Thousand Oaks Baptist Church
What Are Convictions?
By David A. Tucker, Sr.
Let me take a few minutes to ask and try to answer five extremely sensitive questions:
1) What are Biblically-based personal convictions?
2) What are Biblically-based standards?
3) Should Christians have personal convictions concerning what is right and wrong?
4) Should local fundamental Baptist churches adopt Biblical standards to define normal Christian belief and behavior?
5) What place, if any, should personal convictions and Biblical standards have in our Christian lives and in our fundamental local churches?
In the context of Christian faith and practice, what is a personal conviction? One contemporary dictionary defines a conviction as "a strong belief arising from a deep feeling of certainty" (Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, Harper & Row, 1984). The definitions given in Webster's original 1828 edition of his dictionary all indicate that a personal conviction results when a person is convinced by a Scriptural truth that what he has been believing or doing is wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined a religious or moral conviction as a strongly held belief for which a person is willing to suffer persecution, to be imprisoned or even to die.
In the New Testament, the Greek word elegco is translated convict only once, in John 8:9, in the instance where the scribes and Pharisees were convicted by their own consciences. However, this same Greek word is used sixteen more times, translated "...tell him his fault..." (Matt. 18:15), "reprove" (Jn. 3:20; 16:8; Eph. 5:11, 13; 2 Tim. 4:2), "rebuke" (1 Tim. 5:20; Titus 1:13; 2:15; Heb. 12:5; Rev. 3:19), and "convince" (John 8:46; 1 Cor. 14:24; Titus 1:9; James 2:9). Elegco means to confute or to admonish. The contemporary dictionary meaning for confute is "to prove to be wrong, false, or invalid; to refute successfully." The contemporary dictionary meaning for admonish is "to administer mild reproof to; to caution against danger or error; warn."
Thus, when Christians down through the ages and English speaking people of the last four centuries spoke of personal convictions produced by the Word of God and by the Holy Spirit, they were referring to beliefs and practices that they once held, that they now were convinced to be wrong in the sight of God. In other words, convictions are strong beliefs that certain other beliefs and practices are sinful. Furthermore, these convictions were wrought in people's hearts and minds by the inward working of the Holy Spirit, as He brought the clear teachings of the Word of God to bear on the individual's conscience, regarding the individual's beliefs and practices.
Most born-again Christians down through the ages have been personally convicted that certain practices are sinful. Many of them have testified that these convictions were wrought in their hearts by the Holy Spirit as they read and studied their Bibles, and as they listened to the pure Word of God preached and taught in their churches and Bible study classes. Written testimonies of these convictions are extant in their books and pamphlets. They specifically claimed that the Holy Spirit used the Bible to show them what was right and what was wrong. And they called their strong beliefs that certain things were wrong convictions.
And so, when a Christian said that the Holy Spirit had convicted him of something, he was saying that he had become convinced that it was wrong, based on the clear teachings of the Word of God.
What did these Christians of other generations believe so strongly to be wrong? Admittedly, a few of the things they were convicted about were evils and even common practices peculiar to their culture and technology. As society changes and technology progresses, the Holy Spirit will make personal applications of the Bible's eternal truths that are appropriate to every culture and situation.
However, many of the same evils about which Christians of past generations were convicted are still with us today. This is not at all surprising for at least three reasons. First, the world, the flesh, and the devil have only so many materials and combinations with which to work, no matter what the culture or technology. Second, sinful human nature never changes, and the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life are all still with us today, just as they were with Christians of the first century or of last century. Third, God's Word, God's commands, God's prohibitions, God's holiness, and the eternal principles of God's righteousness never change; thus, what was sin in previous generations must still be sin today.
Let me ask again: What were some of the things that these Christians of other generations believed so strongly to be wrong? Allow me to list some of them for you. Christians of yesteryear first were convicted that what the Bible specifically said was sin was inherently wrong. Second, they also were convicted that the evil deeds perpetrated by sinful men depicted in the Bible were wrong and to be avoided. Third, they were convicted that anything that violated the righteous principles of the Word of God was wrong.
What were some of the specific things they were convicted about? They were convicted that the use of alcohol as a beverage was sin. They were convicted that the use of products containing nicotine (such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco) and other harmful drugs was sin. They were convicted that blasphemy, swearing, cursing, and other forms of corrupt vocal communication and body language were sin. They were convicted that gambling was sin. They were convicted that stealing and cheating and lying and adultery and fornication were sin. They were convicted that engaging in any sort of sexual behavior before or outside of marriage was sin. They were convicted that divorce was almost always wrong, with a few clear exceptions. They were convicted that homosexuality and lesbianism were sinful lifestyles. They were convicted that abortion was sin. They were convicted that deliberate marriage of a believer to an unbeliever was sin. They were convicted that worldly forms of music and dance that excited the lusts of the flesh or glorified any sin were evil. They were convicted that any personal or ecclesiastical compromise with the world, the flesh, the devil, or unbelievers was sin.
Why were they convicted that these things (among others) were sinful? It was because the Bible specifically said they were sinful, and the indwelling Holy Spirit would not allow them to delude themselves about it.
Many Christians of previous generations were also convicted that the popular theater and Hollywood movies were wrong (back when most movies were so tame that no television network of today could hope to get any sort of rating by showing them), because of at least three things: 1) the worldly philosophy and mindset of the author or producer or characters; 2) the bad language used by the characters; and/or 3) the sinful lifestyles portrayed by the characters.
Many Christians of previous generations were also convicted that most (if not all) popular secular music was at least questionable, if not downright sinful (and again, this was before the days of Elvis and rock n' roll - not to mention what we see today). Most were convicted that social dancing was sin and that rock and roll was the devil's tool.
Believe it or not, a great many Christians of previous generations (and some even today) were convicted that mixed swimming (men and women together in the same pool at the same time) was at least asking for trouble (and this was in the days when swimming suits were far less revealing than they are today!).
Many Christians of previous generations were convicted that they should not support with their business any store that sold any type of alcoholic beverage. They were convicted that they should not use controlled chemical substances for personal pleasure. They were convicted that wearing any form of immodest clothing that allowed the female form to be easily and visually discerned and that tempted or encouraged men (who were not their husbands) to indulge the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh (even if only in thought) was sin. In fact, they were convicted that not only were the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes to be considered sin, but so also was the pride of life. And they had actually defined and applied these so as to apply their culture. It seems that very few pastors and even fewer church members have done this today. If the plain commands, examples, and principles of the Bible say or even suggest that something is wrong, then it is wrong. It is wrong for me, and it is wrong for you, and it is wrong for my church, and it's wrong for my country.
Could I dare to suggest that some of the things that I've listed (that previous generations of Christians were convicted about) are things that we're convicted about today, too? Some of the other things on their list of convictions somehow haven't made it onto our list of convictions. But does that make their convictions wrong? Does it make our lack of convictions right?
Now, they had other convictions, too, but we probably couldn't relate to them, because culture and technology have changed such that the objects of those convictions are no longer present in their former forms. But can you imagine how it must look to older believers in our local churches when many of the things listed above are both accepted and promoted from the pulpit by pastors, evangelists, ministers of music, youth leaders, and teachers? Is it any wonder that many older fundamental Christians are very close to open rebellion against such things in their local churches? As far as they are concerned, the devil himself is sitting on the platform, leading the rock choruses, choreographing the interpretive dance, and encouraging all sorts of sin in God's people.
I notice, too, that even the English language has changed so much in the last 50 or even 20 years that many words which in my youth were crude terms for private body parts and violent, demeaning sexual acts (then used only by moral degenerates) are now accepted in the general vocabulary and even commonly used from the pulpit by some pastors, evangelists, and teachers. Since these folks obviously haven't taken the time and trouble to truly learn the history and development of the English language, most of them probably don't know any better. But can you imagine how this comes across to those older believers in the pew who know the foul original meanings of such crude language? These older believers know for sure that the devil himself is on the platform when they hear such language in songs and sermons!
But please tell me, isn't God still the same God today, with the same moral nature and standards of right and wrong, as He was in the first century or in the 1800's and early to mid-1900's or in Bible times? Isn't human nature still the same today as it was 100, 200, 1000, or 6000 years ago? Are we now so sophisticated and Teflon coated that we can throw aside the Holy Spirit taught, Biblical convictions of past generations without being harmed? If we still believe our Bibles, how will we deal with sin and with the Holy Spirit's convicting work?
I think sin must still be sin in the Twenty-first Century, just as much as it was in any other age of the world. And if the Holy Spirit truly convicted Christians in all past generations from the Bible concerning what He convinced them to be sin, then doesn't it follow that those same things are still sin today? I think we have to say, "Yes!" What was sin in the days of yesteryear is still sin today.
If this is the case, then why aren't Christians being convicted by the Holy Spirit today in the same way they were convicted in past generations? Who says they aren't? I believe that the Holy Spirit is still doing His holy office work in the hearts of truly born-again believers today, just as He did in past generations. And I know good Christian people who still have the same convictions as most of those I listed a few moments ago. But, you will say, why then don't other Christians today experience the same convicting work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and lives? Frankly, I believe that the Holy Spirit is still convicting of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, just as He always has. But I also believe that many Christians today simply are not listening to or obeying the Holy Spirit's conviction.
How has this come about? Why don't many Christians today seem to listen to or obey the Holy Spirit when He convicts them of sin? I firmly believe that most new Christians don't listen to the Holy Spirit today for at least three reasons:
1) Most Christians don't listen to and obey the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, because Christians today have not been taught how to listen to the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit by either the word or the example of many of their pastors and Bible teachers. We need to learn how to listen to the Holy Spirit today, as He speaks through the pages of the Bible and the examples of godly men and women.
2) Most Christians don't listen to and obey the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, because listening to and obeying the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit would place most Christians in direct opposition to the lives of most of the members and influential leaders in their local church. We need to be encouraged to obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29).
3) Most Christians don't listen to and obey the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, because the world, the flesh, and the devil have made such deep inroads into our society, homes, churches, educational systems, entertainment networks, and businesses that to listen and obey would virtually make such Christians into societal outcasts. We need to learn what constitutes the world, the flesh, and the devil. And we need to learn that we are societal outcasts to begin with, as born-again Christians!
What am I suggesting? I am suggesting that both peer pressure and example from virtually every side have discouraged new believers from listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit's pleadings from the Word of God. But hasn't this happened in past generations, too? Yes, the world, the flesh, and the devil are always there and always will be, during the present age. But these three foes now have many more and vastly more potent means of access to our senses than in any other generation of the world. But I believe that the most discouraging foes today of the new believer (and of an older believer who truly wants to live for the Lord) are, first, the example, testimony, and influence of the worldly and disobedient members, leaders, and ministers of his or her own local church, and second, the virtual lack of Biblical, Christian standards set forth by many local churches and their pastors.
Let's look at a New Testament example of these problems. The local church in the Greek city of Corinth in the first century A.D. was beset with many moral and spiritual difficulties. They were divided over human leaders, they had a false concept of the ministry, they gloried in human wisdom, they were spiritually immature, and they were following the inclinations of the flesh and of the mind and of the old nature. By being involved in disreputable practices, they were putting stumbling blocks in the spiritual paths of young and weak believers. Some were taking each other to court before unbelievers, others were living sensual lives, and still others were involved in open immorality. But their worst problem was that they were proud of their sinful toleration of and indulgence concerning the awful sin of incest on the part of one of their members. They were proud of their tolerance of the sinful lifestyles of their members. Their standards for living and for church operations were based upon the philosophies and sins of the world, not upon the Word and righteousness of God.
That's what happened long ago in the liberal and compromising evangelical churches that exist in our communities today. And that's what's happening today in many so-called fundamental, independent, local Baptist churches. So many today claim to have no humanly devised standards of right and wrong. They are proud to be able to allow carnal Christians to indulge the lusts of the flesh and of the mind in the youth ministries, in the Sunday school, in the music ministries, in the way they dress, in the way they flirt and sport with other Christians' spouses, in their worldly recreation, in their disregard for the financial and spiritual support of the church, and in their humanistic philosophical and sociological pronouncements and lack of honest Gospel preaching. They call this toleration, Christian love, or "agreeing to disagree on non-essentials."
At the same time, they are delighted to characterize the Holy Spirit given convictions of older and more mature and obedient Christians as legalistic, Pharisaical, and staid (that's usually taken to mean uncaring, unloving, insensitive, and generally hateful, but it actually means to be sober, steady, faithfully fixed on the truth and firmly established in the faith!). Biblical righteousness is characterized as sin, and sin is proclaimed to be the new righteousness. They have forgotten the warning of Isaiah 5:20. They have forgotten that true Christian love is only produced from a pure (holy) heart, a good conscience, and unpretended faith (1 Tim. 1:5).
In essence, churches that claim to have no standards really do have humanly devised standards. These are cultural standards, based on what the Christians in their culture will tolerate. These are standards that allow sin and disallow the genuine conviction of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. And most new believers in such churches are afraid to fight the current of worldliness and swim against the tide of disobedience. If all they receive is what their disobedient pastors and teachers tell them, then they don't even know that they should even do so! And if they do happen to actually begin to read and study their Bibles for themselves, and the Holy Spirit begins to actually convict them, and they ask their pastor or teacher about it, they are told that such convictions are old-fashioned (or even wrong) and have no place in this generation or culture.
Are convictions Scriptural? If they are wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit from the clear commands, warnings, exhortations, teachings, and examples of the written Word of God, then, yes, they are Scriptural.
We've discussed convictions. Now let's talk about standards. What is a standard? A standard is a perfect model or excellent example or authoritative criterion set forth, against which to compare and contrast all other supposedly similar things and determine whether they are like or unlike. If they are like the standard, they are approved. If they are unlike, they are rejected to the scrap heap or else sent back for rework or repair.
Standards are necessary in every area of life. Automobiles, airplanes, houses, roads, ships, hair dryers, light bulbs, medicine, mobile homes, sewing thread, hamburger, and just about everything that can be bought or sold must meet certain standards - even if it is only the standard of consumer acceptance. Corporations and their management must meet certain written standards set by the government and their board of directors or their stockholders. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, welders, and hundreds of other professionals must meet certain written, professional, governmental, and legal standards. Local churches, their leadership, and their membership are required by the Bible to meet God's written standards.
In the Bible, the word standard means a banner to follow while going into battle, and it's used only in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, at least three words encompass the meaning of today's word standard. These are example, pattern, and rule.
First, let's discuss Biblical examples as standards. Strong's Concordance defines an example variously: 1) An exhibit for imitation or warning; 2) a model for imitation; and 3) a specimen to be examined. As the perfect standard for our Christian lives, Jesus Christ is set forth as our example (John 13:15; James 5:10; 1 Peter 2:21); our understanding of His example comes exclusively from the written Word of God. Timothy was exhorted to be an archetypical believer, a good example for others to emulate (1 Tim. 4:12); Timothy was to be a living standard for others to see. Some evil examples are also referenced for us to shun: Lusting after evil things (1 Cor. 10:6), an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 4:11), and the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7), among many others.
Second, let's look at a Biblical pattern as a standard. Strong defines a pattern as a sketch for imitation. Paul was a pattern of Christ's patience (1 Tim. 1:16). Titus was exhorted to exhibit a pattern in at least three things (Titus 2:7): 1) Good works, 2) doctrine that is pure, honest, and sincere, and 3) sound speech. Good works are living patterns; doctrine is usually a written standard that defines and regulates faith and practice; and sound speech is a spoken pattern.
Third, the Biblical rule is a standard. Strong defines a rule as a standard of faith and practice; a boundary for what is believed or lived. Paul declared that he had boundaries to his ministry (2 Cor. 10:13, 15). He also stated that the new creature (which is Christ in us - also see 2 Cor. 5:17) is the rule or pattern for our Christian lives (Gal. 6:16). And then Paul said that every Christian should live by the same rule (Phil. 3:16); this requires that the rule be identified, proclaimed, understood, applied, and practiced universally.
The very fact that Paul and some of the other Apostles wrote letters to the churches and to individuals that were full of instructions for right living and sound doctrine, and included lists of things that were sin, as well as lists of things that were good and right, strongly argues that Paul and the Holy Spirit had some consistent and comprehensive, positive standards of faith and practice in mind. The fact that in every letter they also warned against certain other beliefs and practices as being unwise and sinful also strongly argues for a negative side to those same standards.
For us today, a set of Biblical standards would be a collection and summary of all of the Bible's commands, examples, and principles that pertain to and define the faith and practice of the New Testament believer and the ministry of the local church. For most of us, a written or printed format would be required.
Individual Christians and local churches need Biblical standards to know what is right, how to do what is right, how to know what is wrong, and how to avoid what is wrong.
Now, what I'm about to say is important. Standards are guideposts to define what the Bible teaches to be normal Christian belief and behavior. The Bible's standards for faith and practice are scattered throughout its pages, and a compendium of these standards is extremely useful and helpful to both new and more mature Christians. Every printed series of lessons for new converts is in reality a set of standards for the Christian life, gleaned from the Bible.
We encourage believers to study the Bible using many different methods. One such method is to study the Bible topically. A comprehensive, topical study of the Bible's standards for Christian faith and practice would obviously provide a list of standards for us individually and for our local churches. What is so wrong with that? That's what any good, printed guide for new believers provides.
Such standards should not reflect the standards of the world or just the lowest common convictions of the membership or of the surrounding culture. They should reflect instead the clear teachings of the Word of God and the highest and holiest convictions of the oldest, most spiritually mature Christians in the local fellowship. They also should draw upon the rich historical tradition of the convictions of the godly saints of past generations, whenever these convictions are found, expounded, explained, and defended in their own writings and consistent with the Word of God. These old saints of God had solid, Biblical foundations for their convictions, and we have lost much if we neglect or discount their contributions. We have lost our calling to be salt and light in the world if we neglect or discount Biblical standards for our local churches.
How do young, immature, weak believers - and any of us, for that matter - come to have strong, Scriptural, Holy Spirit given convictions? We have to read and study our Bibles and listen to the inward voice of the Comforter as He teaches us of all things through the Word. We must isolate and analyze each thought and motive and deed, and bring it into subjection to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be honest, sincere, and candid about what we do and what we think, and compare it with the Scriptures and with the Holy Spirit's inward leading. Remember, the Holy Spirit will never lead us in a manner contrary to the revealed will of God from the Word of God.
Should all spiritually mature Christians have the more or less the same convictions about sin? Yes, eventually they should, because God has commanded us to believe and to think and to speak the same things (1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 3:16). The only way we can do this honestly is if God has given us the same convictions. The only way a local church can do this is if it has set forth Biblical standards of what is right and wrong.
Local churches and their members are commanded to set things in the church in order and to do all things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40; Titus 1:5). The only way a local church can do this is if it has searched out and declared Biblical standards concerning what is decent and orderly.
Now let's review what we've learned.
Convictions deal with a Christian's personal response to sin in his or her own life and to sins extant in the current culture. The convicted Christian must make a decision to call something wrong, based upon either the clear commands, examples, and principles of the Bible, or upon the clear and unmistakable inward leading of the Holy Spirit. Either basis is sufficient evidence for any Christian to formulate a valid conviction regarding anything. And then, sometimes immediately, sometimes eventually, both the Bible and the leading of the Spirit will coincide to confirm the validity of the conviction.
However, the fact is that not all Christians actually do have the same convictions. This is patently obvious to any candid observer. One reason is that not all Christians have grown in the Lord at the same rate or to the same level of spiritual maturity. Another reason is that not all Christians are equally aware of, sensitive to, or obedient to the Word of God or to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, we talked about standards. Standards deal with an organization's collective response first to its need for internal order, decency, and operational functioning, and second to its continued existence as an entity distinct from the rest of the world. These principles can be applied to any local church.
For example, the pastor must lead the flock, and the flock must be willing to be led. To this end, the Holy Spirit has gifted every believer in the local church with at least one supernatural ability that is to be used to edify the membership of the local church, and every believer is given to the local church to use his or her spiritual gifts as led by the Holy Spirit. This implies a divine standard of management.
Again, the local church must be supported by the good works and financed by the faithful tithes and gifts of its membership. This requires a standard of giving, receiving, and spending.
The music must meet the godly standards set by the Bible for every other aspect of a Christian's life: It has to be pure, holy, righteous, Spirit-led, not stimulating or enticing to the flesh, strongly tending to evoke holiness and righteousness in those who hear, sing and otherwise use it, and either didactic (teaching) or hortative (exhorting) in matters of faith and/or practice.
Not all local churches actually do exercise the same standards. Not all fundamental Baptist churches exercise the same standards. The local church at Corinth did not exercise the same standards as the local churches at Antioch, Thessalonica, Berea, or Ephesus. Why? Because the members of the church at Corinth were carnal. The standards for the church at Corinth existed in the Old Testament and in the New Testament Scriptures Paul wrote to them. The Holy Spirit had given some members of the Corinthian church the convictions that could have formed the basis for the correct standards. But most of the members and leaders of that church seem to have thought that they knew better than God. And so, they operated their church on carnal, worldly, sinful principles. I don't know whether anybody got saved while the Corinthian church was like that. Clearly, the world was holding them in derision, and it wasn't because they had a holy stand for Christ. Because their standards were low, their testimony was in the dirt, and Paul's first epistle to them was intended to correct that situation. He did tell them to set some godly standards.
We've talked about Biblical convictions and we've talked about Biblical standards. Are there any other kinds? Of course!
Everybody has convictions that are not Biblical. Some convictions come from our culture; some convictions come from our moms and dads; some convictions come from what we were taught in school; some convictions come from where we work; some convictions come from the people with whom we wish to be accepted. Convictions concerning clothing fashions, cars, houses, jobs, music, footwear, greetings, finances, computers, cell phones, social customs, and ten thousand other things exist in this world. But all of these come from our culture and from people who are trying to shape our culture. They don't come from the Bible. The command, "Thou shalt not wear thy underwear more than one day," is a conviction learned straight from the mouth of Mom, but it's nowhere to be found in the Bible!
Likewise, every organization - whether it's a multinational conglomerate or a newly married husband and wife - has standards. Some of these standards are written, others are orally transmitted, others are understood by a look or a gesture. All of them regulate people's actions and even their thoughts and motives. But just as with non-Biblical convictions, all of these standards come from our culture and from people who are trying to shape our culture. They don't come from the Bible. The command, "Thou shalt confer with thy wife before spending $2,000.00 on a new computer," is a standard learned by wise husbands from their concerned wives, but you won't find it stated anywhere in the Bible!
How should we deal with our convictions? All of us have them, of one sort or another. First, if they are truly from the Bible, then we should live them consistently, by faith, out of love for the Lord and for others. This will provide a good example for other, younger, weaker believers. This will also provide encouragement and comfort for older, more mature believers.
Second, we should never force even our Biblical convictions on anyone else. God didn't force His convictions on us, and God's example is the best example. God presented them in His Word, the Holy Spirit gently, convincingly, and lovingly persuaded us of their validity and necessity, and we voluntarily accepted them. That's how we should relate our convictions to others. Only God has the authority to force an issue relating to convictions. The Noahic Flood judgment, the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Lake of Fire and Brimstone are three notable examples of God forcing His convictions upon sinners. But we simply don't have that authority!
Third, we are free to proclaim our Biblical convictions and the Scriptural reasons for them, and to provide Scriptural motivation for others to accept and adopt them, too. This, quite frankly, is what evangelists are expected to do. It's what we do when we preach the Gospel and set out to win souls to Christ. Proclaiming and motivating are not forcing. They might be construed as forcing by people who are willful sinners, but it's what God has told us to do, and we would be disobedient to God if we did otherwise.
And then, how should we deal with Biblical standards? First, as pastors, teachers, leaders, and as a local church, we should search the Scriptures to discover the true Biblical and New Testament standards of qualification and ministry for pastors, deacons, teachers, leaders, church members, and the ministries, music, and activities of our local church.
Second, we should come to an agreement as a local church on these Biblical standards, and put them into some easily understood and easily obtainable form, for all to know and for none to misunderstand. Since they are Biblical standards, they should be preached from the pulpit by the pastor and evangelists, and taught to every member by every teacher.
Third, we should apply these standards consistently and in love and gentle humility. For example, a man may be academically qualified to be a Sunday School teacher, and may know the Bible inside and out, but if he is a homosexual, or actively living in adultery, or writes bad checks as a habit of life, or something equally unscriptural, then he should not be retained as a Sunday School teacher until he has repented and changed his way of living. From the church's standpoint, such a member should be dealt with in accordance with Galatians 6:1...
"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault [offense, sin, trespass], ye which are spiritual, restore [repair, adjust, mend] such an one in the spirit of meekness [gentle humility]; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
Secret departures from the accepted, Biblical standard are to be dealt with privately. On the other hand, willful pastors who sin openly are to be rebuked openly before all (1 Timothy 5:20). But in whatever manner the restoration is accomplished, it should be done decently and in order, from love, and not from vindictive judgmentalism.
Is this legalism? No. The word legalism is not found in the Bible. But it is a word that describes an unbiblical practice and a less than spiritual frame of mind toward Christians who sin. Legalism is properly defined as the doctrine that requires a person to keep the works of the Old Testament Law in order to be saved, to stay saved, or to please God and live the Christian life after one is saved. In short, legalism relates to the Old Testament Law, and not to New Testament standards. Legalism relates to hard, cold judgmentalism, and not to properly constituted, loving rebuke and restoration.
If any of us says that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, the truth is not in us, we say that God is a liar, and His Word is not in us (1 John 1:8, 10). Each of us needs to be constantly reminded of the holy standard of the Word of God. Each of us needs from time to time to have the humble, gentle, loving rebuke and exhortation of a faithful pastor, evangelist, teacher, or brother or sister in the Lord. And that's where the Biblical standards come into play.
How do we publish these standards? They can be part of the church constitution, the church covenant, the statement of faith, or the by-laws. Nobody in the membership needs to sign a statement promising to obey them, unless the church has and commonly uses a standard church covenant. However, I personally think that a pastor and any associates should have their own statements of faith and practice that they present to the church and promise to abide by. I personally think that deacons, Sunday School teachers, and other church leaders should be required to at least verbally agree to abide by the Biblical standards of the local church.
Individual mature Christians who are honestly and humbly seeking to be faithful and obedient to God and to His Word will have clear convictions about what is right and what is wrong. Such Christians historically have had very much the same convictions about the same things. And these are the Christians who won souls to Christ, went to the mission fields of the world, wrote the Christian classics, composed the great Christian hymns and gospel songs, and gave us the Christian heritage we enjoy but still seem to despise today! All you have to do to prove this out is to read what godly men and women of 20, 30, 40, 50, or 100, 250, or 1900 years ago wrote. This is a testimony to the consistent and orderly working of the Holy Spirit within God's people.
Contemporary efforts by some erring pastors, some local churches, some religious schools and colleges, some musicians, some publishers, and some leaders to nullify these convictions and the standards to which such convictions used to lead have now resulted in the virtual death of convictions among many Christian groups, and have also led to the vilification and demise of all meaningful Biblical standards within many local churches.
I firmly believe that the time has come to reestablish the soil and climate in which godly, Biblical convictions can take root, grow, and blossom. Godly, Biblical standards for holy living, convicting preaching, soul-thrilling teaching, and powerful soul winning must be reestablished in our local churches. Pastors, deacons, teachers, other leaders, and members who have opposed such revival must either repent and recommit themselves to the Lord's work, or else stop pretending and confess that they are really wolves in sheep's clothing.
We have a solemn and sacred commission to win souls for Christ out of this world. We are not going to do it by emulating the world in our churches or in our lives. Sin must once again be seen for what it really is, sharply contrasted and defined against the pure lives of godly believers. Sinners will be won to Christ and believers will be blessed when Jesus Christ can be seen in all of His holiness and righteousness and pure love in our lives and in our local churches. Let's stop playing church, let's stop giving the devil any foothold in our lives or in our churches, and let's let Jesus Christ exercise His Lordship in our convictions and standards! Now is the accepted time. This is the accepted place. You and I are the people who must do it.