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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 Christ’s 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, God’s 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…" (KJV)

2 Timothy 3:16 – "All scripture is given by inspiration of God…"

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 Church’s traditions, reasonings, and experiences are not the sole product of God’s 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 … profitable for 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 experience.

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 Luther’s 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 man’s 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 it’s Phillip’s 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.

God’s 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 God’s 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.

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