The Root of Church Division is NOT Primarily Theological

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Church split for two reasons that have theological spin but not theological roots. We say that church split over instruments or over women’s roles. That is what brought tension to the system but the system wasn’t robust enough to handle the tension.

What is the root?

The first root, that I have been discussing relentlessly is that churches split over immature emotional systems. People don’t know how to handle anxiety. They don’t know how to handle it because they gave their anxiety to leaders and the leaders took it to “fix” the problems to relieve anxiety for people. That resulted in churches that had emotionally immature people in them with no tolerance for change. Theological issues pressure the system and bring these things to the surface.

The second root is just as important and that is how we read the Bible.

Is it a rule book? A guide? A love story? Is it normative? Authoritative? Do we read it looking to speak with authority on every issue? What about context and historical backgrounds?

What you go to the Bible to find will influence what you find. How we read the Bible is at the heart of our disagreement on any given theological issue. Combine that with emotional systems that are not robust and the ability to tolerate these theological discussions without blowing a gasket is minimal.

These are our root issues. Until we have more robust emotional systems and leadership and better ways to read the Bible we will continue to suffer the problem of division.

8 Responses

  1. “Is it a rule book? A guide? A love story? Is it normative? Authoritative?”
    Yes to all of the above.

    “Do we read it looking to speak with authority on every issue?”
    No, because a number of issues are not mentioned – but that Book does show us how to get to ways to live with different answers. But not in the way you might think, Matt.

    “What about context and historical backgrounds?”
    Some of us more than others, and some of us, more and more others, invent historical backgrounds and context.
    A while back I heard Dr. Ken Cukrowski speak on the topic of the role of women. He made it sound like there were whole new discoveries in the Biblical text that we had overlooked for generations. An oft repeated statement, “Well, but could it be that,,,”

    I read defenders of same-sex relationships, marriage etc. who tell me that the problem was not the homosexual acts in Genesis, but a lack of hospitality. That Judaism accepted same-sex loving, committed relationships, as did the the New Testament.

    I read in a publication written by faculty members of Abilene, OCU, David Lipscomb, Pepperdine, Harding Graduate School etc. that Luke did not write Luke/Acts, Paul did not write the Pastorals, Peter did not write what is attributed to him, John did not write the Gospel, letters or Revelation but that all this literature was written after these men died, by followers etc.

    I hear from someone that inspiration of the Bible does not mean what I always thought and believed it meant.

    So where does that leave those of us who do not have Dr. in front of their name? Why should I not be “anxious” about those developments?

    These are the things that show up in my everyday life…

    1. When you stand before God in judgment one day I can assure you the names of other people and what they believe won’t be put in front of you. That doesn’t make them unimportant and there are certainly efforts put forth to undermine certain beliefs – some of which were poor to begin with and need to be replaced but many of the beliefs were fine they way they traditionally and historically were understood. That is an important thing to be aware of. I take them on a case by case basis and look at the evidence for each to determine what I think, as I am sure you do as well. Sometimes I find my old view wanting and others times (often) I don’t.

    2. Unfortunately, the people who come up with the “new and better” way to look at the Bible are the ones who teach, and are respected – and immulated.
      Showing my age – I had Jerry Jones, Jimmy Allen, Jim Woodroof, Willard Collins, Colin Hayes, Alan Isom, Ed Sanders, Jack McKinney and such as professors in the distant past. Their knowledge and insights were helpful and challenging.
      But I did not leave school feeling that just because these (great) men said something, that it should not be questioned. I argued with Jimmy Allen about the death penalty – in class; with others about different things. And I was only 21 in those days…
      In the end, I was barely allowed to graduate. NOT because of poor grades, but more my “inquisitiveness,” (As I prefer to call it. This is maybe not the term used by the faculty came graduation time).

      Too many seem to have the idea that just because someone has an impressive set of extra letters behind their name, they “should know these things. After all, they studied this…”

      I trust my doctor, my dentist when they prescribe treatment. I know their professions come up with newer (and mostly, better) ways to treat patients. But when it comes to dealing with the Bible, that is not necessarily the case.

      For example, in the discussion around Inspiration. By taking all but THREE sentences away from Paul, the apostle, and deciding that Peter was not who he said he was, byt a pseudonym for a later author, I have taken two of the most declarative statements about inspiration away as far as credibility is concerned.

      If I take the gospels away from the commonly accepted authors (three of whom would have been eyewitnesses) and place them after their deaths, now I have lost the basis for the miracles as described. Because, after all, these were written by later believers to give Jesus more credibility.

      If we take the resurrection out of the Christ event, since it is only an attempt by others to give Jesus more street creds, what am I left with?

      Jesus is not worth following if he is not whom he claimed to be. Even when he is seen as an historical character, there is always the description by Schweitzer, “A poor, misguided man, who thought he was the messiah; but in the end,can do nothing but cry out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

      That, Matt, is what is causing me anxiety. This is what “our” professors ascribe to. This is what “our” children are learning from those who were trained by these professors, and who have become the “paid minister” in congregations where they ARE perceived as “The Specialist.” After all, that is what they went to school for…

    3. I don’t think people are so naieve as to accept everything that is told to them whereas people in previous generations weren’t. I think people have access to more information than ever before (not all of it good) and can look up all sorts of things to check for themselves and form their own conclusions in a way that is more readily acceptable now than it was when you were 21.

  2. My wife and I did volunteer work around the US and Canada for ten years. As a result we attended a large number of congregations of the Church of Christ. We experienced both extremes; those who had a limited ability to consider different thinking about the message in the scriptures and how we practice our beliefs, and a few congregations that were amazingly tolerant or the views of others. It was a real education just visiting over 35 congregations a year for 10 years. We found that we didn’t care for groups who continually dwelt in a negative way with teaching about God and on the other hand we deeply appreciated the positive approach when it came to making application of God’s teachings to the world we live in today.

  3. There is also a lack of peacemakers. Yes, some people keep peace at all cost but that includes running people out of churches and the faith, creating the “nones”. This was not the peacemaking that Jesus had in mind. Very few people have the guts to even attempt to make peace between the warring groups within a congregation, much less within denominations or Christianity. The first step to this would be talking to both sides and gaining some trust then moving to getting them to eventually agree to sit down at the same table. This though would be an amazing feat since the old table doesn’t have many seats and the room isn’t very big.

  4. There have always been dividers/divisions. Just look to Corinth and this division was over who baptized the person, which was basically a case of righteous superiority over another.
    They stopped seeing Jesus as the Way and started seeing other things as the way.
    After the Restoration Movement acts of worship within an assembly, which was a borrow from the Regulative Principle, became the standard for who was righteous, group-wise.
    But as you note it is largely emotional and even visceral. Just try to have a conversation with someone about musical instruments and then it becomes a heated debate by those defending its wrongness, despite the fact that the arguments are not used broadly in the scriptures to condemn other things and other people.
    In reality division say a lot about us and our pettiness and pride and almost nothing about the scriptures.
    The Law given to Moses was a rule book, but the N.T. is nothing like the Law of Moses and is grace based. The only laws that are actually listed as law are 1. Love God with all they heart/soul, 2. Love your neighbor as yourself and then 3. Jesus “Love one another as I have lived you”. And in fact the love is called the fulfillment of the law.
    Obedience to God wasn’t to be born out of law, but of love.
    While those in the Restoration movement made an attempt to step back into the past, they really stepped back too far past grace settling into the law of Moses.
    Ironically all of our laws on worship/service have to be cobbled together taken from loose examples and inferences, many times missing the obvious.
    Much anxiety is built upon going against the traditions that we have grown up with and that our relatives and friends still adhere to as we try to get closer to Jesus as the Savior and further from things/acts as our savior.

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