One Body In Christ – 3
Chapter 3: Points of Division
Theological controversy has raged over many issues, the most basic being now the division between “orthodox” and “liberal” theologies.
This has caused great division among Christians, especially when the former falls into dead orthodoxy, rejecting all fresh thought for critical study, and when the latter falls into pure humanism, rejecting the fundamental truths of the Bible.
These two oppose and fight each other, the orthodox condemning the liberals as faithless, and the liberals despising the orthodox as old- fashioned disregarders of science and worshippers of the letters of the Bible (bibliolatry). And there are many other lesser theological distinctions, creating wide conflicts among Christians. So when one takes theology or creed as the center of Christianity, it is natural that there must inevitably be a division of Christians into denominations and sects.
Inspiration of the Scriptures
One might think that with the Bible as the center of Christianity, the unity of Christians could be easily realized. Unfortunately this has not proved true, though we can consider it fortunate that, as this inability to unify proves, the letter of the Bible cannot really replace the living Christ as the center of our faith.
The Bible is the expression of the life and work of God, and since “life” is greater than its manifestation, it cannot be expressed completely in any logical or theological form. Therefore, the Bible itself cannot escape being understood in many different ways. Thus we see how in the wisdom of God it is impossible in practice to make the Scriptures the end or final authority in themselves, for they only express God’s authority to those who live in fellowship with the Spirit.
On the one hand there are the so-called fundamentalists who, accepting the Bible as the “infallible Word of God,” believe there is no mistake in the whole Bible, not even in one phrase or manner of wording. To them it is, in the most literal sense, the Word of God from cover to cover, and their faith is utterly dependent on its literal infallibility.
On the other hand there are liberals who try to compromise Biblical truth with science. Denying the spiritual in favor of the rational, or adopting the results of higher and lower criticism, they reject the inspiration of the whole Bible.
There are yet others who take the whole Bible to be the Word of God as do the fundamentalists, but in a little different way. They believe that the Spirit acts in the written words of the historical records to reveal the Living Word. They recognize the Bible as the record of God’s revelation of Himself throughout history, climaxing in Christian inspired record resulting from the activity of the Spirit in the individuals who wrote it. Part of the problem in approaching the Bible arises from its very nature, i.e., the way in which God saw fit to give it to us. When the rays of the sun pass through a lens, they are refracted or diffused according to the quality and shape of the lens. As the Spirit of God worked in history upon those who wrote the Scriptures, the Word of God was naturally recorded in a form “refracted” and “diffused” by the lens of the writers’ human nature and historical background.
Just as the study of the quality and shape of a lens is necessary to know the nature of the original rays which passed through it, so to fully understand the will of God through the written record, the circumstances of history in which God revealed Himself and the character of those through whose instrumentality His Word has been transmitted to us must be studied. Perhaps God allowed these “limitations” of the written record so that factual knowledge and intellectual understanding of the Bible might not become an end in itself.
At any rate, we should avail ourselves of such studies and knowledge, and seek, in dependence on the work of the Spirit, to come into personal relationship with Christ, the Truth Himself, through the Bible. For apart from both the written Word and the quickening Spirit there is no real knowledge of the living Word of God.
Interpretation of the Scriptures
Many have put great emphasis on certain texts of the Bible and have built up sects upon those few texts, disregarding the context and the general teaching of the whole Bible. For example, the “Holiness” groups tend to over emphasize the doctrine of sanctification and, selecting some verses which seem to teach it, insist that entire and Perfect sanctification is attainable in this life. The “Friends,” emphasizing the “inner light” and the fellowship of the Spirit, seem to neglect even such important doctrines as redemption through the blood of Christ.
However, in condemning such extremes, we should remember that these groups may have had sufficient reason for their appearance when, because of dead orthodoxy, many Christians became very loose in their moral lives. Believing that Christ was judged on the cross as their substitute, they neglected the practical results that really believing this truth always produces.
Others, though not falling into loose morality, held the dogmas and creeds of Christianity as a kind of diploma from school or college, or as a ticket into the Kingdom of Heaven. Although having no living fellowship with the Lord, they thought themselves to be the best kind of Christians. They lacked the Spirit acting within them and were orthodox only in their heads and not in their hearts.
Such conditions among the Churches gave rise to those who emphasized holiness and spirituality. Then, when not accepted by Christians as a whole, they made their doctrine a basis for fellowship within a narrow circle of those who agreed with them. Thus new sects were born, which in turn tended to disregard other truths and the teaching of the Bible as a whole.
Almost innumerable sects have arisen in this way, and thus Christ’s Body is divided into countless sections. Nothing could be clearer than that such doctrinal emphases are a prime cause of sectarianism.
Rituals and Ceremonies
The Baptist Church separated from other churches because of differences of opinion regarding the form of baptism. Another group was divided over whether they should use an organ in their services–because the Bible nowhere tells us to use an organ. Again, a certain sect arose over the supposed necessity of women covering their heads when they pray (I Cor.11:2-6). Seventh Day Adventists insist on keeping the law concerning clean and unclean foods. There are many such cases, in which very trifling questions about formal rites have given rise to new sects. Then, each sect condemns the others, often calling them heretics.
It is very unfortunate for Japan and other “heathen” lands that many of these sects are sending missionaries to continue these conflicts there.
The Protestant Church is so divided that to realize its unity seems almost hopeless. This has come from mistaking the true center of Christianity and substituting either theology, or dogma, or creeds, or the Bible, or institutions, or rituals, or ceremonies. Moreover, the divisions were emphasized by the idea, inherited from the Roman Church, that one’s own group alone has the orthodox faith and all other groups must be persecuted as being in error. Thus, much vigorous activity is expended in refuting doctrine of others sects and in trying to pull believers out of them and into one’s own sect.
Where is the unity of the Ekklesia? What has happened to the oneness of the Body of Christ? Why do not we Christians recognize the sinfulness of this condition and repent?