Denominations and Divisions in the Church

For the discussion of the distinctives of the various mainstream Christian denominations
Si
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Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by Si » Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:21 pm

A conversation about denominations was started in the "An Arminian Piper / Driscoll / Sproul / Keller?" thread in the Teaching/Preaching area. So as to not take over that thread with a changed subject, I decided to try and resume the discussion here. Here is what has been said so far:
Si wrote:
dwight92070 wrote:Steve has done such a good job of exposing the falsehoods and/or misinterpretations of both Calvinism and Dispensationalism, and Catholicism for that matter. I would rejoice if there were multitudes of preachers and theologians who would do the same to help the church be rid of false teachings and misinterpretations. These teachings distort our image and understanding of God.
Brother, although I understand your frustrations, I have to respectfully disagree. As we speak, there are multitudes of Dispensationalists, Calvinists and Catholics who are doing their utmost to discredit theological systems and denominations that they disagree with, including yours and mine. I'm honestly tired of the denominational bickering, especially when it comes down to difficult theological matters that Christians have never been in agreement on.

Maybe I've been understanding Steve wrong, but it seems to me that while he has his views on theology and is not afraid to state them, his focus is much more on Christian living, and giving to the poor, and submitting yourself to the Lordship of Christ. Arminians, Dispensationalists, Calvinists, and Catholics are all capable of living such lives, even if they have their differences or errors in theology.

Personally speaking, I will rejoice when the day comes that a Catholic, a Calvinist, and Arminian, and a Dispensationalist can join in worship together and share communion with one another and call one another brothers, without letting their traditions and their church leadership keep them apart, and set the theological battle aside. If we see our role in the body of Christ to war against our brothers and defeat their theology that we don't like, I think we will continue to fragment and divide.

Can't we just acknowledge that, while accepting the authority of Scripture, that our theological systems are not Scripture, but man-made systems to aid in scriptural understanding? Being made by men, are they not open to error? As long as we are in these aging bodies and decaying minds we inhabit, we are going to make mistakes and we are going to misinterpret. We will all be on the same page theologically in the eternal state, but until we get there, can't we just accept our systems as systems, and not divide over them, as long as one submits to the Lordship of Christ, and obeys him? That's what makes a Christian.
Singalphile wrote:I couldn't agree more, Si. I wish we could take just half the time and resources we spend on talking about each other and debating among ourselves and writing 1,000's upon 1,000 of pages and posts about theology, and turn that towards caring for the needy, preaching the gospel to non-Christians, and debating the atheists and other anti-Christian ideologies. We could really turn things around in our culture if we did that, I reckon. One can dream!
dwight92070 wrote:
Singalphile wrote:I couldn't agree more, Si. I wish we could take just half the time and resources we spend on talking about each other and debating among ourselves and writing 1,000's upon 1,000 of pages and posts about theology, and turn that towards caring for the needy, preaching the gospel to non-Christians, and debating the atheists and other anti-Christian ideologies. We could really turn things around in our culture if we did that, I reckon. One can dream!
Dwight speaking: The way I see it, our theology determines who we are. You can't separate our doctrine from our Christian walk. "You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free."
"All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." So who do we teach, reprove, correct and train? Non Christians? Maybe to an extent, but primarily other Christians. Our outreach to unbelievers is only possible and greatly enhanced when we are first equipped. Our problem in the body of Christ is not that we are focused on theology too much, but that we are not willing to be taught, reproved, corrected and trained. Unless that happens, worshipping God together, helping the poor and preaching the gospel to non-Christians will be greatly hindered or impossible.
The fact that we honestly disagree with another believer should not hinder our unity. But if we are unteachable (pride), that does hinder our unity. We should be willing to hear any believer's opinion, and consider it, even though we may not reach the same conclusion that he did.
dwight92070 wrote:Si,
You hit the nail right on the head. You said that there are multitudes of Calvinists, Catholics and Dispensationalists who are doing their best to discredit theological systems of other believers. So who are the guilty parties here? It is the unteachable Calvinists, Catholics, and Dispensationalists, who proudly refuse correction, who are dividing the body of Christ. Am I saying that all Calvinists, Catholics, and Dispensationalists are proud and unteachable? Of course not. If they are not, but they sincerely disagree with those of us on the other side of these issues, at least they are honest enough to check things out.
Singalphile wrote:
dwight92070 wrote:Our problem in the body of Christ is not that we are focused on theology too much, ....
I think it is a problem (if by "theology", we mean the various -isms that draw the most interest and conflict, some of which you mentioned). I have yet to see biblical evidence that God cares about theological opinions of that sort, and I see no biblical evidence that I will be rewarded or punished for the opinions that I have about such things.

Training and equipping for good works? Yes. Training and equipping to pass a theology exam? No. Our attitude and behavior towards others determines who we are and what we will be, I think, regardless of our opinions about Arminianism, time, hell, the age of Earth, eschatology, etc. Those systems are usually distractions and inherently hairetikos ("heretical" in the New Testament Greek sense = sectarian/divisive), I think.
dwight92070 wrote:The fact that we honestly disagree with another believer should not hinder our unity.
Agreed.

Sorry for off topic. I've started threads along these lines, but they've not drawn interest. This will be my last word here.

Thank you.

Singalphile
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by Singalphile » Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:36 pm

I am glad to see the thread, but I'm just about to leave the country (in a few hours), and I probably won't be able to post for a while. Hopefully, I'll be able to read from timed to time.
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23

Si
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by Si » Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:48 pm

dwight92070 wrote:Si,
You hit the nail right on the head. You said that there are multitudes of Calvinists, Catholics and Dispensationalists who are doing their best to discredit theological systems of other believers. So who are the guilty parties here? It is the unteachable Calvinists, Catholics, and Dispensationalists, who proudly refuse correction, who are dividing the body of Christ. Am I saying that all Calvinists, Catholics, and Dispensationalists are proud and unteachable? Of course not. If they are not, but they sincerely disagree with those of us on the other side of these issues, at least they are honest enough to check things out.

My point was that we all have our traditions and our systems for interpretation. It is not people with differing theology that divide the Body of Christ, it are people who split churches and leadership who excommunicate Christians over theology. Since the reformation, the Church in the West has split into thousands of denominations and most of these at one time or another think that they have the truth, and the others are all teaching error to some degree. God is true, the Scriptures are true, but my point is human-created theological systems and human institutions are subject to our fallen nature, and are thus likely to be flawed.

These same people would probably say that you and I proudly refuse to be corrected. This back and forth blame game is the problem. Just as Paul pointed out the error of Christians in the Corinthian Church who said, "I am of Paul" or "I am of Apollos", nowadays we have "I am of Calvin", or "I am of Wesley", or "I am of the Pope", or even, "I am of Steve Gregg".

The fact is, it is Christ who died for us all. Of the theological systems we are discussing, I have major disagreements with all of them. But all are capable of being obedient Christians. Our theologies, theirs and ours, are based on our own human understanding of an infinite God. While we are in this fallen world, we are going to have misunderstandings and disagreements. But I think it would do us good to make Christ our head, and not our theology. It is the redeeming work of Christ, and our obedience to his Lordship, that saves us. If Christians have disagreed for 2000 years about the timing of the millennium, the nature of Christ's presence (or lack thereof) in the Eucharist, and the order that events come to pass as we attain salvation, I think it is perhaps time to recognize that different people, of different times, of different cultures, have irreconcilable understanding of these issues, and move beyond that and focus on what is more important, namely being salt and light to the world. Currently, we're much to busy infighting to do that effectively.
Singalphile wrote:I am glad to see the thread, but I'm just about to leave the country (in a few hours), and I probably won't be able to post for a while. Hopefully, I'll be able to read from timed to time.
Have a safe trip and I look forward to your posts in the future!

dwight92070
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by dwight92070 » Sun Jun 11, 2017 12:05 am

Si,

It seems to me that you are doing the very thing that you say you most dislike - i.e. a back and forth between Christians (you and me) because you have one opinion or "theology" about one's theology being divisive vs. their Christian walk, and my opinion, that one's theology is essential to their maturity and their walk.

Peter lists knowledge as one ingredient towards the goal of maturity and practical Christian love in 2 Peter 1:5-7. If I'm not mistaken, knowledge includes doctrine and/or theology. True, it's not the only ingredient, but something would be missing if it was ignored or absent. Again, disagreeing with each other about theology, does not necessarily mean disunity. Nor does it mean that discussing our disagreements is a bad thing. Having a "theology" does not make it an idol that replaces Christ, although I agree with you that it could become that, which usually defines a cult. If "theology" can become an idol, then so can any of the other things that Peter lists: moral virtue, diligence, faith, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. Conversely, if all those things are good and necessary for maturity in our Christian walk, then so is knowledge, which includes theology.

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Perry
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by Perry » Sun Jun 11, 2017 10:04 am

I agree that the seemingly constant bickering can be tiresome at times. But I also think that it's important to remember that "iron sharpens iron" but in the process always creates friction and often sparks as well.

I also wonder at what point do the differences become significant enough that they can't be ignored.

Si
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by Si » Sun Jun 11, 2017 1:00 pm

Dwight,

There is nothing wrong with taking a theological position and defending it as truth, and nothing wrong with a discussion as we're having. My problem is with using theology as a means of dividing Christians. By suggesting that we must be "rid of" the false teachings of Catholics, Calvinists and Dispensationalists is to divide yourself against about 1.5 billion people, many of whom are faithful Christians who are serving the Lord with their utmost conviction and sincerity. To me, that is far more important than what are often abstract theological questions. Is Jesus present in the Eucharist? I personally think it's just a memorial, but if the person I'm worshiping with believes in transubstantiation, because they take the "this is my body..." passages literally, they may be making an error, but how is that morally wrong? How is that an affront to Christ? I honestly don't see why it matters. Both of us are doing our sincere best to obey the Lord. And as a fallen sinner in need of a Savior, I am not about to say that I couldn't be wrong either. And yet, the Catholic Church will say that we reject the very presence of Christ, and some protestant apologists say that transubstantiation is idolatry, and they divide. It seems like such a small matter to me, and one that either side could be wrong about. I will stand up for the position that I think it is a memorial, but I'm not about to claim with absolute certainty that I am right. I can only do my best.

Perry,

Agreed, iron sharpens iron, but Scripture does not give us permission to split and be sectarian.

Your second question is a good one. It's hard to know where that point is, but it does seem to me that many of the things that Christians argue and split about are so abstract as to make any clear Scriptural solution impossible. The reason that Christians have disagreed about issues such as eschatology, soteriology, and the Eucharist for 2,000 years is that Scriptural teachings on these subjects are not as clear as some claim them to be. On such issues, I think charity and the liberty of interpretation are the only solution. It just seems to me to be an excessive level of confidence in one's own understanding or tradition, to in a sense say, "I am absolutely right, and the billions of faithful Christians who have disagreed with me for 2,000 years must be wrong." Only God has such knowledge.

----------------------

One last general observation, I think that cultural differences must be taken into account when considering theological systems. The way we systematize and examine theology in such depth and detail is very much a Western way of thinking. I have seen interviews with Eastern Orthodox who flat out think we Westerners are missing the point. Catholic and Orthodox traditions seem much more experiential and sensory forms of worship (Eucharist centered), whereas Protestants are much more cerebral (sermon centered). The differences have much more to do with very fundamental ways of thinking and interpreting the world than "right" or "wrong" doctrines.

dwight92070
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by dwight92070 » Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:24 pm

Si,
That's why I said that the one of the main issues here is: Are we teachable? Can we be corrected? Reproved? Trained? 2 Timothy 3:16
We all think we are right. Of course we do. If we didn't think that, then we would change our opinion to what is right. I like Steve's stand where he says: If someone shows me where I am wrong, then I am willing to change my beliefs. For years, maybe decades he believed and taught dispensationalism. Now, he no longer believes that. That's the attitude we all need to have.

Consider this: Maybe denominations are not necessarily a bad thing. It often means we disagree with another denomination on non-essentials. So instead of worshipping together and (possibly) constantly arguing over non-essentials, we choose to fellowship with others who agree with us on those things. So, what's wrong with that? In that sense, denominations can actually reduce friction (or sparks) and promote unity in the body at large. After all, there's no way we could fellowship with all the other 1.5 billion Christians (or whatever the number is), even if we wanted to. Some, like those of us on the forum, don't mind exposing ourselves to Christians who disagree with us. Here is where we see some sparks flying. Here is an opportunity for iron to sharpen iron, or if we allow it, for sword to do battle with sword. The key is to maintain a loving and respectful attitude and be ready and willing to change our beliefs or our traditions, etc., if we see that we should.

I attend a non-denominational homechurch. But we could say, "We belong to the non-denominational group." or "We belong to the homechurch group." It still separates us and puts us in a "group", so really, what does it matter? It's difficult to not be classified or identified with some group. But I also believe that when you or anyone decry the disunity and the division in the church because of the existence of denominations, you are actually adding fuel to the fire of the anger that many unbelievers have toward the church in general, and the dissatisfaction that some believers have with the church.

Si
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by Si » Sun Jun 11, 2017 7:43 pm

Dwight,

You do make a lot of good points. I don't think there is anything wrong with denominations per se. My issue comes when churches restrict baptism and communion to members only. They say "join us for worship" on their billboard, but really they don't want you to worship with them, you can just watch their Church service like it's a show, but not participate. I have heard calls on Steve's show from new Christians desperate to be baptized, but they can't because all the Churches in town turn them away because they're not on the membership rolls. Churches or denominations that do this are acting like they are the only true Church in town, and they are setting up their own traditions as sacrosanct much as Rome has.

We certainly should be open to correction. When it comes to eschatology, Christians have been hatching new eschatological systems forever. When I started using old Bible Commentaries for the first time, (such as Barnes, Clarke, Henry, Gill, etc.) I was shocked with their historicist view on Revelation, but it was the predominant protestant interpretation of the day. I think it is going to be hard for Dispensationalism to survive as the major view the more years we get away from the foundation of Israel, and the more Dispensationalist preachers keep making rapture claims that don't come to pass. I have never seen statistics, but it sure seems like more historic forms of eschatology are making a comeback. But even if it doesn't go away, the Christian life of the dispensationalist is no different from ours. Dispensationalists preach the Gospel to Jew and Gentile alike (dual-covenant theology is very much the minority). Dispensationalists as a group seem to tend to be very passionate and committed disciples of Christ. If they are raptured and end up in a resurrection body on a new earth instead of a millennial kingdom, they will know they were mistaken, but at that point it won't matter. The theological issues of eschatology and soteriology do not affect how we live our Christian lives, they merely change one's perceptions of how things will turn out in the end. Are we saved because of a choice or election? The result is the same, only the understanding of the process differs.

So by all means, have charitable debates on these issues. I personally think Amillennialism is far more coherent of a system. Correction is fine, but we should be humble enough to admit we might be wrong, and in need of correction ourselves. Maybe Amillennialism is wrong and I am in need of correction. I think the fact that as fallen sinners we are all open to error and bias must be acknowledged. The Bible only gives us a partial picture of the grand scheme of things. Now, if someone is teaching that Christ wasn't really resurrected, that is a central issue and needs immediate correction. With eschatology, the Church has, for most of history, granted liberty on the matter, because it is a peripheral issue, and based on passages that are very open to interpretation.

dwight92070
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by dwight92070 » Sun Jun 11, 2017 10:28 pm

Si,
We are in total agreement on everything you said. Imagine that!

Singalphile
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Re: Denominations and Divisions in the Church

Post by Singalphile » Sun Jun 18, 2017 12:03 pm

These statements, which I've made before, are about our behavior about what we call "doctrine" (though that concept, as commonly understood today, does not occur in the Bible, imo).
  1. Yes, according to the NT, there is a short list of theological opinions that a person must have in order to be a Christian. They are repeated throughout the OT and/or NT, as one would expect.
  2. All other "essentials" are behavioral.

    Jesus told His disciples to teach everyone to observe/obey all that He commanded. We are admonished to obey and practice the truth (or His word). It's that true righteousness which is in Jesus (Eph 4:21) that He appears to overwhelmingly care about, based on the overwhelming emphasis on such things throughout the OT and NT, and that's what Paul says God-inspired scripture is useful for - instruction, reproof, correction, and training for righteousness.
  3. Conversely, based on Scripture, God seems to care very little, if at all, about any of your or my other opinions about other non-behavioral matters. If God had cared about systematic theology, then we would have to admit that He failed miserably to give us one. Not only does He not seem to care, but ...
  4. [list=a]
  5. He didn't appear to care much throughout OT times, nor in the NT.
  6. I don't know of anything in Scripture that indicates that we will be punished or rewarded for our opinions (perhaps excluding the aforementioned).
  7. In the NT, both good and bad teaching/instruction - mentioned some 50 times, I think - is nearly always explicitly associated with good and bad behavior.
  8. We are told to be united, to be of one mind, to not be sectarian (i.e., hairetikos in the Greek). Paul warns against "profane old wives' fables", "pride", "obsess[ion] with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions", "idle talk", "divisions", "quarrels", "words taught by [mere] human wisdom", and "exceed[ing] what is written", which lead to "envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement [or constant friction] (1 Tim 6)."
[/list]

Based on all that and much more, I would argue that we greatly over-emphasize what we call "doctrine" or "theology", and it greatly harms the body and unity of Christ. I don't know how Paul in 1 Cor 3 could be more clearly against denominations (aka, divisions) among Christian brothers and sisters, which I think he and Peter and the others would call hairesis.

I don't know when all of that became so ingrained in Christian culture, but it has nearly destroyed the effectiveness of the Church, I think.

I don't think the answer is that we should learn to be more open-minded or willing to be corrected about our opinions. That just puts even more focus on our opinions. I think the necessary correction is that we change our behavior about our "doctrinal" opinions. The last thing we need is more vaunted theologians with their roving followers intent on converting other Christians to their views, however open-minded any of us our.

Instead, in our meetings and books and seminaries, we need shepherds/teachers who teach us to live like Jesus, especially by their example, in changing times. That's the reorientation that we need, I think. I'd take another Teresa of Calcutta over 1,000 theologians who agree with me about soteriology and eschatology. We can unite behind obeying Jesus (along with the essential views mentioned above).

Perhaps if Christians become so few and so marginalized in our culture, then we'll realize how silly it is to remain functionally separated by our theological divisions and opinions.

You can have your other theological opinions. They are interesting, I know. Quote the Bible, keep your extra-biblical comments to yourself, and frankly, nobody should care.

That's my spiel. Sorry for the length! I did read all of your posts.
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23

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