Thursday, November 03, 2016

Peace And Purity In The Churches

All Christians need to seek the peace and purity of the church. This is no small task because sin has set peace and purity at odds with one another. Those who seek doctrinal unity or purity, those for whom truth is the primary category of faithfulness are often charged with disturbing the peace of the church because they meet with opposition when they teach or assert various unpopular doctrines. And those who seek peace, those for whom fellowship is the primary category of faithfulness are often charged with disturbing the purity of the church because they want to maintain fellowship and camaraderie at the expense of truth. The one trumps fellowship with truth and the other trumps truth with fellowship. Scripture, however, insists on both peace (or fellowship among the saints) and purity (or doctrinal unity among the saints). Paul addresses this issue in its fullness in his letters to the Corinthians. Note Paul's first defense of the gospel here in chapter one of First Corinthians. His first attempt at telling the saints what they need in order to manifest both purity and peace in the church is very interesting. He spoke of baptism because that was the issue of presentation. People had been dividing themselves into groups based upon their baptisms. They separated themselves based upon who baptized them, upon whom they had been baptized into. It makes a kind of sense. Baptism is a mark of entry into the church. It is a common belief that how a person got into the church suggests his or her position in the church. The Reformed camp certainly understands this. They argue that people are brought into the church by the power of the Holy Spirit through regeneration, and not under their own power or by their own decisions to join or to be baptized. That's why they baptize infants as well as confessing adults. In other words, if you haven't been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit -- which is a function of baptism broadly defined and not tied to the time of baptism, you are not really a church member, no matter what you or anyone else may think. Yet, as much as people hold fast to this understanding of church membership, Paul brushes the issue of baptism aside, suggesting that the act of baptism is not in and of itself a sufficient indicator of church membership. Baptism is not a magic action that opens the doors of heaven. Rather, it is a symbolic ceremony. The symbolism is important, but not so important that it should disturb the peace and purity of the church. So, Paul's first defense of the gospel is not baptism. "For Christ did not send me," said Paul, "to baptize but to preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 1:17). Paul will go on to say that the gospel is sufficient to defend itself, "for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Paul's first defense of the gospel is this, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (1 Corinthians 1:17). Paul tells us that worldly wisdom is not sufficient to make any judgments about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is saying that those who are wise in the eyes of the world are not able to think correctly about the gospel. And who are the wise in the eyes of the world? Professors, intellectuals, scientists, think-tank scholars, university scholars, news anchors, etc. There's nothing wrong with being a professor or an intellectual or a scientists or a scholar or a news anchor, and there is great need for Christians to occupy these fields of endeavor. The problem is that the tools of these professions, inasmuch as they are committed to the wisdom of the world -- that is to say wisdom without God, or wisdom apart from the light of Scripture -- will always fail to understand even the most basic things about God or Jesus Christ. They will always and consistently get Christianity wrong. Oh, they may stumble over a true thing now and then, but they will themselves fail to understand the fullness of any truth they come upon apart from Jesus Christ. Paul says it better, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). He means that Christianity will always look stupid to the world, to those who do not begin their thinking with the reality of God. How could it be otherwise? Those who acknowledge God and those who deny God have completely different understandings of the facts.

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