We have been discussing some of the situations that can arise for the believer in the assembly of God’s people when expectations placed on him or her meet, and possibly conflict with, the reality of the ongoing process of Santification.
But what of the unsaved in the assembly as these situations unfold? Does the senario of stumbling by believers have a deleterious effect on the unsaved observing it? Is their path towards Salvation hindered? Does the presentation of a positive face, irrespective of the reality, make the assembly better for the unsaved? Are the unsaved, upon witnessing the flaws of Saints as displayed in lapses in behaviour, pushed deeper into the world? For the saved, how do expectations and their implications inhibit or block the Scriptural directives towards supporting the believer (ie. you can’t have real accountability and teaching if the classroom is by definition serile)? And how does all of this play out in the face of Scriptural reality? A set of issues with wide scope and wider implications. Our view, admittedly, will not be exhaustive. Nonetheless, it is worth addressing.
One’s view of this will likely be strongly influenced but basic theological disposition. Though on the surface the theology may seem distant, and it’s effect may masquarade as general feelings about the symptoms of the situation, these underpinings are nonetheless the pivotal issue.
Let us begin with a very general overview of those underpinings, as related to this situation.
For the Calvinist believer, the suggestion that the process of one believer influencing the potential for Salvation, or the path thereto, in any serious way outside of the exclusive Will of God, is patently absurd. Since God is obsolutely sovereign, any affect that may appear to be propogated by a believer can only have influence on the movement of the unbeliever toward or away from Salvation as it fits within the Lord’s sovereign and preordained plans. Recall that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” Ephesians 1:4. As such, in modern language, in the present there is nothing new under the sun. Accordingly “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” Ephesians 1:5 (emphasis mine), and thus any effect is as planned.
In contrast, if an Armenian paradigm is adopted, there are potentially serious deleterious effects at every turn, from the tone of the assembly in the global sense, to any overt act by a believer that might portray a negative view of Christian life or the effects of Salvation in the individual sense. Since in this paradigm the future path is not preordained in a sovereign sense, a great and ongoing responsibility is placed upon both the assembly and each individual believer situationally, to alway present the optimal view to the unsaved, that they might be attracted and thier view not juandiced. There is little or no maneuvering room for any believer’s individual process of growth within this framework. One needing room for growth, with the inevitable miss-steps that occur thereis, would likely have to find it outside the body. And this is often the case. This is clearly undesireable and unbiblical. This paradigm is appealing and sensible from a Natural point of view, but it is Biblically unsupportable without interpretive gymnastics.
Consider the first question above, that is, the potential that any stumbling by believers might have a deleterious effect on the unsaved observing it. The unsaved in any situation will indeed experience effects, in that whatever we observe can not but effect us. According to Scripture, the Lord will either quicken or harded the heart of the unbeliever to the Gospel message through the Spirit. Who experiences each action by the Spirit is clearly stated as the sovereign choice of the Lord, without regard to any condition of the individual. Since the actual decision has been taken by the Lord “before the foundation of the world” Ephesians 1:4, the actions of the person were not a parameter. That being said, every situation reflecting upon the Spirit’s procative work in the heart, whether outwardling or inwardly occuring, must be part of that same sovereign plan and process.
Since the process must have the effect that the Lord intends (sovereignly willed plans that deviate are not by definition sovereign), then both the observed behaviour of a believer and the effect upon the unsaved observer must be part of the developmental plan. If the heart of the unsaved person is destined for the Lord, then irrespective of how the situation might appear, it must in some way contribute to the path to Salvation. If the observing heart is hardening, then the effect may indeed be negative, but that in no way reflects upon the believer or their process. To presume otherwise would place the believer in a partially sovereign position with the Lord. jointly overseeing the destiny of the observer.
So, what does all this imply in term of the situations and senarios that play out in the Assembly of God’s people, and is there a message for us? There are several actually, and possibly others that are not seen here…
First, Salvation is a process that will engender reaction at times. As such, some overt acting out of the believer’s underlying difficulties is to be expected. That is not to say that this behaviour is to be encourged in a ‘rewarded’ sense, but it is not something that should be shocking nor that engenders peripheral guilt. The believer should be aware of this as part of the cost, and inherent in the death of the old natural self.
Next, and more to the point in the present context, the body of believers must actively recognize the sovereignty of the Lord in this process, not in just a general sense, but also in the minutae of the interactions of the Saints and the unsaved. This is surely a cause for worship and celebration at the Glory of His work.
As the individual believer works through the reality of their Sanctification, while striving and being encouraged to show the fruits of the Spirit and love within the Body, they should not be unduly saddled with guilt in their miss-steps due to the erroneous assumption that it has hindered another. For the congregation, this should reduce the temptation to judge the fellow believer who errs. Specifically, the believer is not culpable in influencing the unsaved either towards or away from Salvation beyond the preordained, sovereign plans of God.
Does this negate the Scriptural proscription that believers should not participate in activities that, despite being of no harm to themselves, might be a stumbling block to others? Not at all. This is not at all the same issue. We draw a distinction here between the miss-step in the process of change, and that of willful defiance, though admittedly this is not always that case.
There is great diversity in those called to the Lord, and a similar diversity in their path of Salvation. The Lord is sovereign in every path. Surely, as we support (including providing accountability without personal adgenda) one another through the process, the unsaved will be impacted precisely as the Lord intends, and we will contribute to Salvation as He plans.
Soli Deo Gloria