Schisms in the Body: Introduction

By James Brown Jr.

It is unfortunate but necessary to begin this series of blog posts with a disclaimer. Since more time is spent making judgment upon hearts rather than the words and actions of any individual or entity, we must preemptively dislodge any foreseen distraction from the real issues. If not, we will waste countless hours arguing about unseen and unknowable purposes of the heart. As is always the case, the utilization of such argumentation is solely for the purpose of establishing our own righteousness.

In this series, we are going to be addressing polemics and discernment in general, but particularly the recent controversy stemming from an article from the Christian News Network titled Tattoos for Jesus? Group Raises Funds for ‘Church Plant’ by Tattooing Members, Sampling Booze.1

Attempting to live up to their CNN abbreviation, the Christian News Network relied upon sensationalism, exaggerations and implications, which is why some have labeled this as a hit piece and yellow journalism.2 At any rate, the Christian News Network article has caused quite a stir among Reformed Christians.

Because of this, the wisdom of speaking to this issue may be questioned from several different perspectives, which is why this disclaimer and explanation is needed.

This controversy has sparked so much emotion in the anger, name-calling and accusations that the wisdom of jumping into the mix should be questioned. Just bringing up the topic causes immediate division that seems impossible to reconcile.

However, for the sake of the gospel, the discipleship of the saints and our testimony to the world demands that we speak to this continuing shameful Christian soap saga Schisms in the Body. We must give an answer to the many issues that are being raised in our families, congregations, friends, and communities.

Plus, we live in a climate where you will most likely be tarnished by any issue you address. The days of friendly debates over secondary issues are over. Every hill is one to die on in this individualistic age. So, we, and every other Reformed Christian, is going to be tarnished whether publicly speaking to these issues or not. We cannot undo the shame and the harm this controversy is causing but we can speak truth in the midst of this turmoil in order to call sinners to repentance and edify the saints.

Getting labeled on issues of Christian liberty is probably the least of our worries. The slander that is being used to win arguments today is where the real damage proceeds from. Standing upon the Word of God as our final authority for faith and practice is not a faulty strategy. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and it will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). No matter the issue, our apologetic is every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Luke 4:4).

The real damage comes from the direct accusations or indirect implications that are slanderous. Based upon recent precedent, we can project that some might suppose we are attempting to generate publicity and to market our ministry off of this controversy or the ministries of others. This is of course preposterous, but it will not stop some from attempting to judge our hearts in order to sully the issues to advance their agenda. But, unless you know us there is no way to know our intentions or motivations. By knowing, I do not mean being friends on Facebook, but actually knowing our character and reputation on the local scene.

In spite of these pitfalls, the purpose of this series of articles is not to defend our character or reputation or to blindly defend any entity, friendship or agenda. Although I have respected and followed the ministries of Apologia Church, Alpha and Omega Ministries, the Polemics Report, and Pulpit and Pen, it has been from afar and as an outsider. We are not connected to any of these entities personally. Although we are longing and searching to be covenanted to an association of churches, we do not owe any allegiance to any group, institution or clique. That is not to say allegiance or loyalty is evil, nor am I castigating any person or group involved in this controversy. It is unfortunate in this individualistic age that loyalty is always seen as a vice. Of course, our first and foremost loyalty should be to Christ and His Word, but we do owe loyalty to Christ’s universal and particular churches.

However, I said all of that to say we have been focused upon our ministry in planting and advancing the Reformed Church of the Holy Trinity and our associations here in Indiana. The national scene has not been a part of our ambitions or objective.

Although we do not have a dog in the hunt as to the persons involved, we do have a commitment to truth and the defense of our brethren no matter their place or station in the world. Regardless of any national implications, the strife and effects of this controversy have reached all the way to Indiana. As a result, we must speak and uphold the truth in our area of responsibility. Therefore, the scope of our response is primarily to those who are connected to our ministry. If anyone beyond this scope benefits from anything said, we rejoice in the advancement of the truth. Our primary purpose is to faithfully lead and disciple those who have been entrusted to us in the ministry of reconciliation and reformation.

It should also be pointed out that we are not a ministry that is committed to any specific cultural connotations. We are a diverse ministry that is built upon Biblical faith and practice and not upon any specific subculture. We are not opposed to those who are identified with any cultural or ethnic tribe but that is not our focus. Our tribe consists of those who are committed to the creeds of the ancient Church and the confessions of the Reformation.

While we have some members who have tattoos, I do not have any myself. Of course, this does make me any more spiritual in not having tattoos any more than it makes those who do less spiritual. Therefore, this issue is a moot one in our congregation. We do not endorse getting tattoos and neither do we forbid it. We view it as an issue of Christian liberty, which means we cannot promote it or prohibit it in and of itself. Regardless of our individual preferences, we must defend Christian liberty.

The same holds true for cigars or alcohol. Personally, I do occasionally smoke a cigar, moderately drink alcohol and frequently use smokeless tobacco. In spite of my use of these things, I have never made them a campaign or tried to force any cultural identity upon others. We preach against the abuse of indifferent things and teach moderation in the use of any without making individual preferences in indifferent things a commandment or a prohibition.

Due to the sensitivity of these issues in the modern Church, especially in Fundamentalist regions, I have refrained from the practice and/or promotion of my liberty in many instances where I believe I would have a right to be more forceful. Coming from a Fundamentalist background has caused me to be more sensitive to others on these issues than required. However, I will not and cannot sit silently when the communion of the Church is being disrupted by those attempting to enforce their personal preferences upon others in the form of prohibitions.

Our congregation consists of those who abstain from alcohol and those who do not. In communion we offer both wine and grape juice as we believe alcohol is a matter of Christian liberty. So, we are opposed to anyone who would seek to impose their preferences and practices in Christian liberty upon others.

For full disclosure, I also eat red meat and prefer it cooked medium. Although I find vegetarianism to be weak philosophically, spiritually and practically, I will defend the liberty of Christians to eat meat or those who prefer only vegetables.

In this series of articles, the unfortunate circumstances of late will only serve as examples to learn how we are to live to the glory of God and in the unity of the saints. This series is not about the promotion or the prohibition of any indifferent practice. It is, however, about the definition and defense of Christian liberty from God’s Word so that we might know how we are to live in peace and unity for the advancement of Christ’s holy Church throughout the world.

References:

1. "Tattoos for Jesus? Group Raises Funds for ‘Church Plant’ by Tattooing Members, Sampling Booze." Christian News Network, June 28, 2016. Accessed July 20, 2016. http://christiannews.net/2016/06/28/tattoos-for-jesus-group-raises-funds-for-church-plant-by-tattooing-members-sampling-booze/.

2. "The March of the Totalitarians, BHI Craziness, Judging From Afar Rebuked." Youtube (video blog), July 4, 2016. Accessed July 20, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTFjZf7NnlA.