Big Issues

 

Bible-based Views on Practical Decisions


The following topics are included here to illustrate how a desire to follow Bible-based examples leads to different decisions by Christians. You may not agree with all the positions stated below, but we trust you will find them thought-provoking, and a good starting point for further research to “see if these things are so” (Acts 17:11).


 


Voting: Things to Think About

As a citizen of a democratic country you may express political opinions, have a legal right to vote or even to become a politician. The disciple of the Lord Jesus will be willing to be guided by the teaching of the Bible on such matters.
Many people would say all Canadians who qualify have a moral responsibility to vote. They make two arguments for this. First, if you want to live in a free, democratic nation you must vote to protect that democracy. After all, if no-one voted then surely either anarchy or a military government would result. Second, if you want the right to comment on government policy you must earn that right by voting. So say you want the government to forbid same-sex marriages, then should you not vote for a candidate who proposes that policy? These arguments are not to be lightly dismissed.There are nevertheless reasons why as a Christian you may decide in all good conscience that you do not have a responsibility to vote in a general election. Let’s consider (A) whether we are actually qualified to vote, then (B) whether we are called to defend a particular form of government or (C) its specific policies, and what these matters involve.

    1. First, it’s not unusual for some people living in democratic countries to be excluded from voting. For instance, representatives of foreign governments or foreign soldiers stationed in the country, those serving prison sentences, those who are under age and those who are mentally incapable. As we shall see, God views us not primarily as a citizen of Canada, but as a citizen of heaven (Phil.3:20 ), an ambassador (Eph 6:20; 2 Cor 5:20 ) and a soldier (2 Tim.2:4 ). In fact, the Bible even describes Christians as exiles and aliens (1 Pet.2:11 ; Heb.11:13 ). Although these terms are used metaphorically they have a very clear and forceful meaning for Christians, and may justify us in saying we are Biblically disqualified from political involvement.
      Ambassadors do not vote in the country where they work. Remember also that Christ was accused of earthly political action (making Himself a king in opposition to Caesar), but He claimed no involvement in such an earthly matter. He said: “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (Jn 18:36). Should we not then be satisfied if we are merely tolerated by the Canadian government and its citizens, and given permission to speak as ambassadors on behalf of our King? We are also His soldiers. That is the imagery used by Paul when writing to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:4). He says: “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” Our hope therefore is to be allowed to live among fellow Canadians because we work on their behalf in combating a mutual spiritual enemy. In those spiritual battles we are taking orders from our heavenly Commander and we should keep ourselves free from responsibilities that may entangle us or slow us down. Undue focus on political rights and arguments may do just that.
    2. On the second aspect, defending democracy, we should certainly say that anarchy is against God’s will (1 Cor.14:33,40; Deut.12:8; Judg.21:25). However, we must show faith in leaving the matter of choice of a government to the over-ruling of God (Dan.4:17), even when His choices are surprising and make life seem harder for us. Daniel was left in no doubt that God is quite capable of bringing whatever type of government or ruler He wishes into power. On occasion He has allowed governments that have been repressive in the extreme towards His people (Heb.11:35-39). The Apostles Paul and Peter certainly lived under an occupying power capable of great cruelty. Yet their message by the Spirit of God was not one of protesting against injustice, or lobbying for a better political scene; rather, the message was encouragement to endure injustice patiently, recognizing something of God’s sovereign purposes (1 Pet. 1:6,7; 1 Pet.2:13-19). Surely if political initiative was ever justified it was in their day! But no. God’s purposes are likewise not dependent on the ballot box in democratic societies. Some argue that the Apostles simply suffered the disadvantage of history, and if they had democratic rights like ours they would have used them to avoid unwelcome political initiatives. But this is a weak hypothetical argument and ignores the Bible’s clear message.
    3. The third issue was implied responsibility to vote for policies that suit our spiritual objectives, and against those that do not. To be effective this would require sufficient disciples first to agree on a political platform that would win the support of a majority of voters. Attempting this has instead led to visible division among Christians, and actually strengthened the hands of opponents who used the age-old technique of “divide and conquer”. Furthermore such division casts doubts on claims that Christians benefit from guidance by God. Attempts by believers to be united as to what to vote against, or for, have sometimes necessitated damaging compromises or wrong teaching, both obviously in conflict with the will of God for His people. The current debate in the various denominations about same-sex marriage is a clear example of this, and how difficult it is to achieve unity on even very big issues.

This leads us to further considerations:

  1. If we do not have a responsibility to vote, what is our responsibility? Can we do anything to promote a right moral attitude in the political system of this nation? God does not necessarily require action by us in order to accomplish His purposes. Disciples can, however, be effective in three ways. First, their witnessing may result in people turning to Christ, and being brought under God’s rule in the order He has set for government of His people within the structure of churches of God. Potential exists there for the achievement of justice and solutions to problems of need; evidence of that is found in the opening chapters of the Book of the Acts (e.g. Acts 2:44,45; Acts 4:34,35). Second, but of equal importance, is the power of prayer. In fact, God expects disciples to use prayer to achieve a satisfactory political scene (1 Tim. 2:1-3; cf. Jer. 29:7).
    God delights to help the helpless and He can overcome where we, despite our best intentions and greatest energies, might only fail. Third, we may simply testify to God’s righteous requirements without engaging in broader political activity; more on this below.
  2. We have thought about our responsibilities. If we do not see ourselves as responsible to vote, even though we might end up with a government with a non-Christian bias, we should consider how far we are to protest our rights. Let’s think about the right to engage in protest or civil disobedience against government policies. Acts 12 records the killing of the apostle James and the subsequent imprisonment of Peter by Herod. If the Scriptures needed to provide an example of political intervention by disciples against such policies, surely this would have been the ideal set of circumstances to justify it! God intervened directly, but not politically, in response to the prayers of the Church of God in Jerusalem (Acts 12:5). Acts Chapter 4 (especially Acts 4:1-3,16-20,33) agrees with this. No revolt, no civil disobedience nor even political persuasion, not even mention of disrespect for the authorities who had wrongfully condemned them. The people were encouraged to turn to God through Christ – the emphasis was on the positive. Before we moan about the Government and its politicians, let’s stop and recognize that God has put them there! That’s the message of Romans 13:1-7 and the reason why we’re to be subject to the governing authorities, regardless of their political colour. So, when an unpopular, or discredited tax is levied, there’s to be no question of us not paying (see also Mat 22:21). There is clear guidance in the New Testament that disciples are to obey government and those it charges with law enforcement. Such authorities are not there by accident, they are determined by God (Titus 3:1; 1 Pet.2:13,14), for God requires order in man’s activity. It’s easy to submit when we agree. However, the great Bible principle of submission applies equally when we’re in disagreement with the decision reached.
    The only breaking point to our submission may come if the State compels us to do something very clearly against the specific commands of the Lord, for example if we’re commanded not to evangelize (Acts 5:29). And when we refuse to comply, we have to be ready to accept the penalty the law of the day prescribes.
  3. The Bible does not forecast that elected Christian governments will be the means of achieving the kingdom of God on earth. Perhaps mainly as a reaction to oppression there are some who are trying to put into place now by political activity the kind of government they expect Christ to adopt when He returns to rule the earth. They propose that disciples become politicians with a view to their making laws to promote evangelism. Certainly this appears attractive, as does the idea of voting for a believer (who can benefit from the help of the Holy Spirit) rather than an unbeliever. Yet, however sincere these actions are, they do not appear to be supported by Scripture. Some born-again believers have indeed tried hard to use their right to occupy political office to achieve improvements in society. Even where we can show such benefits were indeed achieved it does not show the means justified that end. The Lord Jesus did not expect His disciples to be absorbed in this world’s affairs (Jn 17:14-16). Nor should we seek to become the country’s law-makers, as we cannot force the change of heart required for salvation; legislators may hope to govern actions but they cannot change motives. The Bible simply does not predict that the future reign of Christ on earth will result from the prior election of a government formed of a majority of believers; rather, it will be ushered in by the personal return of Christ. Nor does it say that, pending that event, the present spiritual expression of the kingdom of God should include both believers and unbelievers; in fact only born-again people can see that kingdom, and obedience to its rules is necessary to be a part of it (Jn 3:3; Acts 8:12; Gal 5:21). The pages of history have not yet closed on examples of religious groups pursuing opposite political objectives. The reality is that sin in the heart usually causes a failure to achieve political ideals or to deal properly with the power that political office brings. Clearly even born-again believers can be guilty of serious error when attempting to use politics to promote religious views. Worse still, the Bible only indicates a worsening of the situation, leading to a church/state empire led by Antichrist (Rev 13:1-8). This has resulted in the consciences of many disciples preventing them from participating actively in a political process that will one day be headed by the Man of Sin (2 Thess 2:3).

It is worthwhile to consider the ultimate goal of Christians who vote in general elections. If their direction is wrong, then even a small step that way will be unhelpful. So how can we avoid taking a wrong step? Live the truth! Love our neighbours, and to do good to all. Such “good works” usually result in opportunities to witness. People may then as a result turn to Christ and be brought under God’s rule in terms of the order He has set for government, i.e. among His people within the structure of churches of God. The potential exists there for justice and solutions to problems of need. Then, collectively, we can demonstrate a challenging lifestyle to those outside the Kingdom. Only by being distinct can we exert an influence for good, as we permeate society with the good news of God’s rule. Thus we become “salt of the earth” (Mat 5:13).

Condensed mainly from:

Needed Truth 1990, pgs 186-189

Exploring the Issues of Life, pgs 32-37

Return to the TOP of the page.


 


Why not join with other churches?

“For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24: Mat.19:5). Wait a minute, you say, this is supposed to be about believers’ joining together, not marriage. Well, yes it is, but the doctrine governing ‘separation from fellow believers’ is often misunderstood, and more often regarded negatively. The churches of God teach that such separation is a positive requirement of disciples; in this it is like the actions taken daily by a married couple to devote themselves to each other, and thus to the exclusion of wrongful extra-marital relationships. So it is in our fellowship with Christ. Our union with Him in salvation is to be enjoyed in our communion with Him daily, and this relationship governs all others.

If we go back to our illustration for a moment or two, we’ll see how it applies to the two principal aspects normally discussed under the heading of Christian separation. The first is called separation from the world and the second is separation from other believers in their church associations and practices (sometimes called ‘ecclesiastical separation’”). Both of these are really aspects of a practical separation TO God; it depends which way you are looking! If we read 2 Cor.6:14-7:1 we are faced with a set of contrasts. The answer to each of the questions in these verses regarding whether two opposites should be united must be No! The positive teaching is that when we depart from wrong associations, we can enter into the blessing of the right one. God says, ‘I will receive you.’” He says, ‘Come out’,” not ‘Go out’”, for He is calling us to the place where He is and into a closer relationship with Himself. To do this is a necessary prerequisite of enjoying the blessings of His people. That is, if we try to straddle the fence, we lose the blessing; we can’t have it both ways! Some have used an even stronger analogy: you’re either in the boat or on the dock, but you can’t have one foot on both for long!

Separation from the world is a practical necessity for Christians, because ‘the world’” is the Bible term for that which stands in opposition to God. 1 John 2:16 provides a graphic description: ‘All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father.’ And James (Jas.4:4) simply says, ‘friendship with the world is hostility toward God.’ The teaching is necessary, for we are quite prone to carry on sinning after we have believed. Our natural inclinations in the flesh remain a powerful factor. Of course, if we spend our time examining what the world has to offer, it will be harder to avoid its temptations. The solution is to look in the other direction. No one who is full of the Holy Spirit yields to temptation. Acknowledging the rightful place that Christ has in our lives, as our Lord, is something that the Holy Spirit produces in us (1 Cor.12:3). Moreover, if we get this right, our attitude will make us more, not less, effective in evangelism to an unbelieving world, because our objectives in our relationships with others will be clear.

But what about separating to the Lord from other believers? Obviously in one sense it is impossible, for we are all part of the church which is the Body of Christ, and members one of another. However, the separation we are now considering is not to do with what Christ does for us in securing our eternal salvation and the blessings of being in the Body. It has to do with how we work out that salvation, how we demonstrate that He is in command as we hold fast to Him as Head of the Body (Col.2:18,19). And this aspect of the church of GodÂ’’s teaching about separation is what gives us our identity as the people of God, seeking to obey Him fully.

The objective of evangelism is to have others enjoy this identity with us (2 Thes.2:13). To preserve this, the churches of God teach that those in the churches should not get mixed up with other people in their wrong actions. To participate in such wrong practices would be rebuilding what we have spent justifiable energy on destroying (Gal.2:18; Phil.3:16). Scripture must be the test and it only provides one pattern for Christian worship and service: namely, in churches of God. So it would be wrong to support practices followed by other believers that are inconsistent with that pattern (2 Tim.2:19,21). Separation in that context means consistently maintaining full obedience in our own walk with God and thus withdrawing from those who are walking in another direction (note the Lord’s guidance to His disciples concerning the ‘grey issues’” in that day: Mat.6:24; Mat 12:30; Lk.9:50; Lk.11:23; being ‘for’ the Lord is not the same as being ‘with’ the Lord; both are required). This rule operates even within a church of God (2 Thes.3:6) and certainly with those believers who are no longer in a church of God because of the sins they are practicing (1 Cor.5:11). It would be impossible to exercise this discipline without the ability to separate from other believers. Of course this does not mean isolation; with spiritual wisdom, contact of a friendly and helpful nature may be right and necessary.

So the churches of God teach that we should not look for licence to compromise our full obedience to God. Rather, by being taken up with our relationship with Him, we will increasingly be aware of weaknesses and errors that are offensive to Him. Cleaving to Him is what makes us ready to forsake all others.

Return to the TOP of the page.


When the Church is “In Church”

The expression ‘in-church meetings’” is not exactly gaining in popularity. Some might like it to be eradicated from our terminology! The idea that a church is only sometimes ‘in-church’” is potentially confusing to those who have correctly come to understand that a church is a group of people, not a building on a street corner. Certainly the expression ‘in-church’”, when used to classify types of church meetings, is not just drawing a distinction between activities inside or outside a building. Why is it used? What makes it an important expression?

Let’s start with a few important statements:

  1. You are either in a church of God or you are not; there is no halfway ground. The right place to be is in the church, and the Scriptures expect those who profess faith in Christ to be baptized in water and then received into a church of God (Acts 2:41).
  2. Anyone numbered among those in a church of God is in that church ’24/7’.” So at all times of every day they have to meet Scriptural requirements for behaviour of disciples in a church of God (1 Tim.3:15 mentions this in summing up some practical advice about such behaviour).
  3. Although those comprising a church of God are not together in one place all the time, at special times they are all supposed to meet together (Acts 2:42) as the people of God to appear before God. On such occasions they may enter His presence together and hear from Him as His church. 1 Cor.11-14 clearly establish that the Remembrance, the Assembly Prayers and church meetings for Bible teaching are included in this category of meetings. (Also a church of God has to be able to meet together to exercise discipline in a unified way against an offender:
    1 Cor.5:4,13.) These are important gatherings (Heb.10:25), just as the set festivals were for Israel when they had to appear before God in exactly the way He set out, at all the regular times He had commanded (Deut.16:16; Lev.23) and at special convocations (e.g. Num.20:8; Ezra 10:6-9). We cannot over-emphasize the seriousness of any error in regard to such matters; just read 1 Cor.11:18-34 to appreciate this in regard to the Remembrance.

If these statements are accepted then it will be seen that there are three aspects of being in a church of God:

  1. As an individual. At all times each of us must live as a disciple so that the term ‘saints’ can be properly applied to us (1 Cor.1:2). ‘Saint’” is a New Testament word for people who are in a church of God.
  2. As groups of ‘saints’” together. This could involve all those in a specific church of God, but for an informal purpose not a required activity of the church as such (e.g., when everyone is together for a wedding, or a fellowship meal);
  3. As all those comprising a specific church of God. We do this when we carry out activities like those listed in (C) above that require the church to be brought together for that purpose (e.g., for the Remembrance). The ideal for these gatherings will be full attendance, but the reality may be otherwise as a result of sickness or other problems that prevent some people being there.

A problem arises sometimes in distinguishing between activities 2 and 3 above. Sometimes two different activities could involve exactly the same people meeting in exactly the same place. However, on occasions falling under description 3 there are rules in Scripture that must be observed. One rule that receives a lot of attention is that women must remain silent (1 Cor.14:34). At other times like those in description 2 such rules do not necessarily apply, for instance in Sunday School classes or when some brothers and sisters meet informally together to share in study of the Scriptures. It is important therefore for everyone to know what kind of meeting it is: one requiring God’s rules for a church gathering to be followed, or one where there is liberty to do things differently (but of course still within general expectations of saints).

The churches of God teach that for the regular meetings listed under (“C)” above all the rules for church meetings apply. Because the Bible speaks of the disciples being ‘together in the church’ (see for example 1 Cor.11:18; 1 Cor.14:26-28) for such purposes, this terminology is likewise used in the Fellowship of the churches of God today, and we call them simply ‘in-church’ meetings”.

For other meetings there has to be some way to decide whether they fall under category 2 or 3 above. The Fellowship teaches that overseers of each church have the responsibility to make that determination. How do they do this? Some meetings are so much like in-church meetings that it is considered right and proper to treat them in the same way. So where it is hard to see any practical difference between such meetings and other meetings that clearly are in-church meetings, or when meetings are organized for similar purposes and in the same style as an in-church meeting, then overseers may well decide the rules for in-church meetings should apply.

‘In-church’” is more than just a label; it expresses the special way God Himself sees His people together in churches of God at very special times, and our behaviour must reflect that distinctiveness.

Return to the TOP of the page.


 

Addressing God in Prayer

How do you open your private communication with God? Perhaps you use the privilege of all children of God and say, ‘Father’. If you do you will be praying in accord with scripture (1 Pet.1:17; Matt.6:9; Rom.8:15). The Fellowship teaches that we should reverence God when we speak to Him in prayer. This objective should lead us to the Scriptures for examples to guide us. Although we are not given precise rules in Scripture as to how to address God, we are given examples (e.g. John 17:11,25; Acts 1:24; Rom.15:6; Eph.1:16,17; Col.1:3,12; 1 Thes.3:11-13). The churches of God also teach that special attention to this matter is appropriate when a brother leads the assembled church in addressing God in worship.

Think for a moment and you will see how sensible it is to address God differently depending on which of His attributes we wish to draw to His attention. For instance, if we are needing His grace, we would surely be right to address Him as Gracious God If we are needing His fatherly forgiveness or direction, should we not address Him as Heavenly Father? Although society in the western world has lost much of its formality in addressing officials, it is still necessary to know how to address a judge or a sovereign! Sometimes we have more than one relationship to the person we address, and the circumstances dictate the correct way to speak to them. If we were on the witness stand in a court and the judge was a neighbour we would not just call her Jane as we normally do; we would have to respect the office she occupies. It is the same when we approach God. He is always our heavenly Father, but on some occasions we are approaching Him to worship Him in His majestic glory and we will not then commence our prayer using Heavenly Father. We have no right ever to appear before Him apart from His grace enabling it, yet there are occasions when we are before Him according to His command and not purely on the grounds of His grace. These facts bear some careful thought if we are to speak properly to Almighty God.

The churches of God have pointed out that a high form of address is found in passages like Ephesians 1:3 which say “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here the emphasis is on the relationship of the Father and Son to each other, and emphasizes the wonder of deity. Such a phrase would seem most appropriate for use in the Remembrance, where we are worshipping God for who He is rather than seeking forgiveness for what we are.

At this point, it might be helpful to deal with the matter of ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’. Until the mid-1980s it was the practice in the churches of God to use these pronouns when speaking to God. There were two main reasons for this:

  1. In the English Bibles commonly used up to that time these words were found in the prayers of Scripture. It was only to be expected that familiarity with such Bible texts would lead people to use the same type of language in their own prayers.
  2. Thee and thou in the English language had virtually ceased from everyday use and were used only in prayer to God. This presented an opportunity to show reverence to God by saying Thee and Thou instead of the everyday You and Your. Of course reverence necessitates a correct heart condition not just a careful choice of words. Moreover, it was acknowledged the words Thee and Thou translated Hebrew and Greek words that were just the ordinary words used in everyday communications at the time they were originally written.

As time went on new versions of the Bible written in modern English came into common use. Some (the NIV, the NKJV and the NASB) were approved by the churches of God for use in their own activities, so people in the churches of God increasingly became familiar with prayers in Scripture which addressed God as You (although the NASB retained Thee and Thou in passages addressing God until the latest Updated Version was released). The older forms Thee and Thou had become archaic, and proved to be difficult to use for people who were not familiar with how to construct a whole sentence in that archaic form, e.g. “Thou seest us and canst show Thyself strong on behalf of everyone who needeth Thee.” To use these terms was no longer a matter of reverence but of educational challenge! People who spoke to God in everyday English in their private prayer found it difficult to address Him in different and special language when engaging in public prayer. We therefore recognized that Thee and Thou would have to co-exist with You and Your as people reverently spoke to God in prayer, hoping not to offend hearers by their choice of words.

Although brothers leading the assembly in prayer no longer need to attempt a language unfamiliar to them, they are still wise to keep the language of Scripture in mind as they prepare to address God; discernment about how we address God is one more thing that can bring pleasure to Him. However, let us not be quick to condemn a brother’s choice of words in this matter, but rather focus on the things said that call for our hearty ‘Amen!’”

(For further study: Needed Truth 1951, pages 56-58 available from info@cogmountforest.ca)

Return to the TOP of the page.


 

Husbands and Wives

Do you think there is perhaps not enough teaching on this subject? If we are to consider the matter of living together as husband and wife, has enough been said? Perhaps the matter is in fact so large that there is simply too much to say!

You may have already read in these Bible Talks about “separation’. That is a subject that raises a dilemma when those who are in a church of God find themselves drawn to those who are not. Mistakes in such a matter are very costly. The godly disciple will make finding a partner a matter of prayer and bring a careful discipline to strong emotions. By expressing true unselfishness in this very sensitive matter, many have been able to first lead their friend to the Lord, and subsequently had their desire fulfilled in being married “in the Lord”. But that is not our subject this time.

The hardest things in Scripture are God’s easily understood, very explicit statements. They make the complex doctrinal issues seem easy by comparison. If you read the Gospels you will find many places where Christ uses black and white statements, but we might prefer them to be grey. Even Peter wanted some reasonable limitation on how often he should be expected to forgive someone (Mat.18:21), but the Lord’s response was only too clear. Another of His clear statements concerned marriage (Mat.19:5,6). He simply repeated the Genesis record and pointed out that marriage entails leaving parents and joining in an inseparable union for life. All that is written about handling broken marriages only serves to emphasize the divine ideal. There is much teaching on divorce, but that is not our subject this time either.

What do the churches of God teach about husbands and wives? Here goes, with utmost brevity:
Absolute faithfulness to each other is a requirement (Job 31:1; Prov.31:11; Mal.2:15; Mat.19:5; 1 Cor.7:10,11; Eph.5:3)
Love is the basis of the relationship, and giving rather than receiving is the expression of God’s love (Eph.5:25; Titus 2:4; 1 Jn 3:16)
It is neither the husband nor the wife who makes all the rules; rather, both are to be obedient to the Lord (Eph.5:22,25; 1 Tim.3:5; 1 Tim.5:14)
Neither husband nor wife is self-sufficient; they need each other and together they need to keep the Lord central in their relationship (1 Pet.3:7; Eph.5:33)
The wife, though the husband’s equal, is nevertheless to be in subjection to his loving direction (Eph.5:22-25; Col.3:18; 1 Pet.3:1,2)
The husband is responsible to provide for his wife and family (Eph.5:28,29; 1 Tim.5:8)
The prayer life of the couple is of great importance (1 Cor.7:5)
Their sexual relationships are a matter of unselfish giving, not a trading game (1 Cor.7:3-6)

This is not a complete list, but perhaps broad enough as a starter to thoughtful consideration about how well we live up to these requirements. The statements are simple and the verses quoted to support them are often even more concise, and demanding. Even more daunting is the thought that the husband and wife relationship is intended to correspond to that of Christ and the church which is His Body. But the One who gave us these responsibilities also gives the grace to enable us to fulfil them. And He gives the happiness that husbands and wives may enjoy as they please God by their obedience.

Return to the TOP of the page.


 

Moral Issues

This article deals with some sensitive matters regarding how human life begins and how it might be prevented or ended. In earlier generations subjects like family planning were not usually included in everyday conversation. Since the late 1960s however, these matters necessarily became a focus of discussion by church elders, and some helpful conclusions have been reached. There are many practices in the world today concerning birth, death sexuality and related “moral issues” which we may confront in our personal lives and want to know the mind of the Lord about. “Moral” simply means “proper conduct”; the Bible’s word for that is “righteousness”. Righteousness is a fundamental characteristic of God’s kingdom…
“seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
” …for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)The following topics are delicate and should be handled carefully; yet it is important to be taught what the scriptures say on them. There are increasing references to some of these practices in the media these days, and medical technology is devising new ones continually.We must tread carefully therefore as we enter this territory. It is a very big subject and only a brief outline is provided here. Some aspects are dealt with explicitly in scripture; others need to be inferred from these. Some are clearly wrong, while others aren’t. Some require the church to carry out discipline such as (but not necessarily always) excommunication. Some are purely a matter of personal conscience before the Lord. While individual opinions may vary, spiritual discernment from a mature conscience is what is needed [Heb.5:14]. Also, while in many cases the behaviour referred to is sinful, we must remember that we are always to show love to the person in the predicament.

We shall first set out in a table matters which, although left to the individual conscience, are nevertheless strongly discouraged and those which may or must require the judgement of the church. The table is meant as a helpful starting point, but please recognize that it might over-simplify very sensitive issues; you’ll need to read further about individual items for a fuller context. For instance, ‘Personal Decision’” means just that, not that the action is automatically OK! Further brief explanation of the use of the terms and position we take is provided below.

Life Prevention or Death

 

 

Personal Decision Strongly Discouraged Church discipline Required
Stopping Life Support Embryo destruction Murder
Contraception Abortion (other than certain exceptions) Euthanasia
Sterilization
Abortion (in exceptional circumstances)

 

 

Reproduction

 

Personal Decision Strongly Discouraged Church discipline Required
Artificial insemination (husband & wife) Embryo storage Fornication
In vitro fertilization (husband & wife) Adultery
Organ transplant Physical homosexual activity
Artificial insemination (if spouse not donor)
In vitro fertilization
(if spouse not donor)
Surrogate motherhood

 

 

 

 

More explanation

Abortion
This is a very controversial subject. In some situations it is illegal and we are not to commit illegal acts [1 Peter 2:13]. While there are no direct scriptural references to abortion, it is the taking of human life (even though not yet independent of its mother) and so is normally wrong. However, in certain situations other principles may also apply, for example: the mother’s life or health is in serious danger; the child or the mother is handicapped; the pregnancy occurred by rape; or the mother was below the legal age of consent (16 in Canada). In those situations, we think that the decision whether or not to have an abortion is a matter of personal conscience (as is the decision to allow a very handicapped newborn to die).

Artificial insemination
This is analogous to fornication where the donor is not the spouse. It is a practice used by some married couples who have difficulty conceiving a child. Married couples contemplating this should consider together whether the Lord intends them to have that child or not.

Contraception
Birth control is a very personal matter for the husband and wife, regardless of the means used, although care should be taken not to cause any damage to the body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Birth control may be opposed where potential parents wish to allow the Lord to dictate the birth of children without human interference [Ps.127:3]. They may also wish to avoid engaging in sexual activity purely for personal gratification [1 Tim.5:6]. Birth control may be supported by those who focus more on the fact that sex in marriage is expected as an expression of mutual love, and not only for reproduction [1 Cor.7:1-9]. They may also consider it prudent family planning, that it would be irresponsible to bring children into the world that cannot be properly cared for. Preventing conception by birth control is not considered murder or abortion. “Safe sex” outside marriage is still fornication.

Embryo destruction
This is sometimes advocated where multiple births would otherwise occur. It might also arise after Embryo storage has been undertaken by removing a young embryo from the womb (or test tube) to preserve it for later incubation and birth.

In vitro fertilization
Sometimes referred to as a “test-tube baby”. This also is like fornication if the donor is not the spouse.

Sterilization
This is, in effect, a (usually) permanent means of contraception. It should not be entered into lightly.

Stopping life support
(for someone who is “brain dead”) – this is a personal decision and is not murder, since the person is being kept alive only by artificial means.

Return to the TOP of the page.


 

Serving in the Armed Forces

‘I’m in the Lord’s army, yes sir!’ And that’’s one of the basic reasons for not being in anyone else’’s, even in these days of increasing terrorism. The churches of God teach that it is undesirable for a disciple to join a police force, and it would be definitely wrong for them to join an armed force. Those who are already in such employment when they are saved should do what they can to find alternative work as soon as they are free to do so. Those who willingly work in such forces must accept that their service in the churches of God will be restricted by their action. In view of the unacceptable example they display the churches will not allow them to take public responsibilities (for instance, teaching or preaching). People with pacifist beliefs might think this sounds quite straightforward. It can feel quite different when the sounds of war are blowing in our ears, or when our own families and friends are at risk. Moreover, the established churches that are closely linked to the governments of so-called Christendom have expressed no such concerns; in fact, they have taken the view that enlisting is an expression of the kind of patriotism that God desires. They speak of ‘just’” wars. Moreover, in some countries the choice is simply to serve in the armed forces or go to jail! What does the Bible say?

A landmark passage in this matter is John 17:14-18, which says: ‘I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.’ The Christian stands aside from political activity here, including its defensive and aggressive military actions. The motto for the Christian is simply ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matt.22:21). The Christian is involved in higher spiritual service. The conscience of those serving the Lord for the benefit of their fellow men may cause them to prefer to take punishment for failing to fight rather than to take up arms against those who need their spiritual help (1 Peter 2:19,20; 1 Peter 3:14-17). In contrast, one of the confusing and awful consequences of Christians serving in the armed forces is that people in opposing armies may all feel they are serving God by physically harming each other!

The Bible does describe the Christian as a soldier, but makes it clear who leads the army: ‘“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier’ (2 Tim.2:3-4 NKJV). Remember also that the Lord Jesus Christ was absolutely clear about not using force to protect Himself (Jn 18:36).

Another aspect of such work is that it involves giving up the personal freedom that enables us to keep God’s clearest commands. 1 Corinthians 7:23 tells us not to become slaves of men, and if we are already in bondage we should seek rather to be freed to serve God more fully (see verse 21). These principles apply broadly to all forms of employment, but are most clear in relation to work that prevents attendance at meetings of the church or puts the Christian into conflict situations.
There is much talk these days of peace-making. The term is being used of militarily enforced control of hostilities. This is surely not the same thing that Christ commended in Matthew 5:9, which contemplates resolution of disagreements not killing of the offenders. However, the Bible notes that there is a role for governments to play in maintaining safety and controlling offenders (Romans 13:3,4). We must not take this lightly; God does bring judgment to evil nations, and may use other nations to do so. However, the guidance to us as Christians is not to join those government forces but to do good works that ensure such forces are not legitimately brought against us. Scriptures such as Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:79, Psalm 34:12-14 and 1 Peter 3:10-12 emphasize God’s desire for peace, and His command to us is clear: ‘Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb.12:14 NKJ).

Return to the TOP of the page.


 

The Canon of Scripture

Now don’t be thinking this is about fire-arms! The word “canon” means a list of rules, or simply a list. For instance, in Galatians 6:16 the word ‘rule’ translates the Greek word kanon. In the context of our subject, canon simply refers to the list of books that make up the Holy Bible, the Scriptures. To understand it we must go back to the days before printing had been invented, and even before all the manuscripts of the New Testament had been brought together.
In the second century AD it became necessary to determine which of the various documents (or which versions) then circulating among the churches should be considered equal in authority to the Old Testament documents. The Jews had already resolved what for them were the Scriptures. They considered what we now call the Old Testament books the record of God’s communication to them. As such those writings had to be believed and obeyed; they were the rules! They were carefully protected and handed down from generation to generation. The Lord Himself quoted from those writings and confirmed their authority (e.g. Luke 24:27; John 5:39).For Christians it was just as important to know what was the true record of God’s words to them, and what wasn’t. It is important to note that this was not men deciding which books they most liked or respected. The job was to determine which books God had inspired. Those involved in the task did not make the books in the list become the word of God, they just confirmed what was already true about them. Their work became necessary because some (e.g. Marcion) had attempted to change Christian teachings by basing their doctrine on only certain books to the exclusion of others. In order to defend the truth, agreement had to be reached on the documents that definitely could be relied upon as evidence. A primary deciding factor was whether they were the work of an Apostle, or a close associate of an Apostle (e.g. Luke). A second important factor was general acceptance of the book by Christian leaders of the time. By AD 330 when the Emperor Constantine asked for 50 copies of the Christian scriptures, it was possible to comply with his request, because the canon as we now know it had been established firmly enough.Although the canon was compiled by men who by that time had themselves drifted from some of the key teachings of the Scriptures, we have every reason to believe they had correctly identified which books demonstrated the quality of divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 3:15,16). The churches of the day accepted the books as the genuine authoritative Scriptures, and the passage of time has only reinforced their action. God has watched over His Word (Jeremiah 1:12). The churches of God teach that the Bible as we have it is indeed a translation of the original texts that were nothing less than the complete, error-free, canon of divinely inspired Scriptures. Despite attacks from unbelievers, these Scriptures remain the rules for us to obey.

Last eve I passed beside the blacksmith’s door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor
Old hammers worn with use in former time.
“How many anvils have you had,” Said I,
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he, then said, with twinkling eye,
“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
Just so, I thought, the anvil of God’s Word,
For ages, skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed, the hammers gone!

Return to the TOP of the page.

 

The Church of God in action