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This Week's Teaching: "Stop Dividing the Church"
A gentle but heartfelt appeal: We have to stop dividing the church around petty human opinions.
A couple weeks ago, I was in a small town and I was looking for a place to fellowship with other believers. When Paul was on his missionary journeys and he would go into an area, the first place he went was wherever he expected to find God-fearing people. He started there. And so for him it would be going to the synagogue and then if he wasn't welcomed there, he would go perhaps to a place of prayer. One time in Acts we read that he went to a river expecting to find a place of prayer, and there he met with people and then ultimately, yes, he ends up in the marketplace and everything.
As we travel across America, when we land someplace, I start thinking, where is the place of prayer? Where is the place of worship? And in this setting, for now, that's finding a place that we think of as church. When I go into an area, I think where's the closest, smallest church that I can find?
We were in a small town. And I found one that I actually had some affinity with in my background, and I thought, well, I can go there. And as I looked into it, it was a church that was born out of division. Their story is that there were people who were suggesting change and they held out and now they have a new denomination. They wouldn't call it that, they wouldn't say it that way, but they have everything right. According to them, they were the ones who held their ground. They were the ones who still have men and women separate in worship. They're the ones who still dress the right way, who don't dress the wrong way. I decided not to go to that one.
I found another one that was even a little bit closer but, as I looked at them, they were born out of division. The denomination, the group that they're a part of was born out of division. They believed that their baptism was the only true baptism. They actually divided over whether they could accept someone who is baptized by another church, would they accept them into their church? And their answer was, "No. Our baptism is the only one that counts." I didn't go to that one.
I went to another church and there I found easy fellowship. I was welcomed as a brother and there was wonderful message on relationships and the selflessness of relationships. In fact, a message that I come back to often.
And then I went to another church that wasn't as easy a participation for me, but I enjoyed the spirit there. And the message there was that suffering for the Christian is inevitable. Another message that I come back to often.
But it started me thinking about Divisions in the church. And my appeal is that we must stop dividing the church around petty differences of opinion.
Now, none of us would divide over what we think is petty. I'm calling it petty. I'm saying that it's non-essentials. It's differences of opinion, theological or cultural where we say we got it right, the other people got it wrong, so therefore they have no part of us anymore. We have no part of them. And we treat it as wickedness and it's just differences of opinion.
I'm also a part of some house church discussion groups on social media and stuff, and I'm just as distressed by what I see happening there. It seems that some of the people who are caught up in the house church movement are more concerned about making sure that they condemn the institutional church than they are about just wanting to know Jesus, wanting to love one another. And it seems that their gospel is a combination of pro-housechurch and anti-institutional church. And so they're always just railing against pastors and all. And I would say to them, we have to stop sowing division. We have to stop dividing the church.
1st Corinthians 1.
"I appeal to you brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus. That all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. And what I mean is this. One of you says, "I follow Paul," and another says, "I follow Apollos," another says, "I follow Cephas," and still another, "I follow Christ." And Paul says, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?"
Of course not. Of course not.
"Therefore, if any of you have encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any, common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others."
"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
Skipping to verse 11. "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and the teachers to equip his people for works of service." And I would ask you, Is there anyone that you're following right now? Any human leader? So Paul says, don't divide the church around human leaders, which one you follow? Here, "Christ gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and the teachers to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
"The acts of the flesh are obvious..." If I read most of them, you'll get sidetracked. I'm just gonna read two of them. "Dissensions, factions." "Dissensions, factions."
We have to stop dividing the church. And listen, we're not talking about dividing organizations or institutions. We're talking about dividing up the body of Christ. We're talking about cutting apart the bride of Christ. We're talking about separating the family of God and saying, you go over there. We'll stay here. We don't want anything to do with you. We have to stop doing that.
Like I say, this is a gentle but heartfelt word, and I believe the Lord is indignant about this.
So what's the solution? It is not just to force unity. If you try to force unity, you just end up diluting our understanding and our practice in the faith. It's not to force unity. It's not unity for unity's sake.
The solution is love. Love one another. Love each other. Love in such a way that you prefer another's good over your own. Lay your life down for your brother and sister. Let God be the judge. Stop condemning each other.
Yes, hold to your convictions. Yes, open up scripture. Ask the apostles what they meant. Yes. But stop dividing the church. Whether that's around a system that you like or whether it's around a doctrine that you believe is core, stop dividing the church.
I know it's complicated. Paul told Titus, "Warn a divisive person once, then warn them a second time and after that have nothing to do with them." There is a time to go separate ways. But my challenge to you and my challenge to myself: Let's not be the ones pushing for that separation. When we split up the body of Christ, it causes him pain, and it should cause us pain too.
Like I say, a gentle but heartfelt word. We've got to stop dividing the church around petty differences of opinion.
Now, I don't know if I'm speaking to anyone with authority in any of these situations where churches have divided. If you are someone with decision making authority, here's my challenge. That group that you just split from, pray for them, lay your life down for them.
"Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
Ah, this does the Lord's heart good when we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the of peace.
My prayer over all of us is that we would become very tender toward each other and that we would stop separating over doctrinal differences.
One day we will all bow before the Lord. Some of us who've been hardened toward the Lord will fall before him and it'll be a time of trembling. And I don't know if it will be regret or if we'll continue to be under delusion. I don't know. But those of us who have bowed the knee to Christ already will see him and will fall face down before him. And there we will experience such a great equalizer face down before the Lord receiving our reward, his promise, the salvation of our souls shoulder to shoulder with people that we dared to divide from on this earth, but find ourselves united with in our confession of Christ.
One day we will bow down, face down before him. Yes, there are probably people in your circle, and I may even speak to this coming up. There are probably people in your circle who are trying to say that certain kinds of morality don't matter or are fine, or however they say it. I'm not arguing for tolerating wickedness. "Cast the wicked person out from among you." I am not talking about that. Those who persist in sin, who persist in wickedness, the Lord will separate them out and say, "I didn't know you." But let's make sure that we don't separate the church around our own opinions. Let's make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
My prayer for you is that you would find opportunity this week to extend a hand and to show grace and to be humble toward those who perhaps others in your circle have cut ties from. We've got to stop dividing the church around petty differences of human opinion.
Finally, God always takes care of his church, God's got us. It's his church. It's not your church. It's not my church. It's not our church. It's his church. And here we are. Let's serve him well.
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