Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE WICKEDNESS OF SEEKING DOMINION OVER ANOTHER’S FAITH”

Second Corinthians 1.24

 

Have you ever wondered why there are no Christian churches of any kind in Saudi Arabia?

Were you aware that when communism spread from Russia with the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to such countries as China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Cuba that most churches in those countries were forcibly closed, that only a few government sanctioned and controlled churches were allowed to remain open, and that Christians who insisted on the right to believe according to the dictates of their own consciences had to worship in so-called underground churches that were officially illegal, with worshipers subject to arrest, torture, and imprisonment if caught?

Ever wonder why the Roman Catholic Church engaged in the so-called Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions against Muslims, against Jews, and against all Christians who were not Roman Catholics?

Ever wonder why Roman Catholics organized the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of as many as 70,000 French Protestants on August 24, 1572?

Ever wonder why the Church of England persecuted dissenting Christians for centuries, with significant numbers burned at the stake?

Ever wonder why Muslims have from the beginning and continuing down to this day engaged in jihad against non-Muslims, resorting to actual force and bloodshed against those who are not Muslims, even to the extent of beheading them and enslaving their women and children?

Ever wonder why political leftists in the United States supported dictatorial regimes like the Soviet Union and Communist China in days gone by, and like the Castros in Cuba, like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and such organizations as Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East today?

It is the same reason why a man named Obadiah Holmes was publicly whipped on September 5, 1651, in Boston, Massachusetts. Look at the commemorative portrait of that event in the foyer sometime before or after a church service. You see, the Pilgrims and Puritans came to the New World so they could worship and serve God according to the dictates of their own consciences. However, embracing the notion that they had the right to believe what they wanted, they denied others the right to believe differently. When a Baptist named Obadiah Holmes came to town with two others, he was arrested for believing and behaving differently than the Congregationalists of Boston permitted. “He was given thirty lashes with a three-corded whip, the executioner using all his strength.”

It was in Rhode Island that the concept of soul liberty was incorporated into that colony’s charter for the first time in human history.[1] Before then and everywhere else freedom to think what you wanted to think, believe what you wanted to believe, and conduct yourself accordingly was as restricted as leftists would like to restrict people on university campuses across the country now. Thus, soul liberty first became law in human government in Rhode Island. However, soul liberty did not originate in Rhode Island, or in New England for that matter. Soul liberty finds its origin in the mind and heart of God and finds its first expressions in the Bible.

Please turn to Second Corinthians 1.24, my text for this message from God’s Word. When you find that verse in your Bible, I invite you to stand and read along with me silently while I read aloud:

 

“Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.”

 

This will be a topical message from God’s Word, but the first of my four main points is an exposition of this verse:

 

First, WHAT THE APOSTLE PAUL CLEARLY MEANT

 

“Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.”

 

There are three phrases comprising this verse, that we will consider in turn:

Consider with me the first phrase of the verse:

 

“Not for that we have dominion over your faith.”

 

In this initial phrase the Apostle Paul very strongly denies what some undiscerning Corinthian Christians might have wrongly concluded. Remember that he has previously written a very strongly worded first Corinthian letter in response to unresolved divisions in the congregation,[2] in response to flagrant wickedness that had been tolerated by the congregation,[3] and in response to questions the congregation submitted to him about a number of things.[4] His very strong tone in First Corinthians, especially with regard to the excommunication of the young fornicator mentioned in chapter five, needed explanation. You might notice, in Second Corinthians 1.23 and Second Corinthians 13.2, that Paul makes mention of sparing the Corinthian Church members. In Second Corinthians 1.23, he writes,

 

“Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.”

 

In Second Corinthians 13.2, he writes,

 

“I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare.”

 

These two verses sound a great deal like warnings. Are they warnings? What does Paul mean by these two verses? Whatever Paul does mean by those two verses, Second Corinthians 1.24 tells us in no uncertain terms what he does not mean. The two verses where Paul writes of “sparing” the congregation are verses that deal with matters of Church discipline, how the congregation was supposed to deal rightly with serious unrepented sin in their midst. This is based on a clear understanding of this first phrase,

 

“Not for that we have dominion over your faith.”

 

Beliefs are one thing, and behavior is another thing. What Paul is dealing with in Second Corinthians 1.24 is what those Christians believed, while the issues he makes reference to in Second Corinthians 1.23 and 13.2 are behavior. More discernment is necessary than is often realized to distinguish between the two. Of special significance is the word “dominion,” from the verb form of the Greek word for lord. Paul is telling his readers that he does not want to exercise lordship over their faith, an issue the Apostle Peter also addresses in First Peter 5.1-3:

 

1      The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

2      Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

3      Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

 

In other words, spiritual leaders, including apostles of Jesus Christ, are not spiritual bosses who order people around. Hebrews 13.17 fully supports this understanding, where the word “obey” in the verse that reads

 

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you,”

 

translates a verb form that encourages the reader to be persuaded rather than demanding that he mindlessly obey.[5] Because it was so typical for pagan leaders to do so, the Corinthians thought Paul was lording it over their faith, but he assures them he most certainly was not.

Now for the second phrase of the verse:

 

“but are helpers of your joy.

 

See that word “helpers”? It translates the Greek word sunergios, from a word meaning together and a word meaning workers; workers together. That seems to fit nicely with our understanding of the first phrase, does it not? Paul does not lord it over anyone’s faith, does not conduct his ministry in a bossy way. Instead, he works with the Christians he ministers to, and does his work alongside the believers he provides spiritual leadership to. And the net result of Paul’s spiritual approach to ministry? Joy is cultivated. Perhaps you are not like me, but I am not thrilled by anyone bossing me around and issuing orders to me. I have always responded better to a leader making suggestions, providing instructions, and offering alternatives. I am convinced that is the approach Paul took, telling folks the facts in no uncertain terms, and then recommending and explaining the proper course of action to take based upon those facts. Now, I know that people who typically don’t do anything are prone to complain that a leader is bossy and dictatorial, but that claim is usually the first evidence by which a lazy liar exposes himself. A bossy pastor is a kill joy. A bossy boss is a kill joy. Paul was not bossy. I am not bossy. Bossy pastors are not Pauline leaders and are not Christlike leaders.

Finally, we read in the last phrase of the verse,

 

“for by faith ye stand.”

 

“Here the emphasis is on the responsibility the Corinthians must take in their relation with God. Though Paul brought them the message focused on the Son of God (1:18-20), it is their part, not his, to make their church ‘stand,’ and that ‘by faith.’”[6] Thus, we see that the Word of God reveals that the Christian faith originally showed believers to possess soul liberty, the absolute right to believe what we think we ought to believe rather than what someone else demanded that we believe. Whatever the Apostle Paul did by way of the conduct of his apostolic ministry, what he did not do was exercise (or attempt to exercise) any kind of dominion over any other person’s beliefs. Did he seek to persuade? He most certainly did. However, the final decision regarding what you believe and embrace as true is your decision and only your decision. How very different the Christian approach to what one believes is from all other belief systems, from political systems uninfluenced by Christianity, and even from so many professing Christians.

 

Next, WHAT CONTEMPORARY BAPTISTS CLAIM TO BELIEVE

 

Let me read an excerpt from a very fine book written by the former president of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Minnesota, Dr. Kevin Bauder. The book is titled Baptist Distinctives And New Testament Church Order. I would not think any Baptist pastor would consciously disagree with what I am about to read since the author so consistently reflects both Biblical as well as historic Baptist beliefs on the matter:

 

Broadly defined, soul liberty is the responsibility that all believers share to understand and obey God’s requirements for themselves. This duty cannot be delegated or assigned to another believer. Each individual believer is personally responsible for understanding and obeying God.

 

Personal Responsibility

Christians are priests who stand directly in the presence of God. On the one hand, this means that they have the right of addressing God without having to go through any separate priesthood. On the other hand, it also means that when God addresses them in Scripture, they bear the personal responsibility of grasping God’s message and obeying it.

Obviously, obedience includes doing what God says to do. Conduct or practice is an aspect of obedience. Doctrine is also part of obedience. God reveals truths in His Word, and Christians are responsible for believing accurately what God has revealed. To believe a doctrine that is contrary to Scripture is to disobey God.

Consequently, each individual believer is responsible to read and to understand the Scriptures correctly. Soul liberty is not liberty to believe whatever one wishes to believe. It is liberty to believe what Scripture teaches. It is liberty to obey God.

Every Christian has a duty to study the Bible. Every Christian has a duty to know the Bible. This duty involves more than reading through the Bible every year or so, and it involves more than being able to recite isolated verses. To understand the Bible, one must know how it is put together and how to interpret it rightly. Gaining these skills is a fundamental duty of every believer. Consequently, fostering these skills is a fundamental duty of every church, for unless Christians know how to understand the Bible, they will falter in their duty to obey God.

Of course, this entire discussion assumes that the Bible was written to be understood. While some parts of the Bible are harder to understand than others, and while the more difficult parts may require more advanced interpretive skills, the Bible was not written in a secret code and it does not communicate its message using secret symbols. Some parts of the text are more technical in nature, and reading them is akin to reading other rigorous and thoughtful literature. Nevertheless, an ordinary person who can read a thoughtful journal of opinion can also understand Isaiah or Paul. Indeed, much of the Bible requires no more skill to understand than a daily newspaper does.

No one can understand the Bible for a believer. No one can obey God for a believer. All believers must understand and obey the Bible for themselves.[7]

 

That is soul liberty. I do not know any gospel minister who would disagree in theory with what I have just read. I am convinced Bauder’s comments are the reasonable extension of what Paul writes in our text.

 

Third, WHAT MANY MODERN PASTORS CLEARLY DO

 

Despite what the Bible teaches, and despite what Baptist preachers typically claim to believe, it has been my observation over the course of my forty plus years as a Christian and my almost forty years as a pastor to observe too many men who serve in positions of spiritual leadership who appear to be oblivious to Paul’s approach to pastoral ministry. This is reflected by the spirit of the people they lead. The people are often terrified of their pastor.

Have you ever observed members of a church who are scared of their pastor, who walk in fear of him being angry at them, or who tremble at the thought of him scorching them with a withering outburst in a fit of rage? I am sorry to say that I have not only observed such church members but that I have been such a church member.

I remember an occasion before entering the Gospel ministry when my pastor ripped me up one side and down the other in the church parking lot for about ten minutes (it seemed like an hour). And it was in front of my new bride and a bunch of other church members. Oh, how he blistered me, red-faced and hot with anger. Then he got into his car and left me standing there not knowing what to say or do. Did my pastor ever ask my forgiveness for what he did? Never. It took twenty-five years for me to effect a reconciliation with him. I almost immediately apologized to him for whatever I might have done that angered him, but he never once apologized for yelling at me and accusing me of wrongdoing in front of my wife. However, I never went to Church for any other reason than the Savior in the first place, so I never stopped going to Church because of any individual. That would be stupid.

At the root of many a pastor’s angry outbursts is an unwillingness to tolerate soul liberty in others. You are not required to agree with me. Your obligations before God are to give me an opportunity to persuade you and to do nothing to disrupt this church’s ministry with backbiting and murmuring should you disagree with me. When it comes to what you believe, your personal faith, that is between you and God and I have no desire or history with any of you of exercising lordship over you in that regard.

That said, I think significant numbers of pastors do engage in that kind of thing, many without realizing what they do. With some pastors, it is the force of their oversized personality. They are so intense. They are so determined. They are emotional steam rollers which roll over the top of anyone who they see as standing in their way. With others, it is persuasion distorted into becoming manipulation, whereby they control people’s thoughts and beliefs with techniques rather than influencing people with Bible doctrine.

Long story short, it is the lamentable tendency of some spiritual leaders to lord it over the faith of those they lead. That tendency must be restrained. The Corinthians certainly expected Paul to engage in that type of leadership, because it was so common for leaders to do that to them. However, Paul was explicit in his denial that he most certainly did not engage in that type of leadership. And we have seen that the Apostle Peter opposed that kind of leadership, as well. “You have to believe what I teach because I am the pastor” is not something that will ever be uttered by any spiritual leader who follows the example of the Apostle Paul.

 

Finally, WHAT INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS MUST CLING TO

 

It is obvious from the New Testament that no one could take away from the Apostle Paul the relationship he had with the Lord Jesus Christ. Arrest him and he was still a free man. Deprive him and he was still spiritually wealthy. Beat him half to death and he was still wonderfully blessed and overflowing with joy. Paul understood Christians as being so free, with such liberty in Christ, that he advised Christians who were slaves not to worry about their slavery so much, but take freedom from your master if it is offered to you.[8]

What that shows concerning your soul liberty is that you have control over what you believe, and you should never surrender for even a moment control of your beliefs to another human being. After all, if an apostle of Jesus Christ denies that he exercises dominion over your faith what right does any Church pastor or missionary have to lordship over your faith? I fear that is precisely what some professing Christians actually do in practice. They swallow without reflection whatever they are told to believe.

Consider the Roman Catholic Church’s approach to a person’s relationship with God. The Roman Church demands that faithful Catholics yield to the priests in matters of faith, going so far as actually to forbid Roman Catholics the right to read and understand the Word of God themselves. As recently as 1903 Pope Leo XIII wrote,

 

“It is not lawful to demand, to defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, or writing, or religion, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man.”[9]

 

Amazingly, at the Council of Valencia, in 1229, the Bible was placed on the Roman Church’s Index of Forbidden Books, with the reading of the Bible and other forbidden books punishable by excommunication![10]

However, even that is surpassed by Islam’s approach to variant thoughts, with even Muslims, who believe differently from the man with the sword being liable to beheading. Go to India and express beliefs different than Hindus. Go to Bhutan and express beliefs different than Buddhists. Go to almost any university and express beliefs different than current leftist orthodoxy. What is standard, what is the norm, what is accepted throughout the world and by almost everyone (including too many professing Christians) is that you are not allowed to entertain thoughts that others disapprove of.

Who alone has freedom of conscience? Who alone is granted liberty of one’s soul? The Christian is expressly granted liberty by God, with your faith answerable to God alone and your faith accountable only to God. This does not mean you should develop pride and stubbornness. Be open to learning the truth with humility. However, do not surrender to anyone the lordship over your faith that belongs to God and God alone.

 

Dictators typically seek dominion over the faith of another. King Henry VIII did when he formed the Church of England. V. I. Lenin did that when he established the Soviet Union in Russia. Chairman Mao did that when he set up the communist state in China. And Fidel Castro did that when he set up his dictatorship in Cuba. Sadly, every unrestrained government will eventually seek to exercise dominion over the faith of its citizens, even in a nominally free country like ours used to be. Government coerces you to buy and sell and engage in commerce according to the dictates of a secular worldview, despite whatever personal religious convictions you might or might not have. Do you choose not to violate your conscience by refraining to buy or sell to certain individuals? The government will step in, especially if you hold a government license or permit of any kind, and will try to force you to do what you cannot in good conscience do. That is dominion over another’s faith, and it’s wrong.

Unfortunately, we sometimes see dominion over another’s faith even in Churches. Pastors do it when they demand conformity of thought and belief by Church members without allowing for differences in experience, understanding, and spiritual illumination by individual believers in Christ. That is sad. However, what is worse is when a Christian surrenders to such demands despite the Word of God showing such demands to be wrong.

The only person who has any right to exercise lordship over your beliefs is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Not me. Not any preacher or pastor. Not any writer or spiritual leader. Not even your mother or father. Your beliefs are between you and God, and you will either enjoy the blessings of your right beliefs or suffer the eternal damnation of your wrong beliefs yourself.

In closing, let me urge you, moms and dads, to exercise dominion over your children’s conduct so long as they live in your home. You do have dominion over their behavior but should seek only to persuade when it comes to your child’s beliefs. What is a mom or dad to do then if you do not have dominion over your child’s faith? Expose your child to the Word of God as much as you possibly can. Every time you open the Word of God at home, every time you interact with your children about spiritual matters, and every time you bring your children to Church, you are giving them the opportunity to be persuaded about spiritual matters. The more kids are exposed to the truth the better it is for them to reflect on, the better it is for them to consider, and the more likely they are to ponder important spiritual things. Even if you find your schedule demanding, make whatever arrangements are necessary for your children to be here Wednesday night, for your children to be here for evangelism, and for your kids to be here for both Church services on Sunday. When their class or group has an activity, do what you can to enable them to participate.

The goal is not to exercise lordship over your children’s faith. Rather it is to expose them to the truth and the implications of the Gospel so frequently and so thoroughly that when they weigh the claims of Jesus Christ and envision their own lives in the future should they become Christians, they will actually want to embrace the Savior.

__________

[1] http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/soul-liberty   4/14/2016

[2] 1 Corinthians 1.10-4.21

[3] 1 Corinthians 5.1-6.20

[4] 1 Corinthians 7.1-16.4

[5] Sakae Kubo, A Beginner’s Guide For The Translation Of New Testament Greek, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1975), page 235.

[6] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle To The Corinthians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), page 116.

[7] Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives And New Testament Church Order, (Schaumburg, Illinois: Regular Baptist Books, 2012) pages 83-84.

[8] 1 Corinthians 7.21

[9] Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: The Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), page 417.

[10] Ibid.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org