"Finally, be ye all of one mind."
This eminent apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, in common with all the other apostles of the Lamb, was invested with divine authority to establish in the church of God every principle of faith and order which can ever be lawfully entertained in his kingdom. No religious organization can ever be recognized as a church of Christ or a branch of the church of Christ, unless standing in the apostles' doctrine, conforming to their decisions, listening to their instructions and accepting all their decisions in judgment on all parts of the law of Christ. The apostle John lays down this rule of judgment, this infallible and everlasting test of fellowship, and criterion by which the saints of God shall know, without the least shade of uncertainty, who of all the professing world are of God, and who are of the world, and not of God. He says, "We [that is the apostles, and the apostolic church, which holds the apostles' doctrine and order] are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." "They [that is, they whose spirit and doctrine are not of God] are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them." (I John 4:5,6) To hear the apostles, in a scriptural sense, is to receive their instructions, accept and abide by their decisions in all they have said, and to obey their injunctions and heed all their admonitions. He that is of God will do all this, and if any who profess godliness do not in this sense hear the apostles, it is because they are not of God, but are of the world. This decision is infallible, whether applied to individuals or to churches. By this rule the church is commanded to "try the spirits", and by it they are to discriminate between truth and error; between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world, or of antichrist.
In conformity with this unerring rule let us examine the admonition of Peter, which we have placed at the head of this article. It is given as a finality, admitting of no amendment, of no abridgment, of no alteration. "Finally." This word is used not only to express in this place irrevocable decision, but also legitimate deduction from the instructions contained in the context, in which the duties of all the saints to God and to men are distinctly and authoritatively laid down; as citizens of the world, to kings and governors, magistrates and rulers, of wives to husbands, children to parents, and of servants to masters. These are the instructions immediately preceding, and the "finally" of our text is expressive of the general summing up of what they amount to, or the unanimity of consent with which they must be accepted by all who are of God, all who are to be held in fellowship as "elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience," etc.
"Finally, be ye all of one mind." Unanimity of sentiment is indispensable to church fellowship. Of the church, in her original organization at Pentecost, we are informed that her constituents gladly received, or heard, the doctrine of the apostles, that their union was so perfect that they were of one heart and one soul. They on whom God had poured out his Spirit were pricked in their hearts, gladly received the word of the apostles, were baptized in that faith and order, continued steadfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship. They could not possibly be in the latter, if not in the former, for if they were of God they would hear the apostles, according to the infallible rule copied from the apostle John, and if any one of them stood not in the apostles' doctrine, his spirit was of the world, and not of God. No one was allowed to dissent from the apostles' decisions on any one of those positions taken by them, on the plea that he had a right to his opinion independent of the apostles, or of the church of God in which apostolic rule and order are maintained. The apostles have not so decided, that if any man teach otherwise from their instructions that it is only a matter of opinion, and he has a right to such opinion, and his brethren and the church should tolerate such independence. No one is to be recognized as being of God who does not yield every opposite opinion, and bow to the decision of the holy apostles. Paul says, "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words," etc., he is proud, knowing nothing; that is, knowing nothing of the things of the Spirit of God. How can he, if his spirit is of this world, and not of God? No man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man that is in him; even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. They are spiritually discerned, therefore the natural man cannot know them, and consequently he knows nothing, and in his blindness and ignorance he dotes about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, etc. From all such the command of God through the apostles is, "Withdraw thyself;" and all who are of God will hear this last, as well as all other of the apostles' commands and decisions, admonitions and exhortations.
As all the fraternity of the household of God are required to be of one mind, as our apostle has decided, then it follows, of course, that no member of the brotherhood has a right, or can be tolerated by the church, in holding sentiments or opinions discordant with the mind of the church, which is based upon the decisions of the apostles. How can the church of God be distinguished from the world, or from antichrist, if there be no unity of faith, no unanimity of sentiment, no agreement in doctrine and practice? It is indispensable to the existence of an orderly gospel church that all her members should be of one mind, and to be of but one mind; it is equally indispensable that all shall be of one spirit. If all are born of the Spirit, and led by the Spirit of God, then all will have the mind of Christ, and in that mind there is unity. That mind is always in perfect harmony with all the teachings of the apostles, and will recognize their high authority, as inspired judges of the spiritual tribes, to establish forever the order of the church of Christ.
But, one demands of us, Have I not a right to my own opinion? Must I pin my faith on the sleeve of another? While we believe that all intelligent beings must have settled convictions and opinions of their own, and as members of the human family no man or set of men has a right to domineer over the conscience or judgment of his or their fellow men, and while as citizens of the states and nations freedom of thought and independence of opinion is the inalienable right of every man, so far as relates to the authority of his fellow men to control his thoughts, provided, however, that he, in his freedom of thought, does not infringe upon the equal rights of others, by entertaining unwarrantable thoughts or malicious feelings against his neighbors, yet, while admitting all this independence of thought to men of the world, we at the same time hold and contend that as a member of the body of Christ no one has a right to entertain thoughts or opinions independently of the faith of the church to which he belongs. This point the apostle has settled in our text: "Be ye all of one mind."
When called out of the world we are commanded to renounce the world and its doctrine, spirit and opinions, and on the profession of faith in Christ we professed to gladly receive the doctrine of the apostles, to take on us the yoke of Christ, to learn of him, and to take his word as the man of our counsel, the standard of our faith and the rule of our practice. In short, we relinquished all claim to an independent position, we gave ourselves to the Lord, and by his will, to one another, were baptized into one body, surrendered our individuality, became all one in Christ, a perfect unit; no more our own, for we were bought with a price; members of Christ, and members of one another. No reservation of rights which we did not hold in common with the church of the living God.
As to the right of thought, take for example the case of Peter with Simon Magus. How terribly sharp was his rebuke: "I perceive that the thought of thy heart is not right. Repent of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Upon the plea of independence and right to think differently from the doctrine of the church, how is heresy to be detected and disposed of? The divine rule enjoins on the church to reject an heretic after the first and second admonition. Heresy is understood to be thoughts and words which are opposite to, or not in harmony with, the doctrine of Christ, as laid down by the apostles and held by the church. They were heretics who resisted Paul, as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, and Paul describes them as being of the sort which creep into houses, who lead captive silly women. He says they are heady, high-minded, and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power (or authority over them) thereof, and he adds, "From such turn away." Timothy is commanded to "shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness; and their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some." There are many such examples of heresy recorded, and the peremptory command in every case is, "From such withdraw thyself."
Now it must be seen that the church of God has no right to tolerate a diversity of sentiments or opinions on any matter of faith or practice which has been established by the authority of Christ, through his holy apostles. While on every matter only involving personal interests or rights we are admonished to be lenient, kind, forbearing, longsuffering and gentle, we are not allowed to trifle with the order of the church as positively established by divine authority. Those who are unwilling to yield their own independence, or who claim the right to dissent from the rules and authority of Christ in his church, should never be admitted to membership. Except they become as little children they cannot truly enter the kingdom of God; this is an indispensable prerequisite to membership in the church of God. No church can be all of one mind where this rule is not strictly adhered to.
It has been thought by some that there are exceptions to these divinely established rules; that the church has no authority over our worldly matters, such as belong to our domestic or political relations with mankind. If that be so, why did our Lord require that we render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and to God the things that belong to God? The apostles have laid down rules which are binding on all Christians, to regulate all their social, civil, political and domestic relations in the church and in the world. This fact is overlooked by many, and quite repudiated by others, but it is nevertheless true. They have given no rules for the world to be governed by; the world is not responsible to the church, nor the church to the world; the kingdom of Christ is not of the world, nor are the governments of the world of the church; they are quite separate and distinct. The apostles only sit on their twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. "Them that are without God judgeth." All within the precincts of the kingdom of Christ are in their social relations to associate only as the apostles have directed. This department embraces the social relations of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, people and magistrates, rulers and ruled, and we hold that the apostles have clearly laid down and explained to the church of God the laws of Christ, commanding Christians to be governed by them.
By his law the Christian can have but one wife; the parent must provide for those of his household, or he denies the faith. Children must honor and obey their parents; servants must honor and faithfully serve their masters, and every Christian, by the law of Christ, is to submit to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or to the governor, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and for the praise of them that do well, and every soul is to be in subjection to the higher powers. They are commanded to pay tribute, and, as good law-abiding citizens, render honor to whom honor, and tribute to whom tribute is due.
Therefore, if any man seeks to evade the laws of the house of God by denying the right of the church, or of his brethren, to meddle with his politics, or his secret lodges, or oath-bound covenants, it is an evident mark of disloyalty to the King of Zion, and a virtual repudiation of the authority of Christ in his church over his members. Can the admonition of our text be duly regarded if conflicting views be entertained by her members? Is it possible they can all be of one mind if a portion of the members are allowed to deny responsibility to the church, and regard any part of their walk and deportment as being beyond the jurisdiction of the church to which dissenters profess to belong? Can two or more walk together except they are agreed? To be all of one mind in the church, as the divine law requires, can only be practicable where all the members are required to receive and continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, withdrawing from all who depart from the faith.
We cannot repudiate the apostles' instructions, decisions, admonitions and exhortations and still be a church of Christ, nor can we tolerate in our churches such as the apostles command us to withdraw ourselves from, without repudiating them and their doctrine; nor can we repudiate the apostles, as enthroned in judgment over the church of Christ, and still retain Christ as our King; for when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, then shall his apostles also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. If the apostles do not sit over us in judgment, then neither does Christ preside over us as members of his spiritual kingdom. The church of God is the body of Christ. The necessity of unity in the body, harmony in all the members, is strikingly set forth in the figure of a perfect body. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, and if the members of Christ be not all of one mind, where is our stability? If in the body one hand claims to be independent of the body, not moved by the same volition, but by some spasmodic or rebellious impulse, it cannot work in harmony with the other. If one foot resolves to journey southward and the other northward, the rebellion of both against the government of the body would prevent the travel of the whole body. Or, if to compromise the matter, the feet be each in turn to have its way, the unstable body alternately swayed by its refractory members would, like the pendulum of a clock, vibrate back and forth, and make no progress. But the rule to be applied in case of such disorder and schism is, If thy foot offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee; or if it be the hand, or the eye, or any other member, and let all be of one mind. Let those who are refractory, if they cannot by gospel rule be reclaimed, go to their own company, where they can enjoy their independence of the body among their kindred spirits. Of the church it is said, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye [all her members] are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
November 1, 1865.
Elder Gilbert Beebe