Questions and answers
We have been blessed by receiving Unsearchable Riches for many years, and always enjoy the thoughts of each one who writes articles in it.
I have noticed, however, that, many times, you speak of the so-called “Christian churches” as “our brethren in Christ,” stating that they are included among the called and chosen ones who will be vivified in the presence of Christ.
Paul taught you must believe that Jesus died, and was dead and then resurrected after three days. Most all, however, teach that Jesus never really died (nor that anyone else ever really died, for that matter), but that He went on living while His body remained in the tomb, preaching to spirits in prison during that time. This is contrary to what the Bible plainly teaches concerning the state of the dead.
Most churches more or less teach the gospel of the Circumcision, claiming that one must be baptized, pay tithes, do good works, and so forth, in order to be saved. Also, they teach that if you don’t believe like they do, then you will be put in hell fire and tormented forever and ever. Isn’t this a different evangel than what Paul taught, and subject to his “anathema”?
Do you believe that those who “believe in Jesus” (including the majority of Americans who make this very claim) are really members of the ecclesia of God? While I believe that all mankind will eventually be saved, I don’t believe that those who believe and teach a different evangel than that of the apostle Paul are members of the body of Christ nor that any such opposers will be granted eonian life in Christ’s presence.
If you believe I am wrong here, please show me, because I want to know and am willing to learn.
WE APPRECIATE your kind words concerning our ministry. The affirmation which you make here is concerned with the question of what it means to be a believer. This is a perennial question which we receive. Sometimes, as in your case, it arises independently, as a result of one’s own studies. More often, as has been the case a number of times over the years and happens to be so at present as well, various ones of our friends become exercised concerning this question, as the result of some mutual friend’s having adopted such a position, contrary to our own teaching on this subject.
Such a course should never be presumed to be wrong nor viewed as necessarily a bad thing, even if, due to the human weakness of all concerned, regrettable incidents will sometimes occur as a result of the public consideration of such “new teaching.”
If our findings should be mistaken, and one truly has eyes to see that this is so, then they should be rejected. This is the case just as surely as it is also true that if our teachings should be correct, and one truly has eyes to see that that is so, they should be accepted.
For that matter, even if our position itself should be correct, it may be that hitherto we have failed to adequately explain it, at least with respect to certain questions, ones that even a thoughtful and conscientious reader might still have, having reviewed our existing literature.
That which the Scriptures actually reveal, directing our hearts into a true understanding of their declarations, alone is the arbiter of truth. Every one of us is quite up to the task of being mistaken; neither is it any great achievement simply to happen to be correct. What we are not able for, of ourselves, however, is the achievement of that most formidable task, not simply of being correct, but of being correct according to the ascertainment of the conclusive evidence which actually proves the veracity of our position.
In replying to the various issues which arise in respect to your inquiry, perhaps it would be best for me to begin simply by clarifying a few incidental points which you introduce, related to our consideration of the principal issue which we wish to evaluate. That issue is whether it is so that one who misunderstands something, therefore necessarily disbelieves it as well.
You are surely correct in suggesting that the traditional teachings of Christendom are, and that to a great degree, a “different evangel” than that brought by Paul, and that those heralding such an evangel must therefore be subject to the apostle’s “anathema” upon all who follow such a course.
But the question remains, Of what does Paul’s anathema consist? We can only know the answer to this question if we, first of all, know the nature and particulars of Paul’s evangel, which entails a knowledge as well of the delimiting factors determinative of the boundaries of that company to whom it applies.
The nature and particulars of Paul’s evangel entail it being so that this evangel is for all who are called and chosen of God, according to that evangel, irrespective of their faithfulness, whether of deed or doctrine. Such ones, even if unworthy of service, have nevertheless been granted a measure of faith (cp Rom.12:3). They are at least believing that Jesus died and rose (cp 1 Thess.4:14), and give evidence of their calling in their testimony of heart, “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:24).
All who believe that Jesus died and rose are believers; and, all such ones are included in the “ecclesia of God.”
Should any be disbelieving, God will be remaining faithful to His blessed promises concerning them (cf 2 Tim.2:13). These include, even today, membership in the ecclesia, and for the future, eonian life and glory, even if, due to their own lack of faithfulness, they should forfeit an allotment of eonian reigning in that day. Therefore, it must be that the nature of the anathema which will befall any among them who may bring a “different evangel,” is confined to the loss of the present knowledge and appreciation of much important truth. Indeed, in this practical sense of present-day “destruction,” that of forfeiting a life lived according to truth together with the enjoyment of a concomitant spiritual walk, any course which precludes such blessed privilege is certainly a most destructive course. It is a pathway which evinces a corresponding utter failure to get hold of eonian life, and to do so “really” (cp John 17:3; 1 Tim.6:12; 6:19)._1_
“BELIEVING IN JESUS”
Of course, we would not speak of those groups or congregations themselves, as such (i.e., as collective entities), commonly termed “Christian churches,” as being “our brethren in Christ.” We would, however (based on such passages as Ephesians 4:11-14), suppose that there are individual persons within at least some such groups who are in Christ. Insofar as religious affiliation is concerned, God’s chosen ones may well be members of various diverse communions, or of no formal community at all.
Where you ask whether we believe that those who “believe in Jesus” (I take it that you mean, as their Saviour) are really members of the ecclesia of God, you first of all point out the fact that there are many millions of persons, both past and present (including, according to polls, vast numbers of Americans), who profess such very faith. Hence you wish to know if it is our opinion that, factually, all such persons are also members of the ecclesia of God, called and chosen of Him.
Our answer to this question is, No. Surely not all who claim to “believe in Jesus” are truly in Christ. Many who profess faith, may nevertheless not possess faith. Whether due to some type of peer pressure (in the interests of, for example, civil, political, or social advantage), or merely concern for one’s own personal safety (for example, out of fear that the teaching of the eternal torment of unbelievers might somehow be true), many may profess to believe—and even seek to believe—who nonetheless do not, in fact, believe.
But as to any question of what even the approximate percentage of those who are naming the name of the Lord may be who are also truly in Christ, we simply do not have an opinion. Perhaps it is a fairly high percentage; perhaps it is quite a low percentage; we do not know. But since we do not wish to be disposed above what is written, and, hence, do not wish to place confidence in human speculations, we prefer simply to avoid all speculation concerning that particular question.
CAREFULNESS IN EXPRESSION
You made mention of the apostle Paul, stating that he taught that we “must believe ....” I would only suggest here (and I trust you will agree with me), that, apart from the question of, specifically, that which is to be believed, it was not Paul’s custom, as such, to speak baldly in such terms. Instead, it is so, simply corollarially to what Paul did declare that we, indeed, “must believe.”
I mention this only because most, when hearing that which is true in itself here, namely, that we must do something in order to be saved, will mistakenly conclude that our doing thereof is not under God’s ultimate control but our own. Most will further suppose if there is something that we must do in order to be saved, that it follows from this that whatever we must do, God therefore requires us to do. Any such notion, however, is simply a presumption; it is not necessarily a fact. And, it is a presumption which cannot be a fact, since it is contrary to the truth that our salvation and eonian life is a gracious gift apart from works. This includes all human efforts to believe, as well as all of man’s supposed own endeavors of non-resistance in response to the operations of the spirit.
It is not that we are required to believe, but that we are graciously granted to be believing (Phil.1:29). Indispensable antecedent obedience need not be that of the meeting of a requirement; it may instead be (as is the case in the evangel of our salvation) simply the fulfilling of an essentiality._2_ This is a vital distinction to a correct understanding of the nature of the evangel. Therefore, it is important for us to be circumspect and careful not to leave the wrong impression in any instance in which we may speak of it being so that, in some respect, we “must believe.”
You further spoke of Paul as teaching that “Jesus died, and was dead and then resurrected after three days.” I am sure you will be glad for me to quote exactly the passage to which you refer: “Now I am making known to you, brethren, the evangel which I bring to you, which also you accepted, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you are retaining what I said in bringing the evangel to you, outside and except you believe feignedly. For I give over to you among the first what also I accepted, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was entombed, and that He has been roused the third day according to the scriptures ...” (1 Cor.15:1-4).
There are many things to consider here, and judge correctly, if we would possess a full and accurate understanding of these words comprising the evangel. This is true of certain related points as well, such as the matter of the present aspect of salvation (cf “through which ...[we] are being saved”), that is, as Paul indicates, except in the case of one who is believing “feignedly” (i.e., not genuinely).
One issue here, it is true, is that of attaining to a full and correct understanding of what is meant by the words, “Christ died ...” even as by the declarations which affirm that, “He was entombed ...” and “He has been roused ....”
There is, however, an additional important issue to take notice of here as well, in this summary declaration of the evangel, one which, even as the question of death, is also capable of being either correctly or incorrectly understood. That issue is this: In what sense is it so that Christ’s death, entombment, and resurrection occurred “according to the Scriptures”?
Is it that one need only truly believe that this was so according to whatever the Old Testament may have to say concerning the coming Anointed One, or is it instead that one must first possess a full, accurate knowledge of the grand and complex theme of Hebrew Christology, both typically and prophetically, in all its ins and outs, within the compass of the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures?
If our argument is that one must understand the subject of death correctly, else one cannot “really believe” that Christ died, our argument must likewise be that one must also understand the subject of Hebrew Christology correctly, else one cannot “really believe” that Christ’s death was according to the Scriptures. It would be inconsistent and absurd to insist that one’s incorrect knowledge of the former theme (including one’s holding of incompatible doctrines, contrary to the truth thereof), precludes one’s membership in Christ’s body, while denying that one’s incorrect knowledge of this latter theme does not preclude one’s membership in Christ’s body.
I have considered the difficult subject of Hebrew Christology in some detail for over thirty years, having read learned books on the subject, besides doing my own further, incidental research, together with informal reflection and meditation from day to day. Though it may be so that I know somewhat more about this subject than many others, it is undoubtedly so that I know much less about it than those scholars who have made this theme their specialty.
In any case, it is beyond question that I do not understand the subject of Christology “correctly.” This is because, first of all, I am not even fully cognizant of it, which makes it impossible for me to understand it correctly._3_
It is a practical certainty as well that I am at least somewhat mistaken in my consideration of this subject, whether these errors should be sins of commission or omission. Therefore, I do not fully grasp all that is an object of faith relative to this subject. For that matter, we may be likewise certain that the same is true not only of myself but even of the most learned specialists in this field as well. Yet if it is so that one must correctly understand the entirety of that which comprises the evangel in order to partake of future eonian life, then not only are those who believe in immortal souls precluded from this blessing but those as well who fail to understand the doctrines of Christology.
DELUSIONS OF EQUIVOCATION
More fundamentally, however, we need to see that the claim is simply wrongheaded which effectually asserts that failing to understand a subject correctly is tantamount to a failure to believe it. “Understand” signifies “make out the meaning” (see Keyword Concordance, p.314); “believe” means “be convinced by testimony (concerning matters outside the sphere of observation)” (see Keyword Concordance, p.28; cp Hebrews 11:1: “faith is  an assumption ... [and,2]a conviction ...”).
Understanding (i.e., discernment of true meaning), is the result of correct interpretation, that is, of correct judgment of the sense in which what is said was intended to be understood. Belief, however, consists merely in the acceptance of testimony and the conviction that it is true. One may very well genuinely believe that which he does not truly understand. It is only because we ourselves often speak imprecisely_4_ that we are confused concerning this theme, saying that a man does not believe a statement to be so, when our actual thought, fairly and accurately stated, is that he does not understand the statement according to truth, according to the sense in which it is truly intended.
In addition, it is also wrong to claim that someone “does not really believe” a certain scriptural testimony (e.g., the testimony that Christ died for our sins), in any case in which the person, in fact, not only is honestly convinced that the preferred testimony is true, but in which he simply holds, in part, to a wrong opinion concerning it.
Let us be fair. Traditionalists freely believe the account that on the cross, Jesus suffered and died. It is simply incorrect for anyone to deny the fact that this is their faith. It is only that traditionalists differ with non-traditionalists as to the sense in which He died. The traditionalist affirms that Jesus died corporeally, with reference to the demise of His body. The non-traditionalist affirms that Jesus died entirely, with reference to the demise of the entirety of His being.
It is not that one party believes that Christ died and the other does not, but that there is a difference of opinion between the two parties as to the correct sense in which it is so that Christ died.
In arriving at any opinion at all concerning a certain declaration of faith, whether or not one should do so consciously and formally, in any case, one must necessarily engage in interpretation concerning it. Opinion—any opinion at all—is impossible apart from interpretation, whether witting or unwitting. And, correct interpretation is no less interpretation than incorrect interpretation. Hence it is naive besides mistaken for any one of us to take the position in respect to himself in contradistinction to his fellows with whom he differs that, “I simply believe the Scriptures as they stand, unlike you who merely ‘interpret’ them. I furthermore say this even though I must admit that you, just as surely and in as conservative a way as myself, honestly accept the same writings as I do as constitutive of the very word of God.”
It is most remarkable that many have adopted such a perspective toward those with whom they differ doctrinally, some even going so far as to imagine that those who are their theological opponents as to various important issues, are therefore not even in Christ.
MISCONCEPTIONS OF FAITH
The spurious argument that if one does not believe that Jesus died entirely, he does not believe that Jesus died, and so is unsaved, is based on the false assumption that in order to believe any certain statement, it is necessary to possess a true knowledge of its particulars. This simply is not true.
One may believe a declaration, itself, while also believing mistakenly concerning certain of its particulars. Perhaps this fact can be helpfully explained by way of the following examples:
There are many statements concerning technical computer topics, ones which I have accepted and believe to be true. I do believe these things are true, and I accept them accordingly.
Even so, for years I continued to misunderstand certain aspects of some of them, long after I first believed them to be so. And indeed, in the case of certain other such technical facts, I am aware that even today, after many years engagement in complex computer activities daily, I still do not properly understand them. Indeed, I no doubt continue to hold certain misconceptions concerning various computer-related subjects, ones which I nevertheless believe to be true.
Now my son Marc, who is trained in computer science, would never say that I do not believe this or that technical proposition to be true, things which he has taught me concerning or otherwise represented to me as true. Instead, he would simply say what is so: that I still misunderstand various things concerning some of these subjects.
Another example of honest belief in the presence of much ignorance is that of the belief which I once held, as a small child with limited spelling skills, concerning pasteurization. I knew that cows lived in pastures, and had been taught that it was good to drink pasteurized milk. So I supposed that pasteurization was somehow concerned with cows that lived in the field as opposed to in a barn.
It is true that I then held a mistaken belief about pasteurization; and, it is true as well that even today I only know a little about that process. In fact, it may also be true that even today I still hold to some mistaken opinion or another concerning pasteurization. Nonetheless, from early childhood, I have believed that Borden Company milk is pasteurized.
Indeed, as I have already indicated, when I first believed this declaration, I did not even know what pasteurization is, much less did I hold to a fully correct definition thereof. This, however, did not change the fact that I believed what I was told. This is because I simply trusted the Borden Company to be telling me the truth in stating right on their carton that their milk was subjected to a certain process, thus named. My belief in their statement was dependent upon my trust in them; it was not dependent upon any knowledge of my own of the process claimed to have been performed. I did not possess either knowledge or understanding of pasteurization; nevertheless, I possessed faith that a process, termed pasteurization—whatever it may consist of—claimed to have been performed, had been performed.
FAITH IN GOD’S WORD
The truth concerning those who are called and in Christ, is not that they will correctly understand this or that “fundamental doctrine,” but that they will perceive in Christ, God’s own wisdom and power. They will be convinced of the declaration of faith that Jesus died and rose, whether or not their knowledge should be flawless concerning the correct sense of either “die” or “rise,” in this connection.
For the reasons already stated, the notion that one is simply not a believer or in Christ until he accepts certain important correct doctrines while rejecting certain other incompatible, incorrect doctrines, is necessarily mistaken.
It is true that popular myths such as the Trinity, free will, immortal souls, and eternal torment, are incompatible with and militate against the truth of the evangel. Because of their adherence to such contradictory views, many are kept back, whether to a great degree or even entirely, from a true understanding of the evangel.
We feel this tragedy deeply, and frequently need to be reminded that this, too, even as all else that is wrong with the world, is in God’s purpose and will eventuate for good. Yet we rejoice that wherever God gives faith even though He does not yet grant understanding, faith remains, even as all the positional benefits which are afforded to God’s chosen ones, who, incidentally, are also those who are believing.
How wonderful it is to know that faith is a privilege, not a requisite. Albeit that it is indispensable and essential, in relation to our present exalted position in Christ and our future eonian life and glory, it is but a concomitant: ever an accompanying means of further blessing; never a contrivance of human merit (cf Rom.8:28-32; cp 1 Cor.1:21-25).
We have no promise that within the course of our present lifetime, even relative maturity of faith will be given to all who are chosen. We only know that, whether sooner or later, concerning the one who is infirm in the faith: “he will be made to stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” In the meantime, the ecclesia will continue to consist of all those who are chosen and called, to whom it is given to believe that Christ is the wisdom and power of God and that Jesus died and rose—however limited or faulty their apprehension of these glorious declarations may be.
1 For a more detailed consideration of the question of the necessary scope and sense of the apostle Paul’s declaration in which he avers, “Let him be anathema!” see Unsearchable Riches, “Let Him Be Anathema!” vol.87, pp.9-22.
2 For definition of terms, as well as a consideration of the tremendous difference between a “requirement” and an “essentiality,” see Unsearchable Riches, vol.91, p.173.
3 It is impossible for one to understand correctly any discrete topic or subtopic of which he is simply ignorant, concerning which he, therefore, possesses no understanding at all.
4 The error of argumentation termed the Fallacy of Equivocation is at the root of the mistaken position which equates misunderstanding with unbelief. It is committed in relation to the problem we are considering when in one instance we say a man “does not believe,” when our thought is that he [a 1 ] “is not convinced by the testimony of,” and yet in another instance say that he “does not believe,” when our thought is that he [a 2 ] “does not make out the meaning of.” That is, this fallacy is committed when [a 2 ] is the situation which obtains, and yet, by force of the same language, we argue as if (for our argument to have any possible merit) [a 1 ] were the situation which obtains—even though it does not obtain, nor is it even our thought that it does obtain. This insidious error is the cause of many a false conclusion even as of the unwitting propagation of many a myth. Hence, wherever it exists, we should do our utmost to discern its presence and to reject all arguments based upon its employment.
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