Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Two Story House

Christianity has been very frequently seen as a two-level affair. There are those who are simply ordinary Christians and those who are genuinely spiritual Christians. This idea takes many forms, but it always involves a clear-cut distinction between the two groups. But does this idea stack up Scripturally?

 The Bible speaks of one unified body of Christ, not one divided into two parts (Ephesians 4:3-6; Philippians 2:1,2; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We are told that all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9,10; John 7:37-39; Ephesians 1:13,14) and that the Holy Spirit works in them (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). Now we are told that we need to respond to this working (Galatians 5:16; Romans 6:12-14; Titus 2:11-14), but this is put forth as a long-term growth process (Philippians 3:12-16; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 4:7-11). This looks, not like two distinct groups, but one great race with different people at different places on the course. Also, while we are called to correct particular sins (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; Jude 22,23), we need to be careful of judging other peoples' places in the race (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12). I am convinced that on the last day there will be surprises; those who look good to us will be found wanting, and those who seemed insignificant will be commended. But the judgment will be God's, not ours (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Romans 14:7-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Now there are passages of Scripture used to support the two-level view. Scripture does describe individuals as carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1,2), but this is based on their involvement in specific sin (1 Corinthians 3:3,4). The picture is of a baby who refuses to follow the normal process of growing up and needs practice in understanding the Word of God (Hebrews 5:11-14). Also, the word disciple is seen as referring to a higher level of Christian commitment. Now a disciple is a student of Jesus. This word is used, not only of believers in general, but even of nominal followers who had not yet believed Christ's message (John 6:60-66; Acts 6:1-7; 11:26). Now the goal of the disciple should be to obey all Christ's commandments (Matthew 28:18-20), but this, again, is a lifelong goal none of us have totally achieved.

Now the process of dividing the church into two parts can cause pride and complacency in those who think themselves in the upper group and discouragement on the part of those categorized in the lower. It can also encourage writing off people perceived as in the lower group. Therefore, instead or people working together to grow in Christ, there can grow up a clannishness in those who think they are classed as spiritual. And all the while, the distinctions made between the groups may hinge on things that are not Biblical requirements or on selected requirements made into absolute criteria in disregard of the rest of God's commandments. When no such division should be there in the first place.

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