4 Hidden Issues that Divide the Body of Christ
- Bruce Campbell
- 2015 20 Oct
While some divisions among Christians are obvious, others are subtler. Why does God allow it? Is it because He wants to make it hard on us? Or are the reasons as old as the church itself? Satan has always been involved in the church. It is notable that the first place Jesus cast out a demon was in the synagogue, which was Jesus’ church (Mark 1:23-27).
The devil has always been at work in the church. I guess he felt if he couldn’t beat them, he would just join them. His ways are subtle, so it is important to see how he has caused such division. With this in mind, let us explore the methods of this master tactician and how we can overcome his influence.
1. Inability to Understand God’s Paradox
Honest people who are sincerely seeking God can come up with very different notions about the teachings in the Bible. This is because God has purposely put paradox in Scripture. He doesn’t want us to approach Him through knowledge, but rather through childlike faith. It is His paradox that confounds knowledge and the wisdom of the world. Here are a few paradoxes in Scripture: law and grace; predestination and free will; one God in three; Christ as God and Christ as man; salvation by grace and work out your salvation with fear and trembling; judge not and he who is spiritual judges all things (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If I only believe in the law of God, I may become motivated by fear of God, which affects my intimacy with Him. If I only focus on grace, I may not fear the consequences of sin. Both sides of the paradox must be balanced by each other. The Corinthians received the message of grace and then began to sin with reckless abandonment. They believed they were no longer under the law. The result was death and sickness in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 11:30). In the same way, Jesus taught us grace and love, but was unwilling to cast aside God’s law (Matt 5:17-19).
Every doctrine that divides the church has paradox in it. We will begin to know the true spirit of God when we can embrace both sides of the paradox by faith. Only then can we say all things are predestined and yet I have free will to choose. Only with God is such a thing possible. We say that we believe, with God, all things are possible, but then deny that paradox is possible. Childlike faith has no problem accepting the impossible. When Christians begin to appreciate each other’s viewpoints without feeling threatened, we will no longer be separated by the paradox of God; we will be united in the spirit of love.
2. Confusion of Temporal with Eternal Principles
There is much confusion over temporal and eternal truths. As I stated earlier, many Christians want to argue over a particular viewpoint in Scripture without considering the passages in paradox to that viewpoint. Because we want God to fit into our logic box, we discard any nonconforming Scripture, or simply ignore it. If we acknowledge the opposite Scriptural reference, our doctrine must be modified to accommodate both Scriptures. In the temporal, God’s law is still in effect. By this I mean we have consequences by not following the law. I hear the principle of grace being preached from many pulpits, too often at the expense of the law. The grace is an eternal law that is applied to our eternal spirit, but it should not give us the idea that we can sin with no temporal affect.
In the natural, if you break the law, you will suffer the consequences. If you are speeding and you get a ticket, you might argue to the policeman that you are not under the law, but I doubt it would do any good. The eternal law of grace will keep us out of the lake of fire but will not keep us from the consequences of violating the law in the temporal. Obedience to the law doesn’t save us, but it will keep us out of a whole bunch of trouble. The confusion over law and grace has caused many Christians to be entrapped in sin and division (Romans 7:7-8).
Confusion over the temporal and eternal principles often divides the body of Christ. True wisdom comes when we can be gracious with brothers and sisters who have not yet come to a fuller understanding of the temporal and eternal truths. Jesus said to His church, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34). In other words, Satan can gain great authority in our lives if we reject the commands of Christ.
3. Incorrect Motives of the Heart - 1 Cor 13:1-3
When did God ever make our relationship with Him and people about knowing all things, gifts of the Spirit, or pious acts? Too often we make fellowship too much about gifts, doctrines, good works, and sacrifice. According to the Scripture above, none of these things matter to God if they are not motivated by love. All gifts of God are wonderful, but they are not an evidence of a right heart. They should never be seen as a badge of spirituality. Even our sacrifices to God do not impress Him if we are not motivated by love.
The true mark of a Christian is not his knowledge or doctrine, but rather is the spirit of love. Satan has deceived Christians into believing that fellowship must be based on particular viewpoints and doctrines. How sad to see the division in Christianity because of differing doctrines. Too often Christians accuse one another of heresy, blasphemy and the like, thereby becoming an accuser of the brethren. We must be careful not to take on the role of accuser. This role belongs to Satan and we should always steer clear of it. If I am motivated by anger and hatred, how can I say the love of God abides in me (1 John 4:20)?
We need to understand that God is perfectly fine with differing levels of understanding. Not all children learn at the same rate or are they the same in gifts and personality. We should never be angry or hateful when a brother has been taught or experienced a differing view. There is truth in most doctrines, but perhaps the balancing paradox has been overlooked. One person may have come out of the bondage of fear and can only see the grace of God, while another may have come out of the bondage of anarchy and appreciates the discipline of law. One may focus on law while the other focuses on grace. One might be caught up in gifts while another might be focused on the Word. Why should either focus upset us? Rejoice that they have received understanding of God’s truth, especially when they needed that part of the truth at a critical time in their life.
Be patient and love your brethren and perhaps they will be more attuned to what God has taught you. Both sides can be wrong if motivated incorrectly. If my focus on the law is because I’m afraid God will get me, then I am really motivated by the spirit of fear, not love. If I take advantage of grace and violate the law, I am motivated by the spirit of selfishness, which has no love in it. The subtlety of wrong motives divides the body of Christ.
4. The Religious Spirit - Luke 9:51-56
What is a religious spirit? A religious spirit is when we take the Word of God and use it to destroy others. It was the spirit of religion that found reasons to put Jesus to death though there was no evil in His actions. Too often we have been deceived into thinking we are defenders of the faith when really we have succumbed to a religious spirit. From the Great Inquisition to an argument in Sunday school, the religious spirit disrupts and divides.
The reason Jesus rebuked the disciples is because, in one moment, they threw out the teaching of Jesus to love your enemies and those who despitefully use you. Instead they wanted to kill an entire population of people in the name of Jesus. While they thought they were righteous, Jesus’ rebuke showed them that their true motive was evil before God. Think about it—they wanted to murder everyone in the village, including women and children, in the name of God!
“When Satan spoke through Peter, Jesus sternly rebuked him as well. But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men'" (Matt 16:23). Peter had no idea that the thoughts that came into his mind were not his own. Jesus pointed out the true author of his words and would have nothing to do with them.
The religious spirit is a divider of the body of Christ. Its purpose is to cause us to be caught up in doctrines and disputes rather than yielding to the Holy Spirit of love (1 Tim 6:3-5 & James 1:12-13).
We are not approved by our knowledge of God or our doctrines; we are approved by what manner of spirit we are. Does the spirit of love rule your heart, or are you ruled by disputes and self-righteousness?
It is time for the whole body of Christ to come together to present a unified spirit of love to the world. The religious spirit is hated by the world. Even they can see it is full of hatred, murder, and condemnation. It is time in these last days to say, “I love my Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Charismatic, Methodist, and Pentecostal brethren even though we are all striving to better understand the paradox in Biblical doctrine.” None of us have arrived yet. We all agree Jesus is Lord and it was God who sent Him to give us life eternal. Maturity in Christ is not gauged by the knowledge of God but by the Spirit of God in us (2 Cor. 10:5).
Author, pastor and counselor, Bruce S. Campbell received his Master’s of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest novel and companion study guide, The Beginning: Prelude to the Apocalypse, discuss many of the paradoxes of the Christian faith. In 2009, Bruce and his wife, Jill, founded The Secret Place to counsel ministers who are struggling in sin or need to be renewed in their faith journey. For more information, visit www.BruceSCampbell.com.
Photo courtesy: Pixabay.com
Publication date: October 20, 2015