1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all...14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:1-5, 14-16 NASB
Before anyone sends me email telling me that I shouldn't have left out verses 7-13 in today's Scripture, try to understand that this is intended to be a short-form blog. I know that everyone is busy with life and I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to read my writings. Therefore, I try to get to the point as soon as possible and I try to concentrate on those verses which are the primary focus of my day's post. However, I would encourage you to open your Bible and read all the verses. I have always heard that to understand scripture we should always read it with 20/20 vision; 20 verses before the passage of focus and 20 verses after the passage of focus to give us greater context. Lastly, I apologize for the length of today's post. I usually try to keep it around a 5-minute read but I just could not do it for this one.
A Divided Church
The Church is so divided. I guess in many ways it always has been, I'm certain it has for the entirety of my life. And as I have researched the history of the Church, it appears that this has always been the case. Yet, the New Testament is full of hope for unity as though unity in the Spirit should be expected, not the exception. In fact, if you closely read today's passage you will see that the Spirit brings unity in the body; it is man's doctrines which divide (v. 14).
That being said I know that denominations have often begun with good intentions of trying to correct some other non-Biblical doctrine in the Church. Some groups have even started as real and true moves of God and grew and grew to the point where it became institutionalized. The theme of "institutional church" does seem to weave its way through all the denominations in some way or another. To me, this would be another stamp of man's handiwork instead of that of the Spirit.
I certainly do not stand as the final authority of all scriptural knowledge and understanding. In fact, my hope is that through this blog you see that I am continually seeking after the things of God in a quest to know Him more. I want to understand His Word better and have more clarity regarding His instruction to me for my life. Nor do I think that I have it all figured out when it comes to fully understanding the true, intended structure and function of the New Testament Church. All of us should approach scripture with a strong dose of humility and understand that we all see through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Let me also say this: I do not want you to think I am trying to perfect or correct anyone else's doctrine. My goal here is to ask "why"? Why have we decided that these kinds of things should divide the true body of Christ? Why have we staked so much on ideas which are not always so black and white as some preach them to be? Why have we willingly, purposefully taken Scripture references and sought to divide people into groups and then label them to make sure we all know which group it is to which we all belong?
Our family has visited every possible church within a 30+ minute drive of our home and yet we still struggle to find anywhere for us join. Everywhere we go we see the continued teaching of man's doctrines as though they are true and factual without any room for opposing views. It seems the Church has abandoned any thought to the guidance given us by the Biblical Apostles regarding agreement on things that matter and grace for the things that do not. We are living in a day and age where all things, regardless of how big or small, are held up as matters unto one's salvation. And we ostracize those who do not go along and even label them as "living in sin" if they think differently.
It is sad to say, but I would argue that the cancel culture we see rising in secular society today has actually been around in the church world for a long, long time.
The Struggle Is Real
I want to take you through some examples of what I am trying to articulate in this idea of "doctrines of men" and how they divide the true Church. This is not meant to be an exhaustive commentary on all doctrinal differences but is instead meant to identify those issues which I have found local churches saying, "believe this way or leave".
At the top of this list would be that of "reformed theology". It is incredible to see how this "intellectual Gospel" has (seemingly) taken such a strong foothold across all of Christendom. As for myself, I do not agree with Calvinism (nor do I agree with Arminianism for that matter). I do agree that a believer who has been born again and takes up his cross daily has no fear of "losing his salvation". But, as can be supported by many, many verses, I do believe that a believer can allow sin to enter in, leading to a hardened heart, and therein a change of their belief (Hebrews 3:12-15). With this change, they walk away from their faith and willfully abandon their inheritance in Christ. Regarding my "doctrine of Grace" as they like to call it, I believe that heaven is reserved for those who do not lose faith and endure to the end (Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13).
Nevertheless, I have no arguments with those who call themselves "reformed" or "of Calvin" or "of Arminius". Personally, I believe it is all a bunch of insanity for these two doctrines to literally divide the Church as they have (for hundreds of years if not longer). Both groups believe that Jesus is the only way for salvation so why waste all the good oxygen arguing over man-made bullet points? However, although I am more than happy to agree to disagree, I seem to have met every militant Calvinist in the Louisville area. Believe it or not, I was told by a (local to Spencer county) Southern Baptist preacher that since I was not "reformed", I was not saved. And since I did not believe in "once saved, always saved" that means I believe in a "works-based salvation". How insane is that?!? But he is only repeating what he was told in seminary school so all I can do is feel sorry for him.
For many years, we have attended Southern Baptist churches and I will also add that the "hell or high water" ideal that "only ordained ministers can baptize" is about as non-Biblical as any doctrine could be. I once asked a Southern Baptist minister in Lexington, KY why they required this and all he said was that "it is done to protect the faith". Protect the faith from what? How is it protecting the faith to restrict the individual believers from going out and making disciples (the Bible says we are ALL ministers of the Gospel)?
Now, before you comment below tell me this is not actually a "make or break" doctrine, I know a guy (who lives in Anderson county) who wanted to baptize his son so much, that he had to do it at home because his SBC church would not allow it. THEN, the church "leadership" said that they would not recognize the baptism because of the way it was done, and they wanted the son to be baptized again at the church. So, this family had to leave that church. People...we have lost our minds!
"Salvation Baptism" and Weekly Communion
When we moved to Kentucky, we were introduced to the Christian Church denomination. Most members of this church will likely tell you that they are not technically a denomination, but for all intents and purposes, it is. It walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it is a denomination. Every Christian Church I have attended follows the doctrines outlined in the Kentucky-based Restoration Movement (which ironically claims to hold to no creed). This leads me to a discussion of two "hell or high water" doctrinal distinctions:
baptism as a requirement for salvation and
the necessity to partake of communion at every Sunday service.
It is insane to me that the Southern Baptists and the Christian Church readily divide themselves over water baptism even though all parties involved have been water baptized. Yes, although I cannot find any passage in scripture devoting so much hostility towards the subject, it is somehow still incredibly important as to why one is baptized. The Christian Church (as well as the Church of Christ and others) has determined that this is required for salvation while the Southern Baptists claim it is only "an outward expression of what Christ has done on the inside". This doctrine of men has been so ingrained in some denominations that I know of families who have literally disowned each other because of why they were baptized, even though they were all baptized. It's totally insane...
Just to clarify where I stand, I personally believe that to be saved a person must simply be born again (John 3:3). To that end, I believe we are born again by confessing with our mouth and believing in our heart (Romans 10:9-10). The outward fruit of this conversion is a repentance of sin and water baptism. Why do we take something so simple and make it so stinking complicated? And as you can clearly see, the body of Christ gladly divides itself over the issue with one pointing the finger of condemnation at the other.
Just as ridiculous I believe is the Christian Church's (as well as other denominations including some SBC) religious practice of communion at every Sunday service. Now regarding this topic, I know someone out there is going to tell me that they do not believe it is actually required every week. To that person I say, "the proof is in the pudding". We attended a Christian Church for several years and I can without a doubt say that it is understood that God is only pleased if the church partakes of communion weekly during the Sunday service. To illustrate this point, a pastor of the church we attended told a story of how they were driving on a family vacation. And on this particular trip, they happened to be driving on a Sunday. So naturally, the father (who was the pastor of the church) pulled into a gas station and purchased some grape juice and crackers so the family could take communion together in the car. God forbid that they go a week without performing the sacred ritual of the "ordinance of the church".
Do not get me wrong, I am all for partaking of the Lord's supper as often as a group of believers set out for themselves to do it (1 Corinthians 11:26). But when we get to the point where we feel condemnation unless we pull over to a gas station and make peace with our conscience, we have turned it into a religious exercise, and we lose out on what Jesus always intended it to be. I challenge you Christian Church folks to this: tell your congregations that you have decided to forego the Sunday service communion and instead have decided to partake of the Lord's supper during a meal in small group homes just as Jesus did with His disciples (Matthew 26:26-28). See how far that idea goes, and you will know how your church views this "ordinance".
Instruments in Song
Anyone who really knows me, knows my love of music. And I have researched church music through the centuries, and found it is certainly an up and down, in and out relationship with different groups of believers. Nevertheless, it is so puzzling why the Church of Christ chooses to condemn those who sing songs on Sunday morning by utilizing instruments. I have heard and I understand their scriptural arguments, but I do not understand their outright condemnation of others who do use instruments. Truth be told, their position cannot even be argued with Scripture. Of all the sins mentioned throughout the entirety of the Bible, "thou shalt not make music with anything but thine own voice" is NEVER mentioned. In fact, we see countless passages promoting the total opposite.
Now I know there are Church of Christ members out there who would say "we don't condemn anyone else who may use instruments" but I dare you to pull out a guitar on Sunday morning and see what happens. Case in point, at a former employer of mine, I had a coworker who was a member of a local Church of Christ. One day we were discussing our "doctrines of distinction" and he let me know in no uncertain terms that I was living in sin when I went to church on Sunday morning and used instruments in worship. Come on...really? I really do feel sorry for these people. They live life in such a dead, religious ideal looking down on those around them who don't share the same non-Biblical view. This is yet another example of man's doctrines dividing the body of Christ.
Overemphasis of the Gifts and Outward Holiness
Pentecostal churches come in many different flavors and, truth be told, I have not spent a lot of time with any church of this type of affiliation. Nevertheless, I have attended several services of Churches of God and one Assembly of God (which means I am now an expert). I have never attended an Apostolic Church but my research indicates that they hold to similar beliefs as the others. This leads me to the discussion of two more doctrines of distinction:
you must speak in tongues to be saved and
adherence to certain Biblical laws but not others.
I know each church is capable of being independent in their set of beliefs, but for all that I have been able to ascertain, it is generally understood that a person must speak in tongues to be saved. I have not personally been told this by any Pentecostal preacher, but I do know of people who have, and I have found that belief outlined on a number of church websites including the Assemblies of God.
Now, I certainly believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit for today. I do not believe that God decided to "slowly fade out the power of His Spirit after the Apostles died". To my "reformed" brethren who believe this kind of hooey all I can say is...really? That being said, this Pentecostal "required for salvation" doctrine is incredibly divisive, and of all the times Jesus ever spoke of salvation, he never once mentioned it (I think He would know). Yet, for some reason millions of people have aligned themselves with this set of beliefs and they shun all others who do not go along with it. And how awful is it for those who long to be saved but can't quite get the tongues thing down? How much undue condemnation and questions of salvation do you heap on those poor souls?
Another similar doctrine that seems to weave its way through most of the Pentecostal churches is an attempt to adhere to Biblical law. Or at least, to those laws which seem like they may be attainable by men. Specifically, I know I have heard preached on numerous occasions a call to keep the Sabbath holy (although the Biblical Sabbath is actually our Saturday, but do not try to tell them that), a required 10% tithe given to the local church (a topic for another day), and the outward appearance of women in the church. This idea that we are to go to the Bible and write down a list of laws to try to keep is not limited to Pentecostal churches. In fact, we could look at any of the points mentioned in this post today as laws which the institution has tried to place on the backs of believers. Whether that be a requirement to agree to some abstract theological doctrine (reformed theology), a baptism by only those who are ordained, a required weekly communion, a required water baptism to be saved, a degree from a seminary school before being allowed to preach, etc., etc. the list could go on and on. Yet, even though we Christians seem to love our legalism, it is clear to me that we are no longer under the law of God, but under the law of Christ (Romans 7:6).
Although not all Pentecostal churches inflict condemnation on their women folk for their appearance, it is in this denominational strain that I seem to see the greatest prevalence of this ideal. I have read the verses they reference and I just do not see it. Sure, taken totally out of context I could warp some of these passages in a way as to condemn women for wearing makeup, or pants, or braiding their hair, etc., etc. But really? When I look at the men of these churches, they seem like they can dress pretty much any way they want, do their hair any way they want, etc., etc. This all stinks to me and it's not a "hell or high water" doctrine of which I can go along.
Allow me to give an example. A couple years ago, our family went snow skiing. While getting into all our ski gear at the lodge, we sat beside four (obviously Pentecostal) ladies getting their gear on as well. And although these ladies were all wearing full body covering snow bibs, they literally wore an additional skirt on top of them...uh, what? No joke. Full snow bibs with a skirt on top. So now the church is further divided into the "holy" group of skirt wearing, hair bun churches and... all you other "unholy" people. More of man's dividing doctrines.
Our family attended a Charismatic church up until I was about a senior in high school. So, I do feel that I can speak with some authority on some of the defining "doctrines of distinction" that characterize the Charismatic churches. I could speak of several primary aspects of this group of believers, but I really want to concentrate on four main issues:
name it and claim it,
health and wealth,
word of faith, and
signs and wonders.
If you have never heard of the "name it and claim it" doctrine, just allow the phrase itself to be understood as the totality of its message and you get the picture: "you name anything you want, claim it in Jesus' name, and you'll get it!" I know what you're thinking: "what about all those Christians who have been raped, tortured, and murdered for their beliefs? I'm sure they were naming and claiming too?" Well, apparently, they did not "have enough faith" or else Jesus would have rescued them by sending them a Bentley to help them escape away to their island mansion of which He also provided for them. Of course, His provision is based on the fact that the poor soul regularly gave away all their money to the televangelist that visits their church every quarter. Ridiculous...
The Charismatic movement has been inundated with every kind of signs and wonders spectacle that one could imagine such as: everyone getting "slain in the Spirit"; ministers blowing breath toward entire sections of the church so they all "fall out" together; spirits of laughter where people laugh uncontrollably for seemingly hours on end; dreams and visions which are given total credence regardless of who is giving them (how many "Trump can't lose" visions have I heard about these last few months?); prophecies about millionaires rising up in the church (everything is about money to these people); I could go on and on.
Be sure that you understand my point here; I believe in signs and wonders and I don't put God in a box when it comes to how He will reveal Himself to His people, but by and large the Charismatic movement seems absolutely content to follow after every shiny object thrown at them with no need to discern anything. This is where the problem comes in: where is the discernment? There are more Charismatic televangelist millionaires than anyone could rightly count. The Bible talks about these kinds of people, preying on those people who are deceived by their words. And before you write me an email telling me how I should not "judge" your favorite prosperity Gospel preacher, you need to judge them for yourself to see if they are bearing fruit unto righteousness. More doctrines of men dividing the bride of Christ.
This I Believe
So, I have gone through a number of those "hell or high water" doctrines that divide the Church and I have tried to be open and honest about my analysis of it all. Obviously, I cannot go through every denomination on the planet in one blog post (or even a dozen). I simply wanted to point out how we men seem to be doing a fairly good job at destroying the unity of the Spirit that is promised in Scripture.
Of course, I do not want to leave you with a post full of negatives and doctrinal challenges. If I can discuss these things about others, I should also be able to discuss these things about me. Now that we are here, what is it that I do believe?
I believe that those who take up their cross and follow after Christ have no fear of hell, but only a hope of salvation through the righteousness of Jesus;
I believe that gathering together with other believers is essential in helping us to keep sin from creeping into our lives and causing us to fall away from the faith therein walking away from our inheritance in Him;
I believe that those who are born again will follow the teachings of Jesus and bear fruit that is keeping with repentance;
I believe that water baptism is nothing that can save anyone but that it is a declaration to ourselves and to those around us of the new birth that we have found in Christ;
I believe that all believers are called to go and make disciples and that calling includes baptizing others regardless of one's professional position in an institutional church;
I believe that the Lord's supper is not a weekly time of confession to be overseen by the clergy using mass produced wafers and sips of some watered-down juice, but is instead a celebration as we remember together the work that Christ did on the cross and we partake of that work with Him;
I believe that the gift of music in worship is all the more enhanced by the use of instruments played by skillful believers seeking to worship with their abilities;
I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are still alive and well for the church today, if we would only believe, and that those gifts are given for the edification of the body and that there is a time and place for everything, but it is not the evidence of any one gift that is necessary for the assurance of a new birth leading to salvation;
I believe that we serve a loving, faithful Father who does provide for His children but who also allows us to endure the hardships of this life so that we will be strengthened in our character and better transformed to the image of His Son;
And I believe that the signs and wonders which God truly does provide will stand the scrutiny of Scripture and will only point us back to Him and not to the glory of any man.
As you can see, I do not really fit in with any church that I can find in our area; I am a bit of a "man without a denomination". But I am fine with that and I am confident that at some point, the Lord will show us which way to go.
Until that day, I will look to the Lord and determine to find my sufficiency in Him. For in Him alone I can say "it is well with my soul".
What about you? Are you like us, a family without a denomination? Have you struggled to carry the burdens that the institution has tried to place on you? If you're in our area, let us know. Maybe the Lord will draw us together to form a body of believers who truly desires to live out a New Testament-based local church instead of clinging to some set of denominational, man-made doctrines.