The Credibility Factor
I appreciate and defend the origins of our many denominations. Most were born as godly men fought against the sin and spiritual apostasy of their times. Their heroic stand preserved (or in some cases, restored) the truth of God in an otherwise dark world. From my heart, I thank God for our denominational heritage.
Today, however, the need to remain divided from other evangelical congregations is unjustified. We can remain unique churches with unique callings and a unique spiritual heritage, yet we can be united spiritually, and even functionally, with other congregations in our communities.
Knowing Christ has called for unity in His church, many leaders today are re-examining the legitimacy of division in the church. Today's heroes are not isolating themselves from other churches; rather, they are working with others to repair the breaches, seeking to build the citywide church on the foundation of Christ alone.
Yet, our traditions of division have taken on the garments of orthodoxy; they appear biblical, but they are not. The various divisions in the history of the church were stages in restoration meant to preserve truth, not isolate it.
Is Christ Divided?
Every true Christian believes the Bible is God's sacred, eternal word. Indeed, heaven and earth will pass away, but God's word will endure forever. What was relative and powerful in the first century ought to be just as powerful today. Listen, therefore, to what Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. 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.' Has Christ been divided?" (1 Cor. 1:10-13a).
How strange that we smugly look upon the divisions in the Corinthian church. We boldly criticize their carnality. But why was it wrong in the first century to say, “I am of Paul” (or Apollos), but permissible in these last days to say, I am of Luther or Wesley or of the Baptists or Pentecostals?
Again, please remember, I am not suggesting we should strive for unity with churches that do not believe in Christ or God's word or the Holy Spirit or the virgin birth or the second coming. However, I am saying that, within the sphere of the born-again, living church of Jesus Christ, divisions are unbiblical and wrong.
The apostle later continued, "For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" (1 Cor. 3:3).
The credibility of the church is that we are not "mere men," creatures born of women without spiritual vision or destiny. We have been born again of one Spirit from above. Within our spirits is the actual spiritual substance of Christ Himself.
"Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16).
We are the temple of God. Our churches, like the stones of the temple, are to be laid side-by-side, building us together "into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22).
Paul went on to issue a warning which every Christian should heed. He said,
"If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy" (1 Cor. 3:17).
We have attempted to use this verse to condemn such things as cigarette smoking and sexual vices, and on an individual basis, there are obvious consequences to these sins. However, Paul is speaking here of more than the sins of excess and immoral pleasure. The apostle is warning against allowing division in the temple of God, the church. He says, "If any man destroys the temple of God" (through jealousy and strife), "God will destroy him." The context is plainly speaking in regard to divisions in the church!
When pure Christianity degenerates into divided camps of ambitious people, it literally destroys the harmony, power and blessing of the "temple of God." The individual who brings or supports such carnal divisions in the church has positioned himself in a very dangerous place before God. The temple of God is holy. Our unity together is holy. Our love for one another is holy, for the Father Himself dwells in the resting place of caring attitudes and loving relationships. Collectively, we are the dwelling place of God on earth.
The warning is severe: "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him."
Yes, there are times when church leaders sin and confusion enters the dynamics of church life. So, let’s make room for failings and transitions. But let us not lose sight of the fact that the living God is a God of order; He will not dwell in ruins! Because He is a God of love, He will work with us to rebuild, but He will not sanction our fallen condition with power. He will not lend His credibility to our disorder.
How Does Disunity Affect You?
When Nehemiah, living among the Jewish exiles, heard of the condition of Jerusalem and its temple, he "sat down and wept and mourned for days." The fallen condition of the temple thrust him into an extended position of "fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (Neh. 1:4). The modern Jews also weep as they face the Wailing Wall, lamenting over the ruins of their temple. Paul mourned when he saw the ruined condition in Corinth. He said, "For I am afraid ... that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned" (2 Cor. 12:20-21). And Jesus Himself wept over the divisions of Jerusalem, lamenting, "How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling" (Matt. 23:37).
This mourning concerning the disunified condition of the Father's house ought to be in our hearts as well. Yet, for most of us, not only have we failed to mourn our situation, we have not even grasped that our disunity, jealousy and strife is a fallen state! How far we have fallen and how little we know it!
While the redemption of man was always motivating Jesus, remember, His most ardent desire was His zeal for His Father's house; He was consumed with it (see John 2:17). Building the house of God --- the born-again, praying, loving, citywide church --- is still Christ's highest priority. The world is His harvest; the church is His bride. His love for the church was the basis of His last recorded prayer: that we would be one. It is still His highest passion today. For, until we are united in Him, and one with one another, our testimony lacks credibility. The world will not believe that God has sent Christ if our lives are infected with the same divisions that plague non-Christians (see John 17:20-23).
Privileged To Become Christlike
There were many reasons why Jerusalem fell to Babylon during Jeremiah's day, but underlying them all was the spiritual apostasy of the religious leaders. God Himself would have defended a humble, praying city, but in Jerusalem the spiritual leaders were corrupt. Listen, therefore, to Jeremiah's fearful revelation:
"The adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem" because of "the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests" (see Lam. 4:12-13).
Do we see this? Israel's enemies entered Jerusalem because the spiritual leaders were unrepentantly full of sin. Oh God, help us to see and accept that the future of our cities exists in the corporate relationship the spiritual leaders have with You and one another. Jesus said that any city, any house "divided against itself" cannot stand (Matt. 12:25). The place of spiritual protection of a community has its origins in the quality of life that exists in the spiritual leadership of that community. In other words, a vibrant, praying, united church will move that city toward the blessing of God; a divided, sinful leadership will allow the adversary to enter the city's gates.
The path narrows for leadership until our only choice is to become Christlike in everything. However, Christlike leadership in the church can transform the world around it! You see, our cities are in disorder because the church is in disorder. James tells us that where there is jealousy and strife, "there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16).
Our selfish ambitions have taken our eyes off the will and purposes of God for our cities. We have become jealous of one another. Consequently, the "disorder," lawlessness and "every evil thing" we see in our society are, at least in part, rooted in the soil of a misdirected and distracted church community.
Because of this, the church has lost a measure of its credibility. How can we expect the world to hear our message of love when we, as Christ's body, fail to love each other? We have no right to condemn the world for its pride and arrogance when we, the body of Christ, still refuse to humble ourselves and work with the other churches in our neighborhoods.
Beloved, over the years the world has seen many incredible ministries. However, the time of the "incredible" has passed; the hour for the credible is being established.
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Adapted from Francis Frangipane's In Christ's Image Training course.
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Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations were taken from the NASB.