What Causes Division in the Church?

There may be no failure so evident and so pervasive in Christendom over the last 500 years since the Reformation than the splintering of the Christian testimony into hundreds of sects founded on various teachings or following competing leaders. The failure is great because both the prototype and the principle of the church’s unity on earth were so pristine and ideal. There are few things more striking in the New Testament than the unity and love by which that prototypical assembly in Jerusalem functioned, as seen in Acts 2-15. How far the testimony of the church has fallen!

The Lord Jesus first laid down the principle of unity: “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21).  The apostle Paul provides an illustration to the Corinthians, who were perhaps the earliest to manifest divisive tendencies¹: “Now are they many members, yet but one body” (I Corinthians 12:20). Each heart that honors Christ as Head of the body cannot but be grieved on His account for the disunity of the Christian testimony. But an outward unity of the whole church of God, in testimony toward the world, is impossible for any of us to restore, no matter our love or zeal for it. Ecumenism is not the answer, for there will not be a maintenance of holiness or righteousness where the underlying reasons for the divisions and disunity are ignored and glossed over by men, since “God requires that which is past” (Eccl. 3:15; I Kings 12 & 13; Rev. 18:4-7). Neither is the solution to break away from an established group with problems in order to start our own independent assembly, perhaps with better intentions or nicer people, for it would leave us with just another division, and perhaps no more truth or unity.

So what then are the causes of the divided state of the church of God? Or what causes rifts in individual assemblies? All believers must admit in their consciences that there has been general failure in “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), and I would suggest there is a primary cause for the failure:  Reserving for oneself a right to choose one’s own religion or church. This diagnosis may sound strange to many believers, so allow me to explain further.

The words “heretic” (Titus 3:10) and “sects” or “factions” (I Corinthians 11:19, Galatians 5:20) are based on the Greek hairéomai, which means to prefer, or to choose². The sects called Pharisees and Saducees (Acts 5:17; 15:5) were results of the choices and preferences many Jews had made prior to the Lord’s first coming, and they bore similarities to denominations in our day. (Even the early Christians were called a sect, though they never considered themselves that – Acts 24:5, 15 and 28:22.) A heretic, or divisive person, is very often simply a Christian leader who draws saints after himself, perhaps by seemingly innocuous methods. Nevertheless, where pride of this sort is not judged for what it is, Corinthian sectarianism¹ bears the fruit of its disobedience just one more time in the church’s long history. Whenever we reserve for ourselves a “right to choose” our church affiliation or leader according to our preferences, we become guilty of sectarianism, and so at least tacitly approve of division in the church of God.

What is an earnest Christian to do if he or she ought not to choose a church based on preferences? The only scriptural principle of action when a believer is troubled about his religious or ecclesiastical associations is obedience. When Moses instructed Israel on the matter of acceptable worship to Jehovah when they would enter the land of Canaan, he addressed it as a matter of obedience to God, both as to the manner and location for worship. “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: but in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, there shalt thou offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee” (Deut. 12:1-14). The ramifications of obedience or disobedience to this command are seen frequently in the rest of the Old Testament. The old forms and location of worship do not apply to Christians, but the principle of obedience to the apostles’ doctrine does apply. Faith has no other operative principle than obedience.

A powerful example of an attitude of obedience to the Holy Spirit’s direction on how and where believers should meet for worship is found in Luke 22.  The Lord Jesus asked Peter and John to go on ahead and prepare the Passover, so that He could enjoy this memorial act of worship one more time with His disciples. They instinctively knew that it would be quite inappropriate for them to act upon their own preferences in finding a place, so they evidenced their dependence on the Lord in this question: “Where wilt Thou that we prepare?” He was ready with a clear answer in response to their sincere dependence upon Him, and the answer ought to speak to the heart of a believer even now, for it has a distinctly typical meaning. “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.”  In other passages of scripture, we find that an unnamed servant represents the Spirit of God, and that water is a picture of the word of God,³ so it should not be difficult to understand the typical meaning of the Lord’s answer.

Does the error of partisanship and exalting leaders (whether from the recent or distant past) trouble you? It is encouraging to see the occasional individual exercised in his or her conscience to leave a religious group whose tradition, geographical or cultural limits, and sometimes its denominational or congregational name,* attests to its divisive inception. Such repentance and separation from what dishonors Christ, coupled with a desire to obey the Spirit’s leading according to the principles of the word of God, will be honored by Him.°

Choosing a church, or preferring one Christian leader above another, is not the path of obedience and faith, for it effectively perpetuates the historical failure of the church in maintaining the unity of the Spirit. If a Christian who finds the religious scene confusing is obedient to the Spirit of God (who always guides according to the word of God), blessing and satisfaction in God’s will is sure to be its pleasant fruit.


¹   I Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3-6; 4:6-7; 11:17-20

²   As, for example, in Philippians 1:22, in a different context.

³    Servant: Genesis 24; Luke 14:17; John 16:13-15.  Water:  John 3:5; 13:10; Eph. 5:26

*   For example:  Lutheran, Calvinist, Mennonite, Hutterite; Zwingli, Wesley, St. Peter

°   II Timothy 2:15-22

“Limited Atonement” Examined

One of the tenets of John Calvin’s system of theology holds that the atonement made for sin by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross is limited in scope to God’s elect – those souls chosen by Him before the foundation of the world. Let’s take a brief look at that teaching of “Limited Atonement”, which is the “L” in the TULIP acronym subscribed to by “five point” Calvinists.

Believers take comfort and rejoice in the plain words of the Lord Jesus in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” While some Calvinists have argued that the “world” in this verse means only the elect (a strained interpretation of the Greek word cosmos), most Christians would agree to this: that God desired the salvation of the entire fallen human race, and that He sacrificed His dearly-loved Son in order to offer salvation to all sinners.  Sadly, all do not believe on Christ for eternal life.

Why does it matter whether or not Christ’s atoning work has all men for its scope? Because both the truth of the love of God and the integrity of the scriptures are at stake, as they relate to men’s consciences. We have already addressed the scope of the love of God as being toward the whole world; now let us take note of what the scriptures have to say about the atonement.

The man Christ Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all”, and “He died for all”, showing that all men were under the sentence of death¹.  What is helpful about this passage in II Corinthians 5, as it relates to the scope of the atonement, is that “they which live” (as new creatures in Christ) are viewed as a subset of the “all [who] were dead”. One could hardly make sense of a teaching that declares the word “all” within this narrow context to have two or three different meanings that are not coextensive in scope. But “they which live” – now there we have a group smaller and infinitely more privileged than the whole mass of mankind.

It is this smaller group of souls who have new life, and whose sins are washed away because the Lord Jesus bore them “in His body on the tree”². He suffered the wrath of a righteous God for the sins of all who believe on Him, and we see this clearly in Isaiah 53:5, 10-12. Peter refers to this remarkable prophecy when he quotes it: “By His stripes we are healed.”  This is usually referred to as the substitutionary aspect of Christ’s work, because He stood in as the perfect Substitute for all believers of every age, suffering for our sins because we could never bear the righteous judgment of God for them in order to stand in His presence as “holy and without blame” (Ephesians 1:4).

Yet at the same time the Lord Jesus was bearing the sins of believers, He was making atonement or “propitiation for . . . the whole world” (I John 2:2). In this aspect of His work, He purified the “heavenly things” with His own blood, an infinitely better sacrifice than ever was used to purify the earthly tabernacle.³  God has been propitiated (or appeased)  with respect to every sin ever committed against Him by members of the human race, so that He can reach out to man in mercy, without compromising His holy character (Romans 3:25-26; Psalm 85:10).

The two goats presented before Jehovah on the Day of Atonement provide a picture of this two-fold nature of Christ’s atoning work (see Leviticus 16). One goat was not enough to show in type how the Lord Jesus not only made atonement in the sanctuary for the totality of the sin and uncleanness of the people, but also acted as the sin-bearer, bearing confessed sins away forever. The first goat was Jehovah’s lot, and the effect of its offering was universal and general in propitiating God, providing a righteous basis for Him to be merciful toward all.  The second goat was the Scapegoat, and it took confession of sins and a transfer of guilt (v. 21) for the atonement to be effectual for the sinner.  Scriptures like Psalm 22:1-3, Psalm 69:1-9, Isaiah 53, and Matthew 27:45-46 show clearly how the Lord Jesus suffered under the judgment of God for three dark hours on Calvary for the sins of all of His own. Sadly, all who reject God’s mercy in Christ must suffer for their own sins, as shown clearly in John 8:24, Romans 2:8-9, and Revelation 20:12-13.

Believers on Jesus can know that He bore their sins, that He was their Substitute under the judgment of a righteous God, for they have by faith had their sins “laid on Him”. And they can have the comfort of knowing that for their unbelieving neighbors or family members, Christ is the Propitiation (Mercy-seat)* for all.  The offer of mercy and salvation ought never to be spoken of as limited, as though it had not the whole world for its scope. We have reason to speak of a definite atonement, or a particular atonement, for all who avail themselves of the offer of eternal life, and whose sins are borne away, but the infinite work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross should never be called a “limited atonement”.


¹   I Timothy 2:6; II Corinthians 5:14-15

²   Revelation 1:5; I Peter 2:24

³   Hebrews 9:23; Leviticus 16:15-19

*   Romans 3:25

The Voice of the Shepherd

Many voices clamor to be heard in our modern world.  With the advances in technology over the past century, broadcast media and (more recently) social media have made it possible for almost any forceful and persistent voice to be heard.  Add to that the fact that in most of the Western world the concept of freedom of speech is held in high esteem, and we have a social environment in which there is little restraint of either constructive or destructive, of either gracious or hateful, messages. As long as God is merciful in allowing the gospel of His grace and sound teaching to be disseminated via this array of media, much blessing is able to come by means of them to saint and sinner.

But there is also great cause for concern among faithful Christian teachers, evangelists, and pastors (shepherds). The world system is under the power of the “god of this world” (Satan), who seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers, so that the light of the gospel of Christ’s glory won’t shine out for their salvation and blessing.¹  Satan is not standing idly by and allowing the truth of God’s word to be faithfully preached and taught in its unadulterated essence. One of His many “devices”² in recent years seems to be to clutter the broadcast and social media space with a mixture of truth and error.

The Lord Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd, who would lay down His life for His sheep (John 10). In that same discourse to unbelieving Jews, Jesus spoke of His sheep as those who hear His voice and follow Him, all the while being known (and foreknown³) by Him. The Lord elsewhere spoke of Himself as the Son of God who quickens (gives life to) whomever He will among men, and with that comes the ability to hear His voice and enjoy eternal life (John 5:21-25). Any desire we have to follow Him as our Shepherd is a result of that new life within our souls. The necessary implication of that desire to follow the Lord Jesus is that we must be able to discern between the voices in the Christian profession that are misleading, as contrasted with those that are channels for the Shepherd’s voice, exhorting us to follow Him.

Nehemiah, an Old Testament saint with the discernment that accompanies spiritual life, refused to take the course of action recommended by one of his Jewish countrymen that professed to be a prophet. That act of going into the temple for refuge would have put him in a compromising and unscriptural position (Nehemiah 6:10-12). “And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him”, he writes, and we can take courage from that to refuse the voices and “prophecies” that will bring compromise, disobedience, and the “spirit of fear”.*

The truth that the believer in Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit allows for even keener discernment as to the truth or error of a teaching presented for our acceptance. “The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him” (I John 2:27).  God gives us teachers to help us understand the word of God, but we need only the Spirit of God to recognize the truth, which is embodied in the Shepherd’s voice (John 1:17; 14:6).

For a little help in understanding how a Christian can act on this principle practically in a fragmented Christendom today, I give here a few examples of religious teachings that do not bear the character of our Shepherd’s voice:

  • That believers in Christ will enjoy health and prosperity in this life as a result of their faith.
  • That salvation and eternal life come by doing good works, and are maintained by our efforts.
  • That miraculous signs or speaking in “tongues” is required evidence of new life by the Spirit of God.
  • That obedience to authoritarian dictates from the clergy or to church rules pleases God.
  • That God approves of recent reinterpretations of His moral standards (particularly with regard to sexuality).
  • That the act or the manner of meeting with other Christians is a matter of personal preferences.
  • That Christians have a duty to involve themselves in the politics and warfare of this world.^

Now the matter of our motives must be addressed as well in this regard. The Lord Jesus spoke these searching words: “If any one desire to practice His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is of God . . .” (John 7:17, Darby translation). How prone we are to falter in this exercise, even as believers!  But the Christian has no promise of discernment without this component to the life of faith: a desire to please God.

I do not deny the power of God in using His word to quicken and save a soul, even if presented in mixture with error.  But sadly, too much of what passes for Christian teaching is but an admixture of the truth with fleshly or worldly principles, catering to either the pride or lust of men, and the results can be destructive of faith. Those who teach Christians ought to call out this element for what it is.

Believers can enjoy something much better than a confusing cacophony of religious voices; we have the capacity both to hear the voice of the Shepherd, and to follow Him while enjoying His perfect gift of eternal life.


¹   II Corinthians 4:4

²  Or designs, or thoughts – II Corinthians 2:11

³   John 10:16,27,29

*   II Timothy 1:7

^   Scripture references addressing these false teachings will be given later in the comments section, or upon request.

Devaluing the Lord’s Table

Every Christian instinctively knows that he or she ought to value the things that God values. After all, believers have a new nature, a nature like Christ, so that the appropriate valuation of the things of Christ is normal Christianity. But most of us are so prone to distraction and having other things compete for our time and energy that normal and godly desires are only maintained and acted on with much diligence and discipline.

One realm in which this principle applies is that of attendance at meetings of Christians. Going “to church” but once a week for an hour on Sunday morning has become the norm for many Christians. Because of the lack of energy in spending time collectively in the presence of the Lord Jesus, many sadly miss out on the full enjoyment of  Christian experience and fellowship that can be found in the various kinds of meetings taught and patterned for us in the Scriptures.

Almost as soon as the assembly of God was founded by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the testimony of the scriptures is that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (teaching) and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).  It seems clear that the early Christians understood the value of each of these meetings, whether for teaching, for worship and praise, or for prayer.  I would suggest that they did not soon let the various characters of these meetings get out of balance in their corporate experience as saints. We find prayer meetings spoken of in Acts 4:24-30, 12:12, and 16:16. We know that teaching took place regularly in meetings of saints by reading Acts 4:31, 11:25-26, 20:7-11, and I Corinthians 14.  And of course, meetings for breaking bread by those purged worshipers were held often, perhaps even more often than weekly at the very beginning, as found in Act 2:46, 20:7, I Corinthians 11:17-34.

Let’s consider the meeting for breaking bread, designated in I Corinthians 11 as the Lord’s supper, to be enjoyed at the Lord’s table.¹  Many believers have the desire for and the privilege of breaking bread in remembrance of the Lord at his table on a weekly basis, normally on the Lord’s day. But there are several attitudes and practices, that if allowed and cultivated, will serve to devalue this precious meeting it our souls, to a level far below what I am convinced is the Lord’s valuation of it.

For more than 1000 years, a ritualistic Christianity carried on the early church’s tradition of observing the Lord’s supper at least weekly, or even more frequently, but sadly, the simple significance of the supper was lost and the communion of the blood and body of Christ became a ritual mass.  It seems apparent that the Lord’s supper at His table was greatly devalued during the Middle Ages, and it is likely that the lifeless ritual it became resulted in some segments of the Reformation responding by decreasing significantly the frequency of the “communion service”. Some Christians still make the case that an infrequent communion helps them avoid the danger of having it become routine, which would apparently foster an indifference to it or a devaluation of it in their hearts. But might not the unintended result of an infrequent remembrance of the Lord Jesus be rather just a devaluation of another kind? I leave this for individual consciences to grapple with.

Some of us have observed a regrettable trend among Christians who meet to break bread each Lord’s day, and also meet for prayer and teaching (ministry) on that day or other days of the week.  Among these brethren, the Lord’s supper and its frequent, fervent observance have been emphasized over many generations. There is no question that this is honoring to the Lord Jesus, and precious in His sight, as scriptures like Luke 22:7-20 and I Corinthians 11:17-29 show us plainly. But did either the Lord or His apostles intend that the importance and gravity of this special institution, this meeting of gathered saints for remembrance and worship, eclipse and render unnecessary the other meetings for which we have a clear pattern in the word of God? I trust that in the consciences of most believers there would echo an unequivocal “no” to this rhetorical question.

It takes real diligence and discipline to cultivate and maintain balance in our Christian lives.²  In light of that principle, I suggest that a lack of diligence or interest in attending and enjoying meetings for prayer and ministry, while maintaining the habit of attending the meeting for the remembrance of the Lord, may result in a regrettable devaluation in one’s heart of all of the meetings of the saints. There is a danger of ritualism in each of our hearts, perhaps even in the thought that there is something meritorious in partaking of the Lord’s supper. Far be the thought. May God continue His work in us by the Spirit, so that we might enjoy Christ in all of our meetings, for He so desires to be found often in the midst of His own³ while they look to Him and await His soon return.


¹  I Corinthians 10:21 and 11:20. The Lord’s table and the Lord’s supper have distinct meanings, but for purposes of this article, we consider them together.

²   See, for example, II Peter 1:5-12.

³   Matthew 18:19-20; 28:16-17; John 20:19-29

Predestination Misconception

During a recent Bible reading and teaching meeting in which the subject of God’s sovereignty and predestination came up, someone asked a question that might be paraphrased this way:  Are believers predestinated to be a member in a particular fellowship of Christians? It was a sincere and well-intentioned question, and thankfully there were others present who were able to clear up the misconception that gave rise to the question.

Scriptural predestination is neither fatalism nor determinism, both of which are hyperbolic “straw man” concepts set up by some teachers in order to detract from the real truth of the complementary doctrines of election and predestination.  The principle of the flesh in man (including fleshly religion) does not care to receive or attain to anything that it has not worked for and achieved by its own effort, and therefore doubts or downplays God’s sovereign electing and predestinating grace.

The Bible gives us the truth of predestination in two passages.  “[God] has chosen us in [Christ] before the world’s foundation . . . having marked us out beforehand (predestinated) for adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5 Darby translation).  “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). The blessed truth is that God marks us out beforehand as individuals for the dignified position of sonship that He brings us into. The consummation of our adoption as sons of God will occur when our bodies are redeemed and we are fully conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:23, 24, 29), but we have already been given a “spirit of adoption”. We who are Christ’s own can actually know even now in our spirits¹ that we will certainly experience that final aspect of our adoption to sonship, which is the redemption of our bodies. A destination is at the end of either a journey or a process, and we have simply been marked out for that “destination” of sonship beforehand, so that we can already live in the conscious enjoyment of it!

But what about the intermediate steps of the journey, of the pathway of faith? Are those ever spoken of in the word of God as being determined beforehand?

There is one sovereign act that the Spirit of God does in us by the Word² of God, according to His own will, and in which neither our will nor inclinations had a part. It is new birth, or quickening (John 1:13; 3:1-12; James 1:18). Before that point, we operated entirely according to our own will and desires, according to the spirit of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-3). When once we who were spiritually dead sinners are born again by His sovereign choice and will, God continues His work in us, using whatever internal promptings or external circumstances He chooses in order to facilitate our desiring and then doing His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 3:10). Some might call this joint work “synergism”.

The work of the Spirit of God in quickening a soul by the Word² is a perfect work, in that an incorruptible, sinless life or nature is imparted to one who was once only a willful sinner (I John 3:9; I Peter 1:23, 25). But after that point in a new-born soul’s life here on earth, the level of conformity to Christ and the progress of growth in the soul are dependent upon the believer’s cooperation with the Spirit, upon obedience to Him. God now has the new nature to work with, but the extent to which the believer allows the flesh (the old nature) to act determines the spiritual progress he makes, as well as the amount of fruit he or she bears in this life while waiting for the Lord Jesus to call believers home. Only then will perfect conformity to Him be attained.³

When we who are Christ’s at last realize that glorious destiny, there will be rewards given out for faithfulness, including what the scriptures call “crowns”.* The Bible does not teach the deterministic or fatalistic notion that every deed done over the whole course of our lives was predestinated to occur just the way it did.  However, the very fact that we will even be there with Christ in glory to receive any reward is solely because of God’s unilateral, sovereign work in quickening our souls so that faith and fruit for Him can result. Our Father so much desires that His children bear fruit for Himself as a result of the atoning sufferings of His Son on the cross of Calvary (Isaiah 53:11-12), that His work in our souls by grace, and His control of our circumstances according to His mercy, will continue until the day of Christ. In that day of the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the “revelation of the sons of God,” I believe that you and I will look back with wonder, and praise Him alone for His sovereign grace in shepherding us all our lives long until that day.º


¹  His Spirit bears witness with our spirit as to our place in God’s family. (Romans 8:16)

²   Logos in Greek

³   II Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:10; 4:13, 30; I John 3:2-3

*   Matt. 25:23; II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; I Pet. 5:4; II Pet. 1:10-11; Rev. 3:11; 4:10

º   Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28; Genesis 48:15 (Darby translation)

Blessed Are They Who Mourn

King Solomon, by his great wisdom in discerning the true condition of man, wrote that “it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting” because of the life lessons that may be learned there. He goes on to say that “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth,” and then he ends this short meditation in Ecclesiastes 7:1-6 by classifying as vanity (or emptiness) the “laughter of the fool.”

The Lord Jesus, in what are commonly called the “Beatitudes”, pronounced them blessed “that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).  The Lord in other places spoke of the joy that ought to be the believer’s portion, and so does the apostle Paul,¹ but there is no contradiction here. The mourning of the disciples would be extreme when they saw Jesus crucified and buried, but the weeping and lamenting would turn to irrepressible joy upon His resurrection (John 16:20-22). Normal Christian experience calls for both mourning and joy in their seasons, and I believe we can go so far as to say that these godly sentiments may be experienced almost simultaneously by the believer. An old hymn puts it this way: “With joy and sorrow mingling, we would remember Thee”.

There is a danger in not mourning when that is called for, when that is the only appropriate response to a matter, according to God. The Corinthians were rebuked for not mourning over the sin that was going on among them in plain view of the world, which brought shame to the name of Christ and stood to defile the assembly if not addressed in a timely and godly manner.²

What are some causes for mourning in our world today? Permit me to list a few here. It is fitting for the saint who trembles at the Word of God³ to mourn:

  • For all of our personal failures and sin against a holy God (James 4:1-10);
  • For all the dishonor done to the Lord by ourselves and our countrymen (Zechariah 12:10-14);
  • For our failure in maintaining holiness and love in the church of God (II Corinthians 7:6-11);
  • For the rampant slaughter of innocents throughout the world, born and unborn (Matthew 2:18);
  • For the lack of truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1-3);
  • Because ungodly, unrepentant men and women are dying and going to hell for their sins (Ezekiel 31:13-18).

This is merely a partial list with a few references, but I trust it presses upon each Christian the need for mourning while we are in this “present evil world”.  Satan uses the things of this world to entertain and distract believers, seeking to lull us into complacency with respect to the sin and death that the Lord Jesus Himself mourned over while in the days of His flesh (Luke 19:41-46; John 11:35).  But for the saint who seeks to walk as Jesus walked through this world, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Only when all the enemies of Christ are subdued, and that “last enemy”, death, is forever destroyed, will the need for mourning in this world, in accordance with God’s thoughts, be gone (I Corinthians 15:24-28). Do not despise or neglect the privilege of mourning now as a Christian, in fellowship with your Savior.


¹  Philippians 3:1 and 4:4     ²  I Corinthians 5      ³  Isaiah 66:2

The Imperative of Sound Doctrine

In his final epistle, the apostle Paul advised Timothy of a day when Christians would not endure sound doctrine, or teaching (II Timothy 4:3-4). Fleshly motives would cause them to “turn away their ears from the truth”, and the result would be that they would wander off into myths or fables. With the diversity of teaching in the various denominations in Christendom today, and with many of these doctrines in contradiction to each other, a fair mind must come to the conclusion that there are plenty of fables mingled with truth. Sadly, it seems that tolerance of false or contradicting doctrines is becoming more common in Christian churches, and emphasis on sound (healthy) teaching is becoming less common.

Sound doctrine, also characterized as “good doctrine” in I Timothy 4:6, is that which honors God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no room for man’s pride or lusts in the “doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10), and any “wind of doctrine” by which Christians are “tossed and carried about” (Ephesians 4:14) will always cater to and glorify man in one way or another.  Sound doctrine glorifies God in Christ, period.

There are churches and Christian leaders who may be well-intentioned in their emphasis on Christian living and practical brotherhood at the expense of an insistence on doctrinal integrity and truth, and they have their reward. The Lord can use any effort of true faith, any desire for His glory, no matter the compromise or mixture He finds in a group of Christians. “The Lord knoweth them that are His”, we are thankfully assured of, but on the other hand, the responsibility of everyone who names His name is to “depart from iniquity” (II Timothy 2:16-21).  It is clear from the context of that warning that false doctrine is a manifestation of iniquity.

Now someone might ask: “Is there a list of Bible teachings that are so important they should be defended even to the extent of separating from others who contradict them?” Another person might wonder: “Is there a danger of sectarianism when we insist on doctrinal purity at the expense of fellowship with other sincere Christians?” Rather than answering those questions directly, I suggest we look at several principles that are key in the preservation of sound doctrine to the glory of God.

  1. Doctrinal integrity is eminently important to Christianity.  It is even more critical than any amount of good teaching on practical Christian living. Sound teaching as to the glorious person and the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ must be maintained in the house of God, the church, the pillar and base of the truth (I Timothy 3:15). Any compromise here brings dishonor to God, and for that reason alone, a heart that seeks His glory should separate from and shun false teachings that detract from the person and work of Christ.
    For example, one should not tolerate teaching that speculates that Jesus could have sinned, extrapolating that error from the fact that He was tempted while on earth. He went through those tests to prove that He was “pure gold” as to His sinless nature, and not because there was any question about it! Those temptations proved He was “without [innate] sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Furthermore, He “knew no sin” (II Cor. 5:21), for “in Him is no sin” (I John 3:5). If the assembly does not jealously guard Christ’s glory here, and in other similar points of doctrinal contention, they give up the true Christ for “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4), and further corruption is sure to follow.
  2. The apostles’ censures and arguments tell us much about the teachings they insisted upon.  Many Christian leaders and groups promote unity, relationships, godly living, and other good and noble values over doctrinal soundness, and some even go so far as to admit their belief that “doctrine divides”, because they lament sectarianism in Christendom. But sectarian strife is very often the result of pride and worldliness, not doctrine, and in those cases where Christians have separated from each other because of false doctrine being brought in, the Lord has allowed it in His discipline of His household.¹

    Paul and John were very clear in their censures of teachers of false doctrines.² Were these heretical teachers allowed to continue on in fellowship in the church for the sake of unity, or for fear of division? Should anyone have pleaded for tolerance so that long-established personal relationships could remain intact? It almost goes without saying that the answer to both questions is a resounding “No”!

    Paul’s arguments in defense of doctrinal truth are evidence of a brilliant mind, but we know they are according the mind of God, who inspired Paul’s writing. When Paul sets forth the truth of imputed righteous without works, when he declares the believer to have been predestinated by God and therefore eternally secure, when he defends the central truth of the resurrection, and in several other cases,³ he proceeds logically through an argument and reaches a conclusion that the spiritual man readily receives. Those who argue for a type of works-righteousness, or who promote a conditional security, or who superimpose humanistic reasoning on fundamental Christian doctrine, must do so by taking verses or even phrases out of their contexts, setting them against the truth that Paul so eloquently and methodically presents.

  3. There is scriptural guidance on how the truth is to be taught and passed down to future generations.  The truth was not intended to be learned in a sectarian seminary and taught exclusively by an ordained clergy or ministry. When human arrangements are employed to designate teachers in Christian assemblies, it interferes with the line of accountability from the servant directly to his Lord, and opens the door for unsound teaching.*  It may take years or generations for these human expediencies to have their deleterious effects.The pattern outlined in the scriptures is that men who learn the apostles’ doctrine among many witnesses (in an assembly setting) should pass along that truth to faithful men, who will be able to teach others in turn (II Timothy 2:2). Ministry ought to be “as every man has received the gift”, and that gift cannot be given or constrained by men or their systems. Moreover, “if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability that God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever” (I Peter 4:10-11).  Sound doctrine is best preserved through methods that do not interfere with the work of the Spirit in using whomsoever He will to minister the truth.

Maintaining sound doctrine was never presented to the church of God as an optional exercise, but always as an imperative, if saints are by any means to be “rooted and built up” in Christ, and established in the faith (Colossians 2:7). It is true that sound doctrine may be held with a legal spirit among Christians, and this is much to be guarded against. Only if Christ is the object of the heart will this pitfall be avoided. May He be the source of our enjoyment and our motive for contending for the “faith once delivered to the saints”.

¹  I Cor. 11:19; I Peter 4:17; I John 2:19; I Kings 12:24

²  Galatians 5:12; I Timothy 1:19-20; II Timothy 2:14-26; Titus 3:10; II John 10

³  Romans 4; Romans 8:28-39; I Corinthians 15; for other examples see Romans 9 & 11; I Corinthians 11:1-16; Galatians 3-5

*  See II Timothy 4:3-4, contrasted with Ephesians 4:7-16