Tuesday, February 19th, 2008 | Author:

[note: This is a message I shared with my church on Feb. 17th. Click on the charts to enlarge them.]

I want to share two scripture promises this morning. The first is James 1:5-6:

But if any of you lacks wisdom,
let him ask of God,
who gives to all men generously

and without reproach,
and it will be given to him.
But let him ask in faith without any doubting,
for the one who doubts

is like the surf of the sea
driven and tossed by the wind.

The second promise is in Proverbs chapter 2 verses 1-6:

My son, if you will receive my sayings,
And treasure my commandments within you,
Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD,
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge

and understanding.

Since I’ve been saved, there has been an overwhelming hunger in my heart to know God and to know God’s ways. Some people have even said I’m fanatical and obsessive about it — which is true — but the way I figure? I did it my way for 39 years and screwed everything up. God’s way has got to be better.

The scriptures I read this morning are true. When we seek God for wisdom and understanding and knowledge and discernment, he is generous to provide it. In fact, my message this morning is the result of seeking God on one particular subject for several years, and I’m pretty excited that I get to share it with you.

Here was my question to God: What is the church? How should it function? Who runs it? How does it worship? In short, what is God’s way for the church? I started looking around, and it didn’t take me long to realize that almost all churches proclaim that they do things God’s way. Only trouble is, they all do things differently. Obviously, they can’t all be right, so that began my quest.

Over the past few years, I have read literally dozens of books about what church is. I have prayed. I have scoured the scriptures. I have driven my husband nuts. The past couple of months, I have searched through church history, which is when everything came together for me, so I’m going to share a few highlights of what I found. There will not be a test.


This first chart I redrew from Wikipedia, because it helped me make sense of things. It shows the major branches of the church over time.

The Nicene Creed:
· 325 The 1st Council of Nicea was held to unify the church; they wrote the Nicene Creed, a statement of beliefs
· In 381, at the 1st Council of Constantinople they changed the Nicene Creed
· In 431 at the Council of Ephesus they forbid changes to the Nicene Creed
· Sixteen years later at the Council of Toledo, they added a controversial clause to the Nicene Creed.
· Today? There are at least seven different versions of the Nicene Creed in use.

Chalcedonian Creed
· At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, they adopted the Chalcedonian Creed, which is different than the Nicene Creed.

The Great Schism
· In 1054, there was a major split in the church, between the Eastern, or Greek, branch, and the Western, or Latin, branch. These later became the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The primary causes were over the Roman Pope’s sphere of authority, and … that controversial clause they added to the Nicene Creed back in 447.

The Reformation
· In 1517, Martin Luther nailed “The 95 Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. He objected to many Catholic church practices, including the sale of indulgences, the authority of the pope, and the nature of penances. [As an interesting little tidbit: Back in 400, when Jerome first translated the Bible from Greek to Latin, he is said to have mistranslated the Greek word for repent into the Latin word for penance. So I suspect that this is how Catholic’s come to “pay penance” instead of repenting.]
· In 1521 they convened the Diet of Worms, primarily to condemn Martin Luther
· In 1525, the Anabaptists were born, objecting to infant baptism
· In 1530, Martin Luther founded the Lutheran church.
· In Switzerland in 1563, John Calvin wrote “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”, also objecting to many Catholic practices
· In 1610, the followers of Jacobus Arminius wrote the “The Five Articles of Remonstrance”, stating their own doctrines in contrast to the Calvinists.
· In 1618-19, the Synod of Dort convened, and refuted “The Five Articles of Remonstance” in the “Canons of Dort.”

That covers the major splits and that’s where I’m gonna stop, or we’d be here until Jayme goes to Africa. You can see on this chart that the arguments over doctrine have only multiplied since the Reformation, creating multiple new denominations. In a 1999 survey, The Reformed Church alone had 746 denominations worldwide. Not churches – denominations. I don’t think this is the unified church that Jesus spoke of.
As I was digging through all this history, and much more, a couple things jumped out at me:

· It seemed that every time someone documented their doctrine, a split occurred.
· And every time a particular church tried to exert their authority over another church, a split occurred.

Do we need doctrine? Absolutely. Doctrine simply means instruction or teaching, and the Bible is full of encouragement to do just that.

Does the church need authority? Again, the Bible lays this out quite clearly.

So why is the church so divided? What’s gone wrong? Let’s look at doctrine first.

No single person or single group of persons in any one time and location is going to have all the truth. Paul said that “now we see in a mirror dimly … now we know in part.[1]” In my personal experience, God teaches me what I need to know next. I don’t get all knowledge, I get the knowledge I need at the time, if I’m paying attention. I suspect that He supplies knowledge to the church in the same way — just what is needed at any given place or time.

Over the course of history, though, Christians have tended to build their doctrine on the knowledge of previous generations. Arminius refuted Calvin, who built on Augustine, etc., back through the centuries.

Could it be that the piece of knowledge that Augustine was given for his place and time, is not the same piece of knowledge that we need in the here and now? Could Jesus have different priorities for us based on our different circumstances? Instead of looking to the past for our doctrine, should we be looking directly to Jesus and the Bible?

1 Corinthians 3:4-7 says this:

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

Wouldn’t this apply to Augustine and Calvin and Arminius, too?

In Mark 7:6-9, Jesus said this to the scribes and Pharisees:

“Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”

Could it be that the church has repeated the error of the scribes and Pharisees?

The other thing that seemed to cause big rifts in the church is the issue of authority: who’s in charge, who decides doctrine, who decides how things are done. The Bible speaks clearly about elders and deacons, about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Jesus spends quite a bit of time teaching that church leaders should be servant leaders, just as He was, instead of Lording it over each other. These are the standard things we look at in relationship to authority, but the Lord also led me to another passage.

In Revelation, Chapter 1, verses 10-11, John says this:

“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,
and I heard behind me a loud voice

like the sound of a trumpet,
saying, “Write in a book what you see,
and send it to the seven churches:
to the Catholics and to the Lutherans

and to the Anabaptists
and to the Calvinists and to the Armenians

and to the Baptists and to the Pentecostals.”

Okay, I changed it a little bit, and it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? What Jesus really did was dictate individual letters to individual churches in individual locations: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These churches were all within about 150 miles of each other, but each church got their own message, based on their own circumstances — and each message was different.

This is when the lightbulb went off. Our God is a personal God, not a one-size-fits-all God. When Jesus wants to direct the church in Glen, is He going to send a letter to the RCA office in Grand Rapids or New York City? Is He going to tell the synod in Albany? I don’t think so! I think He’s going to speak directly to us — to me and to you, His church body in Glen, NY. So who has authority over each church in each location? Jesus, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.[2]

So with these two premises — that we get our doctrine directly from God and the Bible, not other men; and that Jesus is the sole authority over each church — I have created my own chart, with some help from my hubbie.

At the center in blue is our Triune God. Just below Him in red is the Bible. Around the outside in purple are several churches in different locations. See? Red plus blue equals the purple of the royal priesthood, of which we are all a part. Each church is connected directly to God and the Bible. There is no mediator between Jesus and his church — the veil of separation was torn in two when He hung on the cross and died for us.

There is also a dotted line connecting the different churches to one another, in fellowship and support, but no church is in authority over any other. Glen reads their letter from Jesus, Rural Grove reads theirs, and there’s nothing to argue over.

And that’s how I believe church is supposed to be. Each group of believers gets together with their strengths and their weaknesses and their Bibles and their Lord, and He conforms them into His own image.

You are all free to disagree with me, of course, but I believe with all my heart that if Jesus is given His rightful place as head of each church body in each location, He will be faithful to write us the letters we need, just when we need them. God will keep His promises from James and Proverbs. When we cry out for wisdom and understanding and discernment, when we seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures, we will truly discern the fear of the LORD, And discover the knowledge of God.

[1] 1 Corinthians 13:12
[2] Matthew 28:18

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15 Responses
  1. Anonymous says:

    Isnt it interesting how history keeps on repeating itself. God makes things simple. Man overcomplicates and messes things up. “Adam, have blast working in the garden and be cool – just dont eat the fruit of that one little tree.” Right. Then God says “OK, how’s this -Moses, I’m gonna give you just ten little commandments. That’s it. Just ten. But they will be written in stone, so dont mess em up!” Right. So then, hundreds of lawyers (scribes, sadducees and pharisees) churn out hundreds more “laws” (sounds familiar) that confuse the snot out of the people and cause a run on aspirin. Then these lawyers ask Jesus which is most important. So God, through Jesus, makes it simple again. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your hearts, soul, mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. That’s pretty much it. DO that and everything will be okee dokee.” (or something like that) But Man is much too smart for that. Obviously, God’s just trying to confuse us. It cant be that simple. Hey, we’re smart guys and we can figure out what God REALLY means! So now, everyone has their own denomination, and we have pretty much everything covered. Of course, we are completely out of whach on a bunch of it. Good thing God really loves us, huh.

  2. akaGaGa says:

    Not only are we “much too smart” we still really want to be in charge. God gets us to a place where we bend our knee and acknowledge Him … and then we pop right back up again! It’s a good thing about that cross, eh?

  3. Reynaldo says:

    I disagree with your primness, Christ did leave the (Apostles) Bishops here on earth (Matthew 16:18) to bind on earth whatever shall be bound in heaven; and whatever they loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. The early church Bishops met in church council to formulate the understanding of our believe with the authority given by Christ, it behooves us to read what this bishops have written. I do like your method of going back in history, I feel if we all search what the early church fathers instructed, we would have more harmony in our faiths.

  4. akaGaGa says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Reynardo. Do you think, then, that the writings of the church fathers carry as much weight as the Bible? If you do, then how do you find the truth when even they couldn’t agree?

  5. Reynaldo says:

    I do to some extant, because this same church Fathers are the same ones that selected the books to go into the Bible. If I can’t count on their teaching, how can I count on their selection of books to go into the Bible?

  6. akaGaGa says:

    The difference is that man’s teachings are fallible. Even Paul qualified his own example in 1 Cor 11:1: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” We can learn from Augustine or Luther or the neighbor down the street, but only as far as they imitate Christ.

    Again, Paul said in Galatians 1:8: “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

    I believe we are supposed to test all things against the gospel found in Scripture, which is inspired by God. (2 Tim 3:16) Jesus promised us that God’s Word would not pass away (Matthew 5:18, 24:35) but He made no such promise about the words of subsequent teachers.

    In fact, Jesus repeatedly warned us about “invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” (Mark 7:13)

    In addition, the New Testament is full of warnings about deception in the church, which we would be foolish to ignore. [See a previous post here: http://akagaga.blogspot.com/2008/03/deception-in-church.html

    I hope this clarifies my thinking, Reynaldo. On a more personal note, can I ask where you are from and what your Christian background is? I’m always curious.

  7. Reynaldo says:

    Hello again by the why the reason a came to your site was due to the reformation Church chart you have, thanks, I goggled it.

    I currently reside in Miami Florida and I go to St. John the Apostle Catholic Church

    With the aid of the Holy Spirit a man a Church can be infallible ( Jn 16:13 ) ( 1Tim 3:15 ). Remember you too believe in the infallibility of man, you do believe the Bible is infallible and guess what a man wrote it. This same infallibility this same Holy Spirit will be with us forever Jn 14:16.

  8. akaGaGa says:

    Well, Reynaldo, we may just have to agree to disagree. Your previous references to the Holy Spirit apply to ALL Christians, not just church leaders. And it doesn’t say we’re infallible, just that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Hearing the Truth from the Holy Spirit is not the same as walking in the Truth 24/7. The ONLY One who was infallible is Jesus:

    (2 Corinthians 5:21) He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

    (1 John 1:8) If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

  9. akaGaGa says:

    Reynaldo, as I don’t have a Catholic background, I did some searching around and found this article that compares the Bible and Roman Catholic faith. I thought it might be helpful:

    http://www.biblebb.com/files/CATHINFO.HTM

  10. Reynaldo says:

    I am torch and I know you mean no disrespect but I have read many Anti-Catholic tracts, before I’ve found some of them to be very dishonest.

    You may wish to ponder how come most of the ancient Churches of the East and Orient have more theology in common with the Catholic Church then the churches of the reformation. All this ancient Churches are very conservative with their theology. Like they say its best to go to source when looking for information, what better then the original Ancient Churches, not Catholic parse.

    Here goes a Catholic tract that may explain some Anti-catholic misconceptions.
    http://www.catholicapologetics.org/

  11. akaGaGa says:

    Thanks for the link, Reynaldo. I took a quick skim, but I’ll read it more thoroughly when I have more time.

    As for your statement:
    “You may wish to ponder how come most of the ancient Churches of the East and Orient have more theology in common with the Catholic Church then the churches of the reformation.”

    I would far rather ponder which church has the most theology in common with the Bible. :)

  12. Reynaldo says:

    That’s a good point and true, just because their ancient churches does not proof fidelity to the Bible.

    I only pointed this out because many non-Catholic churches try to say that Catholic Church has introduced many new innovation into Christianity, if that was true like the tract you gave me states, this same ancient churches wouldn’t look so much like the Catholic Church in theology. Some of this innovations are also beliefs in this same ancient churches that broke away before and after the so call innovation where stated. Some of the innovations in the tract if correct are moments in time that a belief was questioned and the church decided to put it into ink in order that all questions may be answered, more like a Supreme Court decision.

    “I would far rather ponder which church has the most theology in common with the Bible. :)

    That sounds like fun, If possible I’m in fore it. I don’t like to shake once faith or my by debating, but I do find it edifying for me, because it makes me a more knowledgeable Christian.

    Hay, My sister lives by Binghamton New York in Green.

    God bless you for spreading the seed of his love.

  13. akaGaGa says:

    Binghamton is 2 or 3 hours southwest of here. Not exactly neighbors, but more so than New York City.

    I’m working on a new post called “Faith in Christ or Faith in Doctrine?”

    We can continue the conversation there. And thanks, Reynaldo. It’s good to search for God’s truth.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I really appreciate what you seem to be saying. As a die-hard congregationalist, I believe that each body of believers which God has called together, however it may have happened, are beholden to each other in all matters.

    For instance, in 1 Cor 14:23, when Paul writes, “The Whole Church” he can’t possibly be talking about believers everywhere. In that context, ekklesia must mean the body of believers in Corith. I am certain that the vast majority of the uses of this word in this letter have primarily the local application, with some also being applied to the CHURCH, as with 10:32 and 11:22.

    However this actually raises a challenge to your thesis.

    You cite 1 Corinthians 3:4-7 in implicit support of your thesis. You seem to be saying that these different apostles did these different things, and that supports your idea of different revelation for different people. The problem is that, though this letter is for all of us, the specifics being dealt with are within a single body of believers. The different men were not teaching divergent or various truths to different bodies, these men all taught within the ekkesia of God which is at Corinth, and their teaching was approved by Paul. The men you cite which are mentioned in 1 cor 3 taught within one church, not different churches thousands of miles and years apart, so, no, 1 Corinthians 3:4-7 wouldn’t apply to Augustine and Calvin and Arminius.

    I am not sure how you are citing Mark 7:6-9 in support of your idea. I get the impression that you are connecting the “precept of men” to Augustine and Calvin and Arminius, and at times this is certainly true, but it is impossible to say for sure in the absence of a citation on your part of the errors of accretion of these men, so I cannot accept your inference. With a comparable doctrinal citation from these men I may be able to accept what you are saying.

    Here is where I feel that your thesis begins to take on what the Muslims call “The Doctrine of Abrogation”:

    “He’s going to speak directly to us — to me and to you, His church body in Glen, NY. So who has authority over each church in each location? Jesus, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth”

    You connect Christ speaking directly to us with his perfect authority on heaven and earth. But the echo of Matt 28:18 does not at all presumptuously lead to “He’s going to speak directly to us” because of what follows. The next three lines have our Lord telling his followers (us) to make disciples, and in doing so we will baptize and teach these disciples to obey all that Christ has commanded. Why would such an instruction be necessary if, as you say, “…that we get our doctrine directly from God and the Bible, not other men”? Christ’s exhortation, in light of him having been given all authority in heaven and upon the earth, is that people are to teach other people. The great commission itself speaks against one of your two main assertions.

    In fact, in providing some sort of corrective teaching as you are – that you think you need to refute some long standing error – proves that you don’t really believe “He’s going to speak directly to us.” You would just stand back and let Jesus teach, not needing to, in fact, teach anything at all. Indeed, your refutation could be construed as lording your interpretation over me, though my interpretation also came by a great deal of meditation and prayer. Your idea collapses under the weight of itself.

    If the specific issues within the seven churches were for them only, then why do we have them? As Revelation 3:22 reads, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” which certainly seems to indicate that though the specific issues were meant for the individual churches, the letters were not at all meant just for those ekklesia but for anyone “who has an ear”.

    This would be dealt with a bit if you had provided examples of how those teachings of Calvin and\or Augustine were “refuted” (the presumptuousness of which also needs unpacking) by Arminius. What I mean is that we would have a much easier time understanding what you were thinking about in matters of doctrinal subjectivity within ekklesia if you highlighted details of these teachers which you are convinced were for their time only. I somewhat agree with you, but such reasoning has been used as of late to throw out the baby with the bathwater by relativists and some of the more extreme postmoderns.

    As well, even Augustine wrote “retractions,” having seen errors in his own thinking. Are we to say that the parts of “City of God” which he later found to be an error were actually not errors, just subjective truths? Was he wrong to, earlier, teach things that he later found to be errors? If so, how do we make the case for these errors if “He’s going to speak directly to us”?

    Now, after all that, please dear let me say how much I appreciate and agree with much of what you say.

    For instance two of the last paragraphs are “can I get a witness” moments for me:

    And that’s how I believe church is supposed to be. Each group of believers gets together with their strengths and their weaknesses and their Bibles and their Lord, and He conforms them into His own image.

    The ideas which have been handed down to us are certainly to be scrutinized, and at times discarded. But the fact that there is dissention is not evidence of different revelations, it is evidence of sin, praying of course that the error lies not with me nor us, but we need to inspect ourselves.

    That people get “a word” is evidence of nothing until it lines up with what is written I really believe that you agree, please don’t hear me saying that that is what I see, because it is not. but when I read Jude it sounds like Ezekiel 13:1-8, in which people are having insights and visions and they really believe that they are from God, and they may be very pious, but in fact they are either seeing what they want to see or what is being given to them by Satan in the midst of their blank slate of a brain.

    Many divisions and debates are useless. Some are essential for purity, as with Pergamum and Thyatira, Rev 2:12-29 or the Apostle Peter’s error in Galatians.

    Blessings,

    Beks

  15. akaGaGa says:

    Beks, you will never know how much I appreciate your comments. Unbeknownst to me, I was becoming a bit arrogant about my ability to communicate my thoughts. Your repeated “what you seem to be saying” has prompted some repentance on my part. I will also try to clarify.

    You said: “You seem to be saying that these different apostles did these different things, and that supports your idea of different revelation for different people.”

    Nope. My only point in the Paul vs. Apollo discussion (I Cor 3:4-7) is this: Instead of saying “I am of Paul” (or Augustine) or “I am of Apollos” (or Calvin) we should all be saying “I am of Christ.” Instead of defending or condemning the doctrines of Augustine or Calvin, we should be letting the Holy Spirit illuminate scripture and teaching us what we need to know.

    Which leads me to the Mark 7:6-9 reference: “BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

    You said: “I get the impression that you are connecting the “precept of men” to Augustine and Calvin and Arminius, and at times this is certainly true, but it is impossible to say for sure in the absence of a citation on your part of the errors of accretion of these men.”

    If we spend all our time trying to understand Augustine and Calvin and Arminius, not only can we get hopelessly confused, but by default, we are neglecting the commandment of God. I cited no reference because the point is not whether their writings are right or wrong. The point is that their writings are not the Bible.

    Having said that, I did not at all mean to imply that we don’t need teachers, as your comments on the Great Commission prove. I believe, though, that real understanding comes only through the Holy Spirit.

    Matthew 23:8: “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.

    John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

    This is not to say that we can’t learn from reading and discussing things other than the Bible. But your point “That people get “a word” is evidence of nothing until it lines up with what is written” also needs to be applied to what we read and what each church has “inherited.”

    To sum up, I think our energies are much better spent trying to understand what Jesus meant, rather than what Augustine or Calvin meant.

    Over the course of my Christian life, I have discovered a pattern that the Holy Spirit has used to teach me something new, and it goes something like this:

    1) I will have an apparently random thought that I don’t understand at all.

    2) I will pray and search scripture to try to find that understanding.

    3) In God’s time, He will reveal to me the idea He’s trying get through my thick skull.

    4) AFTER I have some understanding and can back it up with scripture, He will lead me to a book or a sermon or something else that explains it far better than I can.

    As an example of this, I was a libertarian before I was a Christian. Several different times, I have tried to test my political ideas against Christianity, with only a modicum of success. A few months ago, I tried to crudely explain my thinking to a somewhat like-minded friend. He got it (bless his heart) but a while later I came across this link to an article by Tom Rawles that really said what I had been thinking:

    http://www.liberalia.com/htm/tr_christian_libertarian.htm

    God didn’t lead me here until I had the understanding myself. Here’s my posting on this: http://akagaga.blogspot.com/2008/06/christian-libertarian-or-libertarian.html

    So generally, I’ve found that the writings of others are only used to confirm my thoughts and express them better than I can.

    I hope this clarifies for you Beks, and again – I really appreciate your comments.