What saith the word?
(I Peter 2:17 [KJV]) Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. The word “brotherhood” here is translated from the Greek word “adelphotes”. It appears only twice in the New Testament, both times in First Peter (2:17; 5:9). The King James renders it “brethren” in 1 Pet 5:9, but then renders it “brotherhood” in 1 Pet 2:17. The Greek word shows a brotherly relationship, and therefore can be accurately described as “a brotherhood”. It is clear that Peter uses the term to refer to this community of believers throughout the world. In 1 Pet. 5:9 he compares the sufferings of those immediate brethren addressed in his epistle to that experienced by their “brethren” in other parts of the world. 1 Pet 2:17 is clearly a contrast to “all men.” Therefore, when we as brothers and sisters in Christ speak of “the brotherhood”, we are speaking of ourselves along with all the faithful in the world that share in this great relationship with Christ
Peter tells us to love this group of believers. Yet, it seems to me that in recent years we have lost much of that sense of brotherhood that Christians once enjoyed. Today, the brotherhood is splintered into “conservative”, “liberal”, “non-institutional”, “mainstream”, and even “Hyper-preterists”. And, because of these factions, most have done a pretty good job of teaching that each local congregation is autonomous and independent of any other congregation in the world, in order to retain the splintered factions. We have rightly pointed out that the congregations of which we are members can exist and scripturally function as if there were no others cogregations in the world. We have also emphasized that each member of a congregation has a relationship and responsibility to the local church. I fear that during all of this we may have developed a mentality that congregations are a bit too “independent.”
As a result of this often overemphasized sense of independence, brethren have almost isolated themselves from any real concern, contact or sense of fellowship with their brethren elsewhere. Have we forgotten how to carry out Peter’s admonition to “love the brotherhood?” The brotherhood, of which Peter wrote, is not a brotherhood of churches organized together as a unit of “sister congregations”, nor is it a brotherhood of Christians organized solely by the name above the door. It is a relationship that must exists between all Christians which share the common faith (Jude 1:3) or at least claim they hold to this faith. While New Testament congregations were not tied together organizationally speaking, they were tied together doctrinally because they subscribed to the same standard. Paul declared that what he taught and ordained in one church he ordained in all (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17). Thus, all congregations are to be bound to the same doctrinal teachings.
Many have become confused today regarding our autonomy and fellowship with other congregations. I do not have the right to interfere in the non-doctrinal choices of another congregation and infringe upon their autonomy. Each congregation can decide, without any interference from me or you, its meeting times, when or if they will have a gospel meeting, who will do its teaching and preaching, who will lead its singing and praying, etc. But, because of my duty to “love the brotherhood,” I have an obligation to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) to my brethren everywhere I have the opportunity to do so, just as I have an obligation to preach the word because I love all men’s souls. It is not interference in the affairs of other congregations when I demonstrate my love of the brotherhood by teaching them the truth of the scriptures and warn them of departures from the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). In fact, it is loving to recall to their remembrance that Bible teaching governs the entire brotherhood as we exercise our autonomy. Let us “love the brotherhood” as a whole, enough to “reprove, rebuke and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2-4), because some will turn away their ears from the truth, and “depart from the faith” (1 Tim 4:1).
The very first verse tells how to deal with one weak “in the faith”, the same expression in Greek and English (Acts 6:7; 13:6; 14:12; 16:5), where it is clear that “the faith” refers to the system of faith, which is the New Testament gospel system. While this chapter does deal with matters that pertain to “the faith” (v. 1) – it deals with those matters of “the faith” that govern a Christian’s personal conduct before God. The chapter is not dealing with moral matters (questions of what is morally right or wrong). Included in this moral law are things that Paul would refer to as being right (“clean”) or wrong “unclean of (themselves)” (v. 14). These are things that man is without excuse for forgetting or not knowing (Rom. 1:18 -32). This chapter does not deal with lying, stealing, adultery, licentiousness, fornication, homosexuality, drunkenness and similar sin, as these are not matters based on ones personal faith because they have already be condemned by the law of Christ. Those weak in the faith are equated to those weak in knowledge in 1 Corinthians 8. Their knowledge and discernment under the faith had not yet developed to the point of the strong in non-doctrinal matters such as eating meat offered to idols. The strong are required to bear with them in their weakness of thinking this was a sin, while they realize that an “idol” is nothing and therefore the meat is acceptable. The weak should not be allowed to judge (condemn) the strong because they eat this meat. Each should allow the other to practice these non-doctrinal matters as he believes“the faith” requires of him in an atmosphere of peace, patience and learning – an atmosphere conductive to growing in the faith. As long as each keeps “it to himself before God” (v. 22), that is to say he does not make it a condition of “receiving” (v. 1) the other, they can still work together in those things that they must do in common (congregational matters).
This chapter is not dealing with the fundamentals of the faith, or the “first principles of the doctrine of Christ.” The Romans receiving this letter were already “in the faith”, though some were weak in it. To be in the faith they would have had to believe and obey the first principles of the gospel. So, it is not talking about working together while holding to different doctrines involving those fundamental matters. This chapter is not dealing with questions of congregational practice. There is not one thing in the chapter that deals with what Christians are do together as a church before God. Everything in the chapter deals with personal conduct regarding personal morality. Examples today would be things like having a Christmas tree in the house or celebrating Halloweeen. For some their conscience allows it while other do not participate. In such matters of personal (and morally right) conduct there can be “unity in diversity”, which is a far cry from the “unity in diversity” advocated by some regarding doctrinal matters. However, when it comes to matters of corrupting congregational worship and work there can be no “unity in diversity.” When the instrument was introduced into congregational worship division came because it forced those who opposed it to sing with it or not sing at all. In either case it would violate their consciences, so they had to worship separately and mark those who brought it in as “those who cause divisions.” (Rom. 16:17).
Again, I emphasize, Romans 14 does not cover matters of “the faith” that apply to congregational activity, but those matters (right within themselves) that apply to individual personal practices where Christians may differ while they grow together (Eph 4:13 [KJV]) Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: