10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17 NASB
In my previous post, I talked about some divisions in the church and demonstrated how that division can most often be attributed to the doctrines of men. I also pointed out how Ephesians 4:3 tells us to be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit". This unity is expected to be the default attitude within the church, not the exception. In fact, Paul encouraged the believers to lay aside "every wind of doctrine" that tossed the believers here and there as waves on the ocean (v. 14).
Today, I want to expand on that idea of man's doctrines to consider the question, "what men do I follow?" And as you read this post, I would like to ask you, "what men do you follow?" I think that if we really consider this question with a sincere conviction, we will likely be challenged in what we discover.
Sooo Many Men to Follow
As most of us Protestants already understand, a foundational teaching of the Roman Catholic church began on the idea of men being the head of the Church. They have long argued that Jesus intended for Peter to be the first "pope" and they reference Matthew 16:18 as the guiding reference for this doctrine. In turn, that created somewhat of a Church "king" that would be passed down from man to man through the centuries with the expressed thought that all decrees spoken by the pope would be considered infallible. This idea that the "pope can't be wrong" has been challenged a time or two through the years, and I am sure there are plenty of Roman Catholics who would argue against it. Nevertheless, it cannot be argued that this has not been a foundational doctrine upon which the Roman Catholic church has been built. Also, at every turn, the Roman Catholic church seemingly attempts to replace a relationship with Christ with a relationship with a man. Whether that be in praying to the saints, asking a priest for forgiveness, seeking approval from the pastoral hierarchy, the issuance of last rites, etc., etc.
However, the Roman Catholic church was not the first group of Christians to form this idea that we are to be followers of men. In fact, the verse I identify in today's article was written well before the coronation of any "Petrine primacy" in the Church. Long before any ascension of man to the kingship of the Church, 1 Corinthians shows us that early New Testament believers were already beginning to separate themselves based on the distinct ideas of the teacher(s) whom they preferred.
Of course, this "following of men" did not stop with Roman Catholics. The Methodist church was primarily built on John Wesley's "holiness" teachings; the Presbyterian church was largely founded on the doctrines of John Calvin; the early Particular Baptists (which is the primary distinction in today's SBC churches) were also heavily influenced by the doctrines of John Calvin; the Lutheran church was patterned after the teachings of Martin Luther; the Episcopal church was formed from a split from the Roman Catholics over King Henry VIII's desire for a divorce (basically a first cousin to the Roman Catholics); the Pentecostal church was heavily influenced by the doctrines of Charles Parham with later Charismatic congregations finding their identities in the teachings of William Seymour; and the Kentucky-based Christian Church would have never seen the light of day if it were not for the "credal non-creed" of Barton Stone. Obviously, this list is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of all doctrinal pursuits across all of Christendom. Also, there are certainly many more people, doctrines, etc. which have had similar influences on these distinct groups of believers than I could ever possibly hope to point out in one short post.
Now, before you think that I have some internal disdain for any of the "church fathers" mentioned above, let me say that I am thankful for those who have taken stands of faith (often in the face of persecution from the institutional church against which they were revolting) and pursued their convictions in what they believed were intentions to further the Gospel (at least some of the time). I will also note that I am thankful to see the Word of God made known throughout the centuries regardless of the enemy's attempts to extinguish it. Lastly, it is not my goal to point to any of these groups and say, "they are wrong" or "they are right". Instead, I simply want to ask myself, "who do I follow?"
I would wager a dollar to doughnuts that if you asked the other believers at your local church about the specific doctrines that they believe (or that your denomination follows), most would likely not know where to begin. For instance, years ago, when our family was looking for a church, I called a local pastor and asked whether or not they were "Reformed" (or Calvinist) in their beliefs. His answer was, "I think the majority of people at our church wouldn't even know what that means." Personally, I would not be surprised at all if that were similar to the response most pastors would give about their congregants. Our family ended up attending that church for several years and I was surprised to find out how many people in that congregation were not even aware of the foundational doctrines that had established their denomination. In fact, when I asked people "why does our church believe this, or that" they would surprisingly try to downplay my questions. Often the replies would include "oh I doubt we really believe that" or "well, many of us don't necessarily go along with this or that" or "well, one of the elders doesn't agree with that (seemingly essential) doctrine so you can disregard that part of the preacher's sermon". Uh...what?
Do We Even Know?
I am thankful for the spiritual insight I have received and the doctrinal admonishments I have been given through the years by other believers who were more mature in their faith. It is this "iron sharpening iron" (Proverbs 27:17) that all of us should desire to have present in our lives. For me, I know I tend to get off track when I decide to place a "flag in the sand" of some other man's doctrine. It is at this point where I make a conscious decision to live out their beliefs by taking them as my own. That being said, there are several people (most of whom are now passed away) who have published books on biblical topics that I have enjoyed reading through the years. I can certainly appreciate sitting down and reading something that helps me to see the Bible with a clearer vision. Likewise, I also enjoy listening to sermons and will often have something going in the background while working. But I must continually check myself to see if I am becoming more "Tozer-like" (insert name of your favorite preacher) or more "Christ-like". I should wrestle with the words that men tell me I should believe, and I should be unwavering in my foundation of Jesus Christ.
I want to be firmly rooted in Christ Jesus the Lord. One day when I enter heaven, I do not want to overlook the presence of Jesus because all I can think about is sitting at the feet of John Calvin (God forbid).
6 Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. 8 See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ. Colossians 2:6-8
Am I more interested in the "human tradition" of religion or a Spirit-led walk with Christ? Am I more concerned with the "creed" of my denomination or with the convictions birthed from wrestling those doctrines against the Bible? Can I account for the statement of faith listed on my church's website or do I even care because "they have great worship music"? When others ask me, "am I a Christian?" do I reply with "yes" or do I reply with, "yes, I am an (input church affiliation here)." Do I identify most with my denomination or with the King of kings?
At the end of the day, I do not want to be of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas, or of Calvin, or of Wesley, or of anyone else for that matter. I only want to be of Jesus Christ the Lord.
The issues surrounding church division have been around for centuries and I am under no illusion that this little blog is going to change the way churches operate. That being said, it is my prayer that those who read this will truly consider, "what is it that I choose to believe" and "who is it that I choose to follow"? It may very well be the most important question you ever answer.