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From the Word: Fellowship Pitfall: When Sharing Can Hurt

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Fellowship Pitfall: When Sharing Can Hurt

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Here in the 21st century we face a barrage of religious videos, tape ministries and journals. Anyone with access to the Internet can participate in a bewildering storm of doctrinal ideas.

How Can We Maintain Christian Balance?

Since the drastic doctrinal changes and splintering of our former fellowship several years ago, some groups now allow a freewheeling doctrinal discussion as part of their Sabbath or social fellowship. This model runs counter to our historic practice. Some say our tradition is too old-fashioned, that there should be more freedom. Yet still today, an environment of unfettered sharing of “ideas” is unsettling for many, especially on God’s Sabbath day. It is easily understandable why many in United have a sensitivity to “new ideas” being thrust upon them—just consider the last decade!

To be fair, United has modified much. Some of our Bible study formats do allow input and comment. But this isn’t intended as an open forum for new or contrary ideas. Many members have a reservoir of memory spanning decades of traditional belief. Public discussion of contrary ideas during Sabbath fellowship can be unsettling and disturbing to them.

It is reasonable to ask whether a Sabbath service is the place to bring up newfound insights from personal research or Internet browsing. Is a sermonette or sermon the place to do it? An individual may be inspired by some newly discovered knowledge, but is fellowship the place to spread it to others?

Let’s consider why the airing of new ideas or conclusions can be unsettling at Sabbath services. Now a friendly discussion of an idea along with the relevant biblical evidence is one thing. This is different from an unproven new idea being promoted as truth, despite UCG belief or opposing biblical evidence.

This article is not about expressing positive, upbeat, strengthening insights of our way of life consistent with our shared beliefs. The focus is on unproven ideas contrary to or outside of published UCG teaching.

The Practice of Love

Many of us are not comfortable with feeling pressured to immediately respond to controversial questions. How many of us are walking Bible encyclopedias? Should one really expect anyone off the top of his or her head to be able to answer every question with a thoroughly studied response? United has esteemed unity and peace greater than unrestricted discussion of new ideas. Putting people on the spot publicly can upset Sabbath fellowship. Some may respond that being controversial makes others think more. Paul counseled us not to promote disputes, but instead godly edification (1 Timothy 1:3-4 1 Timothy 1:3-4 [3] As I sought you to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that you might charge some that they teach no other doctrine, [4] Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
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).

Servant leadership serves the needs of others. A pastor strives to serve all and is keenly aware of the complex makeup of a congregation. In the spirit of Paul saying “to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20 1 Corinthians 9:20And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
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), a pastor strives to spiritually nurture all ages, educational levels and backgrounds.

Does airing a questionable idea strengthen a “little one”? A more loving way, surely, is to submit new ideas to the ministry for doctrinal review.

Since it is love that endures, applying what we already know can be more important than the pursuit of endless knowledge for learning’s sake. Ecclesiastes 1:9 Ecclesiastes 1:9The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
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reminds us that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Many resurfacing doctrinal issues were actually addressed long ago by Herbert Armstrong and others in Church leadership.

Can We Be Sure of Christ’s Approval?

How can we know we’re a recipient of special revelation? Surely our “new idea” or doctrinal insight would benefit from a review and approval by a consensus of the ministry. We may also have to consider what part ego might play in a desire to claim a “new idea.” We have to be truthful about it.

One way to test this is by following the established processes. If we feel God may have revealed something to us, then we can share it with our pastor. If he thinks it may be valid, then together we can share it with the Doctrine Committee for eventual GCE acceptance. (This is the UCG process, and of course other groups may have their own processes.)

Difficulty can arise if our idea or conclusion isn’t accepted. We are then confronted with what to do about it. Are we willing to give up promoting our “idea”? Are we willing to put it on the shelf? It may be that our insight is not wrong, but perhaps is not understood or accepted at this time. Can we accept this and commit it to Christ? Harmony with God is what we are after.

Unhealthy Preoccupation?

Scripture shows a preoccupation with new truths can be spiritually unhealthy.

Paul warned that the winds of doctrine would blow through our lives (2 Timothy 4:3-4 2 Timothy 4:3-4 [3] For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; [4] And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables.
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; Ephesians 4:14 Ephesians 4:14That we from now on be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
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). Could the pursuit of new knowledge be too close to the approach of the Athenians of Acts 17:21 Acts 17:21(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
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who “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing”? Perhaps the time could be better spent trying to serve others than in hours accumulating unproven ideas.

What Is Good Christian Discussion?

The Bible Reading Program (www.ucg.org/brp) is an excellent study that provides new insight into old biblical passages. Even if you think you know all there is to know about the Bible and have heard it expounded many times, yet with God’s Holy Spirit active within you, old passages can bring fresh insight and meaning. This approach leads to Bible ideas and doctrinal discussions that edify others.

Most welcome in any congregation is newfound insight or research on child rearing, adolescence, dating, romance, marriage, health, aging, stress and change, family, world news and trends, ways to preach the gospel, Bible study aids, discoveries that reinforce Scripture, ways to serve, positive Sabbath keeping or how to be closer to God.

How to Present a New Idea

Most have trusted friends with whom they can discuss the pros and cons of an idea before deciding if it is worth presenting to the ministry. Their pastor can help them decide if it is worth writing up to present to the Doctrine Committee.

One way to present your insight or conclusion is to outline why it is better than any given so far in UCG literature. In presenting your idea, know what UCG has published and show why yours is a superior explanation.

When Paul counseled, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40 1 Corinthians 14:40Let all things be done decently and in order.
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), we have good advice for initiating anything new. Should this stifle growth? Does it mean United is too stuffy and staid? The bottom line surely is whether our freedom in Christ justifies expressing things that can weaken the faith of others (1 Corinthians 9:19 1 Corinthians 9:19For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant to all, that I might gain the more.
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).

In our Church history there have been good examples of how to handle new understanding. New insight was handled by committing it to the Church government. It was left there until the Christ-inspired leadership came to similarly understand. In the intervening time the new insight wasn’t spread about nor preached. This upheld current beliefs, maintained the faith and didn’t weaken others. With eventual acceptance, the new insight brought due rejoicing.

This works better for producing peace and harmony and agrees with Paul who said, “Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 2 Thessalonians 2:15Therefore, brothers, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our letter.
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). UN

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