Tag Archive: division


Celebration or Separation?

Celebration or Separation?

Cult-like Movement

Messianic Judaism is a term coined to distinguish Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah. But, despite the joy of Jews believing in Jesus as their Messiah, it is sadly a movement within Christianity with cult-like tendencies. The movement parades itself under the guise of mere cultural Christianity, but it often carries menacing and divisive traits by its adherents. And, basically, by design, it’s a divisive movement.

Soured Celebration

Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that all cultures should be able to enjoy the Christian faith within their own culture and to the extent that their culture doesn’t conflict with the Gospel. Likewise, Judaism carries a number of cultural-religious ideas and practices that Jewish believers in Christ can also hold onto. In this way, Messianic Judaism should be no different to say Zulu Christianity or American Christianity or Chinese Christianity or any other people’s expression of the Christian faith and culture. However, sadly, Messianic Judaism is often foisted, subtly or forcedly, on Jewish and non-Jewish believers as the ultimate Christianity to which all should aspire. A sort of superior Christianity!

Separate and Superior

Now, you have got to wonder about a group that speaks of themselves in such separate terms to all other Christians. I mean, a Zulu who comes to faith doesn’t go about saying, “I am a Zulu Christian” or use the term “Zulu Christianity”. That would smack of separateness and could lead to having an air of superiority! Yet, this is precisely what “Messianic Jews” do and what Messianic Judaism is.  Also, and especially annoying, is that non-Jewish converts to this form of Christianity participate in doing this.

Redeeming Messianic Judaism

Now, the term Messianic Judaism is useful if used among Jews to distinguish Jewish believers from other Jews, but it should not be used in the church, as it fosters a sense of division. And, where this happens, mischief is at work, because, Christ is not divided!

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters. What matters is faith that is active through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Rob

Go here for Messianic Judaism – Celebration or Separation Part 1

Fostering Wolves

Fostering Wolves

Exploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

Fostering Wolves

When we elevate individuals in the church by kowtowing to them and their opinions, they can easily begin to think that they are superior to the group. And, very quickly they can seem distant and untouchable in the minds of regular members. It’s already a challenge to hold regular people accountable to one another and God’s word; imagine how much harder if someone has the idea of having preeminence. And, all the harder still if others believe the preeminence to be true.

These elevated individuals can subtly influence the flock or even blatantly rule them. Either way, it’s an environment for fostering false teaching. Paul warned the elders of Ephesus saying that “savage wolves will come among you and not spare the flock. Indeed, some of your own men will come forward and distort the truth in order to lure the disciples into following them” (Acts 20:29-30). Ever wonder why we have anointed men and women speaking different messages to one another to their own band of followers? I suggest that elevating people or allowing them to elevate themselves has contributed to this.

Super-Gurus

Paul readily used terms of equality when referring to people that he was a leader among; terms like, brother, partner, co-worker and fellow soldier. It shows his mindset and that of the early church. Super-gurus existed, but weren’t elevated.

There are, no doubt, some incredibly anointed teachers in the body of Christ, but as anointed as they may be, they are not above anyone else or above having their message examined in the light of God’s word. The Bereans, in Acts 17, didn’t dance around Paul, and they were commended for testing his message against scripture. In the same way, we should be able to test a speaker’s message and openly share our opinions if we believe the Bible to be saying something different. Also, this kind of interactive environment with a teacher can allow for more growth than simply hearing a one-way message.

Leaders Entangled in Sin

God’s word speaks of “the sin that so easily entangles us” (Heb. 12:1). Here, the author, a church leader, has clearly included himself with the pronoun “us”. By putting our church leaders over us, they are easily isolated and are more susceptible to fall into sin. Then, once involved with sin and without help, like a python strangling its prey, things can get more and more serious for them. Or, having begun with something small, the sin escalates to something more devastating.

Allowing formal or even subconscious hierarchy amongst us is a trap that can bring awful damage to the leader and to those who have wrongly elevated him. When leaders go astray, it is far less of an earth shattering experience if they are among the flock and not over them. Having been seen as equal to everyone else and just as vulnerable to sin and error, they are more reachable and easily helped.

Leading without Hierarchy

This requires brave leadership. No fear to lose people. Jesus lost many, but gained true followers through the Spirit. Don’t control; Jesus didn’t! You cannot really hold it together anyway. Members are designed to learn and grow in freedom. They are not yours!

For the sake of unity and fellowship it seems that if we focus on agreement over issues and on doctrine that we will always divide and be divided. If, however, we fix our eyes on Him who fellowships with each of us, despite our differences, then we may be able to accept one another with the same mercy and grace shown to us.  He lovingly holds us together in fellowship in His body, made possible by His death, resurrection and ascension.

If the Sadducees and the Pharisees, with all their differences, could come together under one roof, how much more can’t we who are unified by God’s Spirit and placed in the body of Christ. Jesus came under the same roof as people who rejected Him and who would have Him crucified! How far are you prepared to go?

Too idealistic for this world?! Yes, but, remember, we are not of this world!

Rob

Other posts in this series:

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 2: Issues and Opinions

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 6: Loving the Wacky, Not Their Wackiness

God can use anyone. Even an ass!

God can use anyone. Even an ass!

Exploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

We Cannot Separate

It’s sometimes really tricky handling people of different persuasions in the Body of Christ. In fact, some are so weird and wacky that I am inclined to want to dismiss them altogether. Creating separation seems the easiest and safest resort, but as previously discussed; this only causes the problem of endless schisms.

So, instead of separating ourselves from other parts of the Body, (which is a ridiculous notion if we consider that the metaphor of a physical body suggests unity), what should we do? Can’t we simply point out what we consider to be error while recognizing and esteeming the truths held in common?

Living With One Another’s Nonsense

It should be everyone’s right to openly discuss and if necessary lovingly confront the teaching of anyone else both within the body of Christ. However, when pointing out error, we must avoid tarring people. They are more than the crazy things that they may have said or done. They are loved by God and have often enriched the body of Christ in many ways, and still continue to do so.

My own challenge is to remember that the errors and outcome of a man’s ways don’t totally disqualify all that he has said and stood for. If that were the case, then I would have to stop reading what Solomon, Luther, Calvin …and, dare I say, what even I have written :).

You see, although the source and outcomes might not always be healthy, those propagating their beliefs may nevertheless be gifted, anointed and used by God to be dispensers of certain truths. And, despite their flaws they are making a significant difference. For example, I grew up as a Catholic and although I would warn against a lot of their teaching and practices, I nevertheless appreciate the truths that they taught me. Luther might have felt the same.

If I am truly following the Shepherd, then I can recognize when He is speaking through the various members in the Body. Especially, if I dismiss any claims to hierarchy and the trappings of the guru culture that so often form around certain gifted personalities.

Lovingly Disagree

Even though it’s difficult at times, let’s choose to foster healthy relationships with all in the body of Christ and realize that a somewhat unhealthy body part can still be beneficial to the parts around them. Remaining in touch may be the route to their recovery.

“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).

Let’s allow for environments that champion fellowship based on discovering truth in love. This means getting comfortable with open disagreement over issues rather than needing consensus around our personal beliefs in order to enjoy fellowship.

Expecting consensus around details of our faith is a naïve ideal that when pursued at all costs, ultimately produces division. It then goes on to breed false conformity maintained through ignorance and fear, constant immaturity, and guru followers rather than Jesus followers who are students of God’s word.

In my next post I’ll share more on this hope of growing in unity through recognizing that it already exists!

Rob

Other posts in this series:

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 2: Issues and Opinions

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

Rediscovering Unity

Rediscovering Unity

In order to better affect the nations with the blessings of God, it is paramount that we, as the Body of Christ, rediscover, nurture and enjoy the unity that we have amongst one another.

Notice, we don’t need to establish unity, we simply need to recognize the unity that God has already established amongst all believers through His Son’s death, resurrection and ascension.

Sadly, we are so easily divided over our opinions and this is where we have fallen off the bus. We are too easily snared by the need for others to think like us and when they don’t, we often don’t hesitate to create division. And, we do this to the point of clouding the unity which God has already given us that it often appears lost.

Through the cross God has demonstrated His love for us by receiving us as His own children irrespective of our opinions. And this He continues to do while changing us to be more like Christ. Also, irrespective of our opinions, God has made each of us who believe, members of Christ’s body, the Church. So, if He has already accepted each of us irrespective of our points of view and continues to do so, then who are we to establish fences between one another where He has none?

Recognizing the precious eternal unity that already exists among each and everyone in the Body of Christ is the starting point for nurturing and enjoying it. If we seek unity on the basis of doctrine alone then we will always be divided, unable to cultivate the unity that we have in Christ. But, if we genuinely love one another despite our opinions, then we have the essence of how to grow in unity. You see, our place and unity in the Body of Christ is founded on God’s sacrificial love, and sacrificial love is our means for growing in unity.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!  It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1-3).

Rob

Related post

Welcoming Differences, Avoiding Division – Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Being Different

Being Different

Exploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

When Seeing Beyond is Unwelcome                            

Consider what happens in a church group when a member or two begin to think differently, and perhaps even see beyond the horizons of their group. Most groups don’t facilitate open sharing, and even where some do, anything outside of certain domains of thinking is quickly shut down. And, where there is openness to be heard by a leader or pastor on a subject, you are generally herded by their reasoning into their camp of prescribed denominationalism or particular church bias.

In these environments, members cannot co-exist under one roof with openly professed diverse thinking, never mind different practices. In fact, if you don’t withdraw and conform (religiously called “submit”), then you are likely to hear something resembling, “If you don’t like it here then perhaps you need to find a group that thinks like you do and rather meet and worship with them.” But, is this a suitable outcome?

Prohibited from comfortably sharing their new found views with their brothers and sisters to reflect on, and unable to explore possible growth with others in that area, people may feel the need to then leave the group and fellowship elsewhere. When this happens, those enjoying life within the “safe” parameters of the original group can be very unsympathetic toward those wanting to leave. They can consider them to be rebellious and un-submissive to leadership and their church’s established views.

This type of leadership and group control is destructive both to individual and corporate growth which require personal freedom along with mutual submission to bring about true unity. Also, true unity does not come through controlling people’s behavior, but rather through recognizing that foundationally unity already exists through each member’s inclusion into the body of Christ. We can flow with unity and grow it, but we cannot undo it at its starting point. That said, all fellowship should be founded on this basis alone despite our differences in points of view.

Unfortunate Dilemma

So, the problem with denominationalism, and most groups for that matter, is that if a person’s ideas start to become too varied from that of the group, then depending on the issue, they may be faced with the predicament of needing to choose between staying or leaving. It’s a sad dilemma where they may feel that by staying they would be compromising their growth and that by going they would compromise the fellowship that they have enjoyed.

Clearly, denominationalism, guru following and fellowship based on uniformity of thinking are flawed ways for building on the unity that we already have as members of Christ’s body. Yet, people are content to feed off teachers rather than Christ, be happily ignorant of God’s word and find security in environments that easily fuel division and that one day may serve only to spit them out too.

So, how can we enjoy safe healthy fellowship with one another despite, at times, holding conflicting views?

In my next post I’ll share more on this.

Rob

Other posts in this series:

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 2: Issues and Opinions

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 6: Loving the Wacky, Not Their Wackiness

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

BlissfulExploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

Different camps of thinking easily form into what become exclusive groups (exclusive to certain thinking and practices) especially where leadership is top down and where the leaders impart and control the belief system. Denominations are examples of these clusters of believers who are like minded on certain issues of faith. And, many local churches operate in the same way. This sameness is also brought about because members simply assume or are duped into thinking that all must be right in their denomination, house church or fellowship.

This sameness especially flourishes where folk are guru followers rather than Jesus followers. And, I don’t only mean the Super-Gurus, like the international speakers and book writers, but also how folk relate to the leaders and pastors in their fellowship. You see, it seems many people blindly take all that is said by anointed teachers to be true simply because they were touched at one time or another through that person’s ministry.

Satisfied with the claim that their denomination or church is Bible-based, most folk seem to be content in the environments that they are being discipled in. With everything explained to them from their trusted source, they seem oblivious, or act oblivious, or are kept oblivious to fair representation of other points of view on the big issues.

Clearly, this claim by churches and teachers to Biblical authority for their points of view is flawed when we have a multitude of denominations, churches and Super-Guru’s who claim this and yet differ in so many significant areas. It’s a bit of hit-and-miss when it comes to certain issues and they’re often discipling others with their own view of Scripture, which at times departs from the truth.

Keeping people ignorant of fully represented views by anybody in the Body of Christ is not protective of unity but ultimately entrenches division. Unity with diversity under one roof must be possible, or we are not living out our DNA of being known by our love, not our doctrine.

In my next post I’ll share on the problem of being different.

Rob

Other posts in this series:

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 2: Issues and Opinions

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 6: Loving the Wacky, Not Their Wackiness

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

Free to be different

Free to be different

Exploring the possibility of real unity under one roof despite differences of opinion

There are all kinds of opinions on a wide range of important issues in the Body of Christ. To name just a few, consider matters like women in ministry, children ministry, our response to homosexuals, the gifts of the Spirit, and styles of church governance and leadership. These are some of the bigger challenges that we are sometimes faced with, which, if handled badly, can cause unnecessary division.

(In this post, I’ll be focusing on the effects that our differences of opinion have on unity. However, that said, it’s quite often the little foxes that ruin the vineyard. Things like gossip, unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness probably turn out to be more destructive and divisive than our differences over the larger issues.)

Now, regular church folk have a range of opinions on different topics. Some views may be quite developed while others are less established. Some are based on the Bible, others on what they’ve heard, and still others on what they feel, and to top it off there are those views that are endorsed with a “God told me…” label. And, oddly, some feel that the later can even trump the first (see my post, The Words of the Bible are Alive for more on this issue). Generally though, most views are often probably a combination of these sources.

Then, alongside (although sadly typically above these folk) are those who are discipling the flock, like your typical pastors and teachers. They tend to hold better honed, but, nevertheless, diverse opinions on different issues too. Based on the Bible of course! At least those that good evangelical Christians would even begin to consider listening to.

This is the conundrum, that those who claim that the Bible, undoubtedly the purest source, is their source of inspiration still get varied results. So, clearly claiming the correct source for your ideas does not mean that you have its content. Now, the problem is not the Bible, but the one reading and studying.

(For help on reading and studying your Bible I have a site that you might find useful at Bible Coaching: How to Read & Study the Bible.)

Chasing Nirvana

If the ideal was always true, where the life and thoughts that are shared and taught emanate only from Jesus and a pure understanding of the Bible, then all would be well. However, we know that such an ideal is an unrealistic constant and that at best exists only in part. Nevertheless, people, especially new believers, find comfort zones that appear to them to be the ideal, only later to discover the flaws. And, when this happens, and the issues are big, fellowship can be ruined.

Those happy with the status quo feel threatened when differing views crop up amongst members on important issues. Their insecurity and the need to have all persons think alike, demands that all should return to the default. Sadly, this protective response has the opposite effect and threatens to jettison the unity and fellowship rather than save it, or at best maintain only a false unity based on ignorance, fear, insecurity and intimidation. Would you like to join :)?

But, should our differences, even over big issues, divide us? And, can we maintain unity, able to lovingly fellowship week in and week out under the same roof despite the differences of opinion that may arise in our fellowships? History has shown that we have struggled to do this, but surely it’s possible?!

In my next post I’ll share more on this issue.

Rob

Part 1: God’s Home

Part 3: Blissfully Ignorant in My Church

Part 4: The Problem of Being Different in Church

Part 5: Dividing over Issues

Part 6: Loving the Wacky, Not Their Wackiness

Part 7: Preeminent Leaders and Super-Gurus

I have a dream

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, let me share my dream.

I have a dream that one day we will again gather as the ecclesia regardless of our differences, united by God’s love seen expressly in Jesus, and letting nothing get in the way of that. Until then, the current church paradigm where we divide based on doctrine is at odds with this.

When considering the issue of division in the body of Christ and trying to remedy it, we need to make the scriptures our starting point rather than our experiences, and the Scriptures certainly don’t advocate what we see! Ignoring them and looking only at historical and current circumstances, we might feel inclined to justify what we have. However, it’s dubious at best to think something is God’s intention when He never advocated it.

We need to accept that unity in Christ already exists despite our disagreements over doctrine. We already have true unity in a very real sense through having been joined together in Christ. You see, in Jesus, God has reconciled man to God and believers to one another. We have all been baptized into one body. It’s in recognizing this that we have our platform to enjoying this unity with one another.  In other words, we can have unity, because we do have unity.

The unity that we already have in Christ needs only to be made manifest, but this requires our co-operation. One way is by not making other reasons a prerequisite for unity. It’s by creating other reasons as the basis for unity that we have negated the greatest reason, and so doing have undone God’s intentions. Through making certain “truths” a basis for unity, we have only created schisms. For example, ones mode of baptism, end time theology or understanding of the baptism in the Spirit may be the biblically correct one, but as a basis for unity it doesn’t trump our unity in Christ that already exists. By all means have your ideas, share your ideas, but don’t create churches based around them. Chances are, amongst all your “truths” you have something wrong anyway.

In this day and age, most believers recognize members of various churches and denominations to be their brothers and sisters despite differences in doctrine and practice. However, by making doctrinal beliefs and practices a primary reason for unity, churches have denied everyone the joy of celebrating in unity. I believe we need to have gatherings that accommodate all believers, where views are not quashed, and where we love one another by allowing our various views to be aired and corrected by God in His time. In Phil. 3:15 we have an example of where Paul accommodated believers holding different views where he says, “…if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

A national sports team has their millions of fans in unity despite varied views on play options, player choices, etc. This unity is often expressed when supporters gather together in front of the TV in homes, pubs, etc. In these gatherings you can often hear disagreements among supporters of the same team, but this does not detract from their celebratory unity.

The Bible, like the rules of play for a game and not our interpretation of them, is sufficient security for keeping the general course of conversation healthy. We tend to think that our particular interpretation of scripture that we inscribe in statements of faith, church constitutions, etc. gives security to truth for future generations. However, this has often proven to be divisive and often little security at all. The Bible is enough. So, if on the interpretation of the Bible we disagree, let’s let the Bible and The Author correct each other and not let our differences keep us from gathering together and celebrating our unity in Jesus.

By all means meet where you do, but not out of a need to be separate from others in the body of Christ. Elders, as those who lead by example, be inclusive and unthreatened. God can handle His Household and will give you the grace to help ensure that the truth of our unity is guarded amidst differences, even amongst yourselves.

Rob

 Silence of the Lambs

Churches and denominations have created an impasse for true unity, by holding on to different beliefs and practices that members are expected to adhere to. Any discussions outside the boundaries that are allowed in churches are generally muted by the immediate leaders who are often in no position to effect any real changes anyway. Should members believe otherwise, they are generally expected to keep it to themselves or leave quietly.

Around these issues, church leaders have simply become enforcers of the views that they have been brain washed into believing. (Sorry to be so harsh.) Why is it that, say for example, Methodist ministers think as they do as opposed to Pentecostal ministers? There’s no guessing as to what the flock ends up believing! Those who claim to be teaching God’s word, but are not accountable to it, or worse still, are given authority by their church’s established sets of beliefs, not only implement the divisions, but are protected in doing this too.

Now, each of these churches claims to be Christ’s church when they meet, but their differences only serve to prove that they often teach, outside of Christ’s authority, simply passing down what their founders had interpreted and passed on to them. Which church can claim to be right in every area? None! If so, we need to agree that unity based on doctrine has been a chasing after the wind, a futile exercise. In fact, it is a large contributor for ongoing schisms.

The Bible is God’s authority over all spheres of society and issues in life. Absurd as it may seem, but those in the church sphere need reminding of this too. Church history shows many small and large failures by the church to represent God properly. They are all as a result of not living in the light of God’s word. Drastic discrepancies between the Word of God and how the church conducts itself can develop and become engrained over time.

Appearing first as seeds of truth, incorrect interpretations or assumptions easily take root where the ground of our lives is barren of the Lord’s presence and the Word of God. Then, astonishingly, the lie can grow undetected for years among our plants of truth, even for decades or centuries. The unrecognized lie becomes so a part of life that thinking contrary to it seems wrong.

However, should someone venture upon the truth in God’s word that exposes the lie, he may feel compelled to take steps to uproot it, just as at the Reformation, and at other times, when the church needed to correct its ways. Sadly, in this process, we have often made our corrections at the expense of our unity. As a result, one of the worst weeds of all came about – the approval of division among ourselves to accommodate our differences.

This lie has become so entwined in our belief system that we can hardly imagine that it’s a weed at all. It seems so necessary and useful. But, when looking at God’s word, we see that a lot was tolerated in the early churches and things were very messy, yet dividing wasn’t an option. In contrast, today we have sterile environments where, like me, many members have kept silent on their views to keep the bond of peace. But this too is wrong if it’s only to maintain a false unity and keep a false peace around questionable doctrine and not around Jesus. There is a difference. In my next post I’ll share more on the mindset needed to once again embrace the unity that we have lost and begin to uproot the lie of division.

Rob

No Reason to Ever Separate

We are all a part of Jesus and the ecclesia and that is our reason for gathering. We have made the idea of dividing around doctrine the norm of Christianity when it shouldn’t even be in our thoughts. If Jesus hangs out with you, then who am I not to do the same?

Rather than to unrealistically expect to raise people in our squeaky clean versions of doctrine and ways of doing things, we should learn to accept and live with anyone that Jesus does. We all know that He is in the midst of each of our gatherings, yet sadly we cannot find a way to be in each other’s presence despite our differences.

For the most part, what separates us is no reason to do so. In fact, I’m not sure that there is a reason to ever gather separately. Our separating smacks of the old apartheid (I speak as a white South African). When one’s in the middle of it, you might not really see it for what it is, but certainly in hindsight it is something to be ashamed of.

I like to think of church like family. There needs to be some very serious differences to keep a family from sharing a Thanksgiving meal together. Surely our differences that we separate over are meant to be overcome by longsuffering and not through separation. Our variant views are seldom flagrant sin and even the necessary separation of those who are unrepentant and practicing obvious moral sin is only so that they may be restored.

Not only is our separation shameful, but it hinders our own blessing, for where we live in unity God commands His blessing. Hanging out with each other despite our differences is not easy and it will require a lot of His grace and the love that Jesus said we would be recognized by, but surely it’s worth it.

We cannot find our security in our doctrines and denominations, but we have our security in Jesus and the word of God. We were not left to have to choose the best group. These groups are of our own making through putting our knowledge above the type of love and unity where there is a freedom to disagree.

Let us remember 1Cor 13:12 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Rob

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