in Christ has been kicked out of God’s family.
“Brethren” sin (James 5:19-20). Paul calls the unrepentant sinner in the church a “so-called brother” (1 Corinthians 5:11), acknowledging that the dynamic in the family must change under some circumstances. But just as the prodigal did not cease to be his father’s son when he went astray, so also a brother who is chastened by the church is still a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 15). And, as with the older brother in the parable, there remains an acknowledgement of kinship even in the darkest of times.
I have a brother in the flesh. I cannot imagine what he could possibly do that would persuade me to refuse to acknowledge him. I might refuse to be in his company. I might refuse to allow my children to see him. But on the worst of days, he is my brother. (I hasten to add, I am in full fellowship with my brother, I always have been, and I have every expectation of remaining so for life.) And I have any number of brethren in the Spirit with whom I do not or cannot associate. But I still love them. They are still my brethren.
The cause of Christ is not aided by adding vindictive to our weaponry. If “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17) is not adequate to the task, perhaps we are engaged in the wrong fight.