Consider these scenarios:
- A church member wants to teach Sunday school. He learns that part of the leadership requirements for such a position involve abstaining from attending Hollywood movies. “Oh, no!” he says to the pastor. “You can’t tell me not to go to the movies. I have liberty.”
- A noted pastor conducts a meeting. Among the speakers he invites are some whose positions and practices are those against which the host previously took a stand. Some speakers who had agreed to come withdraw. Some who would normally have attended the meeting decide not to come. “Well,” the pastor laments, “Baptists seem to have lost the principle of individual soul liberty.”
1. Liberty has to do with the believer’s relationship with his Lord.
Neither I nor any other human being is the source of your liberty. I cannot extend liberty to you, and I cannot determine whether or not you have a clear conscience. We have liberty in Christ.
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:—Galatians 2:4
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.—Galatians 5:1
We are free from sin. We are free from its penalty. We are free from the law (so that I am not misunderstood, please note that both Old and New Testament saints are saved by faith. No one ever got to Heaven because of keeping the law.) “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”—Hebrews 10:4
2. Charity has to do with the relationship between believers.
It requires me to be kind, to put things in the best possible light, to be unselfish, to be patient, etc. (1 Corinthians 13). I cannot give you liberty, but I am commanded to show you charity.
3. Those who accuse us of robbing them of their liberty are really complaining that we do not extend to them our approval.
Like so many in our society, it is not enough that we acknowledge their right to behave in a certain way. They insist that we publicly affirm that their behavior is right. I recognize that it is legal for people to drink alcohol. I also believe that it is unscriptural for them to do so. I recognize that people in our society have a legal right to rent pornographic movies. I also affirm that it is scripturally wrong for them to behave in this way.
4. Sincere believers can and will disagree.
It is the extent of our agreement that will determine the extent of our fellowship. I readily acknowledge that it is Billy Graham’s business whether or not he accepts the sponsorship of unbelievers. I have never called him to challenge his behavior or written and threatened him with the loss of my support. I have, however, refused to sponsor his meeting when asked to do so.
If an independent Baptist wishes to preach at Southern Baptist churches, that is his decision. While these men have the liberty to promote and defend their behavior, I have the liberty to oppose their practices and to argue that they are misusing their liberty.
5. Soulwinning churches have, by and large, done a wonderful job of accepting people from all levels of society.
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.”—Romans 14:1
On any Sunday, you will find at the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport people who are struggling with alcohol, drugs, immorality, and a host of other unscriptural behaviors. These people are welcome at our services. They are loved, and they are accepted. They do not need to do anything for us to love them.
However, I cannot scripturally approve of their behaviors. Nor can I scripturally elevate them to a position of influence and example. I can and do extend to them charity. I accept their person, but I cannot approve of their practice or affirm their position.
So, enjoy your liberty. I fully recognize that you must answer to God for your behaviors as I must answer to God for mine. But realize that those who find your exercise of liberty to be unscriptural—in order to keep their conscience clear and their testimony consistent—may need to withdraw from fellowship with you. Please give them liberty to publicly oppose the behaviors that you publicly practice. They too must answer to God.