Why is the Religious World Divided?

One of the great questions that faces our day is the question of why there are so many denominations around us. It is clear from the scriptures that the followers of Christ were to be united in doctrine and practice. Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers in John 17. Paul condemned the factious spirit of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:10ff. Yet factions and divisions arose. After the time of apostolic guidance, the early church sought to maintain unity within the church not by appealing to scripture but by the unscriptural practice of changing the organization of the church. As opposed to having a plurality of bishops, as was the practice in the New Testament (Acts 20:28), they reasoned that if one bishop could rule the church, then the church would have unity. Eventually, this lead to one man ruling, not merely over individual churches, but over the universal church as a whole in the person of the Pope. Such was the result of man’s efforts to try to maintain unity within the body.

During the time of the reformation, many men recognized the unscriptural nature of the practices within the Catholic Church and sought reform. These men bravely faced the only known religion in Europe in that day and stood up in opposition to its corruptions. Through the efforts of men such as John Calvin and Martin Luther a challenge arose to the dusty religion of the Pope. The result of this challenge, however, was far from what Jesus originally intended His church to be. The reforms that were sought resulted in the creation of independent state religions, which we know today as mainline denominations. During the reformation, the denominations were largely relegated to various different states, but when the New World offered new opportunities, immigrants from these various states brought their religions with them all to settle in the same area. It is under the influence of the great melting pot of American and the promise of freedom of religion that the various denominations were folded together into a relatively small geopolitical area such as a county or town. The result was that a multitude of denominations now existed within a relatively small area. This brought attention to the obvious division that now existed among professed followers of Christ. Today the situation is much the same. Not much effort has been made in denominationalism to bring back the unity for which Christ prayed so earnestly and for which the apostles so stringently fought. This sad state of affairs is not the result of the plan of God, but of the refusal of men to submit to God’s will in matters of religion. Division is sinful and God hates it. But many will continue to allow division to continue because the truth is that they simply do not care about the unity of the body of Christ.

What is one to do with the amount of division that exists today among the religious world? First we must accept that the Bible and only the Bible provides the answer for religious unity today. The Bible is God’s word and it is the standard by which we will all be judged (John 12:48). We must seek to live our lives in harmony with the will of God as revealed to us in the Bible first and foremost. It is when man decides that he knows better than God that religious division occurs within the body. The tradition of men will not be able to justify one before God in that final day (Matthew 15:9). So we must decide that we are going to let the Bible settle all questions of religious difference. That is the first step toward unity.

Second, we must leave behind us all things that cause division. We must leave behind the divisive creeds and confessions of faith. We must leave behind the divisive names that we use to designate our buildings. We must leave behind the attitudes of selfishness and envy that cause division within the body of Christ (Philippians 2:3). We must leave behind any human traditions that we hold dear that would cause division. Any and everything that causes division we must let go.

Finally, we must unite together within the church that was established by Jesus. This means that we must understand the pattern that the Holy Spirit used to build the first century church. We must understand God’s pattern for worship and church organization. We must understand God’s plan for man’s salvation both for the alien sinner and for the saved. We must build upon that pattern and not allow any deviations to the right or the left (2 Timothy 1:13). When we follow the pattern that the Holy Spirit set forth in the Bible, we will get exactly the same thing that those within the first century got–the church that Jesus built.

God is not going to save a church that was not after His design. God is not going to save a body that does not respect the pattern that the Holy Spirit laid down. Jesus did not die to save men who follow after their own traditions and not after the word of God. Those who cause and continue to divide the body are guilty of mutilating the body of Christ and will receive no less punishment than those who crucified the Christ. Do we really value the words of Christ when he prayed for unity within the body (John 17:21)? Do we really value the words that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth commanding them not to have division (1 Corinthians 1:10)? If we do, then we will make every effort possible to unite based upon the teaching of the scriptures in one body. Until then, the religious world will remain divided (1 Corinthians 11:18, 19).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

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Why Be Rational in Religion?

I was talking with someone the other day regarding coming to the services. The person explained that he was going to a denomination right now because his child liked going to this place. That is when this thought crossed my mind. Would I leave any other major decision in my life up to a child? If I were to go buy a car for the family, would I let the child decide which dealership to go to? Which model to drive? If I were buying a house or looking for a job, would I put that decision solely in the hands of my child? Granted they might get some input, but children are just not equipped to make those kinds of important decisions. Now take the fact that the soul is the most valuable commodity that man owns today and then ask yourself, “Would you put the decision for what to do with your soul in the hands of your child, merely based upon your child’s likes and dislikes?” This seemed to me to be a very irrational thought. However, I then immediately realized that people are often very irrational when it comes to matters of religion.

Take for example the popularly used sentiment, “I just feel it in my heart.” This is one of the all time great irrationalities of religion. This is used to justify just about every sort of practice known to man on the planet. However, take this same sentiment into the corporate boardroom and put it in front of a CEO and a board of directors for how to spend money and you will get laughed out of the business. Take a few salesmen and set them before potential clients and tell them to say, “You need to buy my product because I feel in my heart that it is right for you” and they will leave empty handed. The soul is much more valuable than any amount of money to be spent by a business or any product to be sold, yet people often sell their own souls short in matters of religion by expressing this inadequate measurement of truth.

Another great irrationality is this, “If it was good enough for my mother and father, it is good enough for me” or “That is where my family goes, so I just go with them.” This is one that I know people use in religion but seldom use in every day life. For example, when someone is asked why they believe a certain doctrine, they might give this sentiment. However, when it comes to the type of job one has, or the type of car one drives, or the house one lives in, it just isn’t good enough. How many would abandon their new cars for the old broken down jalopy that their parents drove years and years ago. How many would abandon their new houses for the old kindling row houses of yesteryear? If anything, Americans live by the principle that parents should create a better life for their children, yet, when it comes to religion that evidently doesn’t apply. Again, the soul is so much more valuable than houses, cars, and jobs. Why should we not hold religion to the highest standard of rationality?

How many times have you heard this one, “It doesn’t matter what you believe.” Whoa! Now there’s one that you better not take with you to driving school. That sentiment is just not going to pass there. “I know that sign says ‘STOP’ but it just doesn’t matter what you believe.” When is the last time you told a police officer that after he stopped you for speeding. “Officer, I know I was doing 80 in a 35, but you know, after all, it doesn’t matter what you believe.” I think that you will find a deaf ear when that ticket is written. And don’t even try this one in a court of law. “I know I wrote a hot check, judge, but after all, it doesn’t matter what you believe.” I am sure you will hear the judge reply, “30 days, and if you don’t believe that it is wrong after that amount of time, you can have another 60.” However, when it comes to religion, this ranks in the top five excuses for not doing what is right. How much more valuable is the soul! Yet we don’t hold those who claim to care for it to the high standards that we hold our driving instructors, law officers and judges.

Each of these sentiments represents a different flavor of irrationality. It is obvious to all that regarding matters of practicality that these sentiments would never by able to pass. However, when it comes to religion, people expect the irrational. So they excuse themselves in irrational ways. However, the religion of Jesus Christ is NOT irrational. In fact, when Paul went to preach the gospel to others, the scriptures say that he “reasoned” with them (Acts 17:2; 18:4; 18:19; 24:25). We are admonished by Paul to “prove all things” 1 Thess.5:19. John tells us to “try the spirits” (John 4:1). In dealing with matters of religion, we are to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). None of these things involves the types of excuses that are given above. And when it all boils down to it, that is the bottom line, these are just excuses. The religion of Jesus Christ is not irrational as popular culture would have you to believe. God desires us to think and act correctly in regard to His word. There is nothing more valuable or important than one’s own soul (Matthew 16:26). We should apply the same exacting standards of rationality toward it as we would toward any other matter of importance in this life. “Come let us reason together, saith the Lord�” (Isaiah 1:8a).

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Who Will Be Saved?

The question of who will be saved has occupied the thoughts of many throughout the ages. There are some people today who believe that everyone who has ever lived will be saved. There are some today who believe that a majority of people who have lived on the earth will be saved. There is, however, in contrast to these teachings, what Jesus said about the subject. In Matthew 7:13, 14 we read, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Jesus clearly states that the majority of people who live upon the earth will be lost. He said that there would be “few” that find the way that leads to life. Who will be saved? Who will be lost? The Bible gives us the answer to both questions.

First, the Bible teaches that no one who is separated from God by sin will be saved. Every single person conceived by man who has ever lived upon the face of the earth has sinned. In Romans 3:23 we read, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Sin is doing things in our life that are against God and are against His will. In essence when we are sinning, we are saying to God, “I don’t want to be like you.” So God in His infinite justice allows us to make that choice. He allows us to choose not to be like Him, but he also warns us concerning the consequences of not being like Him. He says in Isaiah 59:2 “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” It is not God’s fault that we are lost; it is our fault. It is because we have chosen for sin to be in our life. When we sin against God, we separate ourselves from God and when we allow that separation to exist throughout our whole life, we earn eternal separation from God. This is also known as spiritual death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.” And death is where we will be eternally if we do not do something about the sin that is in our life. Those who choose to harbor sin in their lives, for their whole lives, will not be saved.

No one who fails to know God will be saved. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9 we read of God’s vengeance. The text says, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” Notice that there are two categories of people who will not be saved. The first are those who “know not God.” In order for one to know God, one must come to a knowledge of Jesus. In John 1:18 we read, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Jesus has declared who God is to us today. Today, no one can come to a knowledge of God except through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6) This means that no one will be able to enter heaven except those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Those who choose to remain ignorant about God will not be saved.

No one who fails to obey the gospel will be saved. The same passage that we looked at in 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9 shows another category of people who will not be saved. These are those who fail to “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Hebrews 5:9 we read, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Jesus saves those who render their allegiance and their obedience to Him. This means that we have to know what the gospel says and that we must obey it without reservation. To start walking in a right relationship with God, one must hear the word of God (Romans 10:17), believe it (John 3:16), repent of sins (Acts 17:30), confess Jesus as the Christ (Romans 10:10) and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). This is God’s plan for man’s salvation. We must be obedient to it if we want to be saved. Moreover, we have no right to alter or change in any way God’s plan for man’s salvation. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8, 9 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Those who choose not to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, whether they choose not to become a Christian or whether they choose not to remain a faithful Christian, will not be saved.

Notice from these three things who WILL be saved. The saved are those who have turned away from their sins, come to know about God and His Son Jesus, and have obeyed the gospel in becoming a Christian and in remaining faithful to God. These are the ones who will be saved. If you, dear reader, need to become a Christian today, contact someone within the church of Christ who can help you do that. If you are saved but haven’t been living faithfully, then get yourself back in a right relationship with God. The message of salvation is the same for all men. It does not change from year to year, from country to country, or from person to person. If anyone is going to be saved they must obey the same gospel that was preached and taught by Jesus and His apostles some 2000 years ago. When that message is taught, God is glorified and souls are saved. There is no other way for anyone to be saved.

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