by Cecil Hook
THE FREEFLOWING STREAM
In finding its medial course a stream may wash from bank to bank. Although it receives pollutants constantly, the flowing stream tends to purify itself. Dam it up, and it stagnates and breeds all sorts of scum and slime. The free-flowing stream is in a constant purifying process even though it is never pure in the strictest sense.
So it is with the church. The free, autonomous disciples must be permitted to go unrestricted by earthly rulers. Free people may vary in interpretation and understanding in different congregations and in different generations. The church may go from one extreme to the other as it seeks constantly to correct its course. The church will have constant danger of impurities, so it will always be in a state of reformation, but because it is composed of erring humans, it will never be without flaw entirely. One generation cannot crystallize and credalize a system in order to guarantee that its concepts will be bound on the next generation to insure its faithfulness. Efforts to control the next generation are attempts to force unity by conformity. When the stream is dammed up, it becomes stagnant and begins to depend upon intellectual inbreeding, which produces doctrinal monstrosities.
Control can come through well-meaning men who have innocent purposes. In the early centuries, the bishops recognized the ignorance and vulnerability of many of the disciples, so they began to explain rules of right and wrong to the flock. They sought to identify final, absolute orthodoxy and demanded conformity to avoid heresy. Thinking to safeguard the ignorant, they built interpretative fences around the law. Thus they began to dam up the stream by their rules. These elders/bishops became the spiritually elite who felt qualified to make their interpretations into binding requirements.
Then it was thought unnecessary for a person to know the scriptures. Why bother to learn scriptures when one must depend upon the bishop for instruction and interpretation anyway? Surely enough, it developed to the logical conclusion that a person was ultimately forbidden to interpret the Bible for himself. If he interpreted it differently from the bishops, he sinned, for they were the authoritative voice and rulers. So it became a sin to read the Bible! All this developed from such good motives!
Misunderstood teachings did not bring apostasy, but bishop power did, damming up the stream. And what a stagnation developed! Its slimy and monstrous concepts have polluted every disciple on earth since that time. Although cracks have been forced in the dam by reformers, the stream is never purified entirely of its gross influences.
That is why I wince inwardly when I hear of elders making rules for God’s people today. It is not that I do not love and respect elders. When they set dress codes, specify which version of the Bible one may use, legislate concerning how many assemblies one must attend, tell a person what he must believe to stay in their fellowship, etc., they are seeking to protect and strengthen the flock, but these are steps in the direction of becoming the elite interpreters, controllers, and rulers. So the unholy process begins again. Others may submit to lords, but “it shall not be so among you!” (Matt. 20:26).
Let the saints in each fellowship be free to do their own interpreting and let them be free from the unholy luxury of judging one another. They may veer to the left or right but will constantly be correcting their course through their own desire to follow the truth. If they have not that desire, no rulers or creeds or dams will hold them in the truth anyway. An elite class of rulers ultimately enslaves. Let each fellowship of saints be a free- flowing, self-purifying stream.
Let us be FREE IN CHRIST –
… free to proclaim Christ as our only creed
… free from efforts of legal justification
… free to accept the grace that is freely given
… free from condemnation through faith in Christ
… free to love everyone, thus fulfilling all law
… free to interpret the scriptures honestly
… free from interpreting Christ’s law as a legal code
… free from duty and quota performance
… free to exercise our Christian liberties
… free from binding our scruples on others
… free to love and accept without judging
… free from exclusiveness
… free to unite in Christ, not doctrinal conformity
… free from a distinguishing name, or a need for one
… free to offer full-life service as a continuous worship
… free from confidence in keeping holy rituals
… free to worship spontaneously
… free to commune with all disciples
… free from men who would be our spiritual rulers
… free to serve in autonomous fellowships
… free to re-evaluate all things
… free to learn, change, grow, and mature
Jesus died to give us this cherished freedom. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). So be it!