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THE SILENT WAR IN THE CHURCH

A Winnable War We Must Not Ignore.

by Larry Cory

 

THE SILENT WAR IN THE CHURCH
PART 11
THE SILENT WAR OVER DIVISIVE ISSUES
(What issues divide the church that shouldn't divide the church?)

     There are many issues that can divide Christians into two camps: the _______ Christians versus the _______ Christians.  I am beginning to realize that some issues are very complex ones that God has not chosen to fully and clearly explain to us—probably because it is over our heads right now.  There are some teachings that are very clear—such as our being born sinners; our need for a Savior; Jesus is the Son of God who became a man to die for our sins and rise from the dead; the Scriptures are the verbally inspired and inerrant word of God; Jesus will return; and the importance of God's kingdom.  There are, though, other areas where, I believe, God has not made everything completely clear to us.  Here are some of the complex issues that have, over the years, divided the church: the age of the universe, the order of future events, Calvinism, and the Charismatic movement.  I believe that a problem develops when we look at those who disagree with us on these issues in the same way as we look at those who disagree with us on who Jesus is or on how we are saved.  Also, even in such issues as salvation, we are not to have a pharisaical attitude toward those who disagree with us.  Rather, we are to be concerned for their salvation.  Furthermore, belittling, ganging up on, haranguing, and attacking the persons (ad hominem attacks) who disagree with us are not helpful ways to ever deal with those who disagree with us on any issue.  Those we disagree with are, first of all, fellow Christians.  It is an in-family disagreement!
     A question in an adult Sunday School teacher's guide is as follows: "How would you explain the difference between a division and a disagreement?"  How should we answer that question?  My answer is that the unity of the church should be preserved, unless the issue is so important that those on one side of the issue are likely not Christians.  I believe that there are issues that Christians can disagree about, but some of these issues are not issues that Christians should divide over.  I have strong opinions on each of these areas and I share my viewpoints readily, but I believe that they are not issues that we in God's church should divide over.  Loving disagreement may even lead to greater light, as we listen to each other.  If God would have us divide over these issues, then the church will never be able to function as one Body, but will always be divided.  I will share with you why I do not believe that we should divide over these issues by giving two examples: the Calvinism issue and the Charismatic movement issue.

1. CALVINISM—IS IT AN ISSUE CHRISTIANS SHOULD DIVIDE OVER?

     The issue behind the division between Calvinists, Arminians, and those who do not believe they are in either camp certainly fits the definition of a complex issue.  First of all, I will give some reasons why I believe that we should not divide over the Calvinism issue.  This issue is about harmonizing two teachings that are, I believe, both found in the Bible.  The two teachings are the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  Those who lean toward the sovereignty of God have many verses that clearly teach their side.  But, those who emphasize the responsibility of man also have many verses that teach their side.
     By "responsibility of man" I mean that people are able to respond to God's many invitations in the Bible.  We are responsible because we are able to respond—we are able to receive or reject.  Throughout the Bible, people are held accountable because they chose not to respond to God's warnings and His grace.  "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land;'"
     Those on either side of the Calvinism issue can view the verses that support the other side of the issue as bad verses.  But, because the verses on the two sides of the issue are both found in God's good book, the verses on either side of the issue are all good verses.
     Incidentally, it is not true that if one is not a Calvinist, he is automatically an Arminian.  I am neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian.  I personally believe that God's sovereignty and man's personal choices and responsibility are both taught in the Bible.  The problem, I believe, comes when one side is emphasized in such a way that the other side is deemphasized.  Another part of the issue is, how do we harmonize verses that seem to contradict each other?  The issue also is, what do we do with the verses that disagree with our view?   
     Secondly, God does not fully explain everything to us.  "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law."
(Deuteronomy 29:29)  If God has not revealed to us completely in the Bible how His sovereignty harmonizes with man's responsibility, should we argue over it and divide over it?  One of the main sections in the Bible that deals with this issue is Romans 9-11.  That section ends in the following way: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:33-36)  What does "unsearchable" mean?  It means that the issue that Paul has been discussing will remain at least somewhat of a mystery no matter how hard we search to understand it—it is "unsearchable" because it is beyond our abilities to search it out.  Should we argue and divide over an area that God says is "unsearchable"? See also Isa. 55:8-9
     Warren Wiersbe has the following to say about the complexity of this issue: "No one will deny that there are many mysteries connected with divine sovereignty and human responsibility.  Nowhere does God ask us to choose between these truths, because they both come from God and are a part of God's plan.  They do not compete; they cooperate.  The fact that we cannot fully understand how they work together does not deny the fact that they do.  When a man asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciled divine sovereignty and human responsibility, Spurgeon replied:  'I never reconcile friends.'" (Warren Wiersbe.  Be Right.  Copyright 1977 by SP Publications, Inc.)
     How can God be sovereign—be fully in charge of all that takes place—and man be free to make real choices?  I believe that we need to admit that on this side of heaven we will not be able to fully explain how God does this.  Here, we have entered an area that must remain a mystery to us. 
     I have my own conclusions on this issue.  I freely share my viewpoint.  But, I also greatly respect many who hold a view different from my own view.  Many of my favorite Bible commentators are Calvinists: William Hendriksen, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, Erwin Lutzer, John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, and Ray Stedman.  They were and are men of great integrity, great love for God, and great scholarship.  But, there are also men who hold views similar to the view that I hold who are also men of great integrity, great love for God, and great scholarship.  Here are some of them: Norman Geisler, Millard Erickson, Kenneth Boa, Hank Hanegraaff, and William Lane Craig.
     Finally, some of the most respected Christians, through the years, have been on either side of this issue.  They were not good Christians or bad Christians depending where they stood on this issue, they were good Christians.  The most well-known men who were complete opposites with regard to this issue were George Whitefield and John Wesley.  Though they strongly and vocally disagreed on this issue, they were both men God used mightily in leading a revival that shaped both England and our country.  Though they strongly and vocally disagreed on this issue, they greatly respected each other.  John Wesley preached at George Whitfield's funeral. Part of it is printed in the addendum of this book.  May we also respect those who disagree with us on this issue.  One day, we will understand what we do not fully understand now.
     In the addendum, are the words of John Wesley that were spoken by him as he officiated at George Whitefield's funeral.  You will find in this sermon by John Wesley, the love and respect that Wesley had for Whitefield; even though they strongly disagreed on the Calvinism-Arminian issue.  May we also who have taken a strong stand on this issue also love and respect our fellow Christians who strongly disagree with us.  May we work together in our common battle against the forces of darkness and may we be open to listen to each other.

2. THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT—IS IT AN ISSUE CHRISTIANS SHOULD DIVIDE OVER?

     It is becoming more apparent to me in recent years that what often divides Christians is an over-emphasis on one truth that ends up excluding another truth.  This over-emphasis ends up closing minds to what the other side has to say.  Like the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant, the accurate observation of each blind man is not heard by the other blind men.  The result is that they have touched different parts of the elephant and concluded wrongly that an elephant is only like the part of the elephant that they have touched.  For example, an elephant is a tree because this blind man only touched the leg.  But, if the blind men listened to what the other blind men had to say about their observations, they would then have concluded what makes up a whole elephant.
     We as Christians can hole up with other Christians of like minds, and only see our part of Christianity.  This is particularly true in the division between charismatic Christians and non-charismatic Christians.  Both sides see the weaknesses and faults of the other side.  They, then, use those faults to disparage those on the other side—and to build a higher wall between them.
     There are very serious weaknesses and faults on either side.  There are, though, also strengths on both sides.  Each side could benefit from the others' strengths.
     What divides charismatic Christians from non-charismatic Christians?  The difference between charismatic Christians and other Christians is primarily a matter of what is emphasized.  Charismatics emphasize experience, emotions, spiritual gifts, miracles, and God speaking to them today.  Non-charismatic Christians emphasize interpreting the Bible and applying what is learned to their lives.  The problem is that an over-emphasis on either side can lead to mindless emotionalism or to dry intellectualism.  Mindless emotionalism can be easy picking for false teachers who can pose as God's spokespersons.  We are told to test the spirits.  "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
(I John 4:1)
     There will always be those who will say that God is speaking through them when He is not.  Jeremiah had this to say about the false prophets in his day: 

     On the other hand, non-charismatic Christians can become cold and dry theologians.  Their Bible knowledge can lead to arrogance.  And knowledge without love can lead to cold-heartedness.  " . . . Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." (I Corinthians 8:1b)
     Also, the charismatic movement can lead to people so wanting to experience God that a number of false methods can be used to attain an experience with God.  Formulas can be used that promise an experience with God—if you do this (the first step in the formula), it is certain that God will bless you in some way.  For example, if you give us money, God will make you rich—you will get more than you gave.  These formulas are limited only by the creativity of those making the formulas.
     What if God did give us a formula that worked every time we used it?  We would, then, begin to trust the formula and ourselves rather than trusting God.  We would grow in arrogance and not in humility.
     But on the other side, non-charismatic Christians can become skeptical that God ever does anything of a miraculous nature in today's world.  This can lead to a deistic view of God—the watchmaker view of God.  God has wound up the world like a clock, and He is now uninvolved in what is happening in the world.
     Also, the charismatic Christian emphasis can lead not only to emotional expression but to emotionalism.  For example, music can be used to bypass the mind and to emotionally manipulate an audience. (This can be done in both Christian and non-Christian settings.)  For example, a supposed revival can be produced by musical manipulation.  Was this revival planned and produced by those in charge or was it God's Spirit working and genuinely impacting individual lives?  It could be both.  But, if all it produces is an emotional experience that produces little or no change in a person's life, then it was likely an emotional experience and not a work of God's Spirit.
     On the other side, non-charismatic Christianity can be devoid of emotions.  What is a marriage like that is devoid of all emotions.  So, is not a relationship with God also meant to be an emotional experience?  We should not let the fear of becoming controlled by our emotions prevent us from ever being emotional.  Laughter, tears, joy, and even anger are all a part of who God made us to be.  Jesus showed all of these emotions.  Emotions are a part of being His family members.
     The Psalms provide convincing evidence that emotions are an important part of the Christian life.  Certainly, every type of emotionality is found in the Psalms.  And that includes exuberant and joyful worship.

     Furthermore, charismatic Christians can so want God to do a miracle that they can call something a miracle that is not a miracle.  A non-miracle can be called a miracle to support the view that miracles are happening.  Also, people can be told that miracles are taking place that are invisible to the naked eyes.  For example, allergies are being healed; or someone was just healed out there in the television audience.  They can also create something that gives the impression that a miracle is happening.  A vibrator under the stage has been used to give the impression that a miracle was happening as the faith healer touched someone seeking healing.  Information has been whispered into a speaker's ear piece so it gave the impression that God was giving to him information that only God would know.
     On the other hand, non-charismatics can believe that God no longer ever performs miracles.  This can lead to a lack of faith in our prayers.  It can also lead to skepticism when someone reports God's miraculous response to their prayers. 
     A further problem with those who are primarily experience-seekers is that it has been my observation that they tend to not grow in their knowledge of the Bible.  Rather, they can become primarily seekers after greater experiences.  As a result, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:14, they stay spiritual ". . . infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."
     But, again, on the other side, non-charismatic Christians can be so academic that their Christian life is almost completely an intellectual life.  Seminary is sometimes call a cemetery.  At least part of the reason for this is that the Bible can become an academic textbook at these institutions of higher learning.  It can be taught as an intellectual requirement, rather than as describing a spiritual reality. 
     As has been pointed out, both extremes are not good.  It seems clear to me that what is needed is a combination of the two.  We can learn from each other.  Charismatics need to become students of the Bible, so they can more accurately recognize what is from God and what is not from God.  That knowledge of the Bible will protect them from the false teacher and from following some spirit from the dark side who presents himself as an angel of enlightening.  Non-charismatic Christians can learn from the charismatics how to have a life-giving experience with God's Spirit.  They can also learn how to become sensitive to what God is doing in the world, in the lives of Christians, and in their lives.  This new spiritual sensitivity and expectancy can heighten their awareness of their personal relationship with the living God.  Also, they can come to expect God's Spirit to make their reading of the Bible come alive.
     There is only one church.  Christians who are charismatics and non-charismatics can help each other to learn more about God and more about having a relationship with Him.  We can, to use the illustration used earlier, learn more about what an elephant is from each other.  We are all Christians.  We are one church.  Let us focus on what we have in common rather than on what divides us.  Let us also be willing to learn from each other.  Let us be willing to be corrected by each other—let us show humility and gentleness to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is (1) the extremes on both sides, (2) an arrogant spirit toward those who disagree with us, and (3) isolating ourselves from each other that has divided us.  Most of all, we need to love our fellow Christians and be united under the Headship of Jesus Christ.
     The difference between Charismatic Christians and non-Charismatic Christians can become so great that it can give the impression that there are two churches that are so different from each other that they are like oil and water to each other—they cannot be mixed.  This obviously is not true.  There is still only one church.  If we humble ourselves, we can benefit from each other's strengths and again become one church in experience with each other just as we are already one in Christ.    
     What is happening today is very similar to what was happening in the church at Corinth in Paul's time.  There was division in the church at Corinth due to spiritual gifts.  Paul's first solution was to emphasize love.  I Corinthians 13—the love chapter is right in the center of his teaching on the spiritual gifts.  His second solution was to emphasize that the church should function like Christ's body—there is a place for diversity and unity, as well as a need for us to cooperate with each other.  Finally, Paul taught that the prophetic gift is to be the preeminent gift in the church. (see I Cor. 12-14)
     One question, though, needs to be asked before we conclude this chapter: "What is our final basis for distinguishing between what is true and real from what is false and not real?"  Although feelings and experiences are a healthy and an important part of the Christian life, they cannot be the final basis for determining what is true and real.  It is the truth given to us in God's revelation in the Bible that all truth claims must be measured by.  People inside of Christianity and outside of Christianity have feelings and experiences.  Everything must be tested by what is taught in the Bible.  The Bible alone gives us what is absolute and objective truth.
     We should not eliminate feelings and experiences from the Christian life, but we should test everything by the Word of God.  The following verse in I Thessalonians give us the proper balance.  "Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything. Hold on to the good."
(I Thessalonians 5:19-21)  We should not despise it when someone claims he or she had an experience with God; for we may be closing our mind to something that is from God.  On the other hand, we should not accept everything that someone says is from God.  We should test it first.  How can we test it?  We should test it by what is written in the Bible.  If we follow this pattern, we will be receptive to what God has for us; but we will also not be gullible and receptive to what is not coming from Him.
     It has been my observation that there are non-charismatic Christians and charismatic Christians who already have this balance.  They are benefitting from each other and are learning more about what an elephant is from each other—they are gaining more of an understanding of what the church is.  For the charismatic Christian, I say, dedicate yourself to getting to know the Bible.  For the non-charismatic evangelical, I say, dedicate yourself to becoming more emotionally and spiritually involved in your relationship with God.  Then, we will all have a fuller walk with God.  Then, those in these two divisions of Christianity will be moving toward the oneness that we already have in Christ.

The Silent War In The Church

Table of Contents and Brief Intro Table of Contents
Introduction Introduction
The Silent War Inside our Churches - Part 1 Part 1a
The Silent War Inside our Churches - Part 2 Part 1b
The Silent War between Churches Part 2
The Silent War with Satan and his Demons Part 3
The Silent War can be Won by God's Love in us Part 4
The Silent War can be like the Wars in the World Part 5
The Silent War between a False and Coerced Unity and a True Unity Part 6
An Essential Requirement Needed for Ending the Silent War Between Christians Part 7
The Silent War Caused by Turning the Church into the Kingdom of Man and not the Kingdom of God Part 8
The Silent War inside of Each Christian Part 9
The Silent War in the Church with the World Part 10
The Silent War Over Divisive Issues Part 11
The Silent War caused by a Mysterious Invading Army Part 12
The Silent War Caused by Seeking Worldly Success Part 13
The Silent War Always Results in Persecution Part 14
The Silent War Caused when Godly People Divide Part 15
The Silent War Caused when Godly People Cause Divisions Part 16
The Silent War Caused by the Church or a Church Dividing over an Important Issue Part 17
When the Church is Winning - Part 1 Part 18a
When the Church is Winning - Part 2 Part 18a
The Bible's Description of Victorious Soldiers in the Silent War Coming Jan 21
How Victory in the Silent War can Lead to Revival in the Church Coming Jan 28
Conclusion Coming Feb 4
Addendum: The Silent War caused by "the onlys" Coming Feb 11
Addendum: A Pastor's Authority by Ray Stedman Coming Feb 18
Addendum: Galatians 6:1-3 (my commentary on these verses) Coming Feb 25
Addendum: John Wesley's sermon at George Whitefield's funeral Coming Mar 4