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Church splits; and a call to look to Christ

It is the sad history of so many splits in denominations that the two opposite sides of a problem become hostile to one another. A site visitor to Christians Together has given a recent perspective.

 


 
Ed preface: The following comprises a response entitled ' Just a thought' to news report concerning a Church of Scotland congregation on the Isle of Skye. Similar upset has occurred in other congregations.
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‘Just a thought’ 

(04/02)


Rainbow1I hear your pain and have no wish to trespass on the grief of a particular congregation. However there is one point I’d like to put forward.

We, if we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, are to live according to his gospel…no matter what. No matter what.

Rather than looking solely at outward actions (to leave the church or soldier on), we must look deeply at the heart attitudes behind those actions. Is the action motivated by a sincere desire to serve Jesus, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength? If so, in grace and Christian love let those who leave and those who stay, part with sadness and regret – but also understanding, forgiveness and respect. A wound to the body, yes – but one that if made with godliness, will heal – maybe even to the strengthening of the body.

However, if division is fuelled by human and worldly motivations we must beware. That wound is ragged and holds no peace. Into it are seeded anger, resentment, bitterness, slander (Eph 4: 31-32) and these, left unattended, will fester into self-righteousness, hatred and distain. A wound that will corrupt and infect the body and has the potential to leave great scars.

At a time when God is shaking the church, many corrupted ‘gospels’ are coming to light….’gospels’ weighted by Self and My Rights being the most prevalent.

Yet the gospel of Jesus Christ says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matt 16:24-25)

The things we do in the name of Christ affect the body world wide. If we do something in his name, we really had better be sure we are doing it for him, and not for ourselves. The parable of the sheep and the goats was given to us for a reason. We will be sorted. We cannot afford to be found wanting.

As I have watched pain echoing through the Church of Scotland (and beyond), I have grieved the fact that many who claim to be Christian appear to have forgotten whom they serve. The claims they make have nothing to do with Jesus Christ and his gospel. During the many passionate debates, I have longed for the Lord to appear - that we, (like Job when confronted by the words of the Living God), would See, and put our hands over our mouth…or fall to our knees and like the doubting disciple Thomas say, “My Lord and my God…”

My prayer for the Church of Scotland, and our brothers and sisters all over the world is, REMEMBER…remember whom you serve. Remember, and rise…

A site visitor, 03/02/2012

Feedback:
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Peter Carr 08/02/2012 12:41
Yes JaT, we need to keep the devil in his place! We also need to be careful of 2 opposite errors in the Christian life;

1. We do not ignore the reality of the devil and his pals (he simply loves when we do).

2. We do not give him more power than he has. Satan was robbed of his power at Calvary, he is now a toothless lion who goes around trying to scare God's people, if we let him.

God is all powerful, and will allow the enemies attacks for His glory and our ultimate good, hence 1 Pet 5: 6 - 11.
Peter Carr 08/02/2012 18:03
George said, "

....... “Did God really say.....”"


The Gospel of John shows clearly the contrast between darkness and light, truth and lies, good and evil etc. Jesus in Jn 1 is clearly proclaimed as the One who has come from God the Father full of grace and truth (v. 14). Satan on the other hand is the father of lies and a murderer (Jn 8: 44).

Here is my question/concern: Why are too many Christians more comfortable playing around the shadows by telling lies, being deceitful, lacking grace in their behaviour etc, and what are the likely consequences of a Christian behaving in such a manner?

JaT 09/02/2012 13:50
Peter said:
“Here is my question/concern: Why are too many Christians more comfortable playing around the shadows by telling lies, being deceitful, lacking grace in their behaviour etc, and what are the likely consequences of a Christian behaving in such a manner?”

The baseline answer to the question is ‘sin’ (ie rebelling against the Lord and deliberately choosing to go our own way, not his). We live in a tension between the old and new natures that we won’t be totally free of until Jesus returns to take us home.

But how does a brother or sister, saved by grace, indwelt by the promised Holy Spirit, made a new creation in Christ get to a place where they habitually sin? How does darkness encroach upon the people of light?

Maybe these are some contributing factors:

1) Incomplete/distorted revelation of God
A disregard of the Scriptures can lead to an incomplete or distorted revelation of God. If we stop being faithful to the Word we run the danger of distorting the gospel and raising congregations in our image, not God’s (along the lines of Jesus’ warning to religious leaders, Matt 23:15)

The bible tells us we can only know God through Jesus Christ, his son, who is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15-23).
We learn about Jesus through the Word of God (2 Tim 3: 16-17) by the Holy Spirit (a gift from God to mark us as his own and lead us in all truth. 2 Cor 1:21-22, John 16:7-15).
If our churches are not upholding Jesus as Lord, teaching the word faithfully and leaning on the Spirit to strengthen and unite us, our congregations will be disadvantaged from the outset. How can people know the truth, if they are not told?

2) Life’s difficulties
Life is hard. Circumstances rise up against us all the time and snatch our focus from the Lord. With our eyes off Jesus, it’s easier to slip into sin.
Some people see hard times as a sign that God has abandoned them (in the Old Testament this is recorded as happening as a judgment against the people’s sin). As Peter has mentioned, spiritual forces aimed to distract us from God can cause hard times or maybe our circumstances are simply the consequence of living in a fallen world.
Whatever their cause, hard times are always an opportunity for us to show what we believe. What is faith, if it is never tested? When we are placed in the furnace of affliction, we are shown for what we are. (Is 48:10, Prov 17:3, James 1:2-4, 1:12) This life was never going to be easy. That’s why words like ‘persevere’ ‘abide’ and ‘endure’ feature so frequently in the New Testament. We need to prayerfully encourage and support each other along the way. The Apostle Paul urges us to ‘run the race’. We need to remember that it is not how we start, but how we finish that matters (Hebrews 12:1-13).

3) Choice
The call of Christians down through the ages – the choice to walk by faith, despite what we see. The choice to choose the Lord's will over our own.
It also takes a deliberate choice (Colossians 3:1-17) to ‘put to death’ the ways of our old life. To choose the Lord’s way, not our own can be excruciatingly hard. It can truly feel like dying to oneself. We can only make such choices with the help of the Spirit, understanding who Jesus is, and knowing choosing his way, not ours is deeply honouring to him.

4) Poor teaching.
God’s love and grace are amazing. But they are all the more amazing when held in a balance with his holiness and justice. Some churches teach love and grace…yet have congregations indulging in hidden (and not so hidden) sin. We also need to teach about God’s holiness, about the seriousness of human sin, about how to encourage each other to live lives worthy of children of a holy God. For that is who we are. It is not for us to pick which attributes of God most appeal to us. He is who he is.

And the likely consequences of Christians playing with things of the world?
In the short term it dishonors God and corrupts the witness of the Church. It damages believers (something Jesus abhors - Matt 18:6) and causes division, pain and confusion.
And long term?
Here are some possible outcomes described in scripture:
1 Cor 3:10 -15 (saved by grace as one escaping through flames)
Matt 5:13 (discarded, no longer good for anything)
It would appear our choices matter…

Our pastor finished last Sunday’s gathering with a challenge. He asked us to go home and consider which ‘gospel’ we followed; the gospel of public opinion, the gospel of material possessions, the gospel of sport, the gospel of tradition, the gospel of own desires…or the gospel of Jesus Christ (by this he meant us to see who or what was Lord of our life).

That got me thinking. I suddenly pictured a Christian a bit like a boat. All too often our ‘rudder’ is something other than Christ. It can be desire, possessions, fear, anger, greed, pride – just to name a few. Something other than Jesus, steering our direction. Then my mind jumped a step further: What if one of those things grew to become not only a rudder, but the engine – the thing that drives us forward? Our motivator in life. To bear the name of Christ, but be driven and steered by the things of this world?
That made me think we all have some hearty repenting to do. Quite without realising it, too many of us have become wedded to this world. Our engine should be Christ, and our rudder, his word walked in faith.

Food for thought...

Peter Carr 09/02/2012 20:38
JaT,

Thank you for your very comprehensive response, just had time to quickly glance over it. One further observation that I would add re 'poor teaching' is that far too many Christians do not appear to understand that besides what they get from the pulpit/midweek, that they (we all) are responsible to be taught daily by God's Spirit, through God's Word in our devotions!
JaT 09/02/2012 22:12
Yes. It’s a hard thing, isn’t it? When I first became a Christian, reading the bible felt akin to a school reading comprehension exercise. It was an accepted duty, but not a delight.

A year or so later, with a greater understanding of God’s grace and mercy, something changed. As a ‘child of God’ I realised my bible was my family history, a documentation of an extraordinary rescue plan, and a beautiful love letter, intended for my strengthening. Amazing how the Spirit of God can change one’s perception!

Prayer for the people, I think is the key. Even when the word is preached faithfully, it needs to fall on ‘good soil’ – open ears and receptive hearts (ie parable of the sower). If the word doesn’t ‘go in’ and take root, then our people are left vulnerable and open to deception (sin the world and the devil). Even when we’re faithful in preaching, it’s God who opens hearts and grants his Spirit to give understanding.
So, we pray - and protect the flock. The wolf is out and about, but the sheep are not unprotected.

Editor 09/02/2012 23:27
"Our pastor finished last Sunday’s gathering with a challenge. He asked us to go home and consider which ‘gospel’ we followed; the gospel of public opinion, the gospel of material possessions, the gospel of sport, the gospel of tradition, the gospel of own desires…or the gospel of Jesus Christ (by this he meant us to see who or what was Lord of our life)."

An interesting challenge. As a 'Quick Guide' an examination of our bank statements and diaries reveal a lot. How we spend our discretionary time and money tells us where our hearts lie.
Peter Carr 10/02/2012 08:45
JaT,

My concern is that there is not enough emphasis placed on individual responsibility in relation to God's Sovereignty. We can lead a horse to water but..!
AnneDroid (Guest) 10/02/2012 12:57
Thank you to the author of "Just a Thought". It is a most helpful thought!
JaT 11/02/2012 00:47
Peter said
“My concern is that there is not enough emphasis placed on individual responsibility in relation to God's Sovereignty. We can lead a horse to water but..!”

It is very hard to make anyone drink if they are not thirsty – or if they think they are not.

There are a myriad of things that hinder personal times with the Lord – spiritual and worldly. These can manifest within the congregation in several ways. Some people simply don’t see the need/relevance. Some try, but find the things of life crowd their time. Some feel that they lack ability to read and discern themselves and need to be fed by a pastor. I’m sure you can hear the weaknesses/error in each of those positions. But they can’t. And that is the issue. We need to look at the cause of the blockages if we are to better provide ways to help the flock through them.

I still think the starting point is prayer. We pray into the spiritual, asking the Lord to open the people’s eyes and place a desire of him their hearts. Then we ask him to help us find the right words to reach into the believers’ individual circumstances.

Although the aim is for daily individual prayer and bible reading, in our congregation we have found starting in twos or threes holds people accountable, and encourages them to persevere. Two friends are currently reading Philippians together. They agree to read a particular passage on their own, then text or email insights and questions to each other. The reading is individual but the accountability encourages each to keep going. But they are not under law. If one misses a devotion, the passage can still be discussed, and the thing that caused the devotion to be missed, committed to prayer. Often guilt and feelings of failure can make a believer give up trying to spend times with God. Those feelings do not come from the Lord. So if one is struggling in their personal times, one who is stronger tries to walk with them.
I know other people who have felt challenged to give the Lord the ‘first-fruits’ of their time. They rise half an hour or an hour (or more) earlier than they need each day in order to pray, read their bible and commit their day to the Lord. Two very different styles – yet both involve spending time with the Living God.

Ideally, personal times with the Lord spring from our gratitude of his mercy and grace, and a desire to know him better and spend time with him, and are not performed out of ritual, guilt or compulsion. However, it is important to persevere during ‘dry times’ (because no matter how we feel, that’s when we need the Lord most), so the discipline off setting aside a particular time each day is of great benefit.

N.D. (Guest) 11/02/2012 08:34
There's an old saying a dear saint used say when I was younger and went like this " If David's heart had ne're been wrung , David's Psalms had ne're been sung ." That saying has stuck with me from the day I heard it.There has to be a real sense of gratitude for God's grace and mercy as JaT so rightly put it in his last paragraph. Personal devotion to Christ is a must if we are to keep faithful . Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path...Psalm. 119:105
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Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands > Christian Life > Church splits; and a call to look to Christ