Church History 2

My theory of theology is that Jesus and His Apostles got it right. Anyone who disagrees with what Jesus and the Apostles got right – is wrong. I know that sounds simplistic, but my view of Scripture is simple. I believe that God’s Word is what it claims to be – God’s Word. While the intricacies of Bible study are wonderfully complex and filled with great spiritual and intellectual depth, believing God’s Word to be what it claims to be is rather simple.

I am saddened by the various divisions that have developed within Christianity through the centuries. Jesus made it clear that He wanted His people to be united, even as He and His Father are united (John 17:20-23). That’s a pretty strong argument for unity and against division in the Church. In fact, Jesus said that the unity of believers would be how the world would believe that God had sent Him into the world – “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” Wow! That’s convicting. The Apostle Paul emphasized unity among Christians to the point that he said we should “endeavor, make haste, give diligence, make every effort” (spoudazo) to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3) Again, a strong argument for unity and against division in the Church.

What do you think about unity, or the lack of it, in the Christian Church today? How are we doing with what Jesus prayed to His Father? Jesus prayed for unity among believers, but Christianity has more than 20,000 divisions (some say it goes as high as 35,000). Do a search on Google or Bing or whatever your favorite search engine is for “how many christian denominations exist today.” You will get hundreds of thousands of results with lots of long lists of divisions within the Church. It’s pretty sad reading in light of what Jesus prayed to His Father on the night before He Sacrificed Himself for our sins. Jesus asked for unity – we gave Him a mess.

The Lord’s Supper is one of those points of theology that has deeply divided the Church. As we’ve already seen in this study, the only Apostolic writer outside of the Gospels to mention the Lord’s Supper by name was Paul. The reason Paul wrote about it was because it was part of the divisions (factions) in the Corinthian Church of the 1st century. Something that was supposed to bring them together was tearing them apart – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Other divisions among the Corinthians included spiritual gifts, sexual practices, authority and leadership in the Church, love for the brethren, and the resurrection of the dead. Even though many members of the Corinthian Church responded positively to Paul’s admonition (read 2 Corinthians), it didn’t take long for the Church to become divided about what to do with the Lord’s Supper. In fact, the seeds of division had already been sown – as we see in several of Paul’s letters (e.g. Judaism, gnosticism, etc.). Once Paul died those seeds took root in the young Church and quickly enveloped the thinking of Christians and their leaders.

One of the big issues for developing any theology from God’s Word is – what is God’s Word? The Bible I have studied for 40 years has 66 Books in it – 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. However, I’ve seen Bibles that have more than 70 books and some with more than 80 (e.g. Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Esdras, Baruch, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Enoch, Prayer of Azariah, Wisdom of Sirach, The Book of Abraham, Melchizedek, Epistle of the Apostles,  Gospel of Thomas, Letter of Peter to Philip, Secret Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Bartholomew, The Didache, Gospel of Mary, The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathaea, Gospel of Phillip, Hermas, and many others). I’ll spend more time on what’s behind this important difference in a future Faith Defense study, but accepting more than 66 Books as God’s Word is bound to lead to divisions within the Church. I readily admit that I teach from only 66 Books of the Bible – what I believe is God’s Word – so I understand why someone who believes that other books are also part of God’s Word might disagree with some things I teach. That, I believe, goes to the point of how important it is that we agree on what constitutes “God’s Word.” If I base my beliefs about the Lord’s Supper on what Jesus and Paul said about it (which I do) and you believe something different because of what you read in another book you believe is part of God’s Word, we are faced with a dilemma that can lead to division. We need to work through that. Unity is that important.

In our next study, we will move on to what changed about the Lord’s Supper after Paul’s death and how it has affected the Church through the centuries. In other words, why are we in such a mess about something intended to simply proclaim Christ’s Death until He comes?

In Christ’s Love and Grace,

Mark McGee

GraceLife Ministries

“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”