In the last post, we saw an important reason for division within the church. What else divides the church? Prominent among several other reasons is ‘error’- anything that deviates from the pure truth that the gospel represents. In Matthew 22, Jesus in response to the Sadducees’ question replies,
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (v29).
The Sadducees were a distinct Jewish group, who among other variant beliefs, did not believe in the resurrection. Ironically, despite being wrong, they called themselves the ‘righteous ones’, which is what the term ‘Sadducees’ represents. Those in error rarely acknowledge it but on the contrary, usually claim special knowledge and status in some way.
In Jesus’ words, the first reason for error was a lack of understanding of the Scriptures. Misinterpreting the Scripture is rampant in today’s church and accounts for many of the divisions caused within the church. A number of interpretation errors may be pointed out but the most common one is to fail to understand the concept of balance in the Scriptures.
In faith, a student of the Bible acknowledges the unity of the Word of God, in other words, the Word cannot contradict itself. A Bible teacher once said that when you find a truth in the Bible, it is a good practice to look elsewhere for what appears to be the opposite. Very often you will find it and attempting to interpret it and apply it is an exercise in Christian maturity. For instance when you encounter a fool and wonder how to counter him, Proverbs 26 gives you some advice,
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
But when you look at the very next verse, the recommendation appears to be the opposite,
5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Opposite recommendations, both of which are right, which lets the Christian know that with God’s help and wisdom, he can deal appropriately with the fool depending on the situation.
When you look at the various doctrinal issues that divide the church and make Christians go on endless arguments including ‘the nature of baptism’, ‘the anointing of the Holy Spirit’, ‘God’s sovereignty vs. man’s free will’, ‘relevance of miracles today’, ‘speaking in tongues’, ‘ the nature of the Holy Communion’ and so on, you will often find an argumentative person holding on to one aspect of the doctrine and conveniently ignoring the other.
It is quite easy to say, “It is said in the Word—” and quote Scripture to support one’s pet argument. In fact, that is what the devil did when he tempted Jesus at the onset of his ministry. It is quite difficult however to say, “It is also said in the Word—-” as Jesus did in his response to the devil’s suggestion (Matthew 4:6,7).
For example, for one who is debating God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility, it is helpful to read adjacent verses in Philippians 2
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Is man free and responsible for his actions? Yes he is, as is said in verse 12 and elsewhere; to teach anything contrary to that is not Scriptural. Is God fully sovereign? The next verse teaches us that he is. To deny God’s sovereignty over all things is to deny His very nature. Yet when man tries to reconcile these two truths, his finite mind cannot grasp it and so he starts making errors, denying one or the other. He fails to realize that truth is not found in the middle but at both contrasting ends and reconciliation of these truths is in essence not a human mental process but something that the Spirit of God makes real through the element of faith for one who follows Christ. And that is why Paul says elsewhere,
13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
It follows that when the Spirit of God enlightens, the pilgrim is at ease with the contrasting doctrines, which he holds on to and cherishes. He finds rest in God and does not need to cross the seven seas to understand or gain approval from others; nor does he attempt to move heaven and earth to convince others and in the process divide the church.
The saying, ‘to err is human’ is often used to justify mistakes. However, it is easy to see how when human wisdom is applied, to err becomes natural. To go beyond error, the only way is to bridge apparent inconsistencies with faith.
- IS CHRISTIANITY DIVIDED?
- REDUCING GOD