As stated in the post above, I believe a simple, direct reading of scripture will show that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all held that there was significant room for doctrinal disagreement with in the unity of the body of Christ (I will give more examples later). It is important to note, the Church of the New Testament was full of a very diverse group of people, socially, culturally, politically, and even religiously. Yet they were bound together by one thing, their faith in Christ Jesus.
In the eyes of Christ and the disciples, the basis for salvation (a right relationship with God) was not in having a specific belief system, but in having faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith as defined in scripture is belief that results in action. Consider Christ as he heals the woman with the issue of blood, or as he called Zacheeus, or perhaps, think of how he spoke with the woman from Syrophoenicia. There was never a doctrinal quiz as to how they viewed the sovereignty of God, the place of women in the Church, or their escatological views. No, they were confronted with two basic questions:
Do you need God’s presence? (Repentance and humility)
Do you believe Jesus is God, present? (Belief and acceptance/acknowledgement)
The result was the Spirit of God transforming the very heart and mind of the person.
This is why Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus shared the basic truth evangelicals so proudly (rightly so) cling to:
- For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
So how did we get to a place where church splits (and institutional infighting) are more common than cooperation? A gnostic-Christian belief system has permeated the western Church. Whoa… you say – that’s quite and accusation. Just consider the facts. Ever since the protestant reformation there has often been a greater emphasis put on ortho-doxy (right thinking) than on ortho-praxy (right action).
I am very grateful to Luther and others who reclaimed the truth of the gospel in the church. However, many who followed after pushed for more than clear biblical truth, they demanded that their particular interpretation had to be the ONLY way. (This is partly why groups like anabaptists were so persecuted in protestant Europe). As Christianity came to America the lack of one state church (which I also appreciate greatly) opened the door even wider. In the United States new denominations were born at a dizzying rate, (one estimate says the world-wide count is 33,830. (2001 World Christian Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press) ) and then you have all the non-denominational churches that pop-up on every corner, proud that they are the ONE-TRUE CHURCH.
The modern, western, church is addicted to “knowledge”. There is the belief that salvation is tied to knowing and reciting the right declarations. So they comb scripture seeking secrets that will make them “better” and more in touch with God. They are convinced that their relationship to God, their ability to communicate with the creator, their ability to receive blessings from the Lord, depends on whether or not they have the right thinking on all topics. They forget they are saved by FAITH in CHRIST JESUS and not by having the best belief system. This is a form of Gnosticism.
The New Advent (Catholic Encyclopedia) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06592a.htm writes:
- The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition, based on the etymology of the word (gnosisgnostikos, “good at knowing”), is correct as far as it goes, but it gives only one, though perhaps the predominant, characteristic of Gnostic systems of thought. …Gnostics were “people who knew“, and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know.
And CARN (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry http://www.carm.org
- The word “gnosticism” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge.” There were many groups that were Gnostic and it isn’t possible to easily describe the nuances of each variant of Gnostic doctrines. However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.
Sadly, much of the church view their creeds as more important than they Christ Jesus they are supposed to represent
This results in a church that closely represents the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. In John 5 Jesus is confronting their lack of faith and inability to see that he is the Messiah, in vs 39-40 he tells them: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Has modernism created a church today that studies scripture, but fails to know the Christ?