How Will They Know, Part 2

Last week we looked at how the modern church and the way it’s perceived play apart in the growing discord between professing believers.  (If you missed it or want a refresher you can click here)  One of the main reasons is that a church may be portraying weak or absent doctrine on important issues. The second factor is that some believers forego church because of weak doctrine or disagreements with how a church operates.  Separation from the body of Christ allows misunderstood or incorrect reasoning of Scripture to go unchallenged and can lead to disunity, as well.  This week we will address a far more insidious and poisonous factor.

The second major factor in the discord between followers of Christ is an increased penchant for preaching opinion instead of scripture.  Every day there is a new controversial topic or issue to weigh in on and this is magnified by social media.  Our first and foremost concern when establishing an opinion on the topics we deal with is to determine where it stands regarding the Bible.  Our stance must align with Scriptures and oppose anything contrary to the Word of God.  These issues are straightforward, with a solid ground in God’s Word, but not all issues are right or wrong.  Some matters are inconsequential and some are not very clear cut.  With these issues, all that we can form is an opinion or preference.  We all have opinions and preferences and there is nothing wrong with that as we are all different.  The problems arise when we let them divide us from those who feel or think something different.  There are many people who want to portray their opinions as Scriptural and denigrate or belittle other followers of Christ because they don’t hold the same regards.

This political season highlighted the problem as there were plenty of post of people condemning other Christians for voting for Trump or voting against Trump or voting 3rd party.  This same hostility is seen for ministries, governmental policy, or any number of other issues that don’t fall under Scripture. These conflicts often pop up in the public view, either verbally in real life, or online on Facebook or other social media.  This is very damaging as it is the spiritual equivalent of the body of Christ undergoing an autoimmune disease.  This is not a very encouraging sight to the lost people of the world.

 Our Creator is the only one capable of determining what is right and wrong.  Anything wrong is sin, any action, word, or thought contrary to the will of God.  When a person pushes their opinion as right and people who disagree as wrong they have usurped God’s authority.  Even Paul understood this in 1 Corinthians 7 when he states that is his opinion that it is better for people to remain celibate and focus their entire life on spreading the Gospel.  He specifies that this not a commandment so anything that tries to state that God requires people to be celibate is not truthfully communicating the Bible.  This same topic is addressed in Mark 7 when Jesus calls the Pharisees out for holding traditions of men while laying aside the commandments of God.  Considering the second greatest commandment is that we love our neighbor as yourself this is exactly the scenario we have when believers start bashing other believers because they do/don’t support a political policy, do/don’t vaccinate, do/don’t keep the Sabbath (Romans 14, Colossians 2), should/shouldn’t have musical instruments in church, and on and on and on.

Going hand in hand with this is that people who push an opinion as a moral truth generally maintain an air of self-righteousness, looking down on, and even belittling, those who don’t agree with them.  This is reminiscent of the parable of the Pharisee in Luke 18 who felt he was more righteous than other men because he fasted twice a week and gave tithe of all that he had.  Jesus goes on to say that the publican who came to God in humility begging for mercy was justified, not the self-righteous Pharisee.

In John 13, Jesus speaks with his disciples that remained at the last supper after Judas, His betrayer, had departed.  In verses 34 and 35 He says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  Jesus is speaking to believers about how they treat other believers.  “All men” should know who the followers of Christ are by how they treat other followers of Christ.  Jesus already gave the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, why would He give this new commandment?  He gave this commandment because beyond Christ, no one should be closer to us than fellow believers.  Yes, we should love the lost as we love ourselves but we cannot fellowship with them as we should with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Instead of tearing each other down we should be lifting each other up. 

Romans 14:19 gives us a clear path to follow, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”  In regards to our fellow followers of Christ we need to strive to make peace and try and help them in their walk with the Lord.  If they err, in humility we bring them the truth of the Bible, seeking to restore them.  If they are troubled, we should gather around them to provide support.  When they have questions, we should search the Scriptures and help them to find the answers.  We are all adopted into the family of God, let’s treat each other like the brothers and sisters we are.

How Will They Know, Part 1

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

— John 13:35

The word “love” is seeing a lot of use lately.  Free love, love will win, love trumps hate, and so forth.  The modern interpretation of love carries with it connotations of permissiveness, acceptance, and entitlement.  The thought seems to be that people should be free to love whoever and however they want, that if you love someone you will let them do whatever they want, and that if someone loves you they will treat you how you want to be treated.  Much of this is patently false and a lot of time could be spent going in depth on this but our concern is that there is a much more significant problem dealing with love in our world today.  The real problem is how followers of Christ treat each other.

If there was one group of people who everyone should be able to look to as role models for how to love it should be the those who have acknowledged Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Not in the “God doesn’t care if I do X because God is love” or “God won’t send people to hell because God is love” or whatever else falls into that rhetoric but in the example of love displayed in Jesus’ life.  Jesus called people to repentance and confronted sin and culture in a way described by an awesome phrase we’ve heard, “grace to the humble and the law to the proud.”  There seems to be a disconnect between how Jesus lived and treated others versus how those who claim to follow Him act.  Why is the dichotomy so distinct?

We believe there is two major factors that are causing so much discord with believers.  First and foremost is the modern church, both how it carries itself and how it is perceived by others.  The second issue is the rule of opinion and emotion over Scripture and is more than likely a direct result of the condition of the church.  These two factors complicated by the growing number of political, cultural, and global points of conflict are being used by the Adversary to “divide and conquer” as he understands a house divided cannot stand (Mark 3:25).  We are going to look into the issues of the modern church this week and finish out the rest next week.

When we refer to churches we are referring specifically to those churches that adhere to the totality of Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God.  Churches that follow the same belief will still have differences in how they operate and if they are abiding in the Truth of the revealed Word of God that is perfectly fine and necessary.  Good pastors know their congregation and can address issues that they are facing as God directs them.  A church in Asia undergoing persecution may well need a different message than a church here in the U.S.A. that is struggling with the strong worldly influence with its youth.  Where the church, in general, comes into the equation in the divisiveness of believers is in the increase of watered down preaching.  Popularity and attendance have taken greater importance than in preaching the whole Word of God.  “Feel good” messages of tolerance and blessings and love go over better than calling sinners to repentance, confronting wickedness in the community, and warning people of the dangers of hell and the separation from God that comes from rejecting Him.

The weak position of these churches plays a part in this discord because of the lack of consistency in the teachings of the Bible.  Someone from a church that takes a minimal or non-existent stance on issues such as abortion, creation, repentance, and judgment will have conflict with believers from a church that does put forth a solid Biblical stance on these issues.  Even if there is no maliciousness in the ensuing conflict these interactions can take place in public spheres such as social media or by sidewalk counselors, street preachers, and others trying to reach the world with the truth of the Gospel.  These low-intensity conflicts are usually quickly solved with some relevant scripture and generally are not as damaging as the intentional or malicious attacking of fellow believers.

The problem with the contemporary perception of the church is most prominently displayed in an increased number of professing Christians who do not attend church.  Some oft-used reasons for the decreased church membership/attendance of believers include weak doctrine, disagreement in leadership style and/or ministry operation, or the belief that church membership is not a requirement.  Unfortunately, this issue has severe repercussions both to believers and to the churches.  This could (and may be) the subject of a much more in-depth article on the modern church but for regarding this issue leaving a church because they have weak doctrine or don’t address issues you feel they should will only weaken the church body.  Bring your concerns to the church and, above all, pray that God will give you and your church guidance and direction in those areas.

Foregoing church attendance also weakens the ability to scrutinize our understanding of the Word of God, weakens accountability with fellow believers, and removes people from church correction/discipline.   If we misunderstand Scripture or pick up wrong beliefs it may be difficult to realize that if we refrain from proper teaching of the Bible and from talking with other believers regularly.  Accountability and church discipline are two of those important topics that seems to be lacking in church messages in modern times.  Accountability in our Christian walk is beneficial for the same reason that exercise and weight loss partners help, they provide encouragement and keep us mindful of our choices.  Church correction and discipline are integral to the body of Christ, confronting sin in the congregation rather then just ignoring it and letting it grow and spread.  Jesus sets up how to handle a fellow believer who is in sin in Matthew 18 and a key part of that process is the church as shown in verse 17 being the final arbitration of the matter.  This is further expounded on in 1 & 2 Corinthians, James, 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Romans, and Galatians.  This last issue coupled with the following issue are the most significant contributors to believers in Christ intentionally vilifying and antagonizing fellow believers.

Next week we will finish this article by looking into the second major factor of hostility between believers in Christ so be sure to check back next Monday.

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

— Hebrews 10:23-25