Why God Might Not Be Concerned About Our Doctrinal Differences
“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”
I asked, as my friend looked on in utter disbelief at what had just been said. We had been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I have lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)
“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!
I can’t argue with that!
What perplexes me though, is that there are so many different types of churches. Clearly a lack of unity within THE church has eluded us. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That is a pretty significant difference. We can’t all agree on how many books are actually in God’s Holy Word! That also seems significant. Some of the churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with one’s salvation, while others teach that it has a lot to do with it, still others are somewhere in-between. Maybe it is just how I think about things, but I would have to say this one is a critical difference of doctrine. We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.
Then we have us Protestants who agree to disagree!
We agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t agree on who is included in “our”. We believe there is such an important and critical thing as the Atonement, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe that people worked miracles, but can’t seem to agree on when or IF that has stopped. We can’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship. We can’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ. We can’t agree on what it means to follow Christ. We don’t agree on a host of important issues.
The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects that argue amongst themselves and who can’t seem to agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is foolish and wishful thinking.
“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”
Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion. It would seem the Father didn’t answer that one in the affirmative. Or am I missing something?
Why would God have allowed that to happen?
Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost.
If the church is so important to Him, and if the purity of the Gospel and the doctrinal teachings that stem from understanding it correctly matter so much, why didn’t he step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Church? Why would God allow the church to embrace a false gospel that would consign its followers to hell? Why didn’t he intervene? Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.
Of Course Catholics believe that the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church had existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther and the young punk come along and want to change the whole thing. It is understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.
Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. Make no mistake about it; God knew what the result would be of doing nothing to stop these movements. Because of the omniscient nature of God, combined with His foreknowledge, the ensuing doctrinal mess would not have surprised him. He knew it would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!
We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.
But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split. It is not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. In all three cases, God allowed it to stand. In all three instances, The Father had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to. Even when, in the case of the Reformers, God knew that a Pandora’s Box of doctrinal disunity would surely result if He did not act. Still, he refrained.
This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Most assuredly, the doctrinal differences we have killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal. But do they matter to God?
Before you get the kindling and light the match to burn me alive at the stake for the heretic that I am, realize that I am not saying that God does not care about the Gospel or the church. That is not what I am saying at all. Actually, I don’t know what to think about all this. This is a conversation I have been having, largely in my own mind, for quite some time. I thought I would put it out there for others to interact with and see how you might approach the topic.
Why do you think God did nothing to stop any of these movements?
Read another thought provoking post on worship: God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!
Posted on May 29, 2014, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, Early Church History, Theology and tagged Arminianism, Calvinism, catholic, christianity, church, early church history, Eastern Orthodox, El cristianismo, entertainment, faith, family, leadership, Life, music, Not For itching Ears, religion, spirituality, Worship Leading. Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.
Throw in some 1 Samuel 8 to really make the thoughts swirl?
I’m pretty sure the Lord is more interested in my heart than whether I’m Baptist, Catholic, or whatever. I hope you don’t mind but I’m re-blogging this. You have certainly raised some interesting questions.
Glad you stopped by! Feel free to re-blog anything here.
Reblogged this on pen2paperblog and commented:
Jim has certainly raised some interesting questions here.
Brave Jim… very brave. If honest I think we all struggle with exactly what you write here. Now I’m pondering…
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Nobody likes me anyway!
Consumed by a blue parakeet these days, as I am, I wonder if you may be on to more with these words than we would like to think. One thing I am confident of is that all of this division makes us look pretty wishy washy before the world. I am pretty sure we will remain divided, but I think it is at least profitable to consider if all that divides really is important to God. By the way… we like you just fine good friend.
I’ve occasionally wondered if God doesn’t have a marketing plan. You know if you don’t like the Lutherans you can try the Baptists, or the Catholics, or the Orthodox.
Kind of like Ford and Chevy, it doesn’t matter so much how you get there as that you get there. A sort of free market of Christianity.
I’ve occasionally said that he foot of the cross is a junction of many roads.
But what do I know?
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Or, I think, a closer analogy than Ford and Chevy would be Tide, Era, and Gain (and more, like Dreft, Cheer, Bold, Daz, and Tip) laundry detergents… they appear to be in competition but all are made by Proctor & Gamble. They are aimed at different types of buyers and “markets”.
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Good catch, I agree. I’m enough of a redneck to think in terms of things with engines. 🙂
Seems to me I heard someone say awhile back, division is a human idea; diversity is God’s idea.
Because He only cares about our souls, not HOW we go about worshipping Him. He shakes His head at us, and probably cries over our idiotic differences, even as they seem important/critical to us, the only thing that matters to Him is His own blood shed for us. — Jack.
Thanks for jumping in here!
Some of our doctrinal differences do seem pretty petty!
I do think that He cares how we worship Him. At least, He did in the Old Testament. In fact, He cared quite a lot about this people getting it right. An entire book is dedicated to it (Leviticus).
Sometimes, in the midst of Theological discussions, I want to shout:
“Thank God, that God is NOT a Theologian!”
Yes, God cares that we worship Him, but now that Jesus has died for us, He states that we only need worship Him in Truth and Spirit, i.e. through Jesus Christ His Only Son.
I think the rules in Levit. were designed to protect – for the most part – human beings, not make God happy, so to speak.
My point is that, in the past, God cared very, very much how we worshipped him. God does not change. So to say that God now only cares that we worship him, and not how we worship Him is not only false, but it can lead one down a dangerous road.
Even Jesus’s statement about worshipping in “Spirit and truth”, is an instructional on how to worship Him, is it not?. So, even in the NT era, God cared enough about how we worship Him to give us direction.
Still, the true meaning of worshipping Him in Spirit and Truth is elusive. That is probably why the church argues about these things. Worship, after all, is important!
Whatever it means, I do not think it can be translated “his worshippers must worship him any way they want to.”
The word “must” implies a “must not”. In other words, those who worship Him, must worship him a certain way: in Spirit and in Truth, as opposed to another way that we won’t define. But obviously this means there is a correct way and an incorrect way to worship, for we “must” do it a certain way.
What does this mean? I think we have to ask ourselves what it means at a corporate level, when the body of believers is gathered, and what it also means on an individual level when we are spread out throughout our cities.
God has not left us to our own devices to figure this stuff out. He has given us plenty of direction both in his word and in the examples handed down to us throughout church history.
Point taken; thanks Jim. — Jack.
It’s up to each to read the word to find out answers. Basically if we find ourselves in a church that doesn’t believe in healing and has no respect to Israel even speaks against them. I’m out of there. When we have stayed to try and help we can’t change them and get damaged. I know the truth and the truth has set me free. Am not going to go into why, if you have read the word and make a point of reading it though every year which only takes 3 chapters a day you would know.
I don’t believe God is concerned with doctrinal differences. I also believe that with Christ’s coming and resurrection, God established a New Covenant with us. That doesn’t mean He changed; it simply means some old commands under the Old Covenant no longer apply (animal sacrifices) and some new ones ones do (love our enemies).
I also believe it means that because the Holy Spirit resides in us, we are God’s temple, since the temple is where God resides. It is no longer a “structure,” as it was in Old Testament days. The New Jerusalem will be the entire earth, not one city; when Christ returns and redeems all of creation to God, God will walk with all of us again in the New Eden (Jerusalem). It is all nations, all people, all tribes. That’s what Genesis-Revelation is all about.
That’s my two cents!
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Thanks for stopping in and offering your thoughts!
This was precisely the issue which gave me an excuse not to become a Christian, before God had mercy on me and drew me to his Son anyway. My own thoughts on the subject are developing, but I have often been struck by 1 Cor 11:19, which seems to say that divisions (Greek haireseis!) must exist within the body. Certainly, in the Corinthian church Paul confronted Christian divisions. I don’t think Christian agreement or unity are unimportant (Paul commands them both in 1 Cor 1:10). But the disagreements do give plenty of scope for displaying the mark of belonging to Jesus which our Lord himself identified in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is obvious when people display Christ-like love to other Christians, even when they disagree, and it is very obvious when we fail to. Not an answer, of course, but perhaps a factor.
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I have a similar experience! God is indeed merciful!
That is a very good point. I spent a little time on another blog today, and the disagreements de-generated into bitter name calling. Lets agree to disagree!
If you refer to All Along the Watchtower, that’s where I saw your userpic and followed the link to your blog. But don’t be misled; it’s actually a great blog. The name-calling mostly centers around two extreme commentators, the Catholic-basher and the sede vacantist; everyone else there gets along amazingly well, and they discuss some weighty points of disagreement on occasion, though mostly from a conservative (theologically and politically) point of view. It’s well worth reading.
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Well now, you caught me. I love blogs that have diverse views. So I think I like that one.
Thanks for checking us out over here! I will be checking out your blog shortly!
Insightful commentary on the subject. RE “300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost.”
There were a multitude of Christianities, some evaporate, others are crushed as heresies, so I am not sure there was ever a real church or defined NT Church, but certainly by 300 the proto orthodox win and become the Catholic Church having decided what the real church would be according to their thinking.
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Thanks for stopping in. I followed your site!
God may have wanted us to keep seeking him and if people have different opinions, that would keep the Bible alive through debate.
In John 17 Jesus prayed for the unity of the church as well as it’s being sanctified in the truth. I think the problem is usually we tend, as sinners, to go from one extreme to the other. One of the most helpful statements I have ever read on this comes from the Desiring God statement of faith. It says,
“We believe that the cause of unity in the church is best served, not by finding the lowest common denominator of doctrine, around which all can gather, but by elevating the value of truth, stating the doctrinal parameters of church or school or mission or ministry, seeking the unity that comes from the truth, and then demonstrating to the world how Christians can love each other across boundaries rather than by removing boundaries. In this way, the impor- tance of truth is served by the existence of doctrinal borders, and unity is served by the way we love others across those borders.”
John Piper has had a great impact on my life. He gets a bad wrap because he’s either too Reformed or not Reformed enough! But, when he is preaching, wow!
This is how I would restate Piper’s position:
“We believe that the cause of unity in the church is best served, not by finding the lowest common denominator of doctrine, around which all can gather, but by elevating the value of Reformed truth, stating the doctrinal parameters of (our reformed) church or (our reformed ) school or (our reformed) mission or ministry, seeking the unity that comes from (reformed) truth, and then demonstrating to the world how Christians can love each other across (Reformed) boundaries rather than by removing boundaries.”
How is that working?
It does sound nice on paper, but the reality is far from nice. It is simply an elegant way of giving everybody permission to reject Jesus stated will. Unity is NOT possible if our doctrinal emphasis are the most important part of the discussion. The only way we as a church can ever help answer Jesus prayer for unity is if we do find the lowest common denominator of doctrine we all agree with and move forward from there. That is the only place it can start.
I say the lowest common denominator of truly “Christian” doctrine is the The Creed of Nicea. This has been the symbol of the Christian faith for 1700 years. Let’s rally around this:
Not to interject out of place, but I sincerely enjoyed your thought process above and so I will comment.
In my younger days, I pondered on this, and I suspect you are looking for a spiritual, rather than purely cerebral (academic) response. There are those say that there were a multitude of “Christianities” that were distinct in their essence from one another. This is not biblical. There are not a multitude of Christs, but only One Christ. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.
What you are looking for [what is now called] Orthodox Christianity. The original churches of the eastern-mediterranean basin who have kept the apostolic faith from day 1 do not have to worry about an “apostasy” doctrine from 300 AD or whatever. I was once a Roman Catholic but could not understand the continual corruption of the Papal dictatorship over time and how it compared to the ideal of Christ’s united church.
It was the same in spiritual essence on Pentecost Day, 300 AD 400 AD , all the way to 900 AD, 1054, 1453, 1556, 1788, and so on, until today. This post is not an attempt to “prove” it logically. You will have to decide that for yourself by prayer and investigation and this will take years. (Yes, I don’t sound like a typical American who believes in instant gratification). We do not accept the idea of any random person “bringing the Church back to the cross” or have any need for “reformers”. The life of the church reforms you, and this becomes very clear when one searches for the authentic essence of the Body of Christ. The Church was perfect from day 1 in its spiritual constitution and prayer life (leitourgia), according to image of the Trinity itself. There are hundreds of saints we honor for their witness, and none of them is labelled a “reformer”.
Again, this post does not attempt to pose a “proof”. It’s midnight and I’m tired. I am responding because I think you’re an honest guy, and I’m giving you the best I got.
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Thank you for jumping in here.
I am very aware of the Orthodox churches and find their argument compelling.
At the same time, my question stands: Why did God allow the Eastern and Western churches to split? If pure doctrine is so important to God, why didn’t he open up the ground and swallow up the Pope and all the leaders and their families who supported the rebellion?
Of course, we can’t know that answer. It does lead me to consider that God is quite likely more interested in Theosis than theological purity. He is more interested in who his people are becoming instead of what they are learning. Not that God doesn’t care what we believe, but the West tends to put a HUGE emphasis on factual things, rather than the trans-formative nature of following Christ.
Maybe the church is a lot more united than you think and there are far fewer included in it than you want to believe.
If I actually take the bible seriously, I doubt if 20% of those claiming Christ in North America are actually His. Not because that’s what I want to believe, but because I don’t have any choice.
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Thanks for jumping into this conversation. I will have to check out your site.
20%, that is a pretty low number! Whatever number you start out with, the actual number of true followers of Christ is lower, I will grant you that!
But I think it is hard to argue that the entire church is united. Just look at the evangelical wing? Calvin vs Arminius anybody?
But you do make me think about the possibility. Our church leaders and our theologians are thoroughly divided, but perhaps the true followers of Christ are not? That would circle back to the main question in this article….”Maybe God doesn’t care as much about our doctrinal differences as we do.” Who knows, but I lean towards the “Perhaps we care more about it than He does” side.
This is where people typically go out to gather wood and matches and prepare me for the stake!
My blog isn’t really a blog so much as a work space. Picture a study and a desk with papers strewn all over. I use to to write stuff for other people’s sites.
Insightful article it’s good to know others think and have the same questions or views as I do. You give a good synopsis of Christian history. Your question “Why do you think God did nothing to stop any of these movements” I will answer like this. Paul warns us of false teachers and false doctrine in 2 Timothy 4 is the answer to your question.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
This is all part of an Omniscient God will. Those who are of the same mind as Christ will as Paul stated early in this book,
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
The believers need to be a workman have a Berean mentality and be ready to defend the faith. Jesus prayed “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth;” this is the formula to unity. The Lord changes heart Him and Him alone:
“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it:
Pray the Word will work in and through the people.
I don’t you answered the question, honestly. “It’s God’s will” isn’t much of an answer.
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