Required Listening: The Protestant Reformation – Tommy Nelson
“Church” has become a broadly used term that is extremely hard to define. We have more “brands” of churches than there are flavors of ice cream—and like ice cream flavors many of those names sound like the same thing (I mean, what really is the difference between pralines and cream and butter pecan?). Today we are going to look through a brief history of where many churches came from and what they are defined by—or what makes them illegitimate. We can’t cover all the differences (there are 38,000 denominations), but we will cover the broad movements.
- · The History of Church formation
- · What make a church a church, or not one?
- · What are denominations and what do they stand for? How much does it matter?
- · False Churches: what defines them?
“Now I plead with you brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.” I Corinthians 1:10
A quick note before we begin: We are about to report on 2,000 years of conflict among our church family and against people attacking it. These are not our brightest moments. It’s a bit depressing. People have constantly taken the influence the church provides and twisted it for their own purposes. The biggest mistake you can make is to think that these events characterize all the Christians at that time. Most of these big historical events are the mistakes of a few key leaders. The church has had HUGE bright moments throughout history that we are not focusing on this week—it has never ceased to spread the message of Jesus and expand faith—and it has greatly shaped culture for the better. But this week, let’s look at how defining what we believe has been done throughout history…
The History of Church Formation:
Key Term: Catholic = Universal/True (Church)
There was a time when the church was largely unified. In 300AD the Roman empire made Christianity the religion of their empire, and they took on the responsibility of preserving the unity of the church by using national resources to disseminate information, coordinate church leadership efforts, convene councils and even persecute those who tried to spread errant beliefs. This was not a bad strategy, just difficult to protect and maintain because power and money always attract and tempt people to use their position for ungodly purposes.
During this era the church was often described under the terms, “Roman Catholic Church” but it does not reflect the Catholic church we think of today. Catholic was a term they began to use to describe the church that was connected to the government, distinguishing it from errant beliefs and cults that were trying to appear to worship the same God. This strategy allowed the church to draw clear doctrinal lines that helped clarify accurate verses errant beliefs about Jesus, salvation, and God. This system also funded the translation of the Bible into the common language as Latin (400) overtook Greek in that part of the world. Unfortunately, it also meant that any disagreements with formally established doctrines met imprisonment and death.
When corrupted people worked their way into places of power within the government and church, manipulative standards were put in place in the church to maintain the flow of power and wealth to people at the top of the pyramid.
(1) Instead of relying upon the combined voice of regional leaders, the pope was made an authoritative dictator over the church and it was said that he could “excommunicate” someone ensuring that they went to hell.
(2) In order to ensure everyone was held to the standard of obedience of Christian morality, baptism was done to newborns, blurring the understanding of how a person entered into God’s family. Every person born was automatically considered a Christian. This practice reflected circumcision in the Old Testament…but had the same problem as circumcision: people thought they were saved simply because they were Jewish.
(3) In order to ensure greater levels of obedience to its citizens, the government/church changed the understanding of justification and began distributing forgiveness in the form of specific actions: confession, Communion, etc. Salvation became something to be earned—and those who didn’t earn enough of it were said to have to burn off their sin in a place between heaven and hell called purgatory.
(4) In order to raise money to fund their ventures, the government/church eventually “sold” forgiveness in the form of indulgences. People were able to buy their way out of purgatory.
(5) As the church created doctrines that were not clearly defined in Scripture, it became dangerous for people outside the leaders to have access to the Bible, so it was no longer translated into the common languages of the day—any translations and translator were killed. Only priests and monks were given access to the Bible. Even church services were held in Latin so that people could not understand what was happening.
(6) So that they could deviate from the Bible further, the pope was said to be able to add things to Scripture, to speak at special times “excathedra” and make something true as if it was in the Bible.
533 – The first major church split: The Coptic Church
The church originated in the city of Alexandria, Egypt one of the most faithful, respected, and fruitful cities during the Apostolic Period. Proudly, the Coptic Christians acknowledge and herald John Mark, (author of the Gospel of Mark), as their founder and first bishop sometime between A.D. 42 – A.D. 62. Their explanation of how Christ was both fully man and fully God were different than the rest of the church, and so they chose not to follow the authority of the church’s leadership from Rome.
Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/Coptic-Christianity.html
1054 – The second major church split: Catholic vs. Orthodox.
In an event called the great schism, the leader of the church in Constantinople argued with the Pope over whether the bread used for Communion should have yeast or not. Both proceeded to declare the other “non-Christian” or condemn them to hell in an act they referred to as “excommunication.” This event is just the first of many that show you that when pride and political power get in the way, people say and do extreme things that greatly mess up the message of Jesus. The resulting second church group eventually adopted the name, Greek Orthodox. While they had other issues that they disagreed upon, and adopted traditions that today make them look VERY different in the way they worship, the Greek Orthodox church today looks most like the catholic church in their worship style and beliefs. They are still very prevalent in Europe and parts of the Middle East.
1500’s – The splintering of the church.
Protestantism did not split off from the original church—it was a splintering of people who left the Catholic Church because it was using its power to abuse people and was confusing people over the true principles of faith. They felt that they were taking the true “catholic” church out of a system that was corrupt, but they left the term catholic behind because it had become the brand or symbol of the church that was abusing its power. There was no central leader to the movement—just a lot of regional or national leaders who were able to keep from being killed by the Catholic church and start a movement of churches near their home.
Major Issues of Faith: Roman Catholic v. Protestant
- Justification by faith and sacraments – Justification by faith alone
- Grace administered through the church – All believers have the role of priest/equal authority
- Authority of Scripture AND tradition – The Bible alone is authoritative
Voices of Reform:
Wadensians – The movement originated in the late twelfth century as the Poor Men of Lyons, a band organized by Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant who gave away his property around 1177, preaching apostolic poverty as the way to perfection. As they developed Waldensian teachings came into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. By 1215, the Waldensians were declared heretical and subject to intense persecution; the group endured near annihilation in the seventeenth century, and were then confronted with organized and generalized discrimination in the centuries that followed. (borrowed from Wikipedia)
John Wycliff [1330–84] – Created movement to translate the Bible in English, died before he could be tried as a heretic.
William Savanarola (1452–98, Spain) – the Bible was translated into the common language 30 years before Martin Luther.
John Huss: [1372–1415] – A reformer in Bohemia (present day Czechoslovakia). He taught at the University of Prague and preached at the major church in the city. He was burned to death at the Council of Constance after promises of safety.
The Catholic church’s ties to the government over time had allowed a lot of people to have influence in the church who weren’t even believers or interested in faith matters. The Catholic church today is best referred to as the modern Catholic church, not the ancient or Roman catholic church of the past. It’s beliefs have changed greatly since ancient times and continue to change with each new Pope’s influence. Right now, the church is in a time of good change…moving back towards a focus on the gospel…but it has a long way to go.
Lutheranism developed as Germany broke away from Catholicism and followed one of the great voices of the protestant movement, Martin Luther. His success was largely due to the influence of his job as a professor, his use of the printing press, his translation of the bible into German, and his disbanding the monasteries to add educated leaders to the new church movement (arranging marriages between monks and nuns).
Side Note: The 95 Theses:Among Martin Luther’s demands of the Church, he specifically says that if the Pope could pardon others from purgatory, he would do so, not for money, but because of love. He would do it for free.
Zwingli gave the Protestant movement its needed leadership in Switzerland. His movement gave rise to the first major group to want to separate church from the government since it merged with the roman government…seeing the danger of the money and power as well as thinking that the bible disagreed with that strategy. Their main form of protest was to end the practice of infant baptism, which went against church and state, and to baptize adults. They became known as Anabaptists or Baptists.
John Calvin is recruited when passing through Geneva to stay and shape the city’s Protestant formation. He agrees and begins a career of speaking and writing that radically changes the city and spreads far beyond it through the people who come through, the commentaries and theological books he writes (The Institutes of Christian Religion), and the German universities who pick up his ideas.
Calvin’s Beliefs: (As opposed to Calvinism)
- Calvin includes his discussion on predestination in the Soteriology section of his institutes, rather than in the Trinitarianism section of the book. Every time he revises the Institutes, he pushes it farther back in book. Calls it “The horrible decree”
- Calvin does not discuss the extent of the atonement at all.
- Not a covenant theologian.
- Willing to say “I don’t know” when the Bible did not speak clearly.
- Writes a commentary of every book of the Bible except Revelation. He just can’t figure it out.
- Politics – still favored the marriage of church and state: “Thus it is the duty of the State to establish true religion and to maintain that religion once it is established.”
Anglicanism grew out of the king of England’s desire for a divorce that the Pope would not grant. He broke English Catholics off from the Pope’s authority. His successor tried to please both Protestants and Catholics in her country to avoid civil war and created the Anglican church. It intentionally mixed the two doctrines and worship traditions.
Most Protestants who split off from the Catholic church during this period died to represent their beliefs. These are not silly people, they are deeply convicted movement using the power and courage of the Holy Spirit. Christianity, which Jesus started as a movement without political power, was corrupted by taking up political power and trying to enforce penalties to those who questioned their traditions, methods, and systems.
Major Issues of Practice: Roman Catholic v. Protestantism
Government: Because Protestants hated the abuse of power that the Catholic Church wielded with its ties to government, most of the splintering sects avoided tying themselves to local or national governments. Those that tried to bond, like the Lutherans, the two soon suffered the same abuse of power and finally abandoned it. (The Puritans and Pilgrims did the same thing in American soon after) In many European countries, the government still collects taxes and uses a portion of those to fund the official denomination of its people, but it never works to the advantage of the church.
Centralization of Authority: Protestants also hated the Pope’s control over the church as a central leader. Most emerging denominations in Protestantism formed new collective forms of leadership: local church leadership or regional chains of authority that rarely left one man with too much influence.
- Luther: Prince elects pastor, churches direct daily affairs
- Calvin: Gathering of pastor and lay leaders selects new leaders.
- Anabaptist, Baptist: The authority lies within the congregation of each church. Associations of churches and leaders are for advise only, not policy.
The Bible: The Protestants also revised their Bible so that the important–but not authoritative books are excluded completely from their Bible. The Jews had translated and bound the Greek Old Testament alongside their apocryphal books together so that they were preserved as a collection. They didn’t consider them to be equal, but translated and stored them as one collection. Translations were a HUGE undertaking—its likely that they simply chose to get as much work from the translation panel as they could. Christians simply added the New Testament books to this collection.
When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he didn’t have access to the older Hebrew Old Testament, only the Greek manuscripts. Again, He undertook to translate everything that was bound together, though it was not all considered Scripture. When the Protestants were making changes, they removed the Apocryphal books and used the Hebrew Old Testament for their translation. Though the Catholic church should have been open to Protestant Bible translations and their separation of the apocryphal books, they instead chose to make and official statement that the apocryphal books were also Scripture because they were reacting to Protestant rebellions and sought to distinguish their Bibles from Protestant Bibles in the 1500’s.
Is the Catholic Church today good or bad???
It depends. They have Jesus correct…they just add a lot of misconceptions about Him and what He did. I know people who have sincere faith and the Holy Spirit who are Catholic. AND their churches are a lot different depending on where you live in the world. Some are better than others. BUT they are not a great place to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. They are far better at convincing people that salvation is earned based on your behavior. Their worship style and church strategy is VERY out of date and their beliefs are confused. Below is a summary of their main faulty doctrinal conclusions at the time of the reformation at the Council of Trent.
The Council of Trent: (1545-1563)
- Scriptural Authority (Session Four)
- Named the books of the canon
- Authorized the Latin Vulgate
- Only the interpretations of the RC church are correct
- Sin (Session Five)
- Imputed sin=absence of righteousness from Adam, not sin nature
- Baptism removes sin
- Justification (Session Six)
- Cooperative grace, justice is a progressive accumulation, not an declaration
- Grace lost through disobedience and restored through penance
- Sacraments (ways to earn God’s grace)
- Eucharist (Communion)
- Purgatory and Indulgences (Session 25)
- Other Affirmations of Trent:
- Nicene Creed
- Veneration of Images
- Rome as the mother of all churches
- Without the RC, not one can be saved
Episcopal Churches: The Anglican Church in disguise
The Anglican church was organized after the American Revolution, when it separated as a separate church from the Church of England, whose clergy are required to swear allegiance to the British monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Obviously, swearing allegiance to the king you have just revolted against wouldn’t work very well in America at that time.
A church movement that rises out of the British Isles and resembles Reformed or Baptists in many ways, except that they do baptize infants. They are a combination of congregational rule and rule by a regional board of directors.
Methodists, Nazarenes & Wesleyans: (1900’s)
The Methodist movement is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity which derive their inspiration from the life and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John’s brother Charles Wesley were also significant leaders in the movement. It originated as a revival within the 18th-century Church of England and became a separate Church following Wesley’s death. (borrowed from Wikipedia). John Wesley proposed some new ways to think of how God could give mankind freewill and also thought that you could both lose your salvation and become entirely sanctified in this life. These beliefs are what distinguish this church denomination from others. Further church splits found some Methodist traditions using Wesleyan as a name instead, and when Wesleyan churches chose to adopt some Pentecostal traditions they began to adopt the name, Nazarene, for their churches.
Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches, Assemblies of God and Vineyard Churches: (1900’s)
After the ministry of John Wesley some isolated leaders take his views on becoming totally sanctified a step further and begin to believe that God has a third outpouring of the Holy Spirit on special believer’s lives that enables them to take up the miraculous gifts of the ancient church. In 1901 at Bethel Bible Institute a lady “receives” this outpouring the spirit and speaks in tongues in “Zulu” and writes in Chinese (Topeka, Kansas was home to a large Chinese population building the railroad).
Across the world in California on Azuza Street, Elder W.J. Seymour (1906-1909) predicts that something terrible will happen in San Francisco, and 3 days later an earthquake occurs (there’s a lot of earthquakes in California). Both movements give rise to churches that expect and “experience” gifts of the spirit that are demonstrated. Churches that operate independently of other denominations typically take up the name Pentecostal whereas denominations that are open to the demonstrations of the Spirit’s gifts are often called Charismatic (example: a Charismatic Baptist church).
Founded by George Fox. Cannot find a denomination that satisfies his conception of true Christianity. Begins to believe he receives direct, unhindered access to God the Father, and creates his own religious following. Calls his mystic quest the search for “inner light.” Emphasize simplicity in lifestyle, possessions, worship, and relationships. Very Pacifistic beliefs…no involvement in war. Sensitive toward caring for the mentally insane. Demand just treatment of Native Americans. .Refuse segregation of peoples. Allow women to be authoritative figures in their religious life.
Moravians: Zinzendorf & Jan Hus (John Huss)
Huss founds movement, and it later burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic church at the Council of Constance. Similar rejection of all of the trappings of organized religion. Share the social beliefs and pacifistic beliefs of Quakers.
Mennonites: Menno Simons
Baptized by Anabaptists and becomes a Anabaptist minister, but his movement becomes unique and get’s its own consideration. Pacifistic, Socially involved, Simplicity of life. Very closely related to Quakers.
Church of Christ (1800’s)
The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church’s worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.
Seventh Day Adventists: (1800’s)
The Adventist movement was originally born out of a leader’s belief that the end of the world was coming in 1844 (leaders have formed movements based on making a date claim for the end of the world many times with results like this—the most recent was Harold Camping predicting May 1st, 2011). For about 20 years, the Adventist movement consisted of a small loosely knit group of people who came from many churches whose primary means of connection and interaction was through James White’s periodical, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. They embraced the doctrines of the Sabbath, Among its most prominent figures were Joseph Bates, James White, and Ellen G. White. Ellen White came to occupy a particularly central role; her many visions and spiritual leadership convinced her fellow Adventists that she possessed the gift of prophecy.
The church was formally established in Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 21, 1863. Until 1850 the church looked at those veterans of the 1844 experience as a saving remnant—the only ones going to heaven. But in 1848 Ellen White had a vision that clearly showed that new converts could be made to the movement. The movement’s original errant theological views about Jesus not being entirely God led to a consensus among conservative evangelical Protestants to regard it as a cult. However, the Adventist Church adopted the Trinity early in the 20th century and began to dialogue with other Protestant groups toward the middle of the century, eventually gaining wide recognition as a Protestant church. Their short doctrinal statement can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventist_Baptismal_Vow
The Bottom Line regarding Denominations:
Most denominational churches exist today because their people treasure the values, worship style (music and format of the service) personal experiences, shared knowledge and resources that the denomination has to offer. They aren’t drawing lines over doctrine alone, many are open to collaboration with other denomination, and many dislike the way the denomination name sends the wrong signals to the public. They don’t want to give up the advantages of the association, but they don’t care a ton about the differences as long as the core beliefs are the same and the non-core beliefs aren’t made critical issues.
Most splits that become doctrinal matters are matters of circumstance, personal/political bias or agenda, or different goals or worship style preferences. Pride makes them bigger than they should be. We must be better about encouraging one another to start new things when our differences are substantial, and remember that God often splits up good teams to make more churches.
36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord to see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to bring John called Mark along with them too, 38 but Paul insisted that they should not take along this one who had left them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39 They had a sharp disagreement, so that they parted company. Barnabas took along Mark and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and set out, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers and sisters. 41 He passed through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41, NET)
The False Churches:
Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarians have skewed the truth so far that although it is possible for people will come to saving faith in Jesus in these places, they have seriously jeopardized people’s understanding of faith to the point that most people do not come to saving faith and those who do hold a lot of incorrect core or important beliefs. Those are outlined below.
Unitarian Universalists: (1700’s)
Unitarianism is a “Christian” theological movement named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism, which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially in one being. Unitarians maintain that Jesus is in some sense the “son” of God, but is not the one God. Unitarianism is also known for the rejection of several other conventional Christian doctrines, including the soteriological doctrines of original sin and predestination, and, in more recent history, biblical inerrancy. (Borrowed from Wikipedia) Unitarian Universalists are groups that take this belief a step further and believe that there are many ways to God. Their belief that people don’t need Jesus to be saved is what keeps them from being a church. They are misleading people to think that they can get to heaven by other means.
Mormonism: (The Church of Latter Day Saints – 1830)
The Mormons believe the Joseph Smith wrote a correction to the Bible which clarified things that were incorrect. He was given gold plates that were preserved from ancient times by being buried in America. An angel allowed him to translate them after a number of years, but no one else has been allowed to see them. http://mormonbeliefs.org/articles-of-faith/8-2/the_book_of_mormon_1 The church has an open canon which includes four scriptural texts: the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Other than the Bible, the majority of the LDS canon constitutes revelation spoken by Joseph Smith and recorded by his scribes which includes commentary and exegesis about the Bible, texts described as lost parts of the Bible, and other works believed to be written by ancient prophets. (This alone should be a key reason to dismiss this as a form of Christianity. We don’t believe anything needed to be corrected or clarified that has been given as Scripture.)
They believe that mankind can become gods in some form, and that Jesus was a man who was elevated to god-like status first. “Man is created in God’s image and has the potential to become like Him.” They tend to push doing good as a saving part of faith…not simply believing and accepting Christ, much like the Catholics. Their rapid spread of faith is due in part to a requirement for all boys to go on a two year mission assignment where they typically share their faith door to door.
They have some odd beliefs too. They believe American’s are privileged and blessed…that when God restores Israel it will built in America. “that Zion will be built upon this [the American] continent;”
“Missionary work is also done among the dead, in the “Spirit World.” Mormons have a responsibility to act as proxies for the dead in receiving gospel ordinances which can only be performed with a physical body. The dead have the agency to decide whether or not they will accept those ordinances.”
http://mormonbeliefs.org/articles-of-faith Mormons have debated whether polygamy is acceptable or not for as long as they have been in existence, because Joseph Smith seems to have lived a life that didn’t quite fit his teaching. See this recent news article for more info. Joseph Smith also seemed to exercise the authority to excommunicate people from the faith community, which does not fit with his religious teachings. Under the doctrine of continuing revelation, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ, under the direction of God the Father, leads the church by revealing his will to its president, whom adherents regard as a modern-day “prophet, seer, and revelator”. The current president is Thomas S. Monson.
Mormonism confuses the understanding of who Jesus was and what He did to pay for our sins. It confuses us on the reliability of Scripture and changes key aspects of it. However, like the Catholic church, they get enough information correct that people do come to faith in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit in this church. The degree to which they get important theological details incorrect causes them to be considered a cult, rather than a church, but they are very close to the line.
Christian Science – 1866
Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy’s desire to escape pain leads to a denial that pain is real. She expands her philosophy into a pantheistic belief that matter does not exist and that sin is imaginary. Her book Science and Health (1875) became Christian Science’s central text, along with the Bible (sort of). This philosophy that the physical world is not real has been around since ancient times and shares many similarities with Buddhism. This movement left the realm of true religion because it claims that the crucifixion was not a divine sacrifice for the sins of humanity, the atonement (the forgiveness of sin through Jesus’s suffering) “not the bribing of God by offerings,” writes Wilson, but an “at-one-ment” with God. The Holy Ghost is Christian Science, and heaven and hell are states of mind, and God is not a being but a force that we must join with.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (1884)
The group emerged from the Bible Student movement, founded in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell with the formation of Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, with significant organizational and doctrinal changes under the leadership of Joseph Franklin Rutherford. The name Jehovah’s witnesses, based on Isaiah 43:10–12, was adopted in 1931 to distinguish themselves from other Bible Student groups and symbolize a break with the legacy of Russell’s traditions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is God’s only direct creation, that everything else was created by means of Christ, and that the initial unassisted act of creation uniquely identifies Jesus as God’s “only-begotten Son”. Jesus served as a redeemer and a ransom sacrifice to pay for the sins of humanity. They believe Jesus died on a single upright torture stake rather than the traditional cross. They believe that references in the Bible to the Archangel Michael, Abaddon (Apollyon), and the Word all refer to Jesus. Jesus is considered to be the only intercessor and high priest between God and humanity, and appointed by God as the king and judge of his kingdom.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are directed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group of elders in Brooklyn, New York, which establishes all doctrines based on its interpretations of the Bible; they prefer to use their own translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures and they believe that their publications are very important as well, although not on the level of Scripture. They believe that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent. They interpret Revelation 14:1–5 to mean that the number of Christians going to heaven is limited to exactly 144,000, who will rule with Jesus as kings and priests over earth.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower, and refusing military service and blood transfusions. They consider use of the name Jehovah vital for proper worship. They reject Trinitarianism, inherent immortality of the soul, and hellfire, which they consider to be unscriptural doctrines. They do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays, or other holidays and customs they consider to have pagan origins incompatible with Christianity. Adherents commonly refer to their body of beliefs as “the truth” and consider themselves to be “in the truth”. (borrowed from Wikipedia)
The fact that they have made additions to Scripture ongoing, that they believe they’re the only true believers going to heaven, that they don’t acknowledge the Holy Spirit as a member of the Godhead, and that they chose to limit the number of people going to heaven makes this religious movement VERY sketchy. They have enough of the core beliefs right to lead people into a relationship with Jesus means that a person can come to authentic faith…but then they would be greatly confused as they try to grow spiritually.
Final Thoughts on Doctrine:
When religion and political power are combined, abuse soon follows.
It is simply too great a temptation to be able to use both political and religious authority to sway people to your cause and purposes. History has taught us that the last central independent figure of Christianity should have been Jesus. All other leaders would do well to keep accountability close and share power because it is too easy for one person or even a few to abuse power and do more damage than good. Also, when the religious authorities can exercise power in the political arena, history has shown us that people who have not faith work their way into the positions of power–corrupting both the government and the church in their desire for influence, wealth and control.
The one group of people that Jesus and the disciples were truly angry with are these people: those who distort religion to fulfill their own desires. This is the greatest error you can make according to passages like 2 timothy and 2 Peter. These are the true enemies, the ones we are allowed to hate and whom we should argue and get ugly.
17 These people are springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind. The gloom of darkness has been reserved for them. 18 For by uttering boastful, empty words, they seduce, with fleshly desires and debauchery, people who have barely escaped from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them. 20 For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy command delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to its own vomit, and, “a sow, after washing itself, wallows in the mud.” (2Pet 2:17-22, HCSB)
Don’t confuse Doctrine and Beliefs with Strategy.
We are never told EXACTLY how to do church or organize church or live our Christian lives. The message is what matters—not how we communicate it. God gave us a message meant to be communicated to all the world: all their cultures, all their personalities, all their languages, and all their government systems. We are blessed with the flexibility to adapt church into forms that fit and work for them…we are not called to fit other cultures into a 21st century American adult form of church.
Modern Example: Choirs and dynamic music was not even a core part of church services until the last few hundred years, thanks to the second great awakening, camp meetings, and Charles Finney. We found out that music would draw a crowd to church!
Ancient Example: Paul, for his part, was simply using the Jewish model of the synagogue when we organized the church using elders and deacons and apostles. He was a Pharisee—he knew the system, and it worked. He didn’t try to recreate something that didn’t need to be created from scratch.
The average American form of church meet in dedicated buildings with singing powered by instruments and sound systems, we listen to a message and we plan on the experience taking 1-1.5 hours. African churches average services lasting 3-4 hours. Chinese churches meet in homes and look more like secret Bible studies. One format is morally wrong or right. We need to embrace variety, not attack it.
In terms of oneChurch.tv:
Our church programs Sunday mornings and advertises expecting people to invite their friends. We make Sunday’s as welcoming as possible for people who do not share our faith. Other churches in town focus and program around church people. Neither is wrong…just different.
We target middle class families by providing lots of children’s space and youth programming, as well as coffee, music, and messages that are relevant to people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Other churches may focus on college students, older adults, etc. based on their music, programming, and messages. We need churches to target and reach EVERY part of Clarksville. We can’t do it alone. Our strategy only reaches part of the city. We can’t reach people other churches are reaching, and we should not attack people who do church differently than we do!
Our church chooses to focus on leading people to Jesus and growing them spiritually. We prefer to fund and help people launch organizations to do things like feed the poor. Other churches would try to do it all as a part of the church. We value it all—but we also value doing things with excellence, and its hard to do a lot of things with excellence. Again, there’s no right or wrong, as long as you are not devaluing the needs Jesus called us to serve.
We choose to be led by a volunteer board of elders who don’t get paid and hold the staff accountable to spending money and operating the church wisely. Other churches may find that they want everyone to have a vote…or that a regional director (bishop, presbyter) should make key decisions.
All of these things, from the music we select to the choices we make regarding how we do groups are decisions that concern strategy. There’s no right or wrong. There may be better or more effective ideas, but there’s no moral or major issue that people should have with these items. We must value people enough to adapt church to be effective in growing them spiritually, and avoid making big issues out of small ones.
What are the core doctrines that define your faith?
What are the important ones?
What are trivial matters?
Define where you draw lines and what those lines mean to you…