by Dave Miller, Ph.D.
“Are you telling me that just because I don’t belong to your church, or just because I haven’t been baptized into the remission of sins, or just because I use the instrument when I worship God, or just because I don’t attend every worship service, or just because I don’t partake of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday—that I can’t make it to heaven? I can’t believe that God would condemn me on a technicality! Besides, that’s legalistic!”
Many, many religious people are characterized by this attitude. Their perceptions of God and His grace serve to minimize the necessity of being overly concerned about strict obedience to every command of God. This attitude is manifested in the idea that arriving at correct doctrine is irrelevant to establishing a right relationship with God. But this is precisely what the Bible teaches. Doctrinal purity does not necessarily guarantee a right relationship with God, but a right relationship with God is impossible without doctrinal purity.
Both “spirit and truth” (i.e., proper attitude and proper adherence to truth—John 4:24) are essential to a right relationship with God. Even if some religious individuals give the impression that they have gone “overboard” on truth, yet with insufficient attention to proper attitude, no solution is achieved by abandoning, compromising, or softening adherence to truth in an effort to accept those who are determined to remain unconformed to truth.
The very nature of God and truth is at stake in this discussion. Truth, by its very definition, is narrow, specific, fixed, and technical. God is a God of truth Who operates within the parameters of truth. Since He is God, He does not, and cannot, vary from truth and right. Man’s definition of what constitutes a “technicality” rarely matches God’s definition. More often than not, the very items that humans brush aside as unimportant and trivial, are those things upon which God lays great importance. Herein lies the crux of man’s problem. We decide what we think is important, and then proceed to structure our religion around those self-stylized premises, assuming divine sanction and “grace.”
Never mind the fact that “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Never mind the fact that “the wisdom of this world” is foolish to God (1 Corinthians 1:20). And never mind the fact that such an attitude and approach betrays great arrogance. In everyday living, we understand very well the principle that those things that appear to be trivial or mere technicalities can be crucial to survival. The incorrect dosage of medicine in a medical emergency—even milligrams—can mean the difference between life and death. One or two miles over the speed limit can secure the offender a ticket. Accidentally putting gasoline into a diesel engine can ruin an automobile. I suppose one could label each of these examples as “technicalities,” but doing so does not alter the magnitude of their importance or the extent to which they impact reality.
In biblical history, the same principle holds true. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from one piece of fruit from one tree (Genesis 3). Nadab and Abihu—the right boys, at the right place, at the right time, with the right censers and the right incense—nevertheless were destroyed for incorporating foreign fire into their incense offering (Leviticus 10:1-2). Moses was excluded from entrance into the Promised Land because of his one mistake at Kadesh—striking a rock instead of speaking to it (Numbers 20:7-12). Saul was deposed as king for sparing the best sheep and cattle, and the life of one individual out of an entire nation (1 Samuel 15). Uzzah was struck dead for merely reaching out and steadying the Ark of the
Covenant (2 Samuel 6:6-7). God rejected Uzziah because he entered the temple, merely to burn incense (2 Chronicles 26).
Many more examples could be considered. These are no more “technical” or “trivial” than New Testament regulations pertaining to vocal (as opposed to instrumental) music in worship (Ephesians 5:19), unleavened bread and fruit of the vine at the Lord’s Table (Matthew 26:26-29), and the qualifications of elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). We must refrain from attempting to second-guess God, or deciding for ourselves what we think is important to Him—“that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). We need to be attentive to “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27)—even those portions that humans deem unimportant or peripheral. When people are clamoring, “Those matters are not salvation issues,” we need to reaffirm the words of Jesus, “These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).
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