We just left off in a discussion concerning the question of the proper and actual priorities within the churches of Christendom. Today, I would like to discuss the question of Church Identity within the divisions of Christendom and the lengths we Christians often go to to reinforce those Collective Identities.
As discussed in my previous segment, each Section and Denomination has employed its own doctrines and practice. Moreover, each of these denominations confess that a vast majority of these doctrinal distinctions go beyond mere personal or cultural preference; that they are in fact crucial to the eternal salvation of anyone who confesses fidelity to the Creator of Heaven and to His Son. (Again, let me state for clarity that the scope of this discussion is strictly limited to the doctrines of the Christian faith.)
So, if true, the question follows: ‘Of all of these sects and denominations, which one is closest to the True Church? Which one of them is guilty of Schism (breaking from True faith) or Heresy (standing against True faith)?
I have promoted the idea that many divisions among the divisions concerning eternal salvation boil down to questions of mere preference or priority. However, I would like to emphasize that there are indeed many things, such as Envy, Adultery, Lust, and Idolatry that are expressly declared in Scripture as Works of the Flesh and those who indulge in them are warned that “those who do such things will have no share in the Kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5.21)
I say then, that he who truly seeks to spread the Kingdom of God in this world ought to apply himself to rooting out these immoral behaviors rather than concerning himself with vilifying disparate Church Organizations. I have far too often heard people of the Faith say “he’s a good man, if only he wasn’t a Mormon,” or “if only she wasn’t Catholic,” or “a Baptist.” Those Christians who speak in such terms are indeed people of deep Faith, but such discussion does not exemplify Faith in God, instead it displays Faith in the Church.
The walls of our Congregations bear witness to what we would call “unchristian” attitudes and slurs if they came out of the mouths of another denominations preacher concerning our Church. And what’s worse, we can all attest to moments where we ourselves have dismissed or rationalized the less-than-pure behaviors of an individual because they are members of the ‘right’ Church Organization, but with that same forked-tongue delivered merciless lashings to those with whom we differ in Official Church Opinion. This is, in my opinion, unbecoming to the Name and reputation of a Christian and shows that such men and women have their Eyes and Hearts set on a more Earthly Kingdom than that of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now that I have firmly established the concept of Church Identity I would like to say something on the topic of reinforcing these Organized Identities. It seems strange to me that any human should feel fit, under the banner of Salvation, to use force to manipulate and compel another person to obey the Divine will of the Creator. This is particularly perplexing when I notice that the Creator, the One from whom we obtain any and all Just Authority to act, Himself refrains from using force.
Anyone who tries to use the force of Social pressure or Civil Law to conform Men’s outward behavior to God’s will without regard to the conscience of those Men’s hearts, may fill the Church to the rafters with followers, but their songs of insincere Praise will sour in the ear of our LORD and the stench of their unrepentant sacrifices will offend His nose. It is not Charity if our money is stolen from our pockets; it is not Righteousness if our hands are bound against the possibility of sin; it is not Love if we obey, because we are compelled to. We cannot honestly expect to convert those who are in error by forcing them to profess things that they do not believe, or by “permitting” individual sins so long as they are kept in secret and not allowed to tarnish our Graven Image—The Church.
It is therefore, quite surprising that those who contend to advance the true Religion of the LORD and the Church of the Savior would make use of weapons and tools that do not belong to Christian warfare. Why would the leaders of our Churches look to wield Civil and Social policing to enforce the Laws of Heaven when the Head of the Church Himself, the Messiah, rejected those tools when they were offered to Him? This Prince of Peace wielded command over all the Legions of His Father’s Heavenly Armies; yet, He sent out His soldiers to subdue the Nations armed, not with swords or other instruments of Force, but prepared with the Good News of Peace, with Exemplary Holiness in their Conversation and Examples (Luke 9.1-6). THIS was His method and we have seen throughout history that those whom embraced it found tribulation and grand success, and those who abandoned it met with tribulation and ruin.
Please do not misunderstand; I call for a righteous Society and for righteous Governance, but only by the People being good and righteous in their Hearts, not because they are forced to be by the Laws.
The Toleration of those that differ from oneself in matters of Religion and Church Affiliation is in such accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is so in-line with common sense that I find it hard to understand how the Adversary can so easily blind us from performing the proper Works of Christ’s Church with such petty rivalries.
Let us take a moment here to stop and catch our breath before I get too far ahead of myself. In this article I have been concerned with the idea that many Christians focus on their Organized Church Identity above their Individual Christian identity and the use of Social pressure and Civil Law to artificially enforce that Identity. In my next installment, I will discuss the proper use of Civil authority in regards to faith and the Wall that should always be maintained between Church and State.