Gary Swisher

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Ties that Bind (3)

In Christ, Christianity, church, denomination, evangelical, sectarian, unity on March 27, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Christ prayed that his believers would all be one. It is apparent today, with numerous divisions and such rigid walls about us, that we are opposed to this purpose of Christ. If we are not minding what Christ desires, it suggests that our flesh is in the way, because the flesh is enmity with God and cannot please him. Most of Christendom has forsaken unity in Christ. Instead, Christians emphasize their beliefs in the areas where they differ. May I reiterate that? Christians focus and build their identity on their points of disagreement! I am of Apollos… I am of Cephas… I am pre-millennial… I am Trinitarian… I am A Capella… I speak in tongues…And yet another says I am of Christ–as if to say all the others are not.

Wrong as they are, factions exist for a reason; they have a purpose in the body. Paul said that heresies must come in order to reveal those among us who are acceptable, or approved (1 Cor. 1:19). He doesn’t expand on this statement, but it seems clear that developing or adhering to factions puts us at odds with Christ’s purpose to have and behold one body that cannot be individuated. Individuating is another way for us to understand heresy, because our individual nature is the fuel. The lexicons say that engaging in heresy is choosing or taking for oneself. It is to choose or prefer some particular thing above others.

When we address the issue of factions, it is vitally important that we learn to discern between conformity and true unity. Conformity is based on numerous points of alignment. There is a mandate to agree in order to be included. Surely we can get along with those who share all of our vital views and practices. In this sense our churches are no more based on love than a political party. Agree to all the right issues and you’ve got support! When all doctrines are in sync in your group, fellowship seems more based on “right thinking” and conformity. How easy it is to love those with whom you have no conflict. Without differences to challenge our unity, how do we know we have the kind of agape love described in 1 Corinthians 13, remembering how this love surpasses knowledge? Doctrines are sourced in knowledge. Knowledge is needed, but without love it becomes divisive and legalistic.

So how do we define the body of Christ? Are we to rely on our complex doctrines, separate denominations and movements, perceiving the security of our faith to be found in a statement of beliefs, a list of practices, or our forensic approach to scripture? Or, should we take up the ecumenical approach? I doubt that the multiplication and combination of every religious tradition will move us any closer to the simplicity of Christ.

Jesus said to Martha that she was distracted by many things. Mary, on the other hand chose the one thing. It is the one thing that should be the focus of all believers. Otherwise they will continue to divide and create doctrines of their individual choice. Churches do not seem to mind the one thing. They are concerned and troubled about numerous and diverse things.

So then, if there is any comfort in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, fulfill my joy, that you think the same, having the same love, one in soul, minding the one thing, doing nothing according to party spirit or self-glory, but in humility, esteeming one another as surpassing yourselves; (Phi 2:1-3, LITV)

I like how this version puts it; minding the “one thing.” That is a very literal translation. There is simplicity in Christ. There is a singular focus. There is “one thing” in the Christian walk.  “There is one body and one Spirit…  one Lord, one faith… one God and Father of all…”

What does scripture have to say about the one thing? In regard to doctrines there is one faith. In regard to divisions there is one body. In regard to submission there is one Lord. In regard to unity there is one Spirit. In regard to our provision there is one God and Father of all. “For if you should have myriads of teachers in Christ, yet not many fathers; for I fathered you in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1Cor. 4:15 ). This is the one thing.

Advertisements

Ties that Bind (2)

In Christianity, church, denomination, evangelical, sectarian, unity on March 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Part 2

Every wind of doctrine tosses about and disorients those inside and outside the church. The world doesn’t see a unified church under the simple headship of Christ. One denomination forms in order to fellowship exclusively with those who believe in worshiping on Saturday. Another movement holds that Christians are legitimate only if they speak in tongues. Still another group says you must be baptized three times; once each, for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A different movement holds that imitating New Testament patterns of practice are essential to maintain acceptance with God.

Many expectations are placed on believers, beyond the simplicity of Christ and the essence of the gospel. You must keep the Sabbath. You must seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Churches even go so far as to name themselves according to their divisive doctrines. Not to pick on any in particular, but consider the name, Free-Will Baptist Church. It is named after not one, but two doctrines. Or consider the Church of God, Anderson and the Church of God, Cleveland. These are not names of two local churches but actual denominations where there was once one.

Down through the years Christians have been exiled, persecuted and imprisoned, or worse, by other Christians for holding different views on various issues. John Calvin wished death upon one who held a different position than he. Anabaptists were murdered in droves by so-called Christians for their practices. We don’t kill other believers in this age. But we belittle them, condemn them to judgment or at the very least write them off and cast them aside. We are convinced that our opinions are correct because of our sound reasoning and better proof texts. We always see scripture as taking our side. Surely, we think, God holds our view.

We seek to fully explain, diagram and dissertate on any mystery left unresolved by scripture. Well-intentioned scholars and centuries of debate have not brought the church closer to true unity. Christianity only continues to divide. Even when many churches do agree on what has been deemed “orthodox,” as with the Nicene Creed, they still draw lines of separation to keep their organizations apart.

Wherever the Bible is unclear, it tends to invite iron-clad opinions. Where the Bible offers vagueness and lacks certainty, the human mind designs clarity through systematic theologies, constructs and belief statements that leave no room for variance. Such a mindset does not create unity but disunity (Rom. 15). Christians bind on others with 100% certainty the doctrines which often seem to have the least clarity. In the process they diminish the one thing which should bind us together. There are people dividing themselves, for example, into camps of belief (pre-trib, post-trib, etc.) based on the most difficult and veiled book in the Bible—Revelation. Why are camps formed around such uncertainty?

Part 3 coming soon…

Ties that Bind

In Christianity, church, evangelical on March 24, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Part 1

How is it that Christians have more requirements for inclusion in the brotherhood of faith than God does? Why does religion incite people to force conformity upon others? You must agree to this doctrine. You must accept this view. You must practice in such a way. Are we to give our allegiance to a statement of beliefs? To a creed? To a doctrine? If we examine Acts and the epistles, do we find the apostles making the requirements that churches do today?

Let each be convinced in his own mind. Romans 14 makes it very clear that we are not to pursue conformity or demand that others believe what we insist is right. Unity is based on one thing that ties us together despite numerous differences of personal opinion. Without our differences, our love for other Christians is untested, unproven. Just as Paul said, factions must come to reveal those who are approved (1 Cor. 19). Perhaps we can only find approval of ourselves when we can approve those in Christ with whom we don’t  agree. For, truly, only Christ is actually approved by God, but we are accepted in the Beloved. We are not approved by doctrines or knowledge but by faith, authored and perfected in Christ. Factions are based solely on man’s approval and the ability to make doctrines stand. But God approves those who rely on him for their standing. Who are you that judges another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. But he will stand, for God is able to make him stand (Rom 14:4 ). We must ask ourselves, “Are my beliefs, practices and church association the source of my security and confidence, or is it simply Christ and nothing more?”

We do harm to Christ’s church when we emphasize numerous issues, practices, beliefs and doctrines as a test of inclusion. What’s worse is that the emphasis on doctrines only cultivates division from every group that believes otherwise or chooses not to make that thing their emphasis. We are prone to seek after people and groups with whom we can agree. We spend very little time engaged with those outside our camp, except to debate and argue our differences. With so many factious doctrinal differences, these become our focus while unity in Christ is lost.

From the Greek, hairesis, we get “heresy,” which is often translated “sect” or “faction.” A heresy is simply a choice, a decision, in the sense that one parts company with someone or something else. We often confuse apostasy with heresy but they are not the same thing. Apostasy has to do with false teaching. Heresy is simply dividing up Christians based on their views. In this sense, Christendom is full of heresies. To be a heretic is simply to choose sides. Any time we choose to identify with some particular feature or belief that creates a partition within the one faith, it is a heresy. If we choose sides in Christ, we are cutting up the body. If someone says I am a Pentecostal, this is a heresy because he must delineate between himself and those Christians who are not Pentecostal. In the same way, all denominations are self-prescribed heresies, whether Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Nazarenes and so on.

Denominations are not alone in this. We can gather under any concept we value. No matter how proper or Biblical our view, it is wrong to apply a label that designates ourselves or others as having some different quality or belief. Even if we take the concept of grace, for example, it is wrong to set some aspect of Christ or his gospel aside. If I take up the name “Grace Christian” it is factious. I am setting myself apart from all other Christians, as if they are non-Grace Christians, or as if Christ’s gospel can have a grace focus and a non-grace focus. In doing so I am setting myself apart and making a different version of the one faith. But there are not 31 flavors of Christ or his gospel. To align ourselves with some aspect of truth alienates others whom God has placed in the one body.

More to come in Part 2…