Times That Try Our Souls
There may be many things upon which brethren in Christ are at variance, but there is one matter upon which most all agree: we are at a very critical point at this stage of our modern history as the New Testament church. We are on the brink of a major division, if, in fact, such has not occurred already to a significant degree. These are indeed “times that try men’s souls” in the church of Jesus Christ.
The division has not been generated exclusively by any particular segment of the Christian brotherhood. A few, for example, of a more conservative posture probably have contributed to the spirit of division in that they, on occasion, attempt to make virtually every disagreement among brethren a test of fellowship. In some instances, unnecessarily abrasive attitudes have been manifested toward uninformed and weak folks, who are struggling with doctrinal issues. Perhaps some, at times, have demanded division in a premature and unwarranted fashion.
But those of a liberal persuasion bear the major responsibility. And as “irenic” as they wish to be perceived, liberals are by no means immune from encouraging fragmentation. One writer, who feigns a plea for unity, speaks of certain brothers “from whose company I have sought to sever myself” (Shelly 1993, 5). That clearly reflects a disposition to draw a line of separation.
While some division may be attributed to personality factors, it is apparent that the current crisis goes far deeper. False ideologies are driving wedges into the body of Christ.
There is a growing tendency toward genuine modernism within the church of God. Some have adopted an antibiblical view of the nature of the Scriptures. They repudiate the fact that the Bible is a verbally inspired document. Compromises have been made with the theory of evolution. Can you imagine a brother openly contending that “evolution and the Bible show amazing agreement on almost all issues” (Clayton 1990, 135), and yet being wildly popular with scores of churches. Such error simply cannot be tolerated.
A novel philosophy of biblical interpretation, commonly characterized as a “new hermeneutic,” has found a ready ear with many. This ideology strikes at the very heart of what makes the New Testament church distinctive from denominational bodies. It questions the authority of “apostolic example” and ridicules the concept of “necessary inference.” The philosophy of respecting the “silence of the Scriptures” is treated with open hostility. This new mode of thinking opens the floodgates for the acceptance of a sectarian mentality.
Some are expressing a newly discovered enchantment with denominationalism. They enthusiastically fellowship with churches that have no biblical basis for their existence. Sectarian clergymen are praised as Christians. Men like C. S. Lewis, Chuck Swindoll, and James Dobson are characterized as children of God, brothers in the Lord (see Lucado 1993, 2). This clearly reveals that brethren who are so disposed do not have a valid concept of even the rudiments of New Testament redemption. They have forgotten their ABCs—if indeed they ever knew them.
A college professor contends that when one teaches that baptism is “for the remission of sins,” and insists this truth is a test of Christian fellowship, he is an advocate of “sectarianism” (Osburn 1993, 52). The same writer alleges that whether one believes that baptism is “for” the remission of sins, or “because of” the remission of sins, is wholly irrelevant (Ibid., 91). Can an educational institution be regarded as “sound” that harbors such a turncoat in its bosom?
Increasingly there is a tendency toward human-centered worship among the Lord’s people. Some have gone so far as to contend that the corporate worship of the church is wholly unregulated by the New Testament. They are calling for a jazzed-up, entertainment-oriented worship format that is more attractive to the world. One prominent leftist guru has warned that just as one cannot attract flies with vinegar, so we cannot elicit the interest of the world with our old, vinegar-like, traditional form of worship. (Who’s interested in attracting flies, anyway?) Hence, brethren are clamoring for religious drama, performance worship by means of solos, choirs, etc. Shockingly, the use of instrumental music in worship is no longer a problem for many church members.
Just as feminism has become a burning issue in society, so has it likewise in the church. Popular professors in Christian universities, and preachers in our churches, are arguing that women deserve a more vocal role in the administration and teaching program of the local congregation. Some have openly stated that they are not bothered by the prospect of women elders, or ladies occupying the pulpits (or otherwise leading the worship) in our assemblies. Passages limiting woman’s teaching role (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12) are relegated to the realm of the “cultural.”
No spiritual person relishes division. Fragmentation is a despicable thing that hinders the progress of the gospel in a world of unbelief (cf. John 17:20,21). Realistically, though, the New Testament bluntly acknowledges that when truth and error clash, division is bound to result. Christ stated that he came to bring division (Luke 12:51—such would occur as a result of his teaching). Paul declared that divisions must come in order for the faithful to be made manifest (1 Corinthians 11:18,19).
It is time for faithful Christians to draw a line in the sand and refuse to tolerate this foolishness.
Division “contrary to the doctrine” of Christ is wrong (Romans 16:17); but division, consistent with the Lord’s teaching, is not. Let faithful men and women work for a church that is united—but united upon the basis of biblical truth, not sectarian compromise (John 17:17).
- Clayton, John. 1990. The Source: Eternal Design or Infinite Accident? South Bend, IN: Privately published.
- Lucado, Max. 1993. Upwords, May.
- Osburn, Carroll D. 1993. The Peacable Kingdom. Abilene, TX: Restoration Perspectives.
- Shelly, Rubel. 1993. Wineskins, Jan./Feb.