Divide and Conquer
Scripture tells us to identify those who cause divisions and set roadblocks, and have nothing to do with them (Rom. 16:17). Yet as a group we who call ourselves “Christ followers” (“Christians”) have completely and historically ignored this clear and unqualified prohibition. We see division as only that which disagrees with our particular set of opinions and preferences, instead of that which deviates from the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42). We see some divisions as good and necessary, such as between “denominations”, a term not found in scripture. But it is not “Christianity” that is being divided, but the very Body of Christ.
How do we divide thee? Let us count the ways…
1. VerticallyI’ve written often against the clergy/laity class distinction, but it can’t be said often enough. This is the biggest, most pervasive division of all, because it’s taken for granted. Whatever other personal preference may be sacrificed, this one is to be guarded at all costs. Every religion has the professional in charge, from the smallest tribe to the multinational mega. There is a chain of command in every one of the world’s theistic religions. But “not so among you”, Jesus said (Mt. 20:25–28). The truly Christian “chain” is upside down, leaders at the lowest level, because Jesus said that even He did not “come to be served, but to serve”. He took on the role of the house servant at the Last Supper (John 13:3–5), showing that any who have power or position are to lay it down (Phil. 2:5–11).
There are no titles or fancy robes for the galley slaves, no special parking spots or private offices for the shepherd in the field. All the gifts come from one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4,11) for the benefit of one Body (Rom. 12:5, Eph. 4:4), to build each other up (Heb. 10:24–25). The greatest gift is still love (1 Cor. 13:13), followed by prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1–5, 22–25), and note that this gift, described in that context as speaking to build up the ekklesia, is not restricted to males (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, 21:9). This biblical definition of prophecy has been turned into what is traditionally called “preaching” or “pastoring”, meaning one who rules the church (per John MacArthur for example; see under “A Responsible Calling”), but scripture says ALL can prophesy (1 Cor. 14:29–32), and remember that the following two verses are a quote from the Talmud [Menahoth 43b-44a] (see also Women Keep Silent), which Paul strongly refutes.
There is a plurality of elders (Acts 20:17, Titus 1:5), and not only is there no mention of one of them being in charge of the others, but there is also no mention of anyone addressed or identified as a “pastor”. There are leaders and guardians, but these are examples, not authorities. And there is no greater Example than that of Jesus, who as we have already seen did not cling to His own, rightful authority, but laid it down to serve his Bride. Thus we can identify the true Christian leader by their resemblance to Jesus’ example. Those who refuse to “wash the feet” of other believers by serving them in humility are unqualified to lead, as they demonstrate spiritual immaturity and pride. If you are taking authority over a fellow adult believer, you are usurping the place of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in their life.
As I’ve done before, I would once again challenge any of you who are called Pastor, especially if you are making a living from fellow believers, to seriously question the message you preach just by using this particular spiritual gift as a title and a position. Remember, “alphas” are found in wolf packs, not flocks of sheep, and the sheep are not to provide for the shepherd. Not even Paul demanded the support that he could have had (1 Cor. 9:15), because he was more interested in eternal rewards. How about you?
2. HorizontallyThe clergy/laity division aside, we still have some believers separating from others over fairly petty issues such as dress, mode of worship, church governance (!!), or positions on disputable matters (see Rom. 14). But there are no specific teachings on this for believers, but only general principles: don’t flaunt wealth, don’t show favoritism, take turns, wait for each other, use your gifts. No sacred place is described or prescribed, and there are no instructions whatsoever on what exactly “worship” is, beyond “spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24) and “renewing your mind” (Rom. 12:1–2). Nothing in particular is prescribed about how, when, or where we must meet.
In addition, nothing is said about modes of baptism or how exactly to practice the Lord’s Supper; everything is mentioned in passing. Paul’s instructions were more about correcting excesses such as gluttony and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:17ff), and he went to great lengths to downplay baptism (1 Cor. 1:11–17). These two things that the churches have turned into “sacraments” (see this chapter in The Reformers and Their Stepchildren) are thus seen to be of little importance in the Body, a Body already “baptized” by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:11, 1 Cor. 12:13) and fed by the Vine (John 15:5). And not once do we see any officials presiding over either baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
God is perfectly capable of being specific when He wants to be, so the absence of specifics concerning those two activities is a clear indication that there are no laws, rules, or commandments about them. And if this is the case with those things which tradition has held to be requirements of the practice of the religion, then how can anything beyond them be binding? We are not to practice a religion at all, but to live a life, and one that is not our own (1 Cor. 6:19–20, 7:23, Gal. 2:20).
But as I’ve written often, we dare not fail to divide over sin! To be holy is to be set apart, separated from the world in thought and deed, “salting” the earth while remaining unsoiled by our contacts with it. Our division is thus between saved and unsaved, not within the Body. Paul told us to judge the inside (1 Cor. 5:12–13), and often was quite harsh and even sometimes vulgar in his intolerance of habitual sin among believers. Those who taught such things were thrown out, or at least told to sit and learn before they could teach again. We died to sin (Rom. 6:2,7) and are to live to God. Unity must never be at the expense of truth or holiness.
3. Limb From LimbIf Paul had issues with the divisions in Corinth, he’d surely go ballistic over what we have now. There are enough “Ministers Of” to put Big Brother to shame, and more “spirits of” than the whole Greek pantheon. We argue over things that don’t matter (see my recent post on Vaporware) and neglect things that do, getting our ideas of sin and unity not from scripture but from the world. We even segregate our “Sunday School” classes just like the public school system and take church growth advice from business gurus.
And of course, we divide male from female, another topic I’ve written much about. Even small house churches divide on this point in spite of having thrown off all the other trappings of religion. If baptism and the Lord’s Supper are considered the last bastions of “Christianity”, then the emergency bomb shelter is male over female. “Take away everything else but that!”, say the popular leaders and authors today. They’ll give up “the pastorate” before they give up “the natural (social) order of things”, especially in the home. Too many Christian men think they simply must rule over women, and too many Christian women say they simply must obey such rule, all due to the poisonous and Pharisaical teachings of the popular and credentialed. Never mind that the unpopular credentialed have refuted them many times over; this hierarchy must be preserved. Never mind that all religions do the same, or that in many aspects of secular society this imbalance still remains; we must keep this hierarchy no matter what.
Many Christian men fight with all their might to keep this “humble” position, as if what women want is to muscle in on their humility! Think about the deep irony of fearing and raging that anyone might take something from you that you claim is the most humble and lowly service. What under-rower fights for the right to keep to his oar? What heavily-burdened servant growls at the notion that someone else might help carry it? What waiter becomes angry if the one sitting at the table offers to serve others in the same way? It’s either service or rule; it can’t be both. Christian man, are you blasphemously claiming to be a woman’s leader, prophet, priest, king, or savior (per, once again, John MacArthur; search page for “savior”)? Christian woman, are you an idolater, putting a mere man between yourself and your real and only Savior?
ConclusionThe Body of Christ is crippled, maimed, dismembered, and paralyzed. What happened to “each part belongs to all the others”? What happened to “not so among you”? What happened to “But you are not to be called ’Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers and sisters” (Mt. 23:7–10)? What happened to “value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:1–4) and the Golden Rule (Mt. 7:12)? What happened to “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18)?
And this Body will remain divided, so long as pride in the flesh or one’s status is held higher than love for God and His people, His Bride. It’s easy to claim humility, but actions do speak louder than words. Let’s see all believers take the scriptures above to heart and practice them daily and universally. Enough of this “Me Tarzan, You Jane” mentality, and this “touch not God’s anointed” attitude! No more Pharisaical nitpicking and control freak obsession. Just follow the scriptures.