The Destructive Doctrine of Distinctives
Whether based on family and denominational traditions or biblically convinced applications and matters of conscience, everyone develops preferences when it comes to how they practice their faith. Some utilize a more regulative principle in their decision making while others exercise a more normative principle, yet in the end they share the same result – their distinctive is their preference and as such they are not mandated by the Word of God. It is a noteworthy peculiarity that the Scriptures do not give us a large set of rules when it comes to things such as worship style, service times, length of corporate worship, pastoral garb, nurseries, youth groups, or women’s bible fellowships not to mention small group meetings or even Sunday school for that matter. Instead what we are given are over fifty one another commands, passages to glean principle, and historical descriptions of the primitive church.
Recently, it came back to my attention that there are some believers who have made the family a type of mini-fellowship. In fact, they make the family its own church with the father being the pastor and this mini-body takes precedence over and above the corporate family found in the local assembly.
We’ve had such families in our church over the past decade but they don’t stay around for very long. In all of the cases we’ve seen, the parents fall victim to a myopic view of church under the label of family-integrated fellowship and become infected by a strange view of hyper-patriarchy and super-protectionism that only serves to close out relationships and cause division. This can vary by degree of course, but usually it is full-on fundamentalism with legalistic wings. Distinctive preferences becoming law.
It has been my experience that there is little that can be done for those who have been convinced of a certain distinctive practice and who have made it a doctrine. In the end, those who hold to distinctives like ‘dad must exclusively teach the children’ or ‘there can’t be instrument X in our worship service’ or ‘insert whatever non-prescribed preference here’ have no tolerance for anyone else’s view. Their rule is dad’s rule and whether they realize it or not, they have already undermined the God-given authority of the elders in the local assembly. This is the divisiveness of legalism that creeps into a fellowship usually through well-intentioned homeschoolers by way of teachers such as Bill Gothard and Vision Forum advocates. (For the record, we homeschool our four children and have found many good things in Vision Forum’s materials, but we find little use for Gothard’s work even if some may be able to point to a few good things in it)
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
I have yet to meet someone who makes their distinctives doctrinal that can stay within a church that doesn’t agree with their preferences. Inevitably they become separatists. The irony is that while they claim to be family-integrated they don’t integrate their families very well outside of their cliques. (Usually because everyone who doesn’t agree with them is either ‘in sin‘ or has fallen victim to a ‘worldly church‘ or is just not as pious and holy. The exuding attitude is one of ‘you have yet to arrive in your walk with God’ hence they give the impression of spiritual arrogance) I have never in fifteen years seen them stay, talk sufficiently to the leadership about their differences, have meaningful discussions, and sharpen iron. Instead the modus operandi is to make nice, smile, talk privately to other families in the congregation, make accusations towards the leadership, and then hit the road usually taking a few gullible folks with them. It is not so much the content of their disagreements that creates the malady as much as it is the silence.
As a friend once said, “It is hard to address with them effectively as a minister once they have bought the entire package.” Sadly, I agree with his assessment. The best one can do is to continue to treat them with all charity, explain the church’s position when they do speak about their differences and pray for unity.
I don’t write this to send missiles into any one camp; I write it sincerely as a minister who has seen good people get caught up in what I consider to be Pharisaical practices that certainly send out more heat than light and only serve to destroy rather than to build. It seems that too often, we are either fabricating heart idols, handing out free-sin passes in our liberty, or inventing new regulations for our brethren to follow. May it never be!
I pray that our hearts will be ever so wide as to embrace our diverse faith practices in obedience to our command to love one another even in our weaknesses and that we learn to live in the fullness of Christ’s charity with dignity and deference towards each man’s conscience.