This Week's Focus Passage

Amos 3:3 ‘Shall two walk together except they have agreed?’

This third chapter in the prophecy of Amos, who was among the herdsmen   of Tekoa, was directed by God toward the hearing of the children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt. The remarks of Thomas Scott (1747-1821) on this verse are well worth noting.

“They [the children of Israel] could not reasonably expect to continue in friendship and peace with God, and under his protection, whilst their conduct was directly contrary to his holy law. Without coincidence in judgments, inclinations, and pursuits, men cannot be intimately united in friendship, or live together in harmony and comfort. They, therefore, who do not count the Lord worthy of all love, honour, worship, and obedience, do not love his law, regard not his service as liberty and felicity, dislike his way of saving sinners, and seek not his glory, cannot walk together with him in his ordinances, commandments, and providence. Notions, forms, sects, or outward conduct, cannot supply the want of conformity to God, which must be derived from the regenerating of the Holy Spirit.”

              —A Commentary on the Whole Bible

Thomas Scott was an Anglican priest—that was the title given to their ministers at that time—ordained into that ministry in 1772 at the age of 25. It is a point of interest that he succeeded John Newton as curate of Olney parish in 1881 when Newton transferred to London.

Using this text—with its context—would certainly disallow professing Christians from breaking fellowship over matters either trivial, or matters that should be, in all propriety, related to God’s clear directions in His Word. To borrow the motto, or mantra, of some churches speaking to this issue, we ought to be able to appreciate—if not embrace—its motives. This statement is both pithy as well as being, quite simply, clear. It declares “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” “This slogan (or versions of it) is familiar to most; it is an old one. The complete statement, ‘In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love (or charity) comes from Augustine (354-430 AD) over 1500 years ago. Such slogans should be avoided, or at best used very carefully, because they can be misleading. This statement has mislead many in the past and is still doing it today. The Scriptures do not speak of some Bible truths as being essentials and others as non-essentials.”—Leland M. Haines.

Mr. Haines remarks regarding essentials exposes a reality that we have, each of us, most likely, been confronted with more than once. We probably will be confronted with it until we are with Christ at the end of these days. That is, the issue of essentials; what are things essential and what are not things essential? Augustine’s ‘slogan’ is indeed clear that whatever essentials are, we should be unified in them. Does not this understanding make it all the more incumbent upon the believer to do his, or her, best to learn of that which is essential? We call to mind the controversies over many significant theological issues that came to something of a crisis around the turn of the last century. At the very least, many saw it as a crisis sufficient to elicit a serious response. One response was a compilation called The Fundamentals. The internet provides a helpful summary of the conception of these writings:

The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth (generally referred to simply as The Fundamentals) is a set of ninety essays published between 1910 and 1915 by the Testimony Publishing Company of Chicago. It was initially published quarterly in twelve volumes, then republished in 1917 by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles as a four-volume set. Baker Books reprinted all four volumes under two covers in 2003.

According to its forward, the publication was designed to be ‘a new statement of the fundamentals of Christianity.’ However, its contents reflect a concern with certain theological innovations related to Liberal Christianity, especially biblical higher criticism. It is widely considered to be the foundation of modern Christian fundamentalists.

The project was initially conceived in 1909 by California businessman Lyman Stewart, the founder of Union Oil and a devout Presbyterian and dispensationalist. He and his brother Milton anonymously provided funds for composing, printing, and distributing the publication. The essays were written by sixty-four different authors, representing most of the Protestant Christian denominations. These volumes defended orthodox Protestant beliefs and attacked higher criticism, liberal theology, Roman Catholicism, socialism, Modernism, atheism, Christian Science, Mormonism, Millennial Dawn (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Spiritualism, and evolutionism.”

One would reasonably imagine that essentials and fundamentals would be synonymous terms. There are probably ‘fundamentalists’ who would wish to hold that their particular beliefs are essential to the faith. Yet it is not to be expected that the numerous authors of The Fundamentals had no essential differences. There are, among these sixty-four authors, Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, and among them,

Dispensationalists. These diverse authors hold diverse views regarding teachings which may be diametrically opposed one to the other. Their ranks include Baptist, along with Paedo-baptists, and among these, some holding baptismal regeneration views. Can it honestly be affirmed that the matter of Holy Spirit regeneration of the elect in time is a matter of indifference? If the question were simply over the mode of baptism; whether sprinkling or immersion, I would say let us walk together. But if it implied that there is some attribute in the water brought about by the incantation of the priest, then we are at odds over an essential and can no longer walk together. A book has been written on this subject of “Unity, Liberty, Charity,” with a subtitle that seems appropriate, “Building Bridges under Icy Waters,” something for thought.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church.


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