‘Differences In Application’ Revisited 

By Steven Harper


It seems some are persistent in trying to convince us that some erroneous doctrines now being promoted are not “error” but merely “differences in application” of Bible principles, and should be tolerated by all and never condemned. That being true, I must also be persistent in exposing such misleading terms for what they are and once again make an attempt to clarify the fact that these doctrines are not just “differences in application” that must be tolerated, but outright error and that which is “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10). My simple goal, as a preacher of the gospel, is to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) because I know the day has come when some do “not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4).

That being said, let us consider the fallacy of the contention that these errors are merely “differences in application” and can be tolerated by those whose desire is to follow the will of Jesus Christ. If this argument can be shown to be false, then we must admit the doctrines are false and, as such, cannot be tolerated. The doctrines should be exposed — as well those who preach them. It has never been — and should never be — acceptable to support false doctrines or those who teach them. If we are unknowingly supporting such, now is the time to put such things away from us that the church may remain the pure bride of Christ, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but…holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

The Matter of Salvation. I grew up in Arkansas, and was surrounded by friends and even family who were members of various denominations that believed in the “faith only” concept of salvation. I had numerous discussions throughout the years with them and many intense discussions about the need for baptism as a part of our salvation. Time and time again, I would point out that the Scriptures teach its necessity, only to have one point me to a Bible passage that says we are saved by faith [such as Romans 5:1]. It was then that I had to explain that I, too, believed that we are saved by faith, but had to go into further discussions of what “faith” must include, according to Scripture.

Now, knowing that some believe in the “faith only” doctrine regarding salvation, if someone came up to you and asked what they must do to be saved, would you answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)? That would certainly be a Scriptural answer, but would it be a sufficient answer? No, because there would still be a lack of clarity. I, for one, would not want to leave the wrong impression with someone regarding their salvation and desire to make things as clear as possible when teaching God’s word. I do not assume everyone understands God’s word, nor do I assume that everyone understands the meaning of certain terms or phrases. Neither should you. We must recognize that the basis for the “difference” is because some have a different definition for “faith” than do others, and there will be no agreement on truth until all have the same definition. I am sure I would hear howls of vehement disagreement if I said I believe that gay Christians can go to heaven, but would it ease your fears if I went on to explain that my definition of “gay” only means “happy”? Do you see what a difference in terms can do for a proper understanding of God’s word?

In the matter of salvation, it is necessary to further explain to some that the “faith” that saves is more than a simple mental assent, and much more than just simply believing that Jesus is the Christ. If we are willing to stop at this, why not join hands with Max Lucado or Billy Graham? They both teach that we are saved by faith, and Max Lucado [who once believed in the necessity of baptism for salvation] now writes that we should all unite on the principle that Jesus is the Christ and should not divide over other “lesser” issues. Max Lucado now welcomes instrumental music in the worship and invites denominational speakers to his church [no strings attached]. He has stated plainly that as long as we all “believe in Jesus,” then “we are all brethren” and nothing else matters. Friends and brethren, this is the ultimate end of accepting the argument that the various ideas about what it means to be saved “by faith” are only “differences in application.”

The Means of Baptism. In further discussions about salvation, you might actually run into some who believe that baptism is necessary, but their definition of “baptism” is not the same as the Bible’s definition. Some denominations who teach the necessity of baptism apply the water by sprinkling and some by pouring, whereas the Bible always teaches and shows an immersion (cf. Matthew 3:16; Acts 8:38, 39). Will we now keep silent on the criticism of those who do not immerse because sprinkling and pouring are merely “differences in application” of the water? And will we now invite others to speak in the pulpit who teach and practice these things, urging us to tolerate these various teachings and practices? Friends and brethren, believe it because it is already happening!

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. It is disappointing to admit, but some of my brethren who would agree with me on the previous points will now fall silent on this issue. As you read this, there are brethren across this country who are teaching erroneous doctrines on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, but who also have defenders speaking up on their behalf because [as they try to convince us] “it is only a difference in application” of the principles of God’s law on the matter. Some are now trying convince us that as long as we all agree on the basic teaching of “one man, one woman, for life, with one exception,” then we should cease all attempts to expose these doctrines as false, welcome those who teach these erroneous doctrines as faithful brethren, and not make it an issue over which we might divide [as one might with one who is teaching false doctrine and refuses to repent].

Maybe you are not aware of the various false doctrines that are being propagated now, but let me list just a few that are now circulating:

(1) Some teach that if a woman is put away without the cause of fornication, she may later [after the divorce] “put away” her former spouse if he should commit adultery or remarry. Some who are not teaching this are, however, admonishing us to tolerate this doctrine because it is based on the principle of “one man, one woman, for life, with one exception.”

(2) Some teach that if a man and woman are unlawfully married before conversion, they may remain in that marriage as long as they “repent of the unlawful divorce and commit themselves to God.” Again, this is based on the same principle as “one man, one woman, for life, with one exception.”

(3) Some teach that if a woman puts away [divorces] her husband for fornication, the marriage is now sundered and now he [the guilty party] may remarry. Again, those who teach this have appealed to the basic principle of “one man, one woman, for life, with one exception” for their teaching.

(4) Some teach that if a woman’s unbelieving husband abandons her, she may divorce and remarry because what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7 covered divorces where she was “in a situation,” whereas what Jesus taught in Matthew 19 covered the “cause.” [Don’t worry if you don’t understand what that means; I’ve been trying to figure it out for five years and haven’t yet.] Maybe this is based on the principle of “one man, one woman, for life, with two exceptions.”

Now, I know some of you may not have heard of these doctrines that are being circulated, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist — and it doesn’t change the fact that their end result [if followed] is sin and the eventual condemnation of souls involved. Though these things may not be being preached here, they are being preached and endanger the souls of those who hear. Let us recommit ourselves to make sure we understand God’s word, uphold the truth, defend those who preach it, expose those who do not, and have no part to do with those who advocate tolerance of false teaching.

Know the truth and stand firmly for it, “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

From: TRUTH & REASON, a bulletin of the Glendale church of Christ, Glendale, AZ.
Editor: Steven Harper
January 9, 2005

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM