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Google does not have…

April 28, 2007

a clear list of the disputable matters. I was sorely disappointed.  I genuinely wanted that search engine to spit out THE list so that I could run down it with my Sharpie marker fully absolved and convinced as to what was and wasn’t disputable.  No such providence–thanks be to God!

However, one link that I found was helpful at least in providing a historical perspective on disputable matters.  For example, from Romans 14 Paul is addressing the specific issues of whether a believer can and should eat meat or not, and Sabbath day observance. By the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Church was debating on which date Christmas and Easter should be celebrated.  The early 20th century Church chose their battles on topics like television, jazz, dancing, playing cards, movies, and Halloween.  Perhaps only 50 years ago, war was waged on tobacco, alcohol, inter-racial marriages and women being allowed to vote at church meetings.  Today’s list might not only include some of the previously listed ones but also worship style, head coverings, schooling choices, worship music and instrumentation, and women in leadership.  Obviously what I’ve listed is not a comprehensive list, although thinking of the fruit wasted in these debates is quite exhaustive.

Additionally, more than one resource I found began the discussion with a definition of disputable matters as those issues not bearing weight in regards to salvation.  Salvation defined as justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Any matter that intends changing the definition of salvation from that statement is another gospel. (Gal 1:6-9)

Yet, a little longer search yielded the thought that wisdom dictates taking the definition of disputable matters an additional step to include the idea of those things not expressly prohibited in Scripture.  Reason being that one source attempted to justify ho*mose*xuality as a disputable matter based on the statement that because se*xuality was not essential to salvation, a person’s choice of practice (hetero/ho*mo) was not to be judged.

Enter the second step of clarity–judging or not judging–arguably more difficult perhaps because each one has been on the giving and receiving end of this action.  Usually when on the giving end, you think yourself justified, and when on the receiving end, you believe yourself treated unjustly.  I began my search with a preliminary word study of "judge." The search pulled up 170 different verses, and I don’t claim that number to be entirely complete.  It is what I took from a KJV search. 

In the Old Testament, many references use the word "judge" to refer to the occupation, always in regard to God the Father.  However, by His authority God grants to certain persons the right to "judge" (occupation) on His behalf amongst His people. (Gen 49:16, Ex 18:13, Dt 25:1, Lev 19:15, etc) The other significant point found in the Old Testament are the two primary meanings of the word "judge." One is the meaning of "avenger" or "to pronounce sentence, punish."  The other meaning is judge as "umpire, execute a decision, make a rule." Both meanings are used in regards to the righteous and the unrighteous upon which God the Judge avenges and/or executes a decision.  The decision is contextually understood to have an eternal implication.

In the New Testament, because the first time the term "judge" is used is in the Gospels, the word takes its definition from Christ’s usage. (Mt 7:1, Lk 6:37, Jn 8:15)  The word "judge" in these cases means either "to distinguish as to condemn, decide, determine," or "to separate thoroughly."  Context must be taken into consideration to be clear in meaning.

In looking at the different but connected meanings between the Old and New Testaments, I noticed that the term "judge" bears relationship to each Person of the Trinity.  Each Person of the Trinity has a distinctive judging role.  In fact, I think this may be where the train tries to leave the tracks–in the misapplication and misunderstanding of the believer’s position to those Trinitarian roles.  Context is still essential for understanding the unified but three very distinct roles of the Trinity as regards judgment.   

For example, God the Father is described as Judge of all the earth, righteous, perfect and eternally sovereign to judge (distinguish between as to pronounce and execute a decision upon) the righteous and the unrighteous.  In fact, the word for "judge" in the OT that means "umpire" is derived from the root of "Adoni" or "Adonai" meaning "lord, master, owner."  Clearly only God the Father can condemn or justify any person because only He is sovereign, only He is righteous, and only He knows all the intent of man’s heart. Scriptural support is found in Ps 7:8, 9:8, 50:6, 75:7, 82:8, 94:2, 96:13 and Isa 33:22.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, was sent into the world not to judge (pronounce decision upon) or condemn the world, but to save the world. (Jn 3:17) Decisively though, it is by a person’s response to Christ, in either repentance or rejection, that a person is actually "judged," condemned or justified. (Jn 3:18)  Furthermore, Christ even specifically states in John 8:14-18 that if He did judge, His decision would be right because He stands with the Father. 

Lastly, God the Holy Spirit is given to the righteous to equip them to be able to "judge" (discern, determine between) right and wrong.  Although the Greek root does not change for the word "judge" in reference to the Holy Spirit, several translations instead use the word "discern." The necessary parameters for the Holy Spirit’s "judgment" is God’s Word. (Jn 16:13)  For the Holy Spirit will never give counsel contrary to God the Father. (Jn 15:26, 16:13-15; 1 Cor 2:10) 

How then should a believer apply the roles of the Father, Son and Spirit to self?  First, only with great and proper fear, even overwhelming reverence for God’s Perfection far and above anything man can offer, must a believer understand and submit to in order to learn truth. (Pro 1:7)  Secondly, a believer must humbly submit self to God’s instruction as revealed in Scripture. (Rom 12:2, 2 Cor 10:5, 2 Tim 3:16-17)

Then, in regards to God the Father’s role as Judge of all the earth, quite obviously a believer has no ability or right to eternally condemn or justify anyone.  For while saved and clinging to Christ by saving faith, the perogative to condemn or justify eternally is solely that of God Almighty. (Ps 9:8, 67:4)  Jesus Christ Himself in His Person being the very Son of God did not while on earth presume that role. (Jn 12:47, Php 2:3-10)  Scripture does tell us in Revelation 19:11-15, 21:27 that at the final judgment all men will be judged in accord with how each has responded to the Lamb. See also John 12:48. 

In regards to God the Son, Jesus Christ, believers are certainly commanded to be like Christ in word, thought and deed. (Rom 6:4, 1 Cor 4:1, 11:1; Gal 3:27, Php 1:20, Col 2:6)  Unlike Christ of course, a believer cannot save the world because only Christ’s atonement was sufficient. (Heb 7:27, 9:26)  However, a believer’s role is not to be neutral either.  Instead, a believer is to be like Christ in giving faithful witness to the true gospel of Christ.  Then just as a person is shown judged (condemned or justified) by one’s response to Christ (in that either one repents and believes or rejects);likewise, by a person’s response to the gospel, one is shown judged.

How powerful if believers today could just get that part of this idea!  To teach the complete gospel of Christ, all the "hard" parts included and without any watering down of Christ’s power and rule as the Messiah!  The only way a believer can truly know the complete gospel of Christ is by the persevering and diligent study of Scripture to know what Christ said, to examine and follow Christ’s examples, and to require of each other what Christ required of His disciples.  Then each believer is "judged" by one’s response to both His gospel, His example, and His requirements. 

Lastly, to consider a believer’s role in relationship to having the Holy Spirit abiding within (Rom 8:15-16, Jn 14:17) means to trustingly pursue and acquire knowledge and therefore, discernment of God’s Word and will in order to rightly respond to others in life and practice. (Rom 12:2, 14:17-18, 1 Cor 2:14)  Without the Holy Spirit, a believer cannot discern (distinguish between, separate thoroughly) with any vestige of maturity or integrity.  By implication then, a believer with the Holy Spirit is to discern with maturity and integrity. (1 Cor 2:14)

No, I’m not finished yet.  But this is probably enough to read and digest for now.  Having moved from a discussion of disputable matters to a discussion of how judging is exemplified in the Trinity and then its consequential nature to believers, the two ideas still must be linked–judging and disputable matters.

Thanks be to God for the wealth of His inexhaustible Word!

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 28, 2007 10:05 pm

    Wow…this is a great post…you covered a lot of ground!


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