How do you decide if a thing is a heaven or hell issue? You certainly can’t take a vote and decide on a matter of truth. The majority not only isn’t always right, in reality it is most often wrong. No wonder God charged the Israelites not to follow a multitude to do evil. You can’t decide based on what some authority says on the matter. You can gather authorities by the dozens to say just about everything imaginable on any issue. It is for that reason when I hear someone tell me what Brother so and so said I tend to turn them off immediately. Through my years I’ve had the privilege of studying the Bible with lots of great Bible students. But I’ve never felt that any one of those people was right about everything. Years ago when I was a young preacher living in Mississippi I had the opportunity to attend classes with Brother Gus Nichols on Friday nights, a class on Romans one day a week with Brother Franklin Camp and to have men like Brother Guy Woods and Brother Foy E. Wallace in meetings on a fairly regular basis. They were all great men who were deeply knowledgeable in Scripture, yet they all disagreed with each other on many different things.
It was always amazing how close these men were as friends. Both Brother Camp and Brother Nichols not only had each other for meetings but had Brother Woods for meetings. Brother Nichols had a preaching school on Saturday’s and had Brother Camp and one of the main teachers. I asked each of those three on different occasions how they remained such good friends when they differed on so many things. I received much the same response from each man. It went something close to this, “Well I know they are wrong on some things but it isn’t anything that will keep them out of heaven.” Brother Nichols and Brother Woods had exactly opposite views on what happens when a person dies. Brother Woods believed and preached in many of his meetings that when a Christian died they went to an intermediate state and he would explain in detail what happened and why he thought it was that way. Brother Nichols believed with equal certainty that when we die as a Christian we go right on to heaven and that the whole notion of an intermediate state was just completely wrong. Once when we had had both men in one year for a meeting and each had preached on what they thought would happen after death I asked each of them what would happen with the other at death since their beliefs were so different. Each man answered in almost the same words and laughed as they said it. “He will learn when he dies that I was right all along.”
There is a tremendous lesson I believe that needs to be learned from the people of that day and their beliefs and differences that they didn’t allow to divide them. Brother Nichols had very different beliefs about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian from either of the other men mentioned. He and Brother Wallace believed exactly the opposite of the other two on the topic of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Brother Nichols was a pacifist but never tried to bind that belief on others. How can good, godly people believe so differently about such important matters and still, not only get along, but love each other as brothers and recommend each other in every way they could?
It was because they recognized that not everything we may believe the Bible teaches is a matter is a heaven or hell issue. They understood that as long as a belief on any matter didn’t lead to one disobeying God that it wouldn’t affect their eternal destiny and shouldn’t then divide the brethren. I had three of the four men recommend that I read and others read McGarvey’s sermon on the topic and to mention that in Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, Hardeman had used the same sermon and that much of it was word for word and he gave McGarvey credit for the sermon. I would highly recommend folks go back and find the sermon called “Believing a lie” and read it today. It is desperately needed for our time. Some lies believed can lead us to be lost eternally as mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. But some others may cause us problems but won’t affect our destiny at all since they don’t lead to us disobeying God in any way.
Think for a moment about Jesus prayer for all those who became his disciples to be one as He and the Father are one, so that the world might believe that God had sent him. (John 17:20-21). Did Jesus think that all who followed him would believe the exact same thing about every matter? I don’t think so. There are basic truths we must get right. In John 8:24 Jesus said if you don’t believe that I am He you will die in your sins. That is a fundamental truth that one must believe or be lost. But there are tons of other things even about Jesus that one may believe that have nothing to do with one’s destiny. I’ve met tons of people who are certain that Jesus was as white as I am and just as many others who believe he was dark skinned as a Jew living in the Middle East. What difference does it make. He was God in human skin. He lived among us and went through our trials without sin. He died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Know what matters and only make an issue of what matters so much that it might lead to a person being lost. When we make rule after rule on what people must believe or do to be real Christians, we often put ourselves in the place of God rather than the disciple trying to follow Christ.
Jesus took people as disciples without questioning them on every little matter in the world. Just imagine him saying to the disciples, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:1-3) He goes ahead to pronounce seven “Woe’s” on these same folks. He calls them hypocrites over and over again. Yet he told the disciple to do what they tell you. Isn’t that amazing? I have a hard time imagining that happening today.
So, how do we decide what is a big thing that ought to be held so tightly that we could declare if you don’t do this you will be lost and what is a small matter that it would be good for a person to do but it doesn’t affect their relationship with God when they don’t get it right? That is the question and I will attempt some definitive answers in the next few articles. Hang with me.