I humbly admit that I have made changes in my belief and teaching through the years. I also readily admit that I have made changes relative to the applications made to certain teaching. If I ever reach the place where I regard my preaching and practice as being beyond criticism, and therefore refuse to admit any failure or imperfection as I vainly strive to justify glaring inconsistencies, I will have accepted an attitude which is foreign to and in direct conflict with the humility that necessarily attends a true gospel preacher. The word of God at such a time can no longer teach or train me, and the gnostical gleam of my own philosophy will be my only light. God forbid!
I used to talk and preach about "erring Christians". Then many years ago, during one of the many times I have had the privilege of hearing "a preacher of righteousness" with greater knowledge and deeper wisdom than I possess, I heard of the impossibility of being an "erring Christian". If memory serves me correctly, C. R. Nichol was the preacher of the occasion, and the lesson was given during the part of the meeting which was devoted to the edification of church members. I had long loved and respected this man of God, having heard my mother tell of turning from Methodism during a meeting in which he preached, and it was humanly easy to give his words a friendly place in my heart. He did not dwell long on the subject of "erring Christians", but he caused me to more profoundly evaluate my belief in such. I have found his statements agreeable with Holy Writ. Let us, kind friend, briefly consider the study.
Those things which God gave to man and placed beneath him, God allowed and allows man to name. Those things and beings which belong to God, God names, and man dare not usurp authority regarding such. Names must stand as fountain heads from which peculiar ideas flow. A name presents a line of thought which can not come from any other word. The name "Christian", literally means a follower of Christ. A person can not follow Christ and some other leader who travels in a different direction at the same time. A person can not be a Christian and something opposed to Christ at the same time.
Looking to the history of God's chosen people we find God placing restrictions on the name they were to wear. "And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel" (Nu. 6:27). "All the people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid" (Deu. 28:10). God's people wore the name of "Israel" until after the death of Solomon, and then the kingdom divided. Ten tribes continued to wear it until they were separated from God by their sin, then the tribes of Judah and Benjamin wore the name "Jew" to honor Judah for 231 years. One of God's old prophets spoke concerning this: "And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen, for the Lord God shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name" (Isa. 65:15).
The same prophet revealed more in the plan of God regarding that name. "For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth And the Gen- tiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name" (Isa. 62:1,2). Thus God revealed that his people would wear the new name when the Gentiles beheld his righteousness and salvation which would go forth from Jerusalem.
More than 700 years later, Peter preached on the first Pentecost after the death of the Lord, 3,000 Jews believed and obeyed, but they were not called the new name. They were not yet prepared to wear the new name at the time they entered the family of God, the kingdom, the church of the Lord. God's plan for all humanity, by way of fulfillment of righteousness and salvation according to the teaching of his Son, had not been reached. To be called Christians, they had to fulfill the righteousness of God. Until they had fulfilled the righteousness of God, they were not called Christians. Therefore, to be a Christian did not depend solely upon the new state of existence, being born again, but being a Christian included action on their part — that is, following the Lord in the way of righteousness for Jew and Gentile alike.
It was some 8 or 10 years later that Cornelius and his household, Gentiles, were allowed to see the righteousness and salvation that went forth from Jerusalem. This did not happen until divine demonstration convinced the Jew that it was in God's plan. Then God's prophesied plan regarding the new name had been fulfilled. When the news reached Jerusalem that the Gentiles had received the Word, Barnabas was sent down there, and as he found out these things were true, he sent to Tarsus for Paul, "And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And they were called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26).
Now, gentle reader, if the members of the apostolic church were not called the new name, Christians, while they were out of step with righteousness, then we can not think of ourselves as Christians while engaging in things that are in error, not righteous. Therefore, I conclude that the reasoning of the beloved brother mentioned above is exactly right. There are no "erring Christians". We err as God's children, as citizens in his kingdom, as church members, expressions which describe a state of existence, but to err as we abide in and fulfill righteousness is utterly impossible. That which is done in the name of Christ with the inclusion of his name in the act must be Christ-like. If the apostolic church members were not called Christians while they failed to fulfill righteousness, who are we to demand that we be known as "erring Christians" in our failures?
Yes, good friend, I'm aware of the fact that a person today becomes a Christian at the same time he becomes a child of God, a citizen of the kingdom, a member of the church. That is possible because the righteousness of God on behalf of all humanity, Jew and Gentile, has been fulfilled up to the point of salvation from alien sins. But the ultimate and complete fulfillment of God's righteousness is the salvation of his people in heaven. That righteousness and salvation must be kept fulfilled by his people throughout life. To that end Christ died, was buried, arose, and ascended back to heaven, and the Christian is the one who follows him in that direction, toward that home. When we separate ourselves from that righteous way, we are not following Christ, we are not Christ-ians. A person can not follow Christ and error at the same time.
I am persuaded, fellow traveler, that this lesson is found in the writing of Peter, (I Pet. 4:15,16.) "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busy body in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." To suffer as a sinner is here described as one thing, and to suffer as a Christian is another. To suffer as a Christian glorifies God, and there is no sin which can glorify God. Thus you can not suffer as a "sinner-Christian", or in our language, an "erring Christian." To suffer as a Christian is to "suffer for righteousness' sake" (I Pet. 3:14), and no sin can be committed for righteousness' sake.
I am also convinced, gentle friend, that Agrippa saw the requirements of Christianity as Paul told him of the prophecies concerning it, and asked him if he believed the things he knew regarding the prophets. He knew that to become and remain a Christian he would have to separate himself from all things which are opposed to fulfilling righteousness, and in view of these realities he said, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." May God help us to respect the new name, live for righteousness, sake, and thus be included in the New Testament's description of a Christian!