Archive for Division

Division: Part 5–The Surrender Solution

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.  (John 1:1, 14 KJV)

 

Unfortunately, as long as churches are made of people, there will be division.  The best we can do as individual Christians is to make sure we aren’t contributing to it.  Here are some practical steps that can help us achieve that goal.

 

1.      SURRENDER TO GOD.  There is no salvation without repentance, and there is no repentance without surrender.  You can not learn what God’s will for your life is until you have cast aside YOUR will for your life.

 

2.      SURRENDER YOUR POSITION.  Be OK with not being first.  If you’ve done step #1 above, you’re already not first anyway.  Take that same attitude toward the people around you.  Serve without having to be in charge.  Let go of ambition and concentrate on lifting others up rather than stepping on them to get ahead.

 

3.      SURRENDER YOUR MOTIVES.            Seek to see rather than to be seen.  Seek to be influenced rather than to influence.  In this way, you will actually become a better influence.

 

4.      SURRENDER TO TRUTH.  To seek unity in the Church we must first seek Truth, for without Truth, there can be no unity.  No two Christians share a common past, but all share a common destiny.  Find the common ground by looking forward.

 

5.      SURRENDER TO THE WORD.  John begins his gospel by reminding us that the Word of God is equal with God, and continues by telling us that Jesus was the Word made flesh.  If doctrinal differences are the chief source of division in the church, I would have to say that they are also the most avoidable.

 

 

Either the Bible is the Word of God or it isn’t.  If it is, then it is the ultimate written authority. 

 

Believing the Bible means believing all of it.  This is a tall order, to be sure, but we must always approach the Word with obedience as our objective rather than interpretation. This is why James wrote, “. . .obey the message; be doers of the Word, and not merely listeners to it, betraying yourselves [into deception by reasoning contrary to the Truth].  (James 1:22 Amplified)

 

Being a doer of the Word places engaging Christ as a priority over engaging culture. 

 

While it is important for the Church to accept and welcome non-Christians wherever they are in life in a spirit of grace, many churches and denominations have gone astray by attempting to blend into culture in the name of “relevance.”  In doing so, they have sacrificed Truth at the altar of tolerance.

 

But churches don’t need to become “relevant” by having the hippest music, the flashiest multi-media system, the best coffee or even the “openest minds.” 

 

The Church will always be relevant to those who seek the Truth simply because Truth is eternal and universal.  All people know instinctively that they need a solid rock on which to stand. 

 

God gave us a written account of this Truth so that those who seek it may find it.  To the degree that the Church esteems this Truth, without trying to improve upon it, unity will follow. 

 

Division: Part 4–The god We Want

Do not be conformed to this world—this age, fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs.  But be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind—by its new ideals and its new attitude—so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].  (Romans 12:2  Amplified)

 

So what causes this division in the Church? 

 

One cause is the perceptions that we bring into the Church with us based on our individual perspectives.  Our own unique socioeconomic, cultural, spiritual and familial backgrounds create our own personal image of the god we want.  The problem is that not everybody wants the same god.  The BIGGER problem is that the god we want is not the God who is.

 

This leads me once again to the universal problem of pride, the mother of all sin.  Pride manifests itself in many ways, none of them healthy.

 

Pride makes us cling tightly to our concept of personal freedom, which keeps us from fully surrendering to God, his Truth and His authority.  Pride is what makes many people want Jesus to be their savior, but not their Lord.  The Christian life is great until it costs you something.  This is where many part company with the Truth to worship the god they want instead.

 

Unfortunately, many churches, and indeed entire denominations, have gone this route.  By engaging culture rather than engaging Christ, they have CONformed to the pattern of this world rather than allow themselves to be TRANSformed by the Word of God. 

 

There are always going to be discussions and disagreements within the Church.  Because no one can truly know the mind of God, it stands to reason that no church or individual Christian is going to “get it right” all the time. 

 

However, I feel quite confident in boldly stating that if it becomes necessary to alter the Word of God, ignore parts of it, write some new parts of your own or intentionally take some of it out of context to push your own personal or social agenda, then you’re not getting it right. 

 

To claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ without adhering completely to the Bible is a spiritual impossibility. If the Word of God does not have the final say in your life, you are essentially putting your will and wisdom above that of God.  Whenever the creation tries to put itself above the Creator, the only thing that gets created is another pointless religion.

 

 

This isn’t being judgmental; it’s just common sense.

 

(To be concluded in Part 5–The Surrender Solution)

 

Division: Part 3–Seeing is Believing

 

 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. . .”  (Hebrews 10:24-25a NIV)

 

The Yellow Pages of my metropolitan area list 345 churches.  They are split into 60 different denominations.  Some of these denominations have sub-denominations.

 

This makes for some interesting reading.  We have four different kinds of Lutherans and seven different flavors of Baptist.  We have an “Independent” Catholic Church (the word “Catholic” comes from the Greek cath holos, meaning “according to the whole” or “unified”).  There are six Churches of Christ, five Churches of God, and seven Churches of God IN Christ.  We have six interdenominational churches, 23 non-denominational churches and one church of “various denominations.”  And we have 49 churches that just call themselves “Christian.”

 

 So which one is the right one?

 

 If I were to poll people from all 345 churches, I would bet that the majority would say, “OURS is the right one.”  Many wouldn’t, but I imagine a lot would. 

 

 

Of course, many of these 345 churches work together and support each other.  But some don’t.  When churches are in opposition to each other, it is usually because of a doctrinal difference.  It may be something as petty as the style of worship music, or it may be something much more significant, such as the authority of scripture.

 

The causes, however, as not as important as the fact that division exists within the church.  This is significant because this division is noticeable by those OUTSIDE the church.

 

If our job is to make disciples of all nations, how good of a job do you suppose we’re doing if we’re going to war with each other?  Why would anyone want to be part of a movement that is divided against itself?

 

Believe it or not, many folks outside the church are seeking the Truth the same as we are.  Some even accept Jesus on a logical level, but don’t want to be part of a home church because of all the drama and division. 

 

Even the simple fact that there are 345 churches to choose from in my area is overwhelming in its own right.  It would take 6 ½ years to visit them all.  Can you imagine going to the store for one item and having 345 different brands of it from which to choose.  I’d stay home too.

 

Now of course, as Christians, we know that the Holy Spirit will lead us to where we are supposed to be.  However, non-Christians DON’T know that. 

 

We have to remember that agnostics are creatures of logic and reason.  They have to see to believe.  Because they have not received the Holy Spirit, they can not follow His leading.  The only thing they have to go on is what they see.

 

And that’s us.  And our division.  Logic dictates that Truth and division can not co-exist.  Truth can not be divided on itself just as Christ can not be divided.  So if a person comes seeking Truth from a logical standpoint, they are also seeking unity.  Where they do not find unity, they assume they have not found Truth.

 

So they leave.  They do not become disciples.

 

And we have failed in our primary mission.

 

(Next, Part 4–The god We Want)

 

Division: Part 2–Denominations

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?  (1 Corinthians 1: 10, 12-13  NIV)

 

            When Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus in about 54AD, he could already see in the church at Corinth the beginnings of what is possibly the most damaging division in the universal Church today: denominations.

 

            You see, the problem with churches is that they’re made up of people.  The problem with people is that, unlike Jesus, we are ruled by pride, which is the mother of all sin.  We want to be right more than we want to be righteous, that is, having a right standing from God’s perspective rather than our own. 

 

               In the church at Corinth, the biggest sources of division were the high-status Gentile converts.  They wanted the benefits of following Jesus Christ without having to give up the benefits of their status in society, and the social lives that went along with that.

 

            Another problem the Corinthians were having is a problem many churches today still deal with—growth.             

 

            Now generally speaking, growth is a good problem for a church to have.  It sure beats a declining membership!

 

            However, the problem is that sometimes when churches grow, they eventually split.  Frequently this is due to space constraints; however, it can also be intentional.  A larger church may plant some members and leaders in another location to grow another branch of that church.  (Obviously this is not a contentious type of division, but it is a division nonetheless.)

 

            Where this can become a problem is that each individual church has its own leadership, which comes along with its own leadership style.  This can raise the twin specters of comparison and preference.

 

            This is what Paul is addressing in the passage above.  Some of the Corinthians preferred Paul for his straightforward doctrinal approach, others preferred the flashiness of Apollos’ preaching style, and others preferred Cephas (that is, Peter), just by reputation.  Then there were those who distanced themselves from the other groups by simply calling themselves “Christian,” but out of a spirit of exclusivity, not of inclusivity. 

 

            The point is that it is very difficult to maintain unity in mind and thought when people are not in close proximity.  How much harder then must it be to attempt to “follow the teachings of Jesus” while not connected to a home church at all, as many are attempting to do these days. 

 

(To be continued in Part 3–Seeing is Believing)

Division: Part 1–The Great Commission

 

 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20a NIV)

 

 

This is the last thing that Jesus said before leaving earth.  This commandment is known as the Great Commission.

This commandment gives Christians a simple blueprint of what the universal Church is supposed to be doing until Jesus returns.

I don’t see anything in those instructions about division, do you?

I see “go and make disciples,” that is “followers.”

 

I see “all nations,” which means that following Christ is a greater priority than differences in cultural background.

 

I see “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is reminding us that it is the Holy Trinity that we are following, not a captivating church leader.

 

I also see “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” “Everything” means EVERYTHING, not just the parts that make you comfortable, fit your political agenda or don’t require you to give something up. This commandment leaves no room for doctrinal division, as the Church has clearly been commanded to simply teach obedience to that which Jesus has already taught.

 

With this commandment, Jesus did away with all of the legalistic rules that the Pharisees had appended to God’s law to maintain power and control over the Jews.

Furthermore, with the divine authority that only He could have as the risen Son of God, he brought the world the only teachings that we would ever need to effectively follow Him back to God the Father, by the power and leading of the promised Holy Spirit.

 

In other words, the Great Commission formally put an end to religion.

 

Except that religion didn’t go away like it was supposed to.

 

(What happened?  Come back for Part 2–Denominations)