Friday, November 20, 2009

The Divide Between Goats and Sheep or I'm Not a Fan of Denominationalism

Assumptions allow us to agree together but prevent depth of understanding, thus a depth of connection. We too often accept both our individual limitations and the limits on communion among brethren as a function of our fear and/or pride. (It’s a double whammy but part of the truth of ourselves we must face.) We call these limits the fruit of our flesh, and trust then such is covered by blood. Does this reflect God's will on earth? I think not.

One of the great ironies of church history is that in attempting to determine exactly what the written word says--as a sincere act of service no doubt--groups have developed around particular interpretations of the Bible. We name this with the dignified sounding word doctrine, and begin separating from others over whether or not they believe as we do. In the name of God who says His disciples are known by their love, we divide the people for whom Jesus bled and died intending to redeem them into union with Himself and with one another.

In the pursuit of our doctrines to establish the boundaries of fellowship, we hold huge portions of brethren to be wrong and not worthy of fellowship.

In the pursuit of holiness, we hold to traditions which become empty of meaning in the ritualistic practice and leave people cold and heartless but approved as members of our particular doctrine club.

Further in the effort to avoid disagreement, we have carved out territories of belief systems, whereby we do not have to deal with individual differences--we have been bitten once too often with the deep teeth of conflict and want to avoid the emotional pain. Instead we teach, “Believe thusly and you will be walking in truth,” which reduces the Christian walk with God for too many people into nothing more than being in the truth as evidenced by holding forth the doctrine club’s spoken and unspoken social expectations and assumptions.

Consequently, the hearers of doctrine become a people who are not given instruction and support in walking in the nature of Jesus. (Note I am not describing those who are hearers of the Spirit of God and are mixed in with the subject of this piece. This is the goat and sheep dichotomy.) The word Jesus is often frequently given as the rationale for what is done and taught, but the Living Spirit of Jesus is not active in the hearts of those gathered under the conditions described above. Such conditions are to the detriment of all individually and the development corporately overall of groups who seek only to behave according to a tradition. The end result is a hollow spiritual fa├žade with little spiritual maturity in living out the nature of Jesus.

It has to do with how we see and hear. Ever wonder why God did not cause the Scriptures to be written from a more clearly developed outline, which spells out step by step how to live as a Christian?

Parables hide the truth from all except those who have ears to hear. The Scripture's meaning can be in plain view and plainly read, but is pieced together in revelatory wonder by those who have a heart for God alone and above all else. Thus are few taken out of all who are called to know Him.

(A corollary and needed essay is probably about what is The Doctrine around which Christians need to unite. That is another idea, and I need to get to work.)

Have a blessed weekend and a glorious reunion with others of like heart in joy and thanksgiving during the coming holiday. Don't know when I will post again!


postmodern redneck said...

Good to see you back, David!

I grew up in what was once called the "Campbellite" movement, which started in the early 1800s in the Penn/Ky/Oh region of the US (called "the West" at the time, "midwest" now). Alexander Campbell and his associates sought to shed all denominational traditions and return to the church shown in the New Testament. They did not scrap the church building (granted church meeting houses were not as elaborate in their place and time as they are now); Campbell and others tried to get away from paid local clergy. When I stumbled upon the modern house church movement a few years ago, I was struck by the similarities between what the moderns were saying and what the Campbellites were writing almost 200 years ago. I will say the HC movement is nicer about it; if you want to see some harsh criticism of the clergy, google "Third Epistle of Peter", a piece Campbell published in 1825 and was still to be found online a few years ago.
The sad part is, Campbell and his friends made some headway, but the second and third generations blew it: they got the idea that they HAD restored the NT church, and could sit back and wait for everyone else to wake up and come to them. They also went back to the use of paid pastors for every church. The movement later split into 3 main groups (with assorted subdivides in places) over first, instrumental music in church, (acapella Church of Christ) and later over liberal theology (leading to the Disciples of Christ denomination). (And most of the fighting was done by those paid clergymen!)

I still sometimes call myself an "unreconstructed Campbellite" because my views are closer to Alex's than most of those who claim to be his followers today.

I guess my point is that this line of thought is not new; it needs to be renewed periodically, because the mass of people keep falling back into "religion" and lose track of Christ. Can't remember where I first found it, but some wise person remarked that "The natural state of fallen man is legalism." And I'm afraid he was right.

So where am I going? I would say walk in the truth as well as you can see it, try to keep your eyes on Him so you don't get priorities mixed up, welcome fellowship with any you find on the journey, and walk in love with the people God has given you.

One last thing, and I think I wrote this on the Theological Musings blog a long time ago: Always keep a distinction in your mind between the actual words of Scripture, and the interpretations you and others put on them. Almost all the fighting is over interpretations; and unlike Scripture, interpretations are not divinely inspired and are not guaranteed to be inerrant. We need to hold them lightly, in case we find out later that our Lord does not agree with them.

Steve Sensenig said...

Very well said, brother. (Both of you, actually, as PMR's comment is spot on, as well)

I was just having a discussion with a friend about this very notion of division within the body of Christ. We think we're doing God favors when we divide from others, but I believe we are actually breaking his heart.

ded said...

postmodern redneck,

I've heard of the Campbellites. They were mentioned in a sociology class I took once. It is always interesting to discover someone in past centuries who speaks with whole streaks of like-concepts with issues we face today. Kind of brings meaning to the statement, "He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow."

Christians face the same truth and the inherent problems of walking that out no matter the moment or culture since Jerusalem in the 1st century.

Also, I appreciate the history lesson. I had it in my mind that DOC was a Methodist derivation.

Steve, thanks for coming over here to read; I know your life is very busy with family these days!! What a wonderful blessing you have.

Terry said...

After our "church" meeting this past Sunday I was talking with and older (than me) believer about what our group had discussed. It had been mentioned that most church splits had come about as a result of Christians not being able to find a place of unity with or understanding for brothers who had different doctrinal slants. That this lack had led to most church splits, etc.

Since we had both been a part of the same fellowship several years ago where differences were not lightly tolerated, she made the comment that the leadership had taken her and her husband's comments as threatening their own personal identity, rather than as attempts to dialogue about the state of church affairs.

What happened to them after was typical of that type of structure. They were "demonized" and put in time out until they finally left out of frustration and inattention.

This type of behavior played itself out over and over again for at least the 20 years I was a part of that group. In the end, it happened to me as well.

That we don't learn to deal with our differences in a constructive manner is a stain on the church that Christ died to birth.

I remember reading a quote from T. S. Eliot who said that he purposed to be conservative during his early years so that he could less staid and strict during his more mature years. Not exact but I think the point is well taken. We all seem to get to a place where we think that we know it all and anything different is perceived as a threat to our security and well being.

To embrace another human being as a child of God is not to say that we have to swallow everything they believe. I would like to get to a point in my life where I could have a Muslim family over for dinner and not have to say anything about what our differences are (though many): but rather allow whatever love God has for them to flow through me in a life changing way.

They will know we are His by our love for them.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

careyrowland said...

Jesus is not worried about our divisions. This is the way it has been since Peter and Paul disagreed about bringing the gentiles in; this is the way it will be until the Lord returns.
He said: "In my house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you so."
Get used to it. Furthermore, what Christians do when they're together is irrelevant compared to their fruit of the Spirit interaction with others in this world.
You need to lighten up. You're doing a great work in your chosen profession. Devote your energies to honing that precious role which God and society have assigned to you.
Forget the sniveling Christians who refuse to be herded into one flock. God will deal with them himself at the end of this present mess.
Let them stew in their own juices.
Speaking of gravy, Happy Thanksgiving, you turkey!

Patrick said...

Today I was driving down a country road near my home( there are many) and saw a sign that read, GOATS FOR SALE. Now I am aware that sheep are sold as well as goats , but this sign made me think about the price that is paid for a sheep as compared to a goat. Am I FOR SALE? On the open market? Are you? To the untrained ear a sheep and goat may sound the same. However, a shepherd , one who knows the language of his flock, can distinguish the differences and discern their needs. Does merely being in the pasture define your identity? thanks David.

ded said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ded said...


Yep, to know and walk in a deep love freed from human social boundaries and institutions is the point I think.


When the dynamics within the groups that do and must exist negatively affect the group within which one resides, the causes of division ought to be exposed and excreted.

This series is not really intended as an ecumenical panacea that brings denominationalism to an end. Rather it is simply a cry that we need NOT accept the limits of our theologies. There is a transcendant power, the power of love in the Spirit, that will transform our group if we will but submit in obedience to His leading.

To do so requires we abandon our assumption that the way things are is the way they must remain.

Hey Patrick!

Thanks for seeking me out over here in the Wild Wood.