Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. Psalm 133
There is a word that can bind people so close to one another, and yet can also divide people to the point of extreme hostility. That word is “theology”. But why? It simply defines as the study of the nature of God and religious belief. How could something so wonderful as to know the God of the universe be such a polarizing activity? There is also a related science, a systematically organized body of knowledge regarding theology that is called systematic theology, which aims to arrange religious truths into a self-consistent doctrine. In other words, keeping all the many aspects gleaned from the study of God and His word into a concise and organized manner. Yet, as with so many sciences, there are usually people who will argue against someone’s findings. I may, just as an example, find that the color green is the best color in the world and be able to make various valid arguments to support my declaration. Yet, along comes someone who has plenty of valid arguments that not only shows that green is NOT the best color, but in fact, that yellow is actually the best. Both sides may have valid and substantiated arguments that support their claim, both may include evidences and the science to show they are right, yet both conclusions may be almost opposite of each another. This same dilemma happens regarding the many facets of systematic theology.
I bring all this up because of recent observations where I have noticed a rising hostility among people who claim themselves to be followers of Christ Jesus. These are folks who study the Bible with a fervor and share their understandings of the text. They are usually encamped in one particular doctrinal ideology or another. Some of the titles they may identify under might be as adherents of Calvinism or Arminianism. Some might stand firm in their philosophy of conservative or liberal interpretation. Others might hold fast to a belief system that adheres to a particular church denomination. Then there are some people that float on the winds of whatever suits their needs from day to day, with no particular set system of belief. Regardless of where people plant their flag or what hill they will choose to stand and die on, Christianity has such a vast array of theological interpretations…and they often differ to the point of contention!
To make matters worse is the level of indignation that people or groups have when they perceive an attack on their belief system. Not only does a particular group make declarations why they are right about their method and conclusion of study, but they are likely to lob grenades of counter-point at the other camps. Essentially a “war of words” about the Word! And this warfare has been going on since the early church. Nothing new under the sun!
The first hostility between two interpretations of religion actually goes all the way back to Genesis. In chapter 4 we read the account:
And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
We can see that there were two differing approaches in which God was worshipped through their sacrifices. Abel’s heart was obviously in the right place compared to Cain. God knew their intentions and didn’t receive Cain’s offering, which in turn created the friction that essentially lead to Abel’s death and God’s punishment of Cain. All of this took place not too long after the fall in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent punishment that was meted out for their parent’s failing to “follow the rules”. God has clearly told His people the rules, or laws, since the beginning. Unfortunately, since humanity is not perfect, they had (and still have) a tendency to fail, or fall short, of God’s demands and end up punished. When you add in the variety of man-made interpretations of God’s words, you now have even more potential for traveling down a wrong path to destruction.
Christians will debate every field of Biblical study intensely, such as eschatology, the study of end times. One of the more heated fields of constant debate amongst Christians is regarding Soteriology, or the study of salvation, how we are saved by God. There are many ideologies, or camps, as it were, and it appears to be a progressive elaboration as time moved forward. Essentially what we have today was built upon the theologians who built upon previous theologians, and so on and so on, backward throughout history to the time of the early Church fathers and finally to the root, which is the Scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets. But as each time period progressed forward, it seems that the next generations would add and expound on the previous generation’s writings to address the disputes that were growing within their circles. Paramount in all this was the Reformation and the eruption of the many denominations. Each determined that their polity and theology was right and drew up confessions and other doctrines to explain and justify their views. There are countless resources available these days with the advent of the internet that can keep you in deep research of the historical paths and disputes for decades! I am not going down those rabbit holes!
The wars that rage these days are now being played out in the realm of social media. What were once disagreements that were shared either by letters or face to face in meeting places centuries ago have now engulfed the World Wide Web. Not only has the battlefield grown in size, but so have the number of soldiers. From the handful of early church fathers, who contended with a smaller myriad of scholars and theologians to the current army of active participants these days, the forces are filled with not only Biblically trained pastors, preachers, and teachers, but, by extension, the average believer who may or may not even sit in the pews of a church. We now have access to a plethora of books, videos, audios, and so much more that covers just about everything and anything related to our belief systems and it’s available at our fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Loaded with knowledge from all these sources, the theologians and pseudo-theologians arm ourselves with their beliefs, creeds, confessions, systems, denominations, and doctrines and go to battle just to argue with the world who is right and who is wrong!
My problem with all this is the carnage that is left in the wake of all these so-called experts in their battles. While the various church denominations continue progressing to soften, misinterpret, and/or even dismiss the Holy Bible as the inerrant Word of God altogether, there are sadly many confused people who are looking for God’s truth, and yet, are left struggling to define what is the right path in the midst of this utter chaos that they see in the world of Christianity today. Meanwhile, groups adherent to particular systems of theology grow increasingly harsh and mean-spirited over doctrinal matters, and the poor new believers become overwhelmed with the vast array of interpretations and ideologies available and are ultimately left throwing up their hands and walking away. As the vast sea of denominations continue to water down the Bible’s truth and cover-up the Gospel, the learned theologians and others from various academia are amping up their assaults on anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their conclusions.
People, we cannot be so arrogant as to say that we have definitively determined what God has done, or is currently doing, regarding all matters of His will in relation to our salvation and sanctification. There is a danger of reading into the Scriptures in the light of man’s ideologies. For example, we cannot take the soteriology of someone’s interpretation and apply it unilaterally across all peoples. Since the early church fathers, man has worked diligently to read and understand the Scriptures and apply and teach that which God has given to us through His prophets and Apostles. And the core of these understandings have come together by way of creeds (Latin credo, meaning “I believe”). From the Old Testament teachings, such as Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one”, all the way to the New Testament where the Apostle Paul speaks to the Church in Corinth and summarizes the Gospel saying “for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve”, we learn that these Biblical creeds were rendered simplistically and give us as a summation of what we need to know from the Word of God.
But fast forward into the church growth with their various additions of schools of thought and you start to see not only the creeds grow in length (i.e. Apostles to Nicene to Athanasian), but subsequently from the Reformation onward that church bodies created confessions of faith as their core documents of how and what they believe the Scriptures to say. Add on top of these confessions a multitude of ideologies and doctrines from highly regarded theologians and you start to add namesakes to the theological differences. Thus, people started to identify with, not only their denominational affiliation, but also their form of theological tradition and Christian practice. The largest of the Protestant movements after the Reformation was Calvinism, Arminianism, and Lutheranism. Three distinct practices that rose in popularity and grew while sweeping across Europe, England, and eventually America. In this writing though, I am not going to discourse all the details of what each stands for because it is too involved. Just know this, that people have debated these doctrinal stances for centuries and I am not here to solve the differences.
But why I do bring them up is because these ideologies are just part of the many sources of deep contention that is dividing the fellowship of the Bible believing saints. As I mentioned before, many that are seeking the truth about Christianity and God’s Word look out into the field and see a hostile war that has a “take no prisoners” mentality. They are afraid to enter into the arena of salvation because they will instantly be bombarded with a dozen methods of soteriology that will make their head spin when demanded to “choose” the method they think they were saved by. Next, they will get hit with all the other various “-ologies”, such as ecclesiology, eschatology, hamartiology, pneumatology, and many more systematic doctrinal views, that they will need to learn all about, and then join a side. Once done, they will be enlisted to attend a particular “camp” that agrees with their systematic stance. If they disagree on any one point, they will be ostracized from the believers and cast away. But if they meet the criteria, they will then need to sign onto the applicable confession of faith (be it Augsburg, Belgic, 39 Articles, Canons, Westminster, London Baptist, Heidelberg, etc…) and not deviate! Once aligned properly under all the correct titles and headings, given that their agreements are in line with the right namesake “-ism” of belief, they will then be fitted for battle and expected to take all the counter-claims against everything they now profess to believe.
I know that this sounds overly exaggerated and quite harsh, but this is happening in the arena of Christianity today! People are not allowed to just read the Bible and let the Holy Spirit illuminate the Word into their lives! I’ve personally been hit with so many doctrines from every direction that it has caused me to question everything! But what I question most is this: If I am faithfully on my knees, confessing Christ Jesus as Lord, thanking God for His grace and mercy upon this poor sinner, and prayerfully reading all of God’s Word as my only source of life because of Christ’s atonement on the cross for me so that I can glorify Yahweh God and worship Him forever, then what am I doing that is so wrong in light of man’s doctrines? I’ll tell you what…nothing. Because what I read and see in that Holy Bible is exactly what God is speaking to me about…Him and His Word given to me. I don’t need any commentaries, doctrines, viewpoints, interpretations, or much more other than what the Holy Spirit will give to me by faith. I don’t need to know exactly how God works in the area of my salvation or how the end times will specifically be played out. These man made doctrinal “-ism’s” have no bearing on my salvation, my sanctification, and my walk daily with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing that man has deemed doctrinal usurps God’s Word or plans. Nothing that man defines changes God’s works. Nothing man holds as right will override the Righteousness of God. God meets us where we are, gives us what we need, and we stand firm on His truth by His Word…alone.