One of the most popular names that we think of regarding Protestantism and Christianity in the 16th century is Martin Luther. One thing for which Luther was known is the concept of adiaphora, from the Greek meaning “things indifferent.” It is the concept that there are things in the Bible and in Christianity that do not matter. Is this an accurate concept? Are there things in the Bible that don’t matter? Is anything really adiaphora?
Sure, some things are, like the eating of meats that Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 8. But that doesn’t mean everything is. However, the denominational world seems to think that very little truly matters. Here are six popular statements made in support of this claim:
1. “It doesn’t matter if I’m baptized; as long as I confess my faith in Christ I’ll be saved.”
There are very few things that God leaves up to us, and our salvation is definitely not one of them. Christ regulated our salvation when He said in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved ….” Peter did the same thing in 1 Peter 3:21 when he said, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you ….” Our salvation is regulated. Baptism is regulated. It is not left up to us to decide how we are saved as God has regulated that no man is saved apart from Christ, or apart from belief, repentance, confession, and baptism.
2. “It doesn’t matter how I worship; as long as I’m worshipping, God will accept that.”
In Hebrews 9:1, the writer says, “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship ….” This means that the second covenant, the covenant under which we live, also has regulations for worship. All too often we want to say that worship is left up to us, and we can worship in any way that we please. God, however, regulates our worship. We are to meet together regularly (1 Corinthians 14:23-25), on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-3) to partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:24), to sing with our hearts being the instrument (Ephesians 5:19), to give (1 Corinthians 16:2), to teach (Acts 20:7), and to pray (Acts 2:42). Christ said that when we come together, we are to worship in “Spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). We are not left to worship any way we want because it is regulated by God.
3. “It doesn’t matter how I live; as long as the Bible does not specifically forbid my actions, I will be acceptable in the eyes of God.”
One of the most prevalent mindsets in regard to the topic of indifference is, “As long as the Bible doesn’t condemn it, I am free to participate in it.” In regard to this point, here are three questions to consider. First, was Noah permitted to use any kind of wood because they were not specifically forbidden? No one would say that he could use any wood he chose, because he was commanded to use gopher wood. Was a priest allowed to come from a tribe other than Levi? Hebrews 7:11-16 says that a priest was not allowed to come from the tribe of Judah because Moses had said nothing about priests coming from that tribe. Were Nadab and Abihu allowed to bring any kind of fire before the Lord? They were killed because they brought unauthorized fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-3). In all these cases, God did not have to forbid everything that was wrong. All He had to do was state what was right. It is the same way with us today; when God commands something, everything else is forbidden.
4. “It doesn’t matter what I believe; as long as I’m a good person, God will not send me to hell.”
Another idea that is prevalent in our society is that if I live a good life, then God would not send me to Hell. However, in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” First, we are not saved by works or anything that we can do, but by faith. How good a life we live does not earn us our salvation, and that’s a theme that is found throughout Scripture. Secondly, Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We can live as good a life as possible but that will never get us to Heaven. The only way for man to be saved is through Jesus Christ and obedience to His will.
5. “It doesn’t matter if I go to church; as long as I’m a Christian, I will be saved.”
An interesting aspect of this statement is that if we are saved, then we are Christians and a part of the church. So why do we not attend the worship service? In Acts 2:47, Luke tells us that God “added to their number (the church) day by day those that were being saved (Christians).” There is no such thing as a Christian that is not part of the church. In Hebrews 10:24-25 the Bible says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The Hebrew writer tells us to meet together because it helps stir up love, good works, and encouragement. This is not just for others, but we too gain those benefits when we come together with our brethren.
6. “It doesn’t matter if I’m active in my local church; as long as I’m attending service, I’m alright with God.”
There is an important question to consider in regard to this statement. In the previous statement, Hebrews 10:24-25 was mentioned, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
How can we be encouraged, loved, and have good works stirred up within us if we do not talk and interact with our brethren? The Bible speaks often of prayer, love, encouragement, stirring up good works, and growing in Christ through association with fellow Christians. How can we obtain these things from people with whom we do not interact? The answer to that question is this: we can’t! We cannot be who we are supposed to be as Christians, or reap the full benefits of being a Christian, if we are not interacting with Christians.
So, back to our initial question, is adiaphora real? Well, there are things that do not matter, like talking sports to our friend or the place and time we worship. However, those things are still regulated. Our salvation is regulated, worship is regulated, our lives are regulated, and church is regulated. So if God regulates everything in some form, how can there be room for adiaphora?
It is important that we guard against viewing things that God has regulated as though they are not regulated. Additionally, we must never allow ourselves to be indifferent toward our worship of and service for the Lord. This kind of indifference will keep us from pleasing God (Revelation 3:15-16). Indifference, in regard to the things of God, is one of the great issues that the church faces today.
By Spencer Shaw
This article first appeared in Think magazine. For more info, or to subscribe, click here.