What Causes Factions in the Church?

This is a question that has cropped up in my recent studies and readings on the topic of unity vs. uniformity and the larger question of why the church is in such bad shape today.

What causes faction, fracturing, splintering, denominations, etc. in the body of Christ gathered (normally thought of as the local church building and those who gather there)?  I can answer this question with one word: immaturity.  So many of my brothers and sisters in the organized church, for lack of better terms, are so wrapped up into being right (right doctrine, theology, church practice, etc.) that their identity and security has become their opinion of what the Bible says.  Their opinion is based on what they have grown up with, or what those they look up to (oh, let’s say, Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or Christ! 1 Cor 1 sound familiar?) say they should believe.  Most often it is a belief built off of tradition and, in many cases, a faulty understanding of scripture text.

But, nonetheless, all of the segmenting, fracturing, divisions, strifes, etc. are because true believers in the church are too immature or they are not believers at all.  Keeping this simple and to the point, though, most problems found in the church are due to immaturity.  Think about it.  We separate from other professing believers because they don’t believe exactly the way we do.  Let me paint a typical picture (based off of how I grew up in the faith).

I was saved, meaning I came to believe in Jesus and redemption in Him alone.  My whole life changed.  I became associated with a Southern Baptist church because my best friend was one and his wife invited my wife and so off we went.  We were accepted and made one of the family by being baptized and becoming  a “formal” member of that local church.  We were taught many things such as tithing, attendance, participation, sacrifice, along with what the Bible and Southern Baptists said about these things.  We came to find out that the Southern Baptists even had a confession called the Baptist Faith and Message.  Eventually we were told that we should believe these things, or in this manner, to be “united” with all other Southern Baptists.  As time went by, and I became a teacher and pastor, I saw what happened to those people who came and did not believe the way we did.  They were told they would be welcome to attend and participate in worship with us, give money to support us, and more.  But, unless they became a member and believed the confession of faith, they would never be trusted to teach in the church, hold church sanctioned bible studies, become a leader, and the like.  Why?  The reason always given was because without membership and believing the same way, a person could go off the rails and teach something heretical and not be accountable to the church for it.  I could draw this out in more detail, but I think you get the picture.  If you need clarification, either comment below or email me and I will give you all the clarification you need.

So, can you see how division would occur in these types of situations?  People with different beliefs coming in to the local church and being pushed away or turned away simply because they do not believe in someone’s opinion of biblical things.  And the people doing the pushing away find their identity in those specific traditions and beliefs espoused by that one church and their security is cemented the longer they attend and the more involved they get.  Can you guess what happens when that belief held by those in that particular local Southern Baptist church (following the example above) is challenged by an outsider from another denomination or faith tradition in Christianity?  A separation occurs.  Immaturity rears its head and estranges one group from the next.  Those with tightly held like beliefs herd together and keep all others out.  Is this what Christ came to instill?  Is this what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians or Ephesians?  NO!

To make this short, let me close with this.  Once we stop making every point of our intricate doctrine (where typically our identity and security is wrapped up)  the test for whether someone is “in Christ” or “of Christ” then we have a chance of being mature and acting in love towards not only our brothers and sister in Christ, but also exercising love for our neighbors as ourselves.  The world will see our unity and our love for each other  as they should see it (See 1 John)  I challenge all my readers and anyone they may speak to about this issue to begin to ask the question, “Am I the one that is acting out of immaturity in my church and thereby being a cause or a sustainer of division, or am I willing to change and help others change so we can be united in Christ?”  Make sure your identity and security is in Christ alone, not in traditions or other peoples’ beliefs about what the scriptures say.

As always, since I am very prone to not being completely understood in what I write, feel free to ask me questions about what I mean here or ask me to clarify what I am saying.  Let’s communicate on this important issue.  Send me your comments and let us be as iron sharpening iron!

Blessings to you!

Craig

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The Difference Between Error and Heresy

My detractors over the last several years have accused me of heresy, of being a heretic.  I have denied the claim and repeatedly have confessed Christ to them.  This week,  a friend that I haven’t seen for well over a year came to town and we spent a short time together.  It was good to talk to him and catch up a bit on what has happened since we last saw each other.  I talked vaguely about things that have taken place over the last few years in church and how my theology has changed.  I did not get into specifics but I mentioned the heresy accusation.  I told him I didn’t understand it, but I wasn’t upset about it.  I believe these people throwing around this term do not know the meaning of “heresy” nor of the term “error.”  So, I thought I would post the meaning of them that you, the reader, may correct any misunderstanding you may have and use the terms appropriately.

Error means belief in something untrue; the holding of mistaken or erroneous opinions through no fault of one’s own.  In other words, it has nothing to do with a willful intent to believe unbiblical doctrines.  It is a mistake through a lapse or gap in knowledge (say, ignorance, though the person does not realize his own ignorance)

Heresy means the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith as defined by one or more of the Christian churches.  It is an act of the will.

So, when you call someone a heretic, you had better be sure it is an act of the will, of willful disobedience to known truth,  It is not an ignorant opinion, lacking knowledge of the truth.  And as such, you had better either know the person’s heart of whom you are calling a heretic or they admit they are willfully turning from truth and embracing falsehood for their own gain.  So, if someone you call a heretic, willingly confesses Christ and seeks to love Him and know Him and desires to do the will of God, yet you still believe he is in error, call his beliefs erroneous or full of error but don’t call him a heretic.

I know most of the people who question my sanity, my Christianity, my salvation, will probably not read this, but, some will.  To them that read this, thank you for correcting your attitude and I truly hope we can dialog about the truths of God, all for His glory.  Since I need sleep, I must cut this off here and leave it for you to let you ruminate upon the merits (or lack thereof) of this post and look forward to your added comments.  May God’s light shine upon you this day and always!

Loving Christ,

Craig

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Poke holes in this theology!

“God is love, and if you don’t believe it He will burn you in Hell for all eternity.”

I read this on a Facebook page I subscribe to, and it was written by John Smith.  I pose this to you, my readers: Is this the God you worship and, if so, defend this belief with all you got.  A friendly challenge for you.  If your theology says my theology is wrong, then you MUST defend this statement because in my previous belief system (reformed theology, in the Baptist tradition) this had to be true.  Let us learn together to understand the God we worship as brothers and sisters in the Lord and help one another to serve Him best.  Blessings to you, especially those who write in with their defense of the statement above!

In Christ’s love!

Craig

P.S.  If you would like the link to this Facebook page, simply comment back requesting the link.  Thanks!

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Misunderstanding Original Sin

Some of the blogs I read each week have been talking about Calvinism or original sin / total depravity and the explanation of sin from either a Calvinist view point or an Arminian viewpoint.  It is interesting and informative to listen to the discussions and see the justification for their views.  I want to take a few lines to explain my view and where I came from, which unfortunately for some of you, precludes an Arminian view at this time.  I most recently had considered myself a Baptist who believed in reformed theology.  That means that I believed in the TULIP, of which the first tenet is total depravity.  Now, I am not totally decided against total depravity in one sense, but I am against it the way most reformed people believe it today.  Most believe it today to mean that any human born after Adam is totally depraved, meaning they cannot do anything that pleases God and all their thoughts and intents are sinful in one way or another.  That is not a direct quote from any reformed theologian but merely my synopsis of their beliefs.  If I am wrong in that, I am sure someone will tell me!

This seems very untenable to many (especially Arminians!) because they look around and see that not everyone is out murdering or torturing their neighbors and others!  What I believe is that both groups are talking past each other for the most part.  Calvinists say that everyone is not as bad as they can be at all times, but they are capable of being as bad as they can be at any time.  Others believe people are good and fall into sin sometimes, but are in no way TOTALLY DEPRAVED.  I believe that all people born after Adam have the stain and capability of sin and, given enough time in this life, will sin.  This means, for me, that people are capable of being good and doing good because, although stained with sin, they bear the express image of God by virtue of being created by Him.  But, because they also have this sinful bent inherited from Adam, that we can sin, we will sin, and we will need a way to deal with that sin that pleases God, satisfies His requirement for justice, and exerts His loving influence always.  I realize that the reformed will throw into the equation that none can please God, none seek Him, none do good except they be the elect saved ones.  But, I think there is or can be some common ground and that we need to move in that direction.  Can only the elect do good?

Is that really true?  Think about it.  Jesus tells us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  When the lost, the unsaved, love people, are they not also pleasing God by following His commands, even though they don’t realize they are doing so?  Does God ONLY look upon the love the elect have for others as good and not the love the unsaved have as good also?  Come on!  Be real and think about it.  If God really hated the unsaved as much as many Calvinists say He does, why does He / would He send the rain on the unjust as well?  I guess, according to Calvinists, I don’t believe in total depravity, but I haven’t thrown away original sin, nor the fact that sin needs to be dealt with in God’s way, and that God is still more loving than we can ever imagine.  What kind of God do you serve?  What do you believe about original sin?  What else do I need to take into account?  Let me know what you think!

In Christ’s endless love!

Craig

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Does Your Doctrine Help You Obey Christ?

I have been thinking about this question for the last two years or so.  I have written a little about how (or maybe simply that) my doctrine has changed since I became a Christian in 1991.  I started out believing in Arminian theology (though I had no idea what that even meant for many years!) and held that view for about 12 years or so.  Then, as I began to be faced with more and more complex biblical counseling issues and having to give answers from the Bible about how to deal with these issues, I realized that psychology was not the answer since it did not depend on the Word.  I then realized that most Arminian theology (for lack of a better way to put it, mainstream Christianity, at least around me for many years) bought into “Christian” psychology for the most part and whenever I asked my Arminian brothers and other pastors of the same belief system, they all (except one!) said to leave counseling to the professionals, meaning to psychologists or psychiatrists, whether Christian or not.  This was not an option for me!

So, as I asked around, one pastor I served with told me to check into the biblical counseling movement and the Biblical Counseling Center in Arlington Heights, IL (I believe this is correct!).  Well this was an hours’ drive north from where we lived so off I went.  To make a long story short, through much study, research, and reading thousands of pages and 50+ books (biblical counseling books which then led directly to books on reformed theology or Calvinism), I began to believe in reformed theology or Calvinism.  I spent the next 10 or so years studying  that doctrine and feeling assured I had finally unlocked the keys yo the biblical text!  But, through all of this, there was still a few nagging questions that no one could answer to my satisfaction and it bugged me to no end.  One question was:  What really is the Gospel, what is the minimum that one must believe/do to be saved?  Another was:  What do I have to obey in the Bible, or what is obedience and what does it look like?

Then, the question in the title of this post came into play a few years ago as my theology was once again being re-formed (not reformed, get it?).  I have for so many years now believed that the height of Christianity was having and holding to right doctrine and that there was no more important thing for a Christian to be concerned about.  That is why it was hard for me to relate to a “feel-good Gospel,” or a more feelings-based faith system.  It was to subjective in my estimation, and I wanted as much objectivity as possible because that was the way to “real” truth.  So, in my mind, and as near as I can tell, the minds of most of those I hung with, right doctrine was the ONLY way to obey Christ!  Right doctrine was the only path that lead to total obedience to all that Christ commanded.

But today, I ask this question, and really do expect replies from those Arminians or Calvinists who would try to explain to me how holding their doctrine (Arminianism or Calvinism,  synergism or monergism) can help me obey Christ.  Let me help you to understand where I am at and where I am coming from now.  Please explain to me how your doctrine will help me practice loving my neighbor more, my family more, and God more?  How will it help me be more kind to people?  How will doctrine help me not kill someone?  How will it keep me from being selfish or help me to have more self-control?  Let me get to my point, in case you are missing it.  Does right doctrine ACTUALLY do anything for me to make me more like Christ?  Or, as I read the plain words of Christ, can I merely choose to obey and become more like Him?  If I read in Jesus’ teachings to love my neighbor as I love myself, can I merely look at the ways I love myself and then love my neighbor in ways like that?  Or, do I need to study doctrine more to “cause” me to love my neighbor more?

My belief is that right doctrine may make me feel better about my relationship to God and help me understand the Bible better, but it will NEVER help me obey Christ!  The only thing that will help me obey Christ is actually OBEYING  Christ.  In other words, when Christ says don’t steal, but work for what I need, that is what I do.  I do not need to make sure I understand the kenosis, or the hupostatic union (hypo static if it makes you feel better!) or how the church is to be united.  I must simply obey.  I must go and do what is commanded, not hold a conference on Calvinism/Arminianism and then debate my detractors to prove how wrong they are.  No, I need to love Christ enough to, like a little child, go and obey what He says.

This got longer than I intended, but truly, I welcome your comments and if you have them, answers to the question(s) posed here today.  I especially put out the challenge to the Calvinists or Arminians who may be reading this blog (I know you are out there!) to not be shy.  Jump in here and let me know what you think.  If you truly care about others who have different views than you and are your brothers/sisters int eh Lord, you will be concerned that we know, I know, where I am going astray or where I am correct and need to press on and help others with my knowledge.  Silence speaks volumes, you know what I mean?

Anyway, blessings to you in Christ our Lord!

Craig

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Why Didn’t God Tell Adam and Eve About Hell?

I was discussing some biblical things last night with my youngest daughter and I told her one of the turning points in my beliefs about God and the outcome of man was this one:  If hell is eternal conscious torment forever (I know tat is redundant!), and it is the most horrible outcome that a person could suffer, why didn’t God tell Adam and Eve about it?  All we have recorded on this important topic of what would happen if they sinned was that in the day they sinned they would surely die.  Not one word about hell.  We have a few words about the pain they would suffer in this life and the fact that they would one day die physically, but not one word on hell.  Curious, isn’t it?

If you answer that in the Old Testament everyone who died went to Gehenna, or Abraham’s bosom, a kind of holding place or, if you will, a kind of purgatory, (not the Catholic one where people are waiting to progress into a better state due to prayers and giving of their still alive loved ones) why didn’t God command the New Testament authors to include hell as part of their preaching of the Gospel.  I have heard preachers say that the Good News (of the Gospel) can’t be good unless there is also some bad news for those who refuse the good.  Not one of the sermons by the Apostles nor any of the recorded disciples in the New Testament ever warn us about hell for those who do not accept the Gospel of Christ.

Yes, I know the hell-teachers of today will quote many verses that they support the teaching of eternal conscious torment ( I have addressed many if not all of them in my book review series that is still incomplete, Hell Under Fire on this blog).  However, why don’t they ever offer some explanation of why we teach the “turn or burn” Gospel today?  Why did that come up and where did it begin (hint:  go back to the days of Augustine, because I think we have him to thank for it, though it was not really taught before him, and yes, the soon-to-be Roman Catholic church took his teachings and ran with them for awhile)?  For awhile I thought pretty highly of Augustine, especially when I was so steeped in more traditional reformed theology.  However,  after re-considering who Augustine was, looking over seminary notes on church history and reading many other church history works, Augustine was not, and is not, someone we want to hang our theology on!  I encourage you to read about his life and decide for yourself if it was wise historically to put so much trust in his teaching.

Anyway, just wanted to give you some food for thought on this Monday morning.  Have a blessed day and remember, we are free in Christ to relish the grace given to us and to give it out super-abundantly to others.  For you believers, the summary of our lives in Christ is this; we confess Jesus is Lord, we love God with all our being, and we love our neighbor as ourselves (as we want to be loved).  Much more than that is typically legalism run amok!

Blessings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Craig

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The words of Jesus are spirit and life

Jesus states in John 6:63 that His words that He spoke are spirit and life.  This was said after a rather lengthy explanation that He and the Father are essentially one.  Jesus explains that He is the bread of life and was sent by the Father to come and save mankind.  He explained this “bread” metaphor in several ways; well, you can easily read the text for yourself.

So, here is my point for posting this information.  Can your understanding of God’s Word (aka Jesus) pass what some have called the meditation test?  Here is what I mean.  Jesus’ words, true words from God, will give life and hope to its hearers.  God’s word (Jesus being the Logos and giving the Spirit to all mankind to lead into all truth) will build our trust in Him, and in our Lord Jesus Christ.  They will build our hope, increasing our love for Him and giving us a more full understanding of His plan to love all His creation.

Does your understanding of the Gospel do this?  Does your understanding of God’s judgments give you this?  Can you truly love God more through your understanding or belief in eternal conscious torment for those who “fail to believe in Jesus during this short life?”  As you meditate on your understanding of “hell,” does your love for God grow?  Does your faith in God grow?  Ask yourself this final question:  Why would the Spirit communicate a truth that only undermines or diminishes your trust in God and your love towards Him as you meditate on it (the concept or understanding of eternal conscious torment in hell)?

Please share with me how you deal with this situation/these questions.  May God illuminate in you His eternal truth of the Good News of Jesus which is the salvation of all His creation!

Love in Christ,

Craig

 

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Think Deeply About the Following Quote

I am posting a quote here that really stood me up and caused me to stop and think deeply about the ramifications of the thought, and especially how many non-Christians view God.  I exhort you to really think about what is being said about God in this quote and to also consider the basic tenets of Christian/Evangelical Universalism.  If you do not know what that belief system is, comment and I will respond personally to you.  Also, if you would like the info on the quote, who posted it and where, send me a comment and I will post that info here.  Here is the quote:

 

“I love you so much.  Let me save you from what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me save you.”

 

I look forward to your comments.  I especially challenge those of you who have commented on this blog and support hell as eternal conscious torment to respond and give me your explanation/defense of this attitude.  Blessings to you!

Craig

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Hallelujah in Hell Video by Peter Hiett

I watched this video today and found myself very emotional over it.  What do you think of this proposal?  Please watch with an open mind and with the thought of what God’s love can do to even the hardest of hearts.  Let me know what you think.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let’s talk!

 

 

 

 

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Food For Thought

Over the last 20-plus years as a believer in Christ, I have “followed” many big name Christians and their theology.  I can remember listening to Charles Stanley and Chuck Swindoll, early on.  I remember James Dobson was a favorite.  As time went on, after personal investigation, without any outside influence, I began expanding my reading through questions I had with biblical text.  My movement found me looking into biblical counseling and toward reformed theology, a.k.a. the doctrines of grace.  This put me onto such famous leaders as John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and others that they conference with regularly.  I acquired and read many books on reformed theology and eventually to pursing and achieving my MDiv (Master of Divinity) from the SBTS (Southern Baptist  Theological Seminary).

What is my point to all of this?  If I was around in Jesus’ day, I would most likely have been hanging around or following after the likes of the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees.  If a little after Jesus’ day, the likes of Saul (who became converted and had a name change to Paul) and his followers.  I would have hung on most words they spoke and been vulnerable to their doctrinal beliefs, even at times, without researching for myself.  These were the same leaders who stood in front of Jesus and told Him and His disciples that Jesus did miracles by the power of Satan.  These are the same ones who railed against Him for feeding hungry people on the Sabbath by telling them to grab grain from the field and eat.  These were the same ones who eventually took hold of Jesus and had Him flogged and crucified.

Again, what is the point?  The point is, without seeking God’s truth and following it wherever it leads, I would have been stuck with pedigrees of “great” theologians (like the leaders of Jesus’ days and the leaders of the modern church today).  I would have stood in the greatest of company, just like Saul (Paul) and sung the party tune.  However, would I have been truly following God and seeking His face or would I have been seeking other glory for myself?

My food for thought is this:  Was I (or am I still), are you, walking as blindly as the leaders of the Temple/synagogue of Jesus’ day?  Was I (or am I still), are you, blinded by modern day preachers and theologians view of scripture, just as the followers of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day?  Do I/you need to step back and look afresh at scripture without rose-colored glasses on (through denominational traditions and teachings)?  Will I/you commit to re-reading the Word of God, the Bible, with as few presuppositions and outside influence as possible and follow God’s truth wherever it leads?  My commitment from day one as a new believer in January 1992 was to follow God’s truth wherever it would lead me and to submit to it as best I knew how.  I have faltered in many ways in that endeavor, but my hearts’ motivation is still that:  to seek God where He may be found and serve Him and His truth as best I can, even if it meant to lose my family, my possessions, my standing/job, and my life.

I encourage you to join that journey and truly investigate Jesus through His teachings.  After all, He is the Word of God made flesh.  I believe that the truth of God and His plan for us is wrapped up into the same the belief the ealry Christians held, that of universal salvation for all mankind.  No one will escape God’s judgment, but better still, no one will escape His love either!  Chew on this food for awhile and if I can point you to His truth, I would be honored and privileged to do so.

May you truly seek His love and truth and may you be won over this day by God’s unending love for you!  Repent and believe today that it may go well for you during this life and spare you some harsher judgment in the life to come.  Blessings to you!

Craig

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