Points to Ponder: The Creeping Crud of Carnal Christianity
Points to Ponder
The Creeping Crud of Carnal Christianity
There was a time in the history of humankind when everyone got along. According to the Bible, when God saw how well people were working together and communicating, He said this was not a good thing. Right after the Flood, the scripture says "the whole earth had one language and one speech." They started to build a tower for the purposes of making a name for themselves (Genesis 11:1-4).
"But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, 'Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech' " (Genesis 11:5-7).
So God scattered the people all over the earth.
Aren't we supposed to get along, to love our neighbor, to work together? Yet in this account of ancient history, God Himself created the languages and geographical divisions. Seems rather "unGodlike," doesn't it?
Communication barriers, misunderstandings, and breakdowns do lead to conflicts, from personal relationships resulting in divorce to international relations which bring about wars. In church we find the same situation. Paul calls those involved in the divisions "carnal" Christians. He rebukes the Corinthians for this:
"... for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (I Corinthians 3:3).
Paul called the Corinthians carnal because they practiced a sort of denominationalism, each one claiming to be part of a certain group under a certain leader. "For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another 'I am of Apollos.' are you not carnal?" They should have come together as one in and by the Holy Spirit who dwelt within each of them; but they stepped down to a lower standard. Their unity was focused on a person, a name, a human relationship. This naturally caused each of these little groups to become social circles that excluded others on the basis of denomination, literally what name they were under. Division, envy, and strife inevitably arise. Peace on earth can never come from the earth. In our feeble attempts to do good as we see it, we start to make a name for ourselves "to the glory of God and in honor of US."
In a sense, I have found that some modern denominations - and even some nondenominational churches - seem to be building their own Tower to heaven. They have one language and one speech among themselves and they build their tower of works, programs, and political agendas to make a name for themselves. They may do it in the name of Christ, but is it His name that really compels them? I also have to check myself on that score as well. How easy it is - even exciting - to do godly things with a secondary regard to God. Envy, strife, and divisions; these are the outward signs of an inner carnality. A cause greater than ourselves should unite us. If it is of ourselves, then whose glory is it we seek?
What are you really excited about right now? Is there some project or goal that has become an obsession for you? It's a good thing, but is it worthy of the energy and priority status you've given to it?
Likewise, is there something that really riles you up? Is it really essential to the greater cause of God's glory or is this thing all about you? I mean, really?
Certainly you've heard the classic stories about people fighting over the color selection of church carpeting. People have left churches over lesser things. Ever since I began pastoral ministry, I've made mistakes, both major and minor (usually without realizing it at first); but little things can become big things if we allow it. And who benefits from that?
One man sitting in back of the sanctuary pulled me aside one Sunday morning to complain that my wife never comes back there to greet him (usually she'd sit up front). I said, "Well, go up there and speak to her." Come on now, if something's bugging you that you feel isn't right, go fix it for God's sake!
Ah, for God's sake. Isn't that what it's all supposed to be about? I got to wondering if God confused the languages and created the divisions back then so that we would have to be intentional about overcoming what divides us. We would have to rely on Him in order to do better at being us. Then the superficial stuff that leads to envy, strife, and divisions would be successfully overcome because we are drawing on a deeper source within ourselves. But we have to let Him into our hearts to accomplish that.
Strife, divisions, and goofy stuff tend to rise to prominence in a body of believers that has lost sight of why they are a body and for Whom they have come to be that body.
Buildings and programs are not the people of God any more than your house or your apartment is what make your family a family. There is something deeper that binds us, that overcomes the differences, the quirks, and the confusion in our languages. It is humbling and necessary to remember that it is not God who needs us, but it is we who need God. That must compel us to extend ourselves beyond ourselves to the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).
Just as God took down Solomon's temple, and later its successor, when these ceased to glorify His name, He can do likewise to any man-made thing or organization.
For whose name and glory are you building or doing, or being?
"For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord. . . . I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord" (Zephaniah 3:9, 12).
The meek and the humble; these will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) and be empowered by the abundant grace of God. (James 4:5-6; I Peter 5:5) to do that which is truly of God.
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com