BINDING OUR OPINIONS
By Wayne S. Walker
In Matthew 18:18, Jesus made a promise to all the apostles that he had previously made specifically to Peter (Matthew 16:18-19). In the context of dealing with a brother who has sinned against another. He said, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The tense of the verbs “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed” in this verse would be better translated as in the original New American Standard Bible. “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
The apostles had authority to bind and loose on earth only what God had already bound and loosed in heaven. What that says to us is that God has bound certain things and no one has His permission to bind anything else than what has been revealed to us by the apostles in the inspired Scriptures. Thus, we need to be concerned about the danger of binding our opinions. In this article I want to mention five areas in which this is sometimes done.
I. Men’s hair length
God has bound something concerning men’s hair length. “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14). We know that long hair on men is a shame and a sin because this is what God has said. However, God has not dictated any one manner of hairstyle. Some have said that it is wrong if a man’s hair touches or covers his ears, comes over his collar in the back or eyes in the front, if combed out, or even requires blow drying. I heard of a brother who put a bowl (what size I do not know) over his head and said that any hair that would stick out from that was too long.
Others have taught that it is also wrong for a man to wear a beard, a moustache, or long sideburns. Why would brethren make such statements? It is usually because they are wedded to a particular style at a certain time. They make the same mistake the Amish make in taking a peculiar style of one era and making it into a standard for all times. While each of us may have his or her own personal preferences of likes and dislikes, all that God has dictated is that men’s prevailing hair styles are to be shorter as compared to women’s prevailing hairstyles in order to maintain a distinction between the sexes. And this is all that we have the right to bind.
II. Women’s dress
God has bound something concerning women’s dress. “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (1 Timothy 2:9). Women must wear clothing that is modest for that is what God has revealed. However, again, God has not demanded a specific style. Some declare it to be a sin for a woman to wear a pants suit. They often turn to Deuteronomy 22:5, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” However, not all pants necessarily pertain unto a man. This is clear from the fact that the very men who make this claim would never be seen wearing a pair of women’s slacks.
History tells us that there were times when what we think of as the “pants” style, a separate trunk for each leg, was work exclusively by women while the “dress” style, a single tunic, was worn exclusively by men. Now, if you want my opinion, I do not particularly care for pants worn by women, and I like it even less when they are worn to church services. But that is only my opinion, and I have no business binding it. All that God demands is that women wear modest apparel, and that is all that we can bind on them with God’s approval.
III. Christmas as a holiday
God has bound something concerning holidays. “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11). We are not to observe any holiday as a religious ordinance nor is the church to observe any holiday in its worship because such is what God has spoken. However, nothing is said anywhere in Scripture against an individual celebration of a holiday as a national event or social occasion on a personal basis. In spite of this, some brethren declare that it is against God’s will to have anything whatsoever to do with the Christmas, Easter, and Halloween seasons, including decorating a tree, giving gifts, sending greeting cards, coloring eggs, and trick-or-treating.
However, in Romans 14:5-6 we read, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regareth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it….” Of course, we always need to be concerned with our influence over others, and we should make sure that none of the holiday practices which we engage in are religious in nature. Yet, aside from this, some may choose to have a Christmas tree, have an egg hunt, or dress up in costumes, while others may not. This is a matter of individual conscience. All that we have the authority to bind upon others is what God has actually spoken.
IV. Where people eat and drink
God has bound something concerning an item related to the Christian’s eating and drinking. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1; cf. 1 Peter 4:1-4). Christians are taught to abstain from drinking intoxicating, alcoholic beverages because this is what God has told us in His word. However, some carry this principle a step too far by teaching that it is sinful for a Christian to eat in a restaurant which serves liquor, even though he may not drink any of it himself.
Such people often argue from Ephesians 5:11, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” that to eat in such a place is to have fellowship with drinking and drunkenness. But Paul says that to withdraw from every evil in the world is impossible in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, for then we must needs to out of the world. If eating in a restaurant that serves liquor is having fellowship with drinking, then shopping in a grocery store which sells alcoholic beverages is to have fellowship with drinking too, and on we could go to ridiculous extremes. To “have fellowship” means to be a partaker, or in other words, to join in the drinking. This is what is condemned. Of course, if an individual chooses not to eat in such a restaurant, he is at liberty to make this decision. But as long as one does not himself partake in drinking alcoholic beverages, God has not told us to bind anything else upon him concerning where he eats or drinks.
V. The order of worship services
God has bound something concerning the order of worship. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40; cf. vs. 26-33). This principle teaches us to avoid confusion in worship by establishing some kind of order because this is what God has commanded us to do. However, while God has authorized specific acts of worship, He has bound no specific order of worship. You will search the Scriptures in vain to find a detailed outline for worship services in the New Testament church. Yet, some have sought to bind a particular order.
There are those who like the Lord’s supper before the sermon and actually believe that it is unauthorized to have it afterwards, while there are some who prefer the Lord’s supper after the sermon and feel that it is not proper to have it before. Others think that anything besides the two songs, prayer, one song, sermon pattern is out of order. Still others oppose having Bible classes after the “worship service” rather than preceding it on Sunday mornings. However, if we have all the appropriate acts of worship and do them decently and in order, we have accomplished what God has commanded and must not seek to bind more.
There is a host of vitally important questions and issues facing God’s people today—denominationalism, sectarianism, institutionalism, humanism, modernism, sexualism, materialism, etc. Brethren who spend their time arguing about trivial matters remind me of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4-24. They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne but themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. They tithe mint, anise, and cumin, but leave undone the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy, and faith. They strain at gnats but swallow camels.
While it is true that we must defend the gospel, contend for the faith, and fight against error, we must also be careful not to bind where God has not bound. While standing for truth, may we never take any private opinion, personal conviction, or matter of individual conscience and confuse it with the plainly revealed precepts of God’s word. Let us never be guilty of causing unnecessary division in the glorious, blood-bought body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
—taken from Gospel Anchor; March, 1985; Vol. XI, No. 7; pp. 29-31