My eldest son was gifted swimming lessons for his birthday from my mom. We grew up around the lake and had lessons every year. She wanted to carry on the tradition (and make sure he knew how to swim for the many adventures to come while visiting Gramama). At one of these lessons, another mom and myself started chatting about our kiddos. This led to the normal “what do you do”,” where do you work”, etc. She mentioned her husband was a ministry leader at a church (she said the name but I missed it). All excited, she explained how their weekends are always busy setting up for service, but they finally have a building and won’t need to rent anymore. I congratulated her, gave my best wishes, and then we were off, drying our waterlogged kiddos.
At the next lesson, I made sure to ask how it went in the new building. She seemed surprised I remembered and said it went great. Then she asked if we went to church. Yes, we do. Where do you go? I told her. Her response was oh, ok. And from there the conversation petered out.
Why? Why do we always have to ask that question? Because as soon as it is asked, the doctrinal walls go up. Can we not discuss our walk with God outside of the church walls? Are we afraid of confrontation? Or do we feel like we are more enlightened than they are?
I found the cover image a while ago and just had to laugh. Ironically, that is exactly where I was in my thinking. I was a KJV thumping, legalistic, Baptist purist. Everyone else was a poor heretic. Imagine how much fun that was when I married a man who was raised Catholic. For the first few years, we avoided church and discussing religion because it caused too much friction. Fast forward through a baby, separation (almost divorce), marriage counseling, and God putting us in the exact “heretical” church we needed to be in. It was a judgement free zone. It put our focus back on God and what His Word says. Now, we seek out what the Bible says versus what any denomination says. I might not agree with everything the church teaches, but that does not prevent me from learning, growing, or worshiping God with fellow believers. In fact, that is one of the best ways to do all the above!
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. Proverbs 27:17
I was reading in Genesis about the Tower of Babel. There are many different reasons given as to why mankind decided to build this tower. Some commentators claim it was to worship false gods. Others, that it was designed to pierce the sky and prevent God from sending another flood. Or they were trying to create a government that directly disobeyed God’s command to spread out, be fruitful, and multiply. Another thought was that there was nothing inherently wrong with what they were doing, but God saw the future problems it would create and scattered them by confusing the language. Since we were not actually there, I personally can not give a definitive answer.
But the idea that stood out to me the most was the confusion of the languages. They were not able to complete the Tower when they lost the ability to communicate together. Is that what has happened to the modern church? Have we lost the ability to communicate with each other because we do not speak the same doctrine? No wonder the secular world looks at “Christians” and laughs. A house divided against itself cannot stand. And boy are we divided. How many denominations are there? How many English translations of the Bible? How many people were burned at the stake because they didn’t believe the way the leading church at the time told them to (I am thinking back to the Inquisition)? I wonder how happy Satan is at how far we have wandered away?
This brings to mind the discussion Paul has with fellow believers in Corinthians. They were divided:
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
What if I put different names in verse 12? “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of St. Peter; and I of Luther; and I of Calvin; and I of Christ.” See what I did there? We are still fighting the same division and contentions that the early church faced. We focus so much on the “wisdom of words” of these men.
“Today, all depends upon whether or not the person accepts the teaching of a particular church, submitting to its ordinances and rituals, embracing the doctrine which is held by all its members. Having done that, the particular church then assures the new member that he is a Christian and that he is going to a place called heaven.” – J. Preston Eby
Since when does belonging to a particular church save you or make you more of a Christian than anyone else? Or following the belief’s of Spurgeon, the Pope, or whoever? In so doing, we limit the power of the Yeshua’s sacrifice. We are essentially saying that for our salvation, we believe in Yeshua, His cross, and the teachings of insert denomination.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:3-9
Christians are fixated on bringing people into the church building, having them become members, and increasing our numbers as an organization. We forget that it is God who reveals Himself to us as individuals. He uses us to bring the gospel to those who have not heard, but that does not mean that our “denominational version” is the reason for their salvation. When we give credit to the person or the church, we are denying God the glory He deserves. And if we are not careful, we start down that awful road to legalism.
“Religions, all of them, bring people into bondage to men who end up becoming mediators between the followers and their concept of God.” – Tentmaker Ministries
Ok, so I am not saying that all denominations are evil. Or all churches have it completely wrong. I think that each one has a thread of truth, but I fear we have all strayed so far that it is so easy to get caught up in “doctrinal” arguments. I love this excerpt from Chaim Bentorah’s book:
“There is an old Rabbinical tale of a man who asked his rabbi a question. The rabbi gave a very learned answer and the man excitedly declared, “You’re right.” Another rabbi overhearing the conversation gave an entirely different and contradictory answer. The man responded, “You’re right.” A third rabbi looked at the man and said, “He’s right and he’s right, they both cannot be right.” The man looked at the third rabbi and said, “You’re right.” The point of the story is that in our culture we cannot accept two different answers as right, especially if they are a seeming contradiction. Yet, in the Semitic mindset, that is really no problem. The ancient Semitic mindset was not as complicated and exacting as our Western scientific and mathematical thought process.”
Maybe instead of looking at someone as a heretic because they do not think/interpret the Scriptures the same as you, look at them as someone who Yeshua loves and died for. Right there it puts us all on equal footing. And then we can dig into the actual Word of God, prayerfully seeking Him.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
We lose the need to prove that we are right and instead seek after God, trusting that He will reveal himself to us and to others. We have the freedom to share our beliefs and ro be challenged, through the filter of the Bible. God’s Word is the final judge.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Acts 17:11
My challenge to myself to to no longer ask the question “Where do you attend church?” Maybe something more along the lines of “Are you a fellow child of God?” I pray that the walls will come down and we can share our love for our Savior with each other.
שָׁלוֹם לְךָ Peace to you