My Thoughts. . .
A fellow minister once told me that there were two types of error. One was fatal, which would send the individual to hell unless he repented before death. The other was non-fatal. One could believe and teach that kind without losing his soul. I asked him for a list of both fatal and non-fatal error. He agreed to do so. That was almost forty years ago.
Some have the idea that one sin will send an individual to hell if he does not repent of it quick enough. In fact, the quicker one repents and prays, the better off he is. According to that view, mankind cannot know whether he is saved or lost until Jesus passes judgment on him. This produces a life of uncertainty and fear that a last-minute disobedient act might happen, causing the Christian to lose his soul.
Paul wrote two letters to the church in Corinth. Those who have read both know that Corinth was engaged in a lot of ungodly actions. There sins were so outlandish that if a congregation today were in the same condition, no man would desire to be their preacher, serve as one of their elders or deacons, be a Bible class teacher, nor even be a member. Today’s church would have no desire to fellowship Corinth until they knew they had completely repented and corrected every error. If the “one sin without repentance” teaching is true, all members of the Corinthian church were in multiple errors which none had repented of. This condition had been going on for over a year.
Despite their false teaching, their denial of Paul’s apostleship, their bad treatment of one another, their terrible reputation in the city, their refusal to discipline, and their in-church divisions, God was still in fellowship with them. He dwelt in them as His Holy Temple. God continued to empowered them with miraculous gifts. Since God had not withdrawn from them, it must have been because they were practicing non-fatal error! If they had been practicing fatal error, God would have stopped dwelling in them, withdrawn the miraculous gifts, and considered them apostate and proper candidates for hell.
Paul did not know of Corinth’s condition until the Chloe family informed him by letter. For months, those practices had gone on with God continuing to dwell in them. God would not dwell in them if they were engaged in fatal error. This would leave only the non-fatal kind of error for them to be practicing. If their actions were considered as non-fatal error, then we have a pattern of what non-fatal error is. Keep in mind, according to my preacher friend, that “non-fatal error may be taught, believed, and practiced without one being in danger of losing his soul. Since God wanted them to withdraw from the member who was living with his father’s wife, that individual was the only one guilty of fatal error! The Chloe family overreacted by contacting Paul. Since non-fatal error does not condemn, Corinth could have continued in such error without any fear of losing their salvation.
One important item missing from this discussion is “the saving power of Jesus’ blood.” Those who have sinless perfection as their goal are in a continual state of failure. Obedience is preached, but perfection is never an accomplished goal. Today’s congregations may tout their faithfulness, but bragging will never develop the perfection they believe they have attained or are close to accomplishing. In Jesus’ day there were religious individuals who thought they had attained that faithfulness or obedience. Jesus proved them wrong (Matthew 23). Some came to their senses and found what they lacked, and it was their need for Jesus. Jesus is our faithfulness. He takes our failures and bestows upon us his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). God added Pharisees to the saved, not because they were perfect, but because they turned to Jesus who was. Even then they misunderstood about circumcision and attempted to force it upon Gentile believers (Acts 15). This eventually turned into a serious problem (Galatians 1:6-9; 6:12-16).
Fatal error? What is fatal error? Inspiration states, “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39; Cf. 6:4-6; 10:25-31 ESV).
Today one may not be in an error-ridden congregation equal to Corinth, but our shortcomings need the same patience, love, grace, and fellowship which God granted to His first century children in that Greek city. Our divisions would disappear as instructed by Paul and the oneness Jesus prayed for would be a reality and blessing to the world (John 17:20-21).
Too bad that preacher did not send that list. It would have been very helpful for today’s church.