Do These Differences Really Matter?

What difference does it make whether churches cooperate or function independently in their work? Is a discussion over institutional versus non-institutional concepts of the church worthy of my time? What of eating in church buildings, or clapping in the assembly? What of traditional versus contemporary worship? What of kitchens, and orphans’ homes, and ball teams, and sponsoring church arrangements? Does any of this really matter? Do these questions warrant my study and reflection? Are they worthy of spirited and lively discussion with others? I aver that they are.

“Whoever speaks,” Peter says, “let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God … so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

“Whoever” means me. And you, too, I might add. “Whoever” embraces all men of all time. Whether I speak or act by myself, or in concert with you, or together with a congregation of fellow believers, I should watch my step. My thoughts and speech on any subject ought to be constrained by “the utterances of God.” My service ought to be governed by the means and might “which God supplies.” My ambitions realized in word and deed—”in all things”— must yield to the advancement of God’s glory. The questions posed above and addressed elsewhere by the other writers in this issue of Abundant Life are relevant because they all bear on how Christians react to God’s word, relate to God’s power, and further God’s glory. That makes them all considerations of the highest order—in other words, something that matters greatly.

The question of faith in God’s word. Do the Scriptures really furnish a man for “every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17), or just some? Do the commandments of Jesus have the force of commandments, or are they mere suggestions (Matt. 28:18-20)? Are we not confident enough in God’s word that we regard the sum of His communications as complete and every part as authoritative? And do we trust that His foresight was sufficient to anticipate our needs in the twenty-first century so that we respect His silence? Those are important questions—especially given man’s propensity to improve upon Christ’s design for His church. We must not give mere lip service to the notion of “speaking as the utterances of God.” Faith in God’s word is a big deal. If we can’t have total confidence in the sufficiency of God’s word, then we stand on shifting sand.

The issue of trust in God’s might. The observant reader of the New Testament will be struck with the simplicity of the early church. Its organization, its worship, its mission were simple and wholly spiritual in focus. The early church was not distracted with carnal, or political, or social agendas. Yet that simple organizational model effectively turned the first-century world “upside down” (Acts 17:6). Is the world too sophisticated to be toppled by God’s first-century devices? Are the tools and materials which the carpenter from Galilee used to build His church no longer sufficient? And do we possess the wisdom to improve on God’s means and methods for edifying His people, for reaching the lost, for effecting change in a lost world? You see, the issue of serving —whether individually or collectively—”by the strength which God supplies” is an issue that matters. It matters very much.

The matter of seeking God’s glory. Peter says that Christians ought to be constrained by the utterances of God, and reliant on the power of God, so that God receives the glory in all things. Whenever man tinkers with the word of God or with the designs of God, he robs God of the glory due Him. Religious innovations make worship and religion a man-centered enterprise, rather than a God-centered one. Man shoves God from His place on the throne and takes His seat in God’s chair. He presumes to speak for God, to plan for God, to improve upon God’s design. Does that not matter? It’s a very big deal to change God’s word! It is not the man who talks of glorifying God that succeeds in that quest—”Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven…” No it’s the one who “doeth the will of My Father,” Jesus said (Matt. 7:21).

It’s uncomfortable to consider hard and potentially controversial questions. Re-examining old prejudices and concepts, re-evaluating past assumptions and positions—those are all hard tasks. But they are necessary ones. We are constrained by our confidence in God’s word, by our reliance on His strength, by our quest for His glory to consider these vital and timely issues. Let us not shrink from the challenge. It deserves our best effort.