What does, and what does NOT measure up!

Over the past year, I have grown to LOVE Subway's footlong subs (submarine sandwiches, hoagies, torpedo's or what you want to call them).  Eating them at least once a week (after a weight watcher's meeting) has become a habit that I really enjoy!!!  But, there is a problem; and just one glance at the picture will tell you what it is!!!  A foot-long is not really a foot-long!!!! Another example of someone stretching (or should I say - shrinking) the truth.  A few decades ago, this misrepresentation would have seemed outrageous, but today? I think NOT!  It is common in our society for people to believe that everyone is right and truth is relative.  However, if all are right, how can there be any truth at all?  There is "the truth"!!!!  It does not originate with man, but rather with Almighty God!!!  Moreover, it MUST BE OBEYED!!! Paul puts it this way...

Galatians, Chapter 3

 1 Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you not to obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly portrayed among you as crucified?

Jesus believed, practiced and died for "the truth".  Apart from him there is no truth, or life beyond life.  Believing otherwise is as foolish as believing that a "foot-long" is really a foot-long.  Jesus is exactly as advertised.  He really did the things the Bible said he did; he measures up to any and all standards.  Do you?

Bible Reading, Feb. 17

Feb. 17
Genesis 48

Gen 48:1 It happened after these things, that someone said to Joseph, "Behold, your father is sick." He took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Gen 48:2 Someone told Jacob, and said, "Behold, your son Joseph comes to you," and Israel strengthened himself, and sat on the bed.
Gen 48:3 Jacob said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,
Gen 48:4 and said to me, 'Behold, I will make you fruitful, and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession.'
Gen 48:5 Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you into Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, will be mine.
Gen 48:6 Your issue, who you become the father of after them, will be yours. They will be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance.
Gen 48:7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some distance to come to Ephrath, and I buried her there in the way to Ephrath (the same is Bethlehem)."
Gen 48:8 Israel saw Joseph's sons, and said, "Who are these?"
Gen 48:9 Joseph said to his father, "They are my sons, whom God has given me here." He said, "Please bring them to me, and I will bless them."
Gen 48:10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he couldn't see. He brought them near to him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.
Gen 48:11 Israel said to Joseph, "I didn't think I would see your face, and behold, God has let me see your seed also."
Gen 48:12 Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.
Gen 48:13 Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near to him.
Gen 48:14 Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it on Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn.
Gen 48:15 He blessed Joseph, and said, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day,
Gen 48:16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads, and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac. Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth."
Gen 48:17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him. He held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head.
Gen 48:18 Joseph said to his father, "Not so, my father; for this is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head."
Gen 48:19 His father refused, and said, "I know, my son, I know. He also will become a people, and he also will be great. However, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his seed will become a multitude of nations."
Gen 48:20 He blessed them that day, saying, "In you will Israel bless, saying, 'God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh' " He set Ephraim before Manasseh.
Gen 48:21 Israel said to Joseph, "Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you, and bring you again to the land of your fathers.
Gen 48:22 Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow."



While traveling on the interstate recently, I fell in behind a semi that had this sign printed on its back doors; "Attend the church of your choice." There is no numbering of the times that I have seen this slogan printed in every place imaginable. This same sentiment has been uttered on the tongues of many, from preachers to those claiming to be "Christians," to those who have no real convictions on anything religious. The invitation of those words seem generous, unpretentious and far from hypocritical. But where did the idea of "choice" come from in reference to where and how we will worship God?
We are a blessed nation of people to live in a land that allows us to pursue our religious beliefs without fear of government intervention and which protects us from those of differing religious beliefs forcing upon others their own convictions. Under the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States we have the assurance that congress can make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. In the forging of that right of law is the assumption of our freedom of choice to "attend the church of your choice." We should thank God every day for this blessing which allows the free course of the word of God. However, while it allows such unrestraint of the spread of the gospel, it also allows equal proclamation of religious error. The real blessing in all of this is the fact that we live under a constitution that does not permit the government to determine for us which is according to truth and which is according to error. That choice has been honored and given to the people of these United States. While we recognized that we have been blessed to make such choices without government interference, this still doesn't answer the question of where did the idea of choice come from in reference to where and how we will worship God?
The first choice in how we will worship God is seen in Gen. 4 where we are introduced to Adam and Eve's two sons, Cain and Abel. "And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell." (Gen. 4:3-5) In this account we see the difference between Abel's offering from his flocks in worship to God, and Cain's offering from his crops in worship to God. We see the outcome of this difference in religious conviction when we read vs. 8 which tells us that "...Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him." More reason for us to be thankful to live under a government that protects our freedom of religious expression.
Isn't it ironic that the first murder at the beginning of mankind's long history was due to religious differences? Some things never change. We can relate to this age-old conflict even in our own time as we watch the nightly news and hear of the ongoing conflict in Iraq - which they view as "jihad" (holy war). But regardless of how heated people may become over matters of religious differences, the greater lesson in the example of Cain and Abel is that their choices of how to worship God did make a difference and was a matter of grave importance in the eyes of the God to whom they offered up the sacrifices of their worship. We are told in Heb.11:4 that, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous , God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks." Because "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17) we know that Abel's sacrifice was according to God's instruction and was therefore a matter of being righteous (or doing right) in the eyes of God. Such is not said in regard to Cain's worship. As Jesus said, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." We should learn from their experience that worship is not a matter of what someone else thinks about it, but whether it is acceptable to God. However, that doesn't change the fact that there is still a matter of choice involved in our convictions. That brings us to the origin of the idea behind that slogan; "Attend the church of your choice."
The invitation for everyone to "attend the church of your choice," implies that there are a plurality of churches from which to choose. There is no denying that varying religions abound. A casual look around would confirm that there is a smorgasbord of religions from which to make a choice. But the question is; why are there so many choices, and where did the idea of "choice" in religion come from? For there to be a plurality of "religions" implies a plurality of ways in which man worships God. To adopt the sentiment of acceptability in multiple religions is to fail to understand the lesson learned just outside of Eden. It is a failure to realize the impact of Jesus' words that states that "...those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." He stated a choice in the matter while demanding the conditions of what is acceptable. Where either sincerity of heart (spirit) or truth, or both are missing, our choice in worship fails to accomplish its purpose - to glorify God. So, while we may be left to choose, we must realize the consequences of our choices.
Before Jesus left the place where He and His apostles had observed the Passover, He prayed for them. Listen to His plea. "I do not pray for these alone (the apostles, gvw), but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." (Jn. 17:20-21) Jesus not only prayed for those apostles, but He included us in His prayer. Notice that He prayed that we all be one in God by means of the word which His apostles would preach. In His prayer He reveals the impact of this unity on the rest of the world; "that the world may believe that You sent Me." As we view the religions of the world and the multitude of their variations, it is little wonder that so many in the world are confused while many more have thrown up their hands in despair, rejecting any kind of "organized' religion. From His prayer for unity it becomes clear that He would not approve of the religious division that we see all around us. Is "choosing the church of your choice" proving to be less fulfilling than the invitation appears to imply?
If the world fails to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by the Father as the sacrifice for sin, then the consequence of that unbelief will cause the world to be lost. Consider what Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews of His day; "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (Jn. 8:24)
Many years ago, I recall attending a high school football game prior to which one of the local preachers gave the invocation prayer. (That should tell you how long ago it was.) In that prayer I can still distinctly remember him thanking God for all of the many churches that we have in this land. There is no doubt that that prayer has been prayed by many people on many occasions. But in light of Jesus' prayer for unity, how can we thank Him for division? Denominationalism did not originate with God but with man.
When Jesus acknowledged Peter's confession that "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus said, "I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (Mt. 16:18) He promised to build only one church. Paul declared that the Father had "put all things under His (Jesus', gvw) feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Eph. 1:22-23) Then he admonished the church at Ephesus that they should be "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Sprit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Eph. 4:3-6)
There is no denying that many within denominationalism claim to believe in the fact that Jesus built only one church. Notice these words which are stated within the creed book of one such denomination; "It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but 'one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,' and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, 'baptism was the door into the church.' Now it is different; (emphasis mine, gvw)" * My question is "who changed it and by whose authority?!"
Let's look back to the beginning "before man made his changes." On the first Pentecost after Jesus' death, burial, resurrection and ascension back to heaven, His apostles began to preach the gospel concluding with these words; "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36)
"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.'" (Acts 2:37-39) Notice the result of the preaching of the truth on that day; "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them." (Acts 2:41) These new Christians "...continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:42) We see the unity among them as they continued "...daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:46-47)
Dear friend, nothing has changed in nearly two thousand years since that event happened except that some claim that "now it is different." The truth taught on that day remains the truth, and the Lord still adds to His church those who follow the pattern of that same teaching. The only question is, which church did Jesus add those people to? He added them to the one church that He promised to build in Mt. 16:18. Those people on that day who obeyed the gospel constituted the church even as those today who have obeyed that same gospel continue to constitute "...the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28)
Today, when people hear this same message of truth and obey it, the Lord still adds them to His church. Peter describes them as "living stones, (who) are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 2:5) As long as the same pattern of worship, teaching, work, organization and local autonomy are continued as originally outlined by the teaching of the apostles by the authority of Jesus Christ, then what is constituted therein is the church as God intended it.
Many have tried to depict the one church by using the illustration of a pie that is cut into many sections, with each slice representing a different denomination, or division of the church. To support this misconception of the church, Jesus' parable of the vine and the branches has been used as a proof text. But look closely at this parable found in John 15. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned." (Jn. 15:5-6) Notice the personal pronouns he, him, and anyone (emphasized in italics) that Jesus used in describing who the branches were. He was not referring to denominations within His church as being branches, but rather, He was referring to individuals as He spoke this parable to the twelve apostles. (Notice the context of this parable. This took place while Jesus met with the twelve apostles in an upper room to observe the Passover. He spoke this parable after having taught them a lesson on loving service by having washed their feet after the supper. This account begins in Jn 13:1 and ends at Jn. 17:26. In Mt. 26:20, Mk. 14:17-18, & Lk. 22:14, each writer identifies only the twelve apostles being present with Jesus on that occasion.) So when Jesus said, "You are the branches...," He was speaking to His twelve apostles as individually being responsible for abiding in Him, pointing out their absolute need of Him as the vine in which they were to be nourished. To use this parable to illustrate God's design of a divided church is to misrepresent His design of the church over which Christ is the head, and is to misunderstand the valuable lesson intended for each of us.
The concept of one church is difficult for many to accept, for it demands the admission that we are responsible for submitting to God's pattern for His church. It admits that, if there is but one church, then there can be only one means of entrance into it, only one kind of worship, and only one doctrine. There can be no denying that Jesus plainly taught one way to heaven when He said that "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (Jn. 14:6) In Jesus' illustration of being the Shepherd over His sheep in Jn.10:1-5, He referred to His sheep as being protected in one sheepfold (corral) and He warned of anyone other than the Shepherd (such as a thief or a robber) trying to get inside by climbing over the wall rather than going in through the one entrance through which He (the Shepherd) enters and leads His sheep. In His next similar illustration in Jn. 10:7-10, He calls Himself "the door of the sheep." Then He said, "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." In this illustration, Jesus plainly teaches that there is only one entrance into the one church and that it is by entering in through the one entrance that a person enjoys the blessings of Christ - which includes salvation which is in Him .
In "The words of the Lord to Israel by Malachi" (Mal. 1:1) is another illustration of unacceptable worship offered to God. Notice what He said to those people who had failed to follow His pattern of worship in the offering of their animal sacrifices; "'And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?' says the Lord of hosts." (Mal. 1:8)
Under the New Testament pattern of worship, His church is not at liberty to decide how to worship Him. In 1 Cor. 11:17-ff, Paul rebuked them for their failure to follow God's pattern of worship in regard to observing the Lord's supper. "Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse." (vs. 17) "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." (vs. 30) In their abuse of this part of their worship, they had disregarded God's pattern and one another, resulting in their own spiritual deficiency. Once again, this points to the fact that there is only one kind of worship that is acceptable to God.
Additionally, we see in the words of Paul to the churches of Galatia, that there is only one doctrine within His church. Paul rebuked them for their failure in understanding this when he said, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel." (Gal. 1:6-7) John echoed this same sentiment when he wrote, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2 Jn. 9-11) The church does not have legislative power to define the conditions of entrance, how her members will worship God, or to define His doctrine in the form of creed books, catechisms, etc. It is the Lord's church, not ours.

As the gospel began to be proclaimed in Jerusalem on Pentecost after Jesus' ascension to heaven, many responded to that invitation of forgiveness. On that occasion we find that "the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47) Notice a couple of important points here. (1) Those who were added to the church were people "who were being saved." It is obvious then, that the church is made up of saved people. This was the plea of the apostles, "Be saved from this perverse generation." (Acts 2:40) It was the question of greatest inquiry on that day; "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) It was the answer to the worlds longest standing query; "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38) (2) The other thing we must notice is that the church is not a world-wide organization that these obedient believers were "joining" as some have the concept of joining a club. They were being "added" by the Lord. As more became obedient to the gospel it is said that "believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women." (Acts 5:14) This "adding to" has with it the same idea of a marriage as ordained by God. Jesus said, "...a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." (Mt. 19:5) When obedient believers are joined to the Lord, they have entered a relationship with Him which is binding as that of marriage. In regard to marriage, Jesus said, "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Mt. 19:6) God does the joining together in marriage as He does the "adding to" the church.
It is said of these new christians that "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts2:42) It is also said that they "continued daily with one accord in the temple..." (Acts 2:46) Herein we see harmony and unity among the people of God as it should be. If you will notice, there was no "choosing the church of your choice" during all of this early growth of the church. Until you get to the eighth chapter of Acts, where it tells of the church being scattered due to persecution, there was no other church to be found except in the city of Jerusalem. If the saved were only those who were added to the church by the Lord, and if there was only one church to be found anywhere except in Jerusalem, would we be bigoted to say that the only people who were saved were the people who were members of the church that was in Jerusalem? Certainly not! But such would not remain the case as time continued.
As early as about 50 AD, there arose a conflict at the church in Antioch over some false doctrine that was being spread regarding circumcision. "Certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'" (Acts 15:1) That chapter records how the apostles and elders dealt with that problem, however, in that circumstance we see the beginnings of how error could influence those in the church.
About four years later, when Paul was working with the church in Ephesus, "And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God...some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude..." Therefore, "he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." (Acts 19:8-10) Christians traveling to Ephesus had at least two choices of where to worship, the synagogue where truth was not accepted, or the church that met at the School of Tyrannus. Here we see how truth draws the line that divides religions.
Some time after Paul left Ephesus to teach elsewhere, he passed by Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem. In that brief visit, Paul gave solemn warning to the elders of the church in that city, saying, "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves." (Acts 20:29-30) The introduction of sin would result in division.
When Paul addressed the concerns of the church at Thessalonica regarding a false doctrine that they had been led to believe, namely, "concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him...as though the day of Christ had come." (2 Thess. 2:1-2), he warned, "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition." (2 Thess. 2:3) The day would come when Christians would "fall away" from the truth. The result would be division.
Today we see the results of that falling away all around us. Thousands of varying religions pull in all directions as they vie for converts to their own faith, while encouraging people to "join the church of your choice." Consequently, people searching for the Lord's church end up "shopping" for religion.

The idea of "shopping" for religion is one that did not originate with God. As we have already seen, Christ promised to establish His church (Mt. 16:18) and in that promise it is evident that He is head over only one body. (Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:13-18) It has also been noted that the church is not to be compared to a pie cut up into sections representative of the many denominations. Such an arrangement defies Jesus' prayer for unity among His disciples (Jn. 17:20-23) as well as Paul's plea to the church at Corinth for unity as they faced the problem of division. (1 Cor. 1:10-11) The idea of denominationalism assumes that man cannot agree on spiritual matters and therefore has the liberty to differ while diplomatically overlooking those differences. This is the philosophy that has spawned the ever popular slogan, "join the church of your choice."
In the early days of the church, those who had become Christians were dwelling only in Jerusalem. "At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." (Acts 8:1) The apostles remained in Jerusalem with those who did not "scatter." In that seemingly distressing situation in which the growth and continuation of the church would seem doomed, we see the providence of God in allowing persecution to become the impetus to growth. "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word." (Acts 8:4)
As we have previously noticed, this persecution marked only the beginning of trouble for the infant church. Unlike the persecution from "outside" forces, the greater challenges would come from "within." As we noticed in Acts 20:29-30, Paul had warned of those who would cause division from within. He had also warned of a "falling away" (2 Thess. 2:3)
Peter echoed these same warnings as he pointed out that there had for a long time been "...false prophets...even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber." (2 Pet. 2:1-3)
Paul, as he dealt with the problem of division within the church at Corinth said, "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 in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1:10-13) Notice that Paul pleaded with his brethren "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." That should bring to mind Jesus' prayer for unity. However, the church at Corinth was becoming divided because they were not all "speaking the same thing" and they were following men rather than the teachings of God. Those things are the leavening influence of division.
Gradually, error crept into the church, especially in Rome. By the second century, during the reign of Constantine I, under which the church realized relief from the plagues of persecution it had been suffering under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire, we find that history records the coming together of ecumenical councils, the first of which was officially recognized by the Roman church in 325 AD at the council of Nicea. Many more such councils followed in which "church law" was determined, later to be canonized within five books known as the Code of Canon Law of the Holy Catholic Church. Within these "canons of law" we find laws forbidding marriage within the "clergy" (book 3, canon 1035-80) and the forbidding of eating meat on Friday. This was the fulfillment of Paul's earlier warnings as he wrote to Timothy, saying that "the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
In the adopting of these "church laws," we see repeated the same failures as those of the scribes and pharisees of Jesus' day. Jesus rebuked them with the prophetic words of Isaiah, saying, "...in vain they worship Me teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." (Mt. 15:9)
As the reformation movement began to heat up in the sixteenth century, such men as Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin and a number of others, earnestly sought to correct the false doctrines and practices of the Catholic religion. Because most of those early reformers tried to "reform" that which had fallen away instead of "restoring" New Testament christianity by using the New Testament as the divine pattern for the church, their efforts fell short in many regards. Mainly, the result was the establishment of several differing religious denominations which failed to totally meet the Lord's pattern.
Five centuries later, men are still in disagreement in regard to the ancient order. The plea of the reformer is no longer a call for men to stand against that which they know to be in error. Their call to arms has become a white flag of defeatism, a resignation of divine principle in favor of religious compromise, and the surrender of truth in exchange for human opinion. And the words of Paul has come to pass, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
As Paul reminded the church at Corinth, they, as members of the body of Christ, were "...God's building." (1 Cor. 3:9) The implication is that they were the result of the preaching of the truth of the gospel. He said, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:1-2) It was upon this foundation of truth that Paul had built, as he said, "...as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor.3:10-11) This is an emphatic declaration that the church is built upon only one foundation - Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that extreme care must be exercised by all who seek to "build upon that foundation." Notice the warning; "Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is." (1 Cor. 3:12-13) Inferior building materials (some different gospel. Remember Gal. 1:6-9) will result in the manifest judgement of that which fails to meet the divine blueprint. Not following the pattern is the seed of denominationalism and the consequences on those who are responsible for causing such division is evident.
Paul instructed those in Rome to "...note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple." (Rom. 16:17-18) From this warning we must not miss the emphasis on the deceptiveness of those who cause divisions and those who succumb to its purpose. It is the "simple" (those who are innocent) who become susceptible as lambs who can be "drawn away" by such "savage wolves." (Acts 20:29-30) Without realizing what is happening, these are easily drawn up into the deceptiveness of error and are lead away by those who depart from the faith.
Jesus warned of those who are "...blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into the ditch." (Mt. 15:14) Notice that both the leaders and the followers will suffer the same fate. This gives emphasis to the fact that "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted." (Mt. 15:13)
Division and its causes are a serious matter not to be taken lightly. Therefore it becomes the responsibility of those who are in Christ to be watchful, to stand in the truth, and not become participants of division by blindly following the lead of those who are in error. As Paul said, we should be "proving what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." (Eph.5:10-11) It is clear from Paul's admonition that we cannot take a passive view toward error and its divisiveness. This is in contrast to the typical attitude of those caught up in the error of denominationalism, whose stand is one of compromise. However, truth cannot be compromised! Such claims as, "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere" and "we are all are going to heaven, just by different ways," and yes, "join the church of your choice," are all exemplary of the deceptive and familiar ring of "unity in diversity." There is no unity where truth is compromised for that which causes division.
Those outside the body of Christ not only avoid anything that resembles "organized religion," but often speak reproachfully against such. It is a sad truth that, sometimes, those who are opposed to religion can see more clearly the hypocrisy of religious division (denominationalism) than those who are caught up in its web of error. They who watch from the outside are the victims of the consequences of division. Peter said it well when he pointed out the response of the world as it views the division that results when the unsuspecting follow those who lead in the ways of error; "And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed." (2 Pet. 2:2)
The light of Peter's words cast a long shadow that regrettably touches even the one true church for which Christ died. It makes clear the undeniable reality that those who do not know the truth, who fail to distinguish between that which is genuine and that which is (at best) only similar, do indeed "blaspheme" (maliciously speak against) the way of truth, confusing it as a part of all that which is error.
In the midst of such confusion, there is the comfort of knowing that "...the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His...'" (2 Tim. 2:19) While many, even within the body of Christ, look on in dismay, all must look to the pattern of God's word to know and recognize the church which is "of Christ" and faithfully remember Jesus' words in regard to sheep who follow their shepherd; "and when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (Jn. 10:4-5)
- Gary V. Womack - July / August 2003