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THE RATIONAL GOD
Does God Make Sense?
by John Clayton
CHAPTER 8: THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN IN A
RELIGIOUSLY DIVIDED AND CONFUSED WORLD
I love the line of a song that says “God is great, life is good, but people are crazy.” The basic theme of this book is that God makes sense. Even as limited human beings, when we stop and look carefully and open-mindedly at all God has done we can see in every aspect of our experience there is logic and reason in all God does. If that is the case, why is everything so messed up? Everywhere we look, from the world situation to the local congregation and perhaps, even sometimes, in our own families we see chaos and violence and a complete lack of common sense. The answer is pretty obvious and is found in the opening sentence of this paragraph. I firmly believe that Satan has successfully hardened the hearts and blinded the minds of mankind to the point where most of what people do politically and religiously is crazy.
THE CURSE OF ORGANIZED RELIGION
By installing false religions among humans, Satan has been able to move massive numbers of people to sexism, genocide, racism, and ethnic violence. This is true not only of Islam and pantheistic religions, but within Christianity the same destructive force has been promoted. We not only have the Catholic verses Protestant wars that have plagued Ireland and much of Europe, but within the broad scope of Christianity, even in the United States, we have had false religions with their own prophets who have promoted doctrines that have brought pain to all of America.
It is not just the Ku Klux Klan or the Branch Davidians; but even within local congregations of the church the same crazy spirits sown by Satan have caused division, heartache, paralysis, and even in a few cases — violence. In the New Testament we see that Satan was already active in the same way that he is active today. Jesus had to publicly oppose Satan's influence on Peter in Matthew 16:23 (Mark 8:33) when Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan … .” In Acts 5:3 when Ananias lied about his giving Peter said, “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied … ?” When Judas betrayed Christ, we are told that “Satan entered into Judas” (Luke 22:3). In Acts 8:9 – 19 when Simon the Sorcerer wanted to purchase the power to pass on gifts the rebuke that Peter gave him was, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! … you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:20 – 23). I will probably be accused of being overpowered by Satan in writing this book by some who oppose its message. In my ministry I have been accused of just about everything you can imagine, and have even had some physical violence done all by people who were doing so in the name of God.
So how do we as individual Christians survive in such an environment? For many people the response has been to become a “none.” What that means is that when asked what their religion is, their response is to say “none.” That does not mean they are atheists necessarily, because most committed atheists will say “atheist” when asked that question, or perhaps say “agnostic” to avoid being associated with some of the destructive actions of organized atheism. Most people say “none” because they do not want to be a part of organized religion. They have seen the antagonism, the splits, the mean spirited attacks on others, the misuse of funds and resources, the legalism and dogmatism, hypocrisy, and the arrogance and ego trips coming from the leadership of churches, and the immorality of some of these same church leaders; and they want nothing to do with it.
The problem is not with the church that Jesus came to establish, but with churches established by humans, some of which wear biblical names, and most of them will claim to be following the Bible. By cherry-picking verses that fit their belief system, they give the appearance of being the true church; but, in reality they have established their belief system and then they have found verses to support what they already believe. The fact that those verses have nothing to do with the way they are being used is ignored.
What is especially interesting about this process is that attacks are made on those who do not agree with a practice or belief by attaching a biblical label to the person being attacked. “False Teacher” is a good example. If you do not agree with me on some non-salvation point you can accuse me of being a “false teacher.” Listen to a biblical description of a “false teacher:” “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). “False teacher” is a serious accusation and should not be made lightly or superficially just because we disagree with someone. As individual Christians, we need to understand that disagreeing on some biblical interpretation and how to put it into practice does not mean that one person is right and the other person is going to hell. Listen to Paul in Romans 14.
One person's faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. …
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; …
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. …
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. … For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, …
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
God does not want us divided over “disputable matters.” Jesus wants his body, the church, to be unified and to love one another. It is expressed beautifully in Ephesians 4:3 – 6:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
He commands us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, …” (John 13:34 – 35).
In Mark 6:34 we are told that “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” Jesus expressed that compassion toward mankind many times in the scriptures, and I would suggest that Christians are to do the same. When I read the description of the infant church in Acts 2 – 3, I see people meeting in their homes, I see people eating together, I see people sharing to meet needs. We know they also gathered together on Sunday to worship. First Corinthians 16:1 and Acts 20:7 indicate that there was a time for formal worship with a specific purpose; but that was not the sum and total of their experience with God or with each other. Early congregations met in people's homes not in fancy church buildings. By the same token, the apostles took advantage of religious structures and meeting places to proclaim the Gospel by going into synagogues and the temple.
It is important in the twenty-first century for Christians not to become “nones.” We can worship together and participate in organized worship services. We can even become leaders in the local congregations. What we cannot do is allow political, social, secular, and organized religion's issues to divide us. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:21) and we cannot be a part of that prayer if we are allowing division over things that are personal preferences. The false teachers of Paul's day were those who denied Jesus and denied the salvation through his blood as we have seen in 2 Peter 2:1 – 3.
So what are we to do about the issues of our day as individual Christians? The issues are many and complex — abortion, euthanasia, benevolence, women's rights, gay marriage, Christmas, Easter, separation of church and state, capital punishment, cloning, in vitro fertilization, genetic modification, evolution, the age of the earth, public education, military service, animal organ transplant, cerebral stimulation, etc. If you bring up any one of these issues in a congregation of 100 adults you will have disagreements about how the church should handle the issue. There will be people who will have strong opinions about any issue and how to solve it. Usually both sides of the issue will have some kind of biblical quote which they believe supports their position. Did the Lord anticipate that this would happen?
We need to understand that neither Jesus nor the apostles lived in a vacuum. The Roman government was one of the most immoral, violent, abusive, sexist, racist, political machines that has ever existed on this planet. In spite of that, it was not the Romans that precipitated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The trial of Jesus that condemned him was a Jewish trial orchestrated by the religious establishment, not a Roman trial based on the violation of some Roman law. The Romans understood that, and at the head of the cross wrote “King of the Jews.” Remember that Pilate could find no fault in Christ and washed his hands of the death of Jesus, being only concerned that a riot did not blemish his political dossier.
When Paul wrote his discourse on obeying civil authorities in Romans 13:1 – 7, he spelled out the role of the Christian in this regard clearly. The first seven verses of Romans 13 deal with submitting to civil rule and the order that civil rule brings to life. After stating that, he gave attributes that will typify a Christian (verses 8 – 9):
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
As a Christian I cannot support all the things that may be approved by the government. My beliefs as a Christian may cause me to work in a secular way to make changes in these things. What I cannot do is try to use the church as a tool to promote my views on this subject knowing that there will be members of the church who will be disturbed by my actions.
I understand that this is a complex situation. Let me take a controversial issue as an example. I think the Bible teaches clearly that murder is wrong. I seriously doubt that any division has ever been caused by someone maintaining that murder is right. The problem comes when we try to decide what is murder? Is being in the military and shooting a gun or dropping a bomb or using a drone murder? Is aborting a baby murder? Is euthanasia murder? Is capital punishment murder? Is suicide a form of murder? I suspect the reader has a strong view on all five of these examples. Look at the questions involved in each of them:
- Is there a difference between murder and killing?
- When is a baby a human — at conception, at birth, or somewhere in between?
- Is “pulling the plug” murder?
I have strong opinions about all of these issues. I believe all of my opinions are based on scripture, and I would like to convince every human on the planet that my opinion is correct. If I am a member of the congregation of the Lord's church, should I carry on a campaign to make sure that anyone who does not share my opinion should be discredited or, worse yet, disfellowshipped following the example of 1 Corinthians 5:1 – 13?
I just picked one issue as an example. Another illustration we could use is whether the body is “God's temple” as clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 3:16 – 17. This is such a strong issue that Paul says “If any man destroys [defiles in KJV] God's temple, God will destroy that person; … you together are that temple.” So is being overweight “defiling the temple?” Is suicide “defiling the temple”? Is taking drugs “defiling the temple”? Is getting drunk “defiling the temple”? Is eating unhealthy food “defiling the temple”? I could bring up a dozen comparable issues which you and I would probably find significant enough to stir some debate and maybe even some strong feelings. Is this what church should be about?
The spirit of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 13 is that “issues” are not what the church is to be about. Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers (John 17:11, 21) and his followers have done a miserable job of making that prayer happen. The reason for that has been that we have brought our concerns about issues into the congregational worship hour and into gospel meetings. We have made up labels such as “false teacher” to describe those who do not share our opinion about something.
Passages like 2 Peter 2:1 – 3 and Titus 1:10 are statements about fundamentals — denying that Jesus rose from the dead; lying about basic issues of life. Christians can be active in causes they believe in, and their belief system as a Christian may be the basis of what they believe about the cause; but they should not make the congregational meetings a the soapbox to promote the cause. Be an independent Christian when it comes to controversial issues of the twenty-first century, but be a unifying member of the Lord's body when the church comes together. Allow the worship service of the congregation to be a time for praise to God, for celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, for petitioning God about the needs of fellow Christians, and for fellowship that is encouraging and unifying. The Lord's church should never be a place for quarreling, arguments, endless debates, and divisions. Paul said in Titus 3:9, to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels … these are unprofitable and useless.
I am aware that this discussion is idealistic, but I do not believe it is impossible to accomplish. There are many ways a local congregation can be a place of peace and unity and constructive addressing of needs and concerns. Teaching and discussion of issues can be done in small groups or in special group meetings in homes. Even in these venues there must be a respect for differing views and diversity within the church.
The theme of this book has been that God is a wise, logical, rational, intelligent, purposeful God who had a reason for everything he has done. Mankind has continued to frustrate God's purposes throughout history and Satan is well aware that man is his most effective tool in the war between good and evil. Someone has said, “The church has to be a creation of God, because after what man has done to it, the church wouldn't exist unless it came from God.” The makeup and function of the Lord's church as we have outlined in this chapter is idealistic; but, God is perfect and holy, and the closer we get to his perfection the more we will model the ideal church God designed and died for. I would urge the reader to be a Christian only as described in the Bible, relying on God's Word alone as their only authority and guide, using rational thinking to grow in our faith. What is above the door of the place where you worship is not as important as what is in the hearts of the people who meet inside it, and it is the hearts of men and women that God is most concerned about.
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