“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12, NIV84)
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:1-2)
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
In 1997, while working at a web design company in Toronto, I became a part-time student at Tyndale Bible College and Seminary (formerly known as Ontario Bible College). One of the things that excited me about the school was that it was multi-denominational, with students from over 35 different denominations if memory serves me correctly.
A note to the non-Christian reader: Denominations are groups of Christian churches. Every evangelical Christian denomination agrees with certain core principles, in particular that God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins, who on the third day (known as Easter Sunday) rose again and now sits at the right hand of God. However, based on interpretation of Scripture, each denomination differs slightly in its way of thinking. For example, one denomination might believe that infants should be baptized, whereas another denomination might believe that people should make the conscious choice to be baptized. There are hundreds of different Christian denominations.
For me, a multi-denominational school was exciting, because I had taken part in a wide variety of church denominations, including Pentecostal, Baptist, Vineyard, Presbyterian, Reformed, Missionary and Alliance. Carolyn and I had also attended a couple of “non-denominational” churches, which are really just denominational churches trying to be sensitive to people who don’t want to be associated with a denomination. I feel that every Christian denomination that I’ve attended has something valuable to offer.
Wow, was I in for a shock! I’ve never seen so many so-called “Christians” rip into each other because of their personal belief systems. It’s like the entire school (or what seemed like the entire school) completely threw out the book of Ephesians (let alone Ephesians 4 which speaks to unity among believers) and created one of the most disjointed spiritual places I’ve ever been a part of.
Let me give you an example: Upon returning from missionary work in Papua New Guinea and Northern Ireland, Carolyn entered Tyndale Bible College. She was excited to go to school there because she felt it would be an extension of the missionary work that she had experienced overseas.
Many students sought to draw lines in the sand with each other based on significant man-made belief systems. In her first week there, she was asked which side of the line she stood on when it came to a specific theological viewpoint50, as if that viewpoint determined whether you were a Christian or not. Not understanding what they were talking about, she responded, “I’m a Christian.” Apparently that wasn’t a good enough answer. Again she was asked the question, “Which theological viewpoint do you side with?” Again she responded, “I’m a Christian”. The response: “We’ll convert you to our side before you leave here.”
At that point, Carolyn stepped away from the conversation. Later, she came to an understanding of the two different viewpoints and was given a bad taste for anyone who sided with the same viewpoint as the person who sought to “convert her” to their side. (This took a long time to get over.)
There are lots of Christians who disagree with each other on certain theological issues. I believe God shows us many things in His Word that can’t simply be broken down into black and white definitions. Such is the case when it came to the issue that Carolyn was faced with. Sometimes there is grey, and we have to deal with it.
Now don’t get me wrong. There were (and still are) a lot of amazing people that came out of Tyndale, some of them still on fire for the Lord. But the sad thing is that many of the people I met at Tyndale aren’t Christians anymore. And as a part-time student, who in many cases had the opportunity to look in from outside the circle, I boil it down to four destructive principles (with one core focus):
It amazes me how we’re all called to be part of the collective church (Romans 12:4) yet for some reason, we all think that our part is the greatest, and the rest of the church needs to somehow fall in line.
We need to get over our pride. We’re destroying ourselves and we look like fools doing it.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
One final thought on this topic. Some people have gone to the extreme and decided that they don’t need a church anymore and can somehow get by on their own, or that “their friends are their church”, or that “church on TV is a fine substitution.” Friends are great and there are some amazing speakers on TV, but unless you’re physically unable to get to a church, they are all just excuses that are completely removed from New Testament principles. Sometimes being part of a church isn’t easy; people can say and do stupid things. But that doesn’t remove your calling from being part of the collective church. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21) The church needs you and you need the church, whether you realize it or not.
Being part of a church that’s alive to the truths of Christ gives each of us an opportunity to be a part of something far bigger than we ourselves could accomplish. Sadly, when I look at the church and all the good that it’s doing, I see that it’s only doing a fraction of the good that it could be doing if people were seriously invested in it. Not one of us has it all together; we’re all broken human beings. But to be a part of the church is to be part of a force for good in the world. Jesus did not establish the church as fortresses to protect us from the outside world. He established the church as a place of refuge for all to come to Him.
We are not perfect. His church is not perfect. But God’s grace is sufficient for us, and His power is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
50 The question that Carolyn was asked was, “Are you a Calvinist or an Arminianist?” If you don’t know what Calvinism or Arminianism is, don’t worry, you’re not the only one! In its simplest form, Calvinism emphasizes God’s omnipotence, man’s depravity and the salvation of God’s elect by grace alone, and Arminianism teaches that God has given humans free will, and humans are able to freely choose or reject salvation. (Definition provided by Tim Challies—see “An Introduction To Calvinism & Arminianism”) You can find more information here: http://g7.gs/CalvArm.