Since there are at least few who are interested and perhaps would be benefited by these discussions let me continue with some other general principles that would help with proper understanding regarding this error among [some of] the Brethren group from Kerala [hereafter, KB] and its offshoots. Creating a prerequisite for allowing a believer to be baptized other than what the scriptures mandate or disallowing participation from the Lord’s Supper by placing unbiblical yoke are not CULTURAL ISSUES. It is heresy taught among the KB and many among the KB, sad to say, are convinced this prohibition is thoroughly biblical.
For instance, read the posting by Bro. Philip from earlier towards the top of the thread. This brother quoted many verses and this dear brother thinks those are all convincing proof texts against wearing any ornaments. One of my Nieces once told me, “If we don’t even give up gold, what else is there to give up for my Savior and Lord?” I was troubled in my heart regarding the state of mind of these sincere yet naïve believers. With these burdens let me bring out few more points to the ones who are genuinely interested to study the word of God.
THE METHOD OF PROVING
And how would we go about proving the matter one way or the other? That is the challenge we have. This is what I mean by ‘the question of validating doctrine’ which is the basis of biblical studies. What would be adequate proof for establishing something as a required standard or as a forbidden practice for the life of the believer? A few things need to be pointed out in this regard.
INVALID ARGUMENTS: First of all, there is a kind of proof that is not at all good: “This is how we always taught/did” or “This is what our (spiritual) forefathers taught.” They proved to be exceptionally good Christians and showed great testimony of their faith. This answer is no good. If this answer can be good, Brethrenism would not exist. It was not satisfactory that the Mar Thoma church (and its parent church) always baptized infants. That was not good enough for KVS. He wanted to be bound by the Bible.
It was not satisfactory that the Church of England all along had a clergy-laity distinction. That was not satisfactory for JND. So, in the true spirit of Brethrenism, it shall not suffice for us if KB from the beginning did this. Our natural/spiritual forefathers could have been wrong. If you are not willing to accept this, you have no right to preach the gospel and ask anyone to place their trust in Christ as only Savior, if that is not what their forefathers also believed. If we say with Paul, “Let God be true, and every man a liar (Rom 3:4),” let us have the humility to admit that perhaps our own forefathers did not get everything right, even though they were zealous for Scripture and Christ.
A STRICT CRITERION: On the positive side, what are acceptable criteria? I recall a discussion on this forum about fasting several years ago. Two eminent participants concluded that there was not enough mandate for the church for fasting other than as an individual (secret) thing. That was interesting. The Old Testament (OT) has plenty of instances of individual and collective fasting, inside and outside Israel, and often declared and mandated. The instances certainly are not lacking.
But this was considered quite inadequate to form the basis of a ‘rule’ for the church. I do not disagree with that conclusion, but merely wish to point out the need they found for more compelling evidence or prescription to recommend something as the practice for the church. In addition, the New Testament (NT) has clear examples of fasting, in the example of the Lord’s life, in the life of the early church, in the practice of the church in Antioch, in the individual life of the apostles.
John 13:14 – “If, I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” This is Jesus Christ’s own command to the disciples.1 Tim 2:8 “I desire therefore that the men praying everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Still, it was felt that these constitute inadequate basis for us to form rules mandated on the church. So, our evidence for any mandate concerning ornaments must also meet a stricter standard.
APOSTOLIC PRECEDENT: Further on the positive side, I would like to follow in the footsteps of the Brethren in this instance. This was a strong feeling to return to NT simplicity in practices. So, the Brethren did not care about the architecture of the meeting places (or even to have a special building reserved for worship). They did away with the clergy and went (with some inconsistency) to a church government practice of having multiple elders in each congregation.
This was from a basic desire to imitate the NT. Their meetings had a primary focus of breaking bread because they felt this was what the early church did. They broke bread every week, on Sunday, because this is what the early church ended up practicing, after starting out to do so every day.
One is surprised, therefore, considering this earnest desire of the early Brethren worldwide to follow in apostolic footsteps, the Malayalam Bible does not read as follows in the places shown below.
Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth, REMOVETH ALL HIS JEWELRY, and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Clearly, observing the KB practice one would think this is how the verse read. But what I added in capitals that are not part of the Bible.
Acts 2:38-41 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, REMOVE YOUR ORNAMENTS, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. …. 41 Then they that gladly received his word, AND TOOK OFF ALL THEIR ORNAMENTS, were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
Again, if you observe KB practice, one would think that this is what the Scriptures said, but the portions in capitals are not simply there.
Acts 8:36-38 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; BUT THEN PHILIP HESITATED. WHAT IS THE MATTER? ASKED THE EUNUCH. THOSE RINGS, WHAT ARE THEY STILL DOING ON YOUR EARS? ASKED PHILIP. THE EUNUCH REMOVED THEM PROMPTLY, and he baptized him. 39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
We may imagine the material I added in capital letters, but they are not part of the Bible.
In fact, we could go to all the NT places where baptism is mentioned, and observe that something such as the KB requirement is NEVER indicated in any place in the NT. There is NO apostolic precedent for the KB practice. Do not protest that I am mocking anyone or anything (in what I did above). It is the KB tradition that makes a mockery of apostolic teaching and practice.
In fact, consider the one place where some behavioral change is indicated in connection with baptism. It is in the gospels, in connection with John the baptizer. Luke 3:7-14 “Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, … 10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”
So, if the Brethren refuse to baptize (or later excommunicate) those who will not give to the poor, I can understand. If they will not baptize government employees who continue to take bribes, I will understand. If those who are violent (beaters and strikers), those who spread falsehoods, and complainers, if such are rejected for baptism and fellowship, I can understand. There is some biblical basis for it. But the statute concerning baptism which the KB have created, which applies to external appearance (i.e., to wear no ornaments at all) does not arise from anything we find clearly practiced in the NT.
The NT evidences no linkage between baptism and a requirement to strip off all jewelry. This practice was not taught by the the Lord or His apostles. Either all first century men and women, both Jewish and pagan, had already attained to the KB standard of spirituality of eschewing all jewelry before they were even converted (this is less likely), or there was no such stipulation as the Brethren make in connection with baptism in the apostolic period (this is more likely).
In fact, if the KB practice were standard for the 1st century Christians, Peter had no reason to write 1Peter 3:3, where he told them, “Your adornment must not be ... wearing gold jewelry,” because, since he is writing to believers (1:9,23) who would have been baptized (based on all the evidence in the NT, the two went together), they would not have been wearing any gold jewelry at all. The admonition would be irrelevant if the KB standard in this regard were also 1st century standard. What is more, (here I am getting ahead of myself) when he asks the Christians to LAY ASIDE or remove something, it is not external things, but “malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings” (2:1). Does it seem to you that the KB believe in this (beyond words, I mean)? Aren’t such people entirely comfortable in KB assemblies, causing discomfort to those who do not conform in externals?
The long and the short of it is this. Apostolic practice has been a major guide for the practices the early Brethren adopted. But for this particular KB rule, there is no apostolic precedent.
WHAT WE DO WITH EXPLICIT COMMANDS?
I know you are tired of reading by now. May be later?
Your brother in Christ,