Friday, March 11, 2005

Fractured Jawbones

In the words of that great theologian, Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" In John 17:22b, the Lord prayed, "that they may be one as we are one." Throughout the broader Christian community, within specific churches, and between individuals it seems as though Jesus' prayer has fallen upon deaf ears. The Body of Christ appears to be self-mutilating.

How can it possibly be that persons who are brought from death into life, saved from this present evil age, spared from the wrath to come, and by no merit of their own will spend eternity glorifying God and enjoying Him forever have so much trouble 'getting along'? Folks that only have one thing in common such as a favorite sports team seem to get on happily together for greater periods than Christians. How is this so? Two contributing factors could be listed. 1) Satan, his cohorts, and his implanted human tares have no pressing need to attack sports fans, but their hatred for Christ and His Church is immense. 2) Christians most often don't know the Word of God or are not as ‘spiritual’ as they may think. Since sanctification is ongoing, the old human nature lifts it ugly, religious head in thoughts, words, and actions.

Divisions within the Church fall into two main categories: 1) Those encompassing life and death issues and 2) those involving the growing pains of sanctification among the immature. In the epistle to the Galations, the Apostle Paul addresses a division of the former variety. Here he states that anyone that preaches a false Gospel of salvation, either by adding to or taking away from the Gospel which the Lord revealed to him, (salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ), deserves to go to Hell. In a cultural environment that is steeped in relativism and post-modernism, Paul's assertion doesn't go over well. In Paul's day, a major variation from his Gospel included circumcision in order to be saved. He refused all attempts to require Titus, a Greek, to be circumcised to 'get along' with those teaching the false gospel of faith and works for salvation. In our time and culture the works 'required' for salvation may include baptism, church attendance, giving, or even voting Republican. Although most of these actions will be done by one who is saved, they are not part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The disunity involving this truth is a matter of eternal life or eternal damnation.

The second category of division, involving our incomplete sanctification while here on Earth, is addressed by Paul in the epistle to the Romans in chapter 14. Verse one states, "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." (NIV) Many divisions in churches and between individual believers abrogate the command in verse one. Either one 'strong' in faith demands his way, or the one 'weak' in faith demands his way concerning some disputable matter. (These demands, however, prove that both are 'weak' in faith.) In Paul's day some of these disputables included the eating of meat (it may have been sacrificed to idols) and considering one day more sacred than another. In our day these matters might include any of the multitude of cultural preferences; modes of dress, worship styles, child rearing techniques, socially acceptable activities, etc. The only requirement in participating in these nonessentials is that one does them for the Lord and gives Him thanks. Alternately, if one refrains from participating in them, he also refrains for the Lord and gives Him thanks. Meddling in these affairs of another in the name of spirituality is sinful. (This meddling smacks of irony within a culture of relativity and post-modernism!)

Paul appears to act in contradictory ways in reference to circumcision, but in reality he is battling both categories of division. As stated in Galations, he refused to require Titus to be circumcised to 'get along' with preachers of a false gospel in Jerusalem. In Acts chapter 16, Paul had Timothy circumcised 'because of the Jews who lived in that area.' With Titus, it was forbidden in order to deny that circumcision was required in order to be saved. With Timothy, it was allowed in order to become acceptable to those to whom the Gospel was to be preached-- to become all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some. "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts." 1 Cor. 7:19 (NIV)

The Lord is building His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, our apparent disunity notwithstanding. We must give due diligence to keep the Gospel pure and pray to be able to discern our words and actions concerning disputable matters. We ultimately can be confident in this, "That he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Phil 1:6 (NIV)


Al said...

I feel stricken!
--Bourgeois Philistine.

Good sermon, sir. I'll add it to my meditations. I've never noticed 1 Cor. 7:19 before.

Steve said...

Al, for your peace of mind, those stricken by Samson were all liberal Philistines from Philisota. Not to fear!