GOD ANSWERS DOUBTS-WHY IS THERE SO MUCH BICKERING IN THE CHURCH?
Dear friends in Christ,
I will always remember an Iranian student who once said that he knew there was a God but it couldn’t be Allah. He said Muslims, Allah’s people, don’t show love to one another. I had the privilege of telling him about the God of Scripture and the Lord Jesus Christ. He moved and I pray that he still has contact with Christianity. Yet if that is the case, I wonder if he has also seen the dark side of Christianity. The sinful nature clings to every Christian on this side of the grave. Christians are not always full of love either.
So many in so many places somehow have come to the conclusion that Christians are supposed to be perfect people and are often disappointed to see that Christians sin. It is never our claim to quit sinning, it our claim that Christ forgives us. But many ask the question and doubt the Christian’s sincerity and authenticity when there are arguments and factions within the church. We consider our theme, “God Answers Doubts - Why All This Bickering Among Christians? 1) Among churches; 2) Within congregations.
People may feel that Christians are bickering when there is disunity in the Christian church. It is not bickering when some people believe the Bible to be the word of God and others aren’t sold on it. God calls us to be faithful to his Word and even separate from those who don’t. The inspired apostle Paul says, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” We need to isolate those who don’t teach the entire the Bible as the Word of God to make them realize we are not of the same spirit and giving an open door to Satan. We need to isolate ourselves from them so we aren’t sucked into believing lies which come from the Devil. It is a matter of protecting ourselves and those whom we love. That might appear as bickering, but now you know how to address someone who thinks that.
Let’s talk about some of those areas where people think Christians bicker. The Bible claims that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some say that God planted thoughts into the minds of writers, and they put their own words down to explain it. The verbal inspiration of Scripture means much more than that. The apostle Paul explained, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” Paul said he was even given the words to say and write down. The Spirit generated the very words he wanted his writers to write. I am so glad that our church body teaches its pastors the original languages of the Bible - Greek and Hebrew. We need to study those words and sentences. They were given for a reason.
Some believe that only parts of the Bible are inspired. They say the Bible only contains the word of God, like this room contains a piano. You can see that this room contains much more than just a piano. If the Bible only contains the word of God, it is incumbent upon the individual to figure out what is and what isn’t. I ask who is playing God then. The Scripture claims about itself, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” not just some of it or even most of it, it is completely the Word of God.
Yes, people disagree on this. People separate over this. This doesn’t look good to someone on the outside looking in. They might even think this is bickering. God calls for faithfulness to him and his Word.
Then there are the differences between churches as to what to follow. We are Bible believing Christians; we follow the Bible. That’s not true of every church that claims to be Christian. Mormons follow the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. The Roman church says the Bible and the decrees of popes and church councils have equal authority to Scripture. That is obvious from different teachings they maintain like purgatory, the immaculate conception of Mary, good works and faith the way to heaven, papal infallibility, the assumption of Mary and a bunch more.
Jesus says in the first three words of our sermon text, “Come to me!” We need to go to him and him only and the word that testifies about him and no where else. Not to other books, or even other people. Come to me, he says! Are there differences among churches? Is that troubling? Surely! But it really isn’t bickering among churches, but being faithful to him and his Word.
Then there is the obstacle of people interpreting things incorrectly or having different principles. We let Scripture interpret Scripture. In other words if you don’t really understand something, you don’t just think something up, but you look to other places in the Bible that might be easier to understand. We look at other passages in Scripture help us when we don’t understand something. Instead, some will use their human reason and logic. Let me tell you where this goes.
There are for the most part two ways that people interpret Scripture. One is called the historical grammatical method of interpretation and the other is called the Historical Critical method of interpretation of the Bible. There is a huge difference.
We believe in the historical grammatical method of interpretation. That means the words and sentences mean what they say and the history is what it is. Miracles and prophecy are true because God is God and he wrote the Bible. We don’t apologize for the miracles or the miraculous prophecy because God is behind it all. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stepped into history and raised the dead and caused the lame to walk and the deaf to hear. He rose from the dead himself, all part of God’s plan to save. Nothing is impossible for God.
The Historical Critical method of interpretation does not see it like that. They say that history is based on present day experience. They would say that the only water that can be walked on is ice or that it appeared to be that way when Jesus was really walking on a sandbar. Healing was done by Jesus, not because he is God, but because he was a master psychologist and identified people who were psychosomatic. In other words their ailments were in their head. Don’t ask me how they explain how lepers were healed in their head with stinking and rotting flesh, but then I don’t believe in the historical critical method of interpretation of the Bible.
Where you can really identify historical-criticism is how people view creation. Historical critics believe that evolution is right. They most likely throw out Genesis 1-11, and the six day creation, the flood and the tower of Babel. Adam and Eve are not real people but representative of male and female of the human race. Genesis 1-11 they say should be taken with a grain of salt and a wink of the eye. There are many pastors and many Christians who have bought into it, but you wouldn’t know about it because they want to avoid talking about it. My point is that it is not so much about bickering as much as it is about people not faithful or people wanting to be faithful to the Word of God.
Paul said this is the way it will be. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Jesus on the other hand says this, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But the bickering that people complain about doesn’t only exist among different church bodies and denominations, it also takes place within congregations and people leave. While the Bible says we are to imitate the Lord, too often God’s people are more of an antithesis than an imitation, a stumbling block rather than a steppingstone to the Lord.
I have seen and heard and experienced a lot over the years. There are a lot of expectations of others and little expectation of self. There’s a lot of “let’s you do this” that gets said. Those kinds of words and attitudes don’t make for peace in the congregation. Words are taken in the worst kind of way, people didn’t think anyone else just might be through a troubling time or made a mistake. It seems that too often people forget we are all sinners and don’t do the right thing or say the right thing.
I heard of a church where a member suggested that they pay the pastor by how many new people he brought in because they assumed that the pastor is the reason there was not growth. The question I would have liked to ask, Sir how many people have you brought to church? Sometimes one or two people can change God’s house into a into a gripe house instead of a grace house.
Jesus certainly gives us a tender invite when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” In this verse Jesus tells us a lot about himself, but he also tells us a lot about us too.
Jesus describes us as weary and burdened people. Some might say that is an insult but it is true. We are sinners. We won’t stop sinning until we check out of here, into that which Jesus won and guarantees to us by faith in him. I will speak only for myself. You can apply this to your own lives. I have expectations of fellow Christians. Some are fair and some are probably not fair. But I also must recognize something about myself. People can expect things of me. My Lord expects things from me. But I have to admit sometimes I get preoccupied with other things or other people. Sometimes I just don’t have time. Sometimes I just didn’t think something out or wasn’t smart enough to figure something out. Sometimes I just didn’t know what to say. Sometimes I get selfish with time for myself or with my wife and family. All the time I am weary and burdened, fighting my sinful self.
But you know what? I don’t think I am the only one in this room who fights this daily battle. I am not excusing it. All I am saying it is reality because we aren’t in heaven yet. But what is wonderful is that Jesus invites us to come to him and unload the guilt and the despair and discouragement on him who died to take that guilt and despair and discouragement from us at the cross. After we have made that journey he says we need to “remove the planks from your own eyes first before we remove the specks from others.” Then love as we have been loved.
Phillip Yancy wrote a book along with Paul Brand entitled Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. They spoke to this subject when people complain about churches and the bickering that goes on and the bickering that goes on within congregations. They pointed out that church’s teachings are like the bones of a human body. They are alive but they are hard and inflexible. They refuse to change their shape. That’s how we should treat the teachings of Scripture. Those bones allow us to walk and run, jump and skip.
At the same time we are not crustaceans like lobsters or crawfish or an armadillo that wears its skeleton on the outside. Our bones are wrapped in warm soft skin. That’s what people will encounter first when they see us.
That’s the way people need to see us. Yes, we are serious about the doctrine and teachings of the Bible. We are serious about living and loving and serving the Lord. Jesus is life-changing. Sins forgiven is life-changing. We want others to know that too. Let your thoughts, words and deeds show as we reach out to others and work together for the good of God’s kingdom. Let that be what people see.