Are We Shepherds, or Policemen?

FORUM: Are We Shepherds, or Policemen?

"If we are to be anything, let us be like Jesus shepherds."

President, Kentucky-Tennessee Conference,

EDITOR, THE MINISTRY:

THE Seventh-day Adventist Church does not believe in salvation by works. We are not legalists. Nor do we believe that we are bound in any way by what is called the law of Moses. We hold that the law called the "law of the Lord" in Luke 2:23, which had to do with ceremonies and sacrifices, and which governed the daily living of Israel and the Jews, was the law that had to do with circumcision, and was called the law of Moses. We hold that this was given by the Lord to Moses as a set of rules (laws) to govern them in their civil as well as religious living. (See 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chron. 23:18; 25:4; 30:15-17; Luke 2:22; 24:44; John 8:5, 17; Acts 13:39.) Moses' law was also called the book of the law of God. (See 1 Chron. 16:40; 2 Chron. 31:3, 4; 35:26.) These texts show that it was inspired or given by God and was not a compilation of the wisdom of men put together and edited by Moses, as some claimed.

We believe that when Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, this law of Moses as contained in ordinances, which governed all the sacrificial ceremonies and services, ceased. It was no longer needed. It had fulfilled its purpose. Jesus, the great Lamb of God, had died, and there no longer existed a need for other lambs of sacrifice or services that typified Him. When the Jewish nation rejected Christ it ceased to exist as God's chosen nation, and all civil and health laws ceased as such. The Jews were from then on subject to the laws of the nations that ruled over them. It is well for us to keep these facts clearly in mind and think of them in their true relationship.

God's law, or the law of the covenant, or the Ten Commandments, is the only law that points out sin. Reading in 1 John 3:4, "whoso ever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law," we understand it to mean the ten-commandment law, which God wrote upon two tables of stone, and that there are no other laws which can be considered as defining sin, regardless of who instituted them. In other words, God's ten-commandment law is the only sin law, or the only law that tells what sin is, and this law is the only moral law binding upon the church.

There are those today who, like the Jews of the early Christian church, would like to introduce into the church other rules, regulations, and beliefs that they say should be considered as laws, the breaking of which would be a sinful act. Such create in the church an element comparable to that found in early Christian days (see the book of Galatians as an illustration), which leads away from Christ and brings in legalism. Works never have or never will save. The legalistic attitude of mind is anti-Christian, for it fosters salvation by works and not by faith.

Salvation is by grace, through faith. No amount of obedience, sacrifice, or self-denial can or will save us at any time. Our sole dependence for salvation is Christ. Therefore when one accepts Jesus as his Saviour and con fesses his sins, believing in Christ as Redeemer, he becomes a son of God. Because of his son- ship he shows his love by obedience to the will of his heavenly Father as revealed in His Ten Commandments, not in order to be saved or become a son, but as a result, an evidence, of his new birth. Any lack of obedience to the law of love shows a lack of love.

The law of Moses has never had any claim upon the Christian church in any way or form. Neither should there ever be in Christ's church any attitude of mind or life that could be com parable to the Judaistic attitude of Christ's day. In His day the Jews spent their time finding fault with and condemning their fellows. Everything done was judged in the light of their law. Justice, mercy, long-suffering, and tenderhearted ness found small place in their dwellings. They were thankful that they had the truth, paid their tithes, and were living holier lives than others. This attitude was strongly opposed by Christ, for He came not "to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:17. Weak, lost, mistaken, misguided, backsliding men and women need help and salvation, not condemnation.

To illustrate this truth: What a wonderful opportunity to condemn presented itself to Jesus at Jacob's well when He and the woman talked! Yet how tenderly He led her back to righteousness, confession of sins, and salvation! The woman taken in the act of adultery, though a Jew or a church member, was not condemned, but forgiven and exhorted to go, and sin no more. Peter with all his boastfulness, pride, and certainty of his own righteousness was not condemned but forgiven, even when he swore his disavowal of his Lord. And it is to this wonderful Christ that we must look today for the power to live and love as He did, and to see in everyone, whether inside or outside the church, a soul that He loves.

As in olden days, some today are more interested in the church's rules, regulations, and standards than they are in the salvation of souls. Do the believers keep the Sabbath strictly? Do they conform to healthful living? Have they accepted this or that doctrine? These are the questions asked and Jesus and His salvation are seldom if ever mentioned. We dislike to acknowledge it, but to many, church standards seem to be more important than Christ the Saviour. No, we are not legalists or Judaizers, we say; and yet watch us in action, and many times the evidence seems to be against us. Especially is this true during an evangelistic campaign or at the end of the year, when church boards set about to "clean up" the records!

Jesus said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." Let us lift Him up, and His way, not merely church standards and regulations. Church standards and regulations are important, and we would not give the impression for a moment that we think otherwise. But we must not forget that while they are important and necessary to the organization, they are never at any time to be placed in the position of, nor considered equal to, the moral or sin law. Church rules, standards, and regulations are fallible, being built upon the conclusions and judgments of the church in council assembled. They guide the way to better and more consistent Christian living. They may even at times point out the difference between right and wrong, and establish a norm for us as a church group; nevertheless they can never become rules, standards, or laws, the breaking of which is sin.

In all our zeal, earnestness, and desire to help others prepare for eternal life, missing the contaminating pitfalls of the world, there should be no thought of establishing a set of rules or laws equal in our own minds to the Ten Commandments, the infraction of which will be considered sin. The person who runs through a red light, makes a turn without the proper hand signal, or drives faster than the law allows has broken the law. But he is not a sinner. He has simply failed to live up to the standard for good citizenship. Similarly, the person who fails to live up to the rules of the church is not a sinner, but has failed to live up to the standards for good church membership.

Although that illustration does not fully cover the whole field of man-made laws, it does show the principle that should guide us in church administration. The moment we make the breaking of church laws to be sin, just that moment we make those laws infallible, and establish as fact man's infallibility. Such a claim we Seventh-day Adventists fight vehemently when found in others. We must just as definitely resist any tinge of it or leaning to ward it when found among ourselves.

Let us give a sinner the benefit of any doubt. Let us give up the Judaistic attitude. Let us step down from the judgment seat and stop acting as accusers of the brethren. We should cease comparing ourselves with our fellows, and leave them to their God. Be our brother's keepers only in love. If they stumble and fall, or stray from the path of righteousness, be sure that it is the path of righteousness they have strayed from, and not some rule of right com parable to those given by Moses and built into the tradition of the church not as sin laws, but as helpful guides to Christian living before we condemn or even attempt to advise or help. Our own thinking must be clear if we would be Christlike.

God's church is not a club, a secret order, or a society to which we belong and prove our faithfulness by obedience to certain organizational rules or laws. Furthermore, God nowhere has appointed any of us as policemen. We are not here to keep or put people out of the church. We are not here to keep one another in line. We are not here to watch for infractions of the law. We are not here to pace our beat and bring every law or rule breaker to the church's bar of judgment.

Has someone failed to attend church, to pay his tithe, or support the cause with offerings? Is a brother using tobacco? A sister wearing rouge, lipstick, or a ring? Has one of the beloved been seen eating meat or drinking coffee? Are they condemned? Are they a disgrace to the church? Is he unfaithful to the church, and to be tried as one who does not do his duty? Is he a sinner? I ask you, is that the Jesus attitude? What think you?

Our ministers too often give the impression that such is the way to deal with the erring, and as a consequence the members follow them. Because of this attitude toward the brethren, those not of our faith can see us only as legalists in spite of our denial of it. A balancing of our attitude in Christian living toward the Jesus way is called for. Let us lay aside the policeman's billy, and take up the shepherd's staff. If we are to be anything, let us be like Jesus shepherds.

 

 


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President, Kentucky-Tennessee Conference,

May 1952

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