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A Winnable War We Must Not Ignore.

by Larry Cory


(Can godly people cause divisions and still be doing what is right?)

     We can think that all divisions in the church are caused by sin and selfishness.  But the Bible tells us of times when divisions were caused by godliness and godly people.  For example, the book of Acts describes a time when Paul and Barnabas, two godly men, caused a division in the church.  It happened when a group of Jewish Christians in the early church taught that Gentiles needed to be circumcised before they could be saved.  That was the opposite of what Paul and Barnabas had been teaching to the Gentiles outside of Israel.  They were teaching them that they could receive salvation as a gracious gift of God through putting their faith in Jesus.  So, Paul and Barnabas came "into sharp dispute and debate with them." (Acts 15:2)  Paul and Barnabas could not ignore what these Jews were requiring of Gentiles.  They were teaching that they could not be saved unless they first became Jews by being circumcised.  Paul explains in the book of Galatians how they responded to these false teachers.  "We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you." (Galatians 2:5)
     Paul and Barnabas could have chosen to take the easy way and avoided conflict by letting these Jews have their way.  But there are some issues we should not ignore.  We need to take a stand on these issues, even though it will cause division.  Throughout church history, there have been times when courageous Christians have taken on the established church structure when they believed that they could not ignore some issue that was a vital threat to the church or to a church.
     Should there be sharp disputes and debates in the church?  In some cases, the answer is, "Yes."  And there have been these types of disputes and debates many times down through the history of the church.  Some of the issues that caused divisions are the following:  In the early days of the church, after the New Testament days, a man named Arius taught that Jesus was a created being, dividing the early church over the identity of Jesus Christ.  It was decided at the Council of Nicaea that Jesus is fully God—the Creator— and not a created being.  Arianism, though, continued to be a divisive issue for decades.  Today's Jehovah Witnesses still hold to Arius' view.  Athanasius was a key figure in this debate.  He divided the early church, even though it angered the Roman Emperor Constantine.  The whole early church was divided over one letter: homoiousia—Jesus is a similar substance to God or homoousia —Jesus is the same substance as God.  The issue was over whether Jesus is God or a created being who is of a similar substance to God. The early church ultimately recognized that Jesus is fully God and not a created being.
     The Protestant Reformation divided the church over the issue of salvation by grace—by a gift that is not earned.  Martin Luther was a key figure in this debate that divided the church into the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches.  That division continues up to our day.  The book of Galatians, where Paul strongly confronts those in his time who were trying to make works a requirement for salvation, was a favorite book in the Bible for Martin Luther.  Luther strongly agreed with Paul's teaching that we are not saved by works, but by putting our trust in God's grace through believing in Jesus' death on the cross.
     Paul used strong words to confront the false teachers of his time who were perverting the gospel.  "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:6-9) 
     Should we not seek after unity with all those in the church?  Yes.  But in this case, Paul could not be unified with those who were falsely teaching that we can only be saved by works—for no one can be saved through works.  "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'"  (Galatians 3:10)  We can only be saved by putting our faith in God's grace made available to us through Jesus' death on the cross.  "Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.'"  (Galatians 3:11)  Paul needed to divide himself from those who were teaching salvation by works, just as we need to divide ourselves from those who, like the cults, teach salvation by works.
     In more recent years, liberalism has been a threat to the church.  Whole denominations have been divided over such crucial issues as to whether or not the Bible was inspired by God and inerrant; rather than, as the liberals say, written only by men and full of human errors.  Whether or not the miracles recorded in the Bible actually took place is another issue that has divided liberal churches from the true church.  The true or evangelical church believes that the Bible was inspired by God and is historically accurate.  This battle is described in a book titled, The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell.
     When there are issues over the essential teachings of the Bible, there may need to be divisions in the church.  Christians of conviction and courage need to take a stand on these issues, even if it divides the church.  Paul said this in I Corinthians: "In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval."  (I Corinthians 11:18-19)
     We can conclude, therefore, that there will be times when godly Christians will need to take a stand on the essential issues of Christianity, even though it will result in there being divisions in the church.  We need to seek God's wisdom as to when it is necessary to take such a stand.  We also need God's wisdom to know when we can disagree without it leading to division.  It is crucial that we do not make every difference of opinion an issue that divides us.  There is a difference between in-family disagreements and disagreements that are of such importance that it is necessary to take a stand, even though it will divide the church into two parts.  In-family disagreements, though, should not divide the church.

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 Part 19
How Victory in the Silent War can Lead to Revival in the Church Part 20
Conclusion Conclusion
Addendum: The Silent War caused by "the onlys" "The Onlys"
Addendum: A Pastor's Authority by Ray Stedman A Pastor's Authority
Addendum: Galatians 6:1-3 (my commentary on these verses) Galatians 6:1-3
Addendum: John Wesley's sermon at George Whitefield's funeral George Whitefield