Division In The Church - The Foundation
Division In The Church
At the beginning of this study I approached many churches in my local area asking for copies of the doctrinal statements and creeds they followed as prerequisites for membership in their assemblies. Since they were to be compared solely with the Word of God, I requested only statements from those congregations who believed in the total inerrancy and completeness of the scriptures as God's inspired Word. This inerrancy was to be mainly concerning salvation and restoration of fellowship with Himself. Because some ministers asked me what I meant by this statement I will clarify it in this way. In order for the Bible (the 66 canonical books) to be the inerrant Word of God it must be historically, scientifically and doctrinally without error as given in its original language. II Pet. 1:21 "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Since it is the Word of God and God cannot lie, all miracles, signs, wonders, and promises are to be accepted as such. To be complete it must be its own interpreter.
If we are to find the meaning of scripture it must be compare to other scripture (II Tim. 3:16-17). All that God wants us to know about Himself is found in its pages. There has been no "New Revelation " from God to man which reveals more than can be found in the writings of the prophets and apostles of God, only the continual revelation of the Holy Spirit as He opens the understanding of the believer to the truths found therein. It is necessary to have a basis such as this because with no supreme authority the only result of our study would be mass confusion. If the Word of God is not reputable and incomplete, all beliefs taken from its pages would be questionable. The scriptures tell us that the influence of the world will invade and corrupt the kingdom of God, while it is on the earth, in all of its areas, but that her final perfect glory will shine forth in her completeness at the coming of Christ Rev .21:10-27. At this time all defilement will be done away, the tares sown in the kingdom, Matt. 13:37-41, will be cast into the fire and the individual believer will shed his or her corrupt human nature for one that is incorruptible I Cor. 15:50-53. Until then individual believers must become students of God's Word. If we choose to neglect this responsibility, it will only be a short time before the tares sown by the enemy creep in and turn the truths of God's Word into a lie.
To begin any building a foundation must be laid. In I Cor. 3:11 we see that the foundation for the church must be Jesus Christ. His life, death, burial and resurrection according to the scriptures, is the foundation on which the church is established. I Cor. 3:10 "For other foundation can no man lay than laid which is Jesus Christ." The NIV makes this statement a little clearer, "For NO ONE can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." The foundation of the true church is secure because her architect and builder is God. Man has no part in its construction, it was laid before the foundation of the world of which we are a part. I Pet, Rev. 13:8. The church in its final stage in glory is secure because this also is a work of God, Matt. 16:18, Isa. 46:12 - 13.
The Bible is very simple and direct as to the true foundation of the church and whether the group of which we are a part is actually a part of the true church. I John 4:1-3, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: EVERY spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh IS OF GOD: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." I John 4:15, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God. God dwelleth in him, and he in God." These statements are simple but concise, no man can call Jesus Christ, Lord, unless the Spirit of God reveals this fact unto him. Matt.16:16-17, in the same manner any church group that acknowledges that Jesus Christ is Lord, is a part of the Kingdom of God. We may be carnal and weak like the Corinthian church. The church may be seduced by the things of the world as was Thyatira. She may allow false teachers to enter who are not of the Lord as was Pergamos. The church may be defiled in many ways but she is still the church! Her actions may bring tribulation, parts of her may be cut off from her source of spiritual growth so that she becomes dormant and unable to show forth the light of Christ (Rev. 1:12-13, 20 - 2:5) but she is still the church and contains children of God. Tares may grow up in her midst cutting off the true light of Christ, but the good seed is there, and it too will be brought into the barns at the triumphant return of Christ.
How do the churches of today stand concerning this foundational truth?
Assembly of God: Article 2 - 3 of the "Tenets of Faith" "The one true God has revealed Himself as the eternally, self-existent, self-revealed "I AM"; and has further revealed Himself as embodying the principles of relationship and association; i.e., as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (Deut. 6:4; Mark 1- 2:29; Isaiah 43:10; Matthew 28:19). Man was created good and upright, for God said, "Let us make man in Our image, after our likeness."But man, by voluntary transgression, fell, and his only hope of redemption is in Jesus Christ the Son of God. (Gen. 1:26-30 3:1- 7; Rom.5:12-21 )."
American Baptist: "Having been led, as we believe by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour..."
Wesleyan: "We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, free from moral taint of nature, perfect in life and conduct, in His miracles, and in His vicarious death. We believe in His atonement for the whole human race, in His bodily resurrection from the dead, in His ascension into heaven where at the right hand of God He is now our Most High Priest and Advocate, and in His bodily return to the earth in His second coming."
Grace Brethren: Article 3 of "Statement of Faith": THE LORD JESUS CHRIST: His preexistence and deity (John 1:1-3), incarnation by virgin birth (John 1:14, Matt. 1:18-23), sinless life (Heb. 4:15), substitutionary death (II Cor. 5:21), bodily resurrection (Luke 24:36-43), ascension into heaven and present ministry (Heb. 4:14-16), and coming again (Acts 1:11).
Church of the Nazarene: Church Constitution Article II: "We believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead; that He was eternally one with the Father; that He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary; so that the two whole and perfect natures, that is t o say the Godhead and manhood, are thus united in one Person very God and very Man, the God-man. We believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He truly rose from the dead and took again His body, together with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith He ascended into heaven and is there engaged in intercession for us."
United Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren: "We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. As ministering Servant He lived, suffered and died on the cross. He was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven to be with the Father, from whence He shall return. He is eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and by Him all men will be judged."
Evangelical Lutheran: Taken from the Augsburg Confession A.D.1530: Art.III- Of the Son of God. "Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, took unto him man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably joined together in unity of person; one Christ, true God and true man: who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and might be as a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men. The same also descended into hell, and truly rose again the third day. Afterward he ascended into the heavens, that he might sit at the right hand of the Father; and reign forever, and have dominion over all creatures; might sanctify those who believe in him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts, who shall rule (sanctify, purify, strengthen), comfort and quicken them, and shall defend them against the devil, and the power of sin. The same Christ shall openly come again, to judge the quick and the dead, according to the Apostle's Creed declareth these and other things."
Southern Baptist: "Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ he was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself the demands and necessities of human nature and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, partaking of the nature of God and of man, and in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord."
Christian - Missionary Alliance: "Jesus Christ is true God and true man. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He died upon the cross, the Just for the unjust, as a substitutionary sacrifice, and all who believe in Him are justified on the ground of His shed blood. He arose from the dead according to the Scriptures. He is now at the right hand of the Majesty on high as our High Priest. He will come again to establish His Kingdom of righteousness and peace.
Church of Christ: Article I- Membership Section 1. The membership shall be composed of those persons who shall confess that they believe upon Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God and Savior..."
G.A.R.B Baptist "We believe that the salvation of sinners is divinely initiated and wholly of grace through the mediatorial offices of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who by the appointment of the Father, voluntarily took upon Himself our nature, yet without sin, and honored the divine law by His personal obedience, thus qualifying Himself to be our Savior; that by the shedding of His blood in His death He fully satisfied the just demands of a holy and righteous God regarding sin; that His sacrifice consisted not in setting us an example by His death as a martyr, but was a voluntary substitution of Himself in the sinners place, the Just dying for the unjust, Christ the Lord bearing our sins in His body on the tree; that having risen from the dead He is now enthroned in Heaven, and uniting in His wonderful person the tenderest sympathies with divine perfection. He is in every way qualified to be a suitable, a compassionate and an all-sufficient Savior."
These are but a few of the many confessions concerning Christ's deity and work which I received from different denominations around the area. Each was identical in thought to the ones mentioned here. Foundationally speaking each church mentioned here, in fact each church which has submitted a statement, has the same belief concerning the person of Jesus Christ. Each church therefore, according to the scripture, represents the kingdom of God on this earth.
Many ministers make the proclamation that scriptures tell us to disband ourselves from churches that we feel are not doctrinally in tune to our beliefs. Here are some scriptures they use: II Cor. 6:17 "come out from among them and be ye separate" Is this what this scripture is in reference to, or is it referring to the individual believer in his or her relationship with the world's system? II Thess. 3:6 "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." This passage seems to be dealing with a brother who uses the benevolence of the church as a "free ride" or one who is a busybody stirring up trouble in the church. This scripture cannot be applied to division in the kingdom for three reasons:
1. None of the churches from whom I have received statements have strayed from the tradition of Paul, as seen above.
2. The application is from the church to an individual not an individual to a church.
3. Even if it were to be applied to the church it does not imply turning our backs on our brothers in Christ but admonishing him or her in order to restore fellowship. (vs.15)
I Tim. 6:3-5 "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of (withdrawing or keeping back by fraud) the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself." Again this scripture to may be in reference to individuals. Perhaps this verse may contain some reason for division among brothers, maybe we have not obeyed God's command to rid ourselves of these trouble makers but have allowed them to control our thoughts. II Tim. 3:2-7 "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." We see this type of man in every denomination of the church. If we are to cease fellowship with a church because some of its earthly members are of this character, then every church in the world would be emptied of believers. To be sure we are to turn away from these teachers but there is no command to turn away from the denomination of which they are a part, unless these teachers permeate that particular denomination of the church in all of its areas. II John 9 - 10 "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed." Again we see acceptance being based on the doctrine of Christ to which all of the above churches subscribe. There are many groups that have sprung up with teachings that deny the power and sanctifying work of Christ, i.e.:*
"Christian Science" - God is not a person he is "Principle" of the same impersonal principle as the principle of mathematics." Man is not a sinner unless he believes himself to be one, God is mind, and man is "the full expression of Mind" "God is all in all. God is good. Therefore all is good."
"the Millennial Dawn or Jehovah's Witness"- "Neither was Jesus a combination of the two natures, human and spiritual. The blending of two natures produces neither the one nor the other, but an imperfect, hybrid thing, which is obnoxious to the Divine arrangement. When Jesus was in the flesh He was a perfect human being; previous to that he was a perfect spiritual being; and since his resurrection He is a perfect spiritual being of the highest or Divine order.....Thus we see that in Jesus there was no mixture of natures, but that twice He experienced a change of nature; first, from spiritual to human; afterward from human to the highest order of spiritual nature, the Divine, and in each case the one was given up for the other.
Mormonism -God is Adam "He (Adam) is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do". (Journal of Discourses, Vol.1, page 50).
Spiritualism- From the Spiritualistic book "Whatever Is, Is Right" "What is evil? Evil does not exist, evil is good." "What is a lie? A lie is the truth intrinsically; it holds a lawful place in creation; it is a necessity. "What is vice? Vice and virtue, too, are beautiful in the eyes of the soul." "What are evil spirits? There are no evil spirits. There is no devil and no Christ. Christ and the devil are both alike."
Each of the above "isms" show by their beliefs that they and those who ascribe to them are not of the church, therefore the scriptures we looked at earlier apply to them, not to the body of believers who proclaim the precious gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our foundation is secure if we believe in Christ as the source and power of our salvation.