|That Which Divides Us
Sharper than a two-edged sword
By Rev. Bradley C. Knepp
Pastor, Mt. Holly Springs UM Church
Mt. Holly Springs, PA
There is real
division in the Church today which suggests there is something equally real causing the
division. The real thing that divides us is the Bible, or better put, the place the Bible
occupies in our personal faith and belief. If we do not allow the Bible to divide each one
of us, it will divide us corporately. If we do not let it sever our hearts, it will sever
our communion with one another.
The whole Bible (the Word of God) from Genesis 1:1 through
Revelation 22:21 is Jesus Christs holy and perfect standard for governing all
relationships and beliefs toward God and others. The Bible is like a sword.
Ephesians 6:17 "And take the
sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of
God." The Bible is a sharp two-edged sword. Hebrews 4:12
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,
and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." If needed, Gods
Word can cut with both edges coming and going. Its power to cut is startling.
The real division comes from what the Bible says and what we take it to
mean. Do we let it cut and divide our inner posture of being as well as our outward
behavior do we allow it to carve out our living and therefore shape the structures
and dynamics of the world around us? Or do we hear from it what we want to hear, make it
mean what we want it to mean, because we are so much a slave of the world we love?
We in The United Methodist Church plainly state in our rule book that
Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are to be the norms and standards by which we
ascertain the Christian life. We also clearly declare Scripture is the primary
standard. "United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that
Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine." (1996 Discipline,
¶63, p.75). This means our traditions, reasonings, and experiences must all finally be
submitted to the cutting edges of Scripture.
The inspiration of Scripture, properly understood, teaches Scripture to
be the product of God alone. Yes, God used the willing hearts and able hands of man in
getting it to us, but the Scripture repeatedly describes itself as "eternal"
(Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; John 10:35; 1 Peter
1:23,25). If we stipulate that man cannot do, invent, or create anything that is eternal,
then the words of Scripture must be solely the product of God. Scripture agrees:
Proverbs 30:5 "Every word of God is pure
2 Timothy 3:16 "All scripture is given by inspiration of
2 Peter 1:20-21 "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of
the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by
the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
However, the Churchs traditions, reasonings, and experiences are not
the sole product of Gods Spirit because we, by definition, are their mortal, sinful
co-authors. This is precisely why Scripture must be primary so our
traditions, reasonings, experiences and we ourselves can be corrected, put
straight, and made plumb by a holy instrument of God that is eternal. Second
Timothy 3:16-17 puts it this way "All scripture is
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness
" We can
only benefit from our United Methodist doctrine of the primacy of Scripture if we allow
Gods Word to cut and divide our hearts teach us pure doctrine, instruct us in
what pleases God, and correct us in any error. When needed, we must allow the Bible to
pierce the pride we tend to take in our traditions, reasonings, and experiences. We must
rally around its power to divide and lay bare our inner motives and intentions. If
"every word of God is pure," then we would do well to happily welcome the power
of every jot and tittle of Scripture to instruct us in right doctrine, guide us in holy
living, and correct us in any thing (Proverbs 10:17).
When we do not allow Gods Word to divide our hearts personally,
it will ultimately divide the Church corporately. Most any page of Church history
illustrates. Take for example past and present instances of tradition, reason, and
From tradition: Luther fought staid traditions of the Roman Church such
as the greed-infested indulgence system (you could buy forgiveness) and the hierarchical
sacramental system (you could earn salvation). Even the humanistic scholars of
Luthers day who had the New Testament in Greek clearly saw the discrepancies between
the Church about which they read in the New Testament and the Roman Catholic Church.
From reason: The genetic origins of virtually all of the feminist,
"God-is-dead," post-modern, and other liberal theologies spun off in our
seminaries over the last several decades can be traced back to the humanist philosophies
of the 18th century. It was called Rationalism or Deism then. Rationalism
exalted mans ability to discover truth by reason without recourse to revelation from
God (no Bible needed). Deism was a system of belief in a transcendent God who, after
creating His creation, left it to be governed by natural laws which are discoverable to
man by reason. God therefore became an "absentee God." Those who worship
"Mother Earth" today would have been right at home back then. The Rationalism
and Deism of the 18th century give us the clue to their own genetic origins as
they marked a momentous replay of that famous fruit-biting incident that took place in a
well-known Garden some years prior. Nothing magic about biting fruit; but there is
something very deadly about following faulty, God-less reasoning. It says, Genesis
3:5 "in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall
be as gods, knowing good and evil." But God pre-warns, Genesis 2:17 "in
the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Ever since we bit that
fruit, we have reasoned we know better what is good and evil than what God and His Word
say is good and evil.
From experience: Modern church people do care about what the preacher
believes and thinks, but too many care more about the experience they have on
Sunday morning. Is the nursery spotless? Did I have to park my car too far from the door?
Was the music like my favorite radio station? Was the worship just the way I like it? Did
the sermon do it for me? Whether its Phillips in Baltimore or the local
Bonanza, dinner is on their sensate minds. Our wealth has made us seekers and consumers
not of God, divine truth, and koinonia fellowship but of carefully prepared,
market researched, churchly experiences. Sure we can have all these things even
have them "with integrity" but I cannot help but think about the
"experiences" of Christians around the world today who press on in their faith
despite not having food, water, political ease, nor even a Bible.
Church history is, in part then, a history of people in conflict with
the primary rule of Scripture. When that spiritual conflict is heightened to firm
personal conviction or inner resolve, the Church will divide. Not clandestine schism; but
open division for clearly articulated reasons. Those who have allowed the Sword of the
Lord to divide them from sin and error will be on one side of the gash. Those who have not
will be on the other.
God teaches we must be intensely vigilant to reject faithless
traditions, reasonings, and experiences. He knew they would slither up to us. Have you
heard of Phil, V.D., TOM, and Rudy? They are right there in Colossians 2:8 (KJV)
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain
deceit, after the tradition of men,
after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Phil (worldly
philosophy) and V.D. (vain deceit) yearn for us to bite into the fruit of false reasoning
that is always whispering something in our ear. TOM (traditions of men) admonishes that we
be bound by unbiblical traditions and their written or unwritten
"eternal" bodies of law. Rudy (rudiments of the world) covets for us to have the
primary carnal experiences sought after by many of the world worldly gain,
sexual immorality, unforgiveness, pride, etc. Beware indeed.
Gods Word is an agent of division in His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The
Word of God will either divide us from our sin or it will divide us from Jesus Christ
all administered temporally and eternally under Gods rubric of perfect
justice and love. The Bible is the one objective standard by which Jesus is judging and
will finally judge (divide) us all (John 5:22; 12:48). The more we personally submit to
the authority which God has vested in the Holy Bible, the less we contribute to the unholy
corporate division that is present in our Church today.