A Voice in the
December 14, 1999
How to 'weed out' the unbelievers?
However, Paul also gives instruction regarding the appointing of leaders. They should not be "new" converts. (1Tm3:6) Do not "lay hands" (appoint) too quickly. (1Tm5:22) "..younger ones should be subject to older ones.." (1Pt5:5) "Test all things..." (1Th5:21) "..do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits..." (1Jn4:1)
A brand new Christian hasn't been in the Word long enough. He might have the Holy Spirit residing, but he has not fully grown yet in the "knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph4:13) A brand new Christian hasn't been around long enough to prove of what sort he is. Will he be in the rich soil, growing to maturity, or will he dry up in the rocky soil, or will the weeds choke him out and he dies? (Lk8) Much of the testing comes through the "witness" of the Holy Spirit. (Rom8:16) This is for leadership positions.
In practical terms, how do we see to this testing? Some, wanting to give credence to modern symbolistic idolatry, will tell stories of early Christians meeting, and verifying each other to be Believers by scribing the fish symbol in the sand. Others will tell of reciting certain Scripture passages. If the person in question could complete the verse, they were considered to be Believers, and thus 'fit' for fellowship. I don't know the authenticity of these accounts.
In spite of the fact that we have, in the past, addressed the 'problems' with Baptists; on the positive side, traditionally, the Baptists have been the most austere with regards to safe-guarding their memberships. One could not pastor, teach or serve any office unless they were 'members' of the church. A person could not participate in communion if they were not members. And many Baptist constitutions used to have "time" clauses regarding things like membership and holding of office. They had to have been a Believer for some specified amount of time. Or, if they had moved to the area with a testimony of having previously been a Believer, they needed to be with the particular congregation for a period of time, so the people could 'know' them. And, of course, "membership" was a prerequisite for any kind of 'involvement' or participation.
The process of becoming a "member" used to involve "membership classes". Usually taught by the pastor. These classes would cover all the basic doctrines. And then, the 'applicant' would sign a statement of agreement.
Of course...this "time" allows (theoretically) for the 'changelings' to become manifest. Typically, there was a certain "code of conduct" which was understood, and often printed as part of the constitution's by-laws.
While these codes of conduct were likely drawn up with good intentions, to the view of a separated holy life, they became a "law". The term "legalism" or "legalistic" came out of this. In fact, in some situations, people had to sign statements-of-adherence to certain lists involving smoking, drinking, theater attendance, dancing, cosmetics make-up, etc. And as the more staunch Baptists evolved into what has become known as KJV-only, they view these lists through 1Th5:22 "APPEARANCE of evil" in KJ-ese; rather than the "spirit" of the Law for what 1Th5:22 -actually- means, "keep back from every FORM (kind) of evil."
Just one illustration of how this "appearance" thing can be taken overboard and out-of-context. Years ago when a Christian would not be caught dead going to movies, my mother when a teen-ager (before I was born, obviously), was in some situation where she was waiting for a ride. It began to rain. The only place where she could find shelter from the rain, near the designated pick-up location was the over-hang in front of a movie theater. So she ducked in under the shelter. Well, some people saw her standing there, not caring whether she had actually gone in to see a movie or not, nor cared to find out the facts, condemned her for "going to the movies"... BECAUSE, she had the "appearance" that she had gone to the movies, because she was 'standing' in front of a theater. Not understanding Paul's words that "nothing by itself is common..." (Rom14:14) Shelter is shelter, and will keep you dry and healthy. Jesus was condemned for "appearances", too. He hung out with "sinners". (Mt9:11)
So, after going around this topic with many words...back to your question. Who runs the test? The Holy Spirit. "The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God." (Rom8:16) If He witnesses that -we- are Believers, He also witnesses that others are, or aren't, too. Who, in the assembly, makes the determination? The "spiritual ones". (Gal6:1) This is something that a church "constitution" cannot determine. Such rules and guidelines may be tools to help, as Paul's admonitions about "time" are observed; but it is the Holy Spirit Who determines. The Holy Spirit is Christ's representative in our lives. Christ is the one Who knows the "thoughts and intents" of the heart. (Heb4:12)
As long as we are in these bodies of corruption (1Cor15,Rom8:21-23), we will sometimes misjudge. There WILL be 'weeds' within the assembly. The same enemy who masquerades as an "angel of light" (2Cor11:14), is quite adept at immitating the Holy Spirit, too. We are not yet "like Him" (1Jn3:2) So, what we do is strive for "purity" (vs3), "looking unto Jesus" (Heb12:2) and ask for God's wisdom. (Jas1:5)
And, a quick thought regarding some in the congregation who are "weak" (Rom14:1), by all "appearances" they might seem to be unbelievers. If one remembers the "Twelve Kinds of People" (Aug,97 commentary), there are some who truly -are- Believers, but for various reasons appear for everything to be unsaved, because they are backslidden and/or carnal. But there are some congregations who are so zealous for "pulling weeds" that they kick these people out for less-obnoxious faults like smoking, drinking, gambling, fashion, etc. When we read 1Cor12/Rom12 how the Body of Christ is made up of various parts, the "spiritual ones" should be "bearing one another's burdens" as a work of "restoration" and growth for the weaker, less-mature ones. (Gal6:1-2) When some kick other Believers out for not "measuring up" to -their- standard, Paul exhorts, "for if anyone thinks himself to be something, being nothing, he deceives himself." (vs3)
I was really saddened recently to read where a church did this to someone; and the incident has caused a tarnish to the name of Christ in that community. (In Catholic-like 'excommunication' fashion, a timed ultimatum.. 'or else') And what of that 'weak' member? The other godless 'churches' are "loving" this person away into their groups due to all the media hype. Yes, the 'Baptist' set of "laws" came about with good intentions, I'm sure. You know, "touch not, taste not, handle not." (Col2:21) These things certainly have the "appearance" of righteousness, but are of "no value against the indulgence of the flesh." (vs23 -nkjv) Those who maintain appearances think themselves to be super-spiritual. But Paul says otherwise to the 'carnal' Church at Corinth. (2Cor5:12,10:7,13:7)
So, back from the side-track, to the topic at hand... the problem today is not those that "slip by" that we somehow "missed". The problem is the ones to whom the blanket invitations are given out with media blitz campaigns. 'Come join us!' ...and let's "share" back and forth as we "dialogue" what each other believes. In (rightly) rejecting "legalism", the "baby has been thrown out with the (proverbial) bath water". It has been a whole-sale sell-out of the "church" to the world! -THAT- is the problem!
However, there -are- a few here and there that do practice separated worship. Some of them are on this e-list and responded in kind in the past to the writings on the subject. And so, I'm sure there's others 'out there' in their own spheres that are being obedient, too. But they are proportionately 'few'.