Author: Ron Graham
Constants and Variables
—Matters of faith and matters of judgment
This lesson is about making a distinction between things which are matters of faith as against things which are matters of judgment.
It is important to make, and to understand, this distinction between “matters of faith” and “matters of judgment”. It's important for correctly deciding whether an action or an idea has divine authority or whether it is in the realm of “human opinion”.
A matter of faith is something about which God has made his will and wisdom clear. When we do or teach this thing, we know we have God’s authority for it. We regard this matter as binding. We regard it as a constant, something which is unchangeable.
A matter of judgment, on the other hand, is something about which God has made no clear statement, but about which we have given much thought and consideration, and arrived at a conclusion.
We may follow this conclusion as individuals or as a group, and even commend the principle or practice to others, but we do not consider it binding upon others.
Our judgment is guided by our faith, but we do not regard it as having the same authority. Our judgment is a variable, something that may change from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance.
1 What are Constants and Variables?
You probably learned in school that the area of a circle is found by the formula Area=πr². The r in this formula stands for radius, the distance from center to edge of the circle. This is different from one circle to another, so it is called a variable.
The other numbers are π (pi, the ratio of circumference to diameter) and the exponent ². These are the same for any circle of any size. You cannot say, "When I work out the area of a circle, I prefer to use the whole number 4 rather than pi".
Nor can I say, "When I work out the area of a circle, I like to use the exponent 3 instead of two." We cannot use numbers of our own choosing. We must use pi and the exponent two for any circle. These numbers are called constants.
[The above has nothing to do with Sunday pie. The mathematical pi is a constant, but Sunday pie is a variable. It can be chocolate, lemon, frangipani, or anything else you like.]
2 Faith is a constant
Faith is not a variable. It is a constant. It should be the same from person to person, and from gathering to gathering, because "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Since we all hear the same word, we all receive the same faith.
There are not as many different faiths as there are people or groups. There is "one faith" (Ephesians 4:3-6). This is "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
So you see, faith is a constant. If you have something in your faith that differs from something I have in mine, then either I am wrong, you are wrong, or both of us are wrong. The error needs to be corrected to conform to the true faith which must not be altered.
For example you and I might believe that Jesus died, was buried in a tomb, and rose from the dead. Others might believe he died, was thrown on a rubbish heap, and did not rise from the dead. They might say that the Bible story (1Corinthians 15:1-8) is a lovely legend which we, with our modern understanding, enjoy as mythology, but don't believe as a fact.
Well, we cannot both be right. If one view is true, the other is false; meanwhile, the true belief is a constant, always true and never changing.
3 Judgment is a variable
Judgment is not a constant. It is a variable. It is not the same for every person or every gathering. Of course Christians may need, on certain matters, to be "of the same mind and of the same judgment" (1Corinthians 1:10).
For example, what times on the first day of the week we shall meet together has to be a matter of agreement otherwise we would all turn up at different times and would not meet together. Nevertheless, the time that we agree upon is a matter of judgment and not of faith. The Bible tells us what day (Acts 20:7, 1Corinthians 16:1-2).
That's a matter of faith. It does not tell us what hour. That is a matter of judgment. We cannot change the day —that is a constant. We can change the hour —that is a variable.
There are many matters and instances in which we exercise our own judgment when applying God's word in our lives. We must be able to distinguish these judgments from the very word of God.
We should respect the considered judgments of others, just as they should respect ours. But the judgments of one person or group should not be bound upon others, for judgment is not faith, and does not have the authority of faith.
This has been a rather simple lesson —some would say too simple. It raises more questions than it answers. It begs a multitude of questions of the kind, "Is such and such a matter of faith or a matter of judgment?" Of course each question can only be answered by a Bible study on whatever the "such and such" is.
What this lesson does do, is to show the fault in two kinds of thinking...
- The idea that everyone can have their own personal and different faith, and that diversity and variation of faith is desirable. This confuses matters of faith with matters of judgment.
- The insistence that the judgment of one individual or gathering should be binding on others. This confuses matters of judgment with matters of faith.
There used to be a slogan. One doesn't hear it much anymore. But it is still a good statement and sums up the thrust of this lesson: “In matters of faith, unity — in matters of judgment, charity.”