Lines in the Sand

Joshua Banks

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Once a month at our church, we recite the Apostle’s Creed together toward the beginning of our worship service. One line that we recite, of course, is “I believe in . . . the communion of the saints.” What is meant by this? The Heidelberg Catechism, question 55 reads:

What do you understand by “the communion of the saints”? Answer: First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts. Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.

We believe that those in Christ have all things in common in the sense that we are all united by the Spirit of God; we all have the One Lord Jesus who gave Himself for us; we all have One Father of us all through Christ. All of God’s people have been set free from sin and are no longer under its mastery. We are all adopted into the family of God and are regarded as brothers and sisters in Christ, and we all have the same marching orders while we are here on the earth to make disciples of all the nations. These things and much more are the basis of our fellowship in Christ. True unity is grounded in the truth of God’s Word, and this is the foundation of Christ’s church. 

Though these things unite all the people of God, in these last few years I have found myself feeling withdrawn and confounded at times wondering where I fit in. What I mean is that there are so many subsets of the Christian faith that one may wonder who or what group we are more in line with. For example, here is an illustration of what I mean with the subset groups using a hypothetical conversation between two Christians:

Christian 1: Hey I noticed you are wearing a T-Shirt with Scripture on it. Are you a Christian?
Christian 2: Yes I am! And You?
Christian 1: Yes I am also! Just a few questions though. Since you identify as a Christian, are you Catholic or Protestant?
Christian 2: I am a protestant.
Christian 1: Are you in a denomination that adheres to paedo-baptism or credo-baptism?
Christian 2: Our church is a Baptist church and believes in credo-baptism. 
Christian 1: Are you Reformed or Arminian?
Christian 2: I am Reformed.
Christian 1: Are you Reformed Baptist or Calvinistic Baptist?
Christian 2: We are Reformed Baptist.
Christian 1: Are you an adherent of Lordship salvation or are you in the Law and Gospel camp?
Christian 2: Law and Gospel camp.
Christian 1: Do you believe in the eternal generation the Son or the eternal subordination of the Son?
Christian 2: The eternal generation of the Son.
Christian 1: Are you premil, amil, or postmil? 
Christian 2: I am postmil.
Christian 1: Are you a theonomist?
Christian 2: Depends on how you define it.
Christian 1: What Christian statements of orthodoxy have you signed?
Christian 2: I haven’t signed any.
Christian 1: What a shame brother! We were so close to being friends and having fellowship. 

Of course, there is some jesting here, but we do find ourselves in such dilemmas at times wondering where we fit in and who we can fellowship with. Over the past couple of years, I have found myself wondering what group I would fit in with the most. That may sound silly but it is apparent that there are a number of theological issues today that place believers on various sides having very strong emotions toward the other side. I have thought, “Well, I agree with these particular theologians over those others, but I agree with that one concerning this particular subject. This ministry here is more in line with what we believe as a church, but it doesn’t represent that group over there very well.” 

I am not speaking about issues between Calvinists and Arminians over God’s sovereignty or between Catholics and Protestants over the biblical gospel vs. romish gospel. I am speaking about issues within the Reformed camp. Depending on what stance you take on a theological issue, or what statements you signed or didn’t sign, or who your favorite theologians are that you follow, you can easily ruffle the feathers of another believer. Regarding myself, I have come to the point, as perhaps many of you have already, that I am not going to agree with one particular group on everything, and I’m ok with that. It comes back to this, what is necessary for us to have fellowship with one another? Christ and His word. This isn’t to say that we should fellowship with all who call themselves believers and claim to follow the Bible. To be sure, there are many groups under the “Christian umbrella” who go off the rails of orthodoxy with baptismal regeneration, egalitarianism, prosperity teachings, and more. But for those who are truly orthodox, who love Christ, and love His word, I’m not going to determine whether I fellowship with them based on the subsets of the Reformed faith. 

One of my brothers in Christ recently said that, in one sense, having so much access to various theologians results in problems because we develop our beloved teachers and our despised teachers. As my brother in Christ pointed out, we place so much emphasis on our beloved teachers but the reality of it is these men will probably never know our names or be at our bedsides at the hospital. Our standard of orthodoxy is the Scripture and Scripture alone. If there are two camps on a particular issue, regardless of who espouses it, we all should hear both sides and examine which is correct according to the Scripture. Granted, there will be issues that we will, obviously, disagree on because it is not blatantly clear in Scripture, but on those issues, we can still fellowship with the other side. For you who are pastors, elders, church leaders, do not worry yourself with trying to find one group that you will agree 100% percent with on all theological issues. Focus on your local body and study the Scripture yourself. Don’t be concerned about this well-known preacher/teacher or that one on a particular view. Study to show yourself approved. 

Dear Christian, I understand how we can get caught up with our favorite teachers, but remember this, your pastor is the one who knows your name and who loves you and who will be at your bedside when you are in the hospital. It is your pastors who labor in the word each week to equip you with God’s truth and who prays for you continually. It is your deacons and local brothers and sisters in Christ who will come along side you to minister to you and hold you accountable. Your local church, your local congregation, and your local pastors and church leaders are much more important than a well-known pastor/teacher that you enjoy. We speak much of God’s love, the strength He provides, the encouragement and comfort He gives us in our time of need, but do you consider that God often extends these graces to you through the local body of believers who come along side you? Friends, let us not think so little of our local churches and pastors who love us and labor in the word for our benefit. When we group ourselves according to our preferred teachers, we are practicing the same thing as the Corinthians: “I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas, and I of Christ,” except ours would be, “I of Baucham, I of Lawson, I of MacArthur, and I of White.” We all must first and foremost be of Christ and His word, and if we differ on issues within our churches, let us be gracious to hear the defense of the other with regards to his or her position, and not separate ourselves according to well-known teachers. 

Yes, well-known teachers can certainly help clarify things on particular subjects and be very beneficial for your growth in Christ. For example, many of us love the Puritans and are able to learn so much from them, as their writings are deep in theology, etc. Many of us read the Reformers, and we read later men like Spurgeon, and, of course, those in our own day. Just remember, our responsibility is to be like the Bereans and make certain that what we are learning from another is indeed what the Scripture teaches. Let us make certain not to get caught up in the personality groups and dismiss others who are not part of that lot. Focus on your local church body, your church family who cares for you. If we are truly in Christ, then we indeed have all things in common with one another because of Him, so we may fellowship with one another in the Spirit on many other Scriptural teachings and be able to rejoice in the Lord together. Soli Deo Gloria! 

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Joshua Banks

Joshua Banks is the founding pastor at Shepherd's Rock Bible Church in Kingsport, TN. He is a graduate of the Master's Seminary's D.Min program in Sun Valley, CA, and author of the book, "Yes It Matters: The Influence of the Doctrine of Election on Sanctification" published by G3 Press. He, His wife Amanda, and their children reside in Gate City, VA.