"Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 5:11 NIV).
I read this verse for the umpteenth time in the October 1988 issue of "Contending for the Faith", a monthly paper that, during my years of Church of Christ Church wanderings, was one of my main reading sources to help keep me abreast of those who went astray from "all the truth" we had in "The Church". I now can see the editor was quoting it as a tool to heap disdain on those who would venture to think differently than he. Using it sanctions the factional attitude he promotes. He mistakenly believes fellowship is based on conformity. Forced conformity. He makes application of this passage to brethren whose only "sin" is that they cannot see every point of doctrine just like he does. He has the mistaken conviction that he has all truth. If one thinks differently, he hounds them out and treats them with contempt, worse than a heathen would.
I have no personal axe to grind with this editor; it's the system that made him divisive and factional, and to feel justified in doing it is what I detest. The Church of Christ denominational system has become one of the most exclusive, argumentive sects on earth. I have read much about the Stone-Campbell movement, and it seems to me that for the first 100 years or so it was far different. They were a simple people who were trying to serve the Lord. Those earlier brethren did not do as it has been done in the last 40-50 years. Now, with a scrap doctor approach to scriptures like Eph. 5:11, look at the appalling division that plunders the Church of Christ denomination. I understand there are about 30 different divisions each claiming to be the only true one. If editors like this one had their way, there would be absolutely no freedom in Christ, but a rubber stamp cult (which many Church of Christ Churches are) with forced conformity to their peculiar legal system if you are to receive their love and acceptance. They are strongly opinionated, refuse to think, or allow others to do so.
Before I discuss this abused and twisted scripture, I feel it is appropriate to make two quotes from years past. The first is from "Works of Elder B.W. Stone" by Elder James M Mathes (1859, page 49).
"The doctrines of the Bible, we believe, have never divided Christians; but human opinions of those doctrines without charity, have always done the mischief. Man, poor, ignorant man, would dictate to the consciences of his fellows, and if they do not receive his dogmas or opinions, they are branded with the odious names of heretic, infidel, etc., and their names and sentiments are trumpeted abroad, distorted, misrepresented and blackened for what purpose? Professedly to promote the interests of religion but intentionally, I fear, with many, just to excite the popular clamor and indignation against them, and to raise themselves on their ruins. Poor, weak man wishes the world to believe him infallible. If not, why so tenacious of untenable principles? Why not abandon them when proved to have no foundation in truth? Why not relinquish them when refuted with the clearest evidence? It must be because he can not brook the idea of being accounted a fallible man. Yet all but the Pope of Rome, and a few of his degenerate sons in our day, disclaim infallibility, at least in words."
The second is from Moses Lard, "Lards Quarterly" (Sept. 1863):
"When brethren become earnest in a discussion we are not to infer wrath; neither when they differ in opinion are we to infer heresies. Good will surely come out of this discussion, and in the end we shall be a wiser, if not a better, people." What are the 'fruitless deeds of darkness?" Are they opinions which differ from ours? What thoughtful person among us would believe this?
The "deeds of darkness" constituted the perverted practices of pagans and not the varied thinking of the believers. The editor's trouble is that he is so muddled and confused he can not distinguish between God's family and unbelievers. He mistakes his brethren for barbarians. He cannot tell the difference between an honest difference of opinion and a sinful work of darkness. Because of the lack of understanding on the part of most Church of Christ Church members who are trapped in the web of legalism, they have forfeited their freedom in Christ through fear of editors like him. I have seen in more than one instance where the Church of Christ with all of its laws and demands was a security blanket for someone too weak to stand on his own with just Jesus. However, more and more of us are seeing the light and are speaking out. As we do this it is giving courage to others to do so, and our editors are breaking out with a bad case of the hives. Why did we ever give these editors and professional preachers all that power over us anyway?
We need not know the original Greek to determine that the apostle Paul would not deliberately write an epistle to prove that we are one body, only to divide and split it with one sentence. The whole context of the letter to the Ephesians is against such a forced interpretation. He told the brethren:
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (4:2f).
Paul urged them to:
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice?" (4:31).
Didn't he also say:
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you"? (4:32).
To me the, outline of Ephesians could read, Dear Ephesians, The body is something special. You are special. Act special. The world needs you." Not, "here is another letter of law. Get it together or label each other heretics, and rip and devour the body."
I find myself pondering how Satan could so cunningly deceive our editors, preachers, elders, and college professors from the original intent of Ephesians 5:11. Using it and other scriptures to justify division, they have made Ephesians the source of the very division it started out to remedy. This reversal has made them love what they should hate and hate what they should love.
Men of integrity among us should examine anew every scripture which has been used to sanction division. When put back in context, all of these scriptures take on a new meaning.
Men of courage among us should speak out for unity of all believers. They should ignore the threats of the self-appointed gate keepers, who twist the scriptures to bind their opinions and traditions as law and keep those who are to be free in Christ in slavery to a denomination that will regulate their movements and chain them behind party sign boards.
My Jesus prayed for unity of those who believe in him. I have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. The same hope is shared by all who believe and trust him. We share this inheritance, and because of this marvelous privilege I do not believe we should use passages like Eph. 5:11 to justify division over instrumental music, cups, classes, or any such thing. HERE I STAND! Does that make me a pagan?