Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why All the Divisions?

Why are there all the divisions in the Christian church? The ultimate answer to this is the sinfulness of human beings (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). But it is helpful to ask what the particular causes are.

One is the desire to control people (Luke 22:24-27; 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 2:3-12). While any view can be used to further this, certain views are more helpful. Such as a view that makes a peculiar individual or group the unquestionable authority or that nitpicks over every detail. The idea is to keep people from thinking for themselves, but simply following you in every detail. But individuals can also advocate complete independence. This view questions if we need to listen to anyone other then ourselves (2 Timothy 3:16,17, Hebrews 13:17; Romans 12:4,5). It results in taking any position just to be different, resulting in division.We need to avoid total conformity or total dependence but carefully test things to see if they are from God (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1).

Another motivation is to believe we are better than others outside our group (1 Corinthians 1:10; 10:12; Proverbs 16:18). Again, any position can be used for this, but it helps if it claims real spiritual superiority to others. Some magic formula to make us closer to God, especially if it is a mysterious secret. But there is also the danger of spiritual superficiality, believing if we go through the right motions God will be pleased (Malachi 1:10; John 4:24; Isaiah 58:3-8). This also causes divisions, by requiring agreement on all external details. What is needed, rather, is a genuine growth in simple faith and obedience to Christ (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8).

Another cause of divisions is a denial of God's grace, by believing we can stand before God based on what we do (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 2:9). With this comes the tendency to say, "It is my particular set of rules and principles that will commend me to God." Now there are those who take the opposite extreme and claim they do not have to be concerned about how they live at all (Titus 2:11-14; Galatians 5:13,14; James 2:26). They are therefore motivated to divide from anyone who questions their behavior. But the correct answer is that God saves us by grace, but works in us to transform us into the people He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 6:20).

As long as we are sinful humans there will be divisions in the Christian church. But it helps to know what the tendencies are. Because these include opposite tendencies, it is not always easy to know who is right in every case.  But this does offer some warning signs on which directions it is dangerous to go.  

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