There are more than forty thousand versions of Christianity worldwide. Many are the size of a single building, but a few are gigantic: the Catholic Church has 1.2 billion members, and the United Methodist Church alone has more than twelve million members worldwide. Most of the differences among denominations are minor, but they are enough to convince many devout Christians that hell yawns before many other devout Christians. And this awful fracturing continues apace! A decade ago there were about ten thousand versions of Christianity. Who can guess how many more there will be in another ten years’ time?
This endless splitting-apart of Christians over doctrinal disagreements has a long history. Among the earliest followers of the Lord’s Way, differences of opinion about even core details were peacefully allowed, so long as the Lord’s teachings were followed. But then came the Council of Nicaea in 325, and six more councils over half a millennium, all of which codified the Lord’s Way into just one set of acceptable beliefs. This newly unified Christian religion then abolished all of what it considered to be heretical ideas, and often in horrific ways.
The most recent major rift in what Christians still call the Body of Christ occurred early in 2019. The United Methodist Church is the largest mainline protestant denomination in the United States, and it has fallen into bitter disunion over the issue of homosexuality. At a meeting meant to heal the rift, those who wanted to allow the ordination of homosexual clergy and the legalization of homosexual marriage were voted down, so now a split seems inevitable. It was delegates from developing countries who killed the idea of accepting homosexuals. Jerry Kulah, the head of the UMC Africa Initiative, was delighted to say, “I’m happy to go back to old ladies and old men in villages who received the Bible from missionaries and let them know that the Bible hasn’t changed.”
“The Bible hasn’t changed.” Once again, the Old Testament was used to beat down the Lord’s central message that God’s Law is love. To this day, devotion to the Old Testament is allowed to further split the Body of Christ, even though Jesus Himself freed us to throw the Old Testament out the window! When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (MT 22:37-40).
So Jesus told us two thousand years ago that He was giving us God’s new revelation that every rule and law in the entire Old Testament must be seen as subservient to God’s Law of Love! Yet Christians still allow this endless splintering, even though as Jesus prepared His followers for His crucifixion He prayed that we would remain forever united in perfect love. He said to God, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (JN 17:22). To His disciples He said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (JN 13:34-35). One wonders whether these essential words of Jesus ever have been read by any leader of the now forever disunited United Methodist Church!
The primary reason for this ongoing splintering of Christianity is the fact that some denominations persist in claiming that the whole Christian Bible as it was first assembled almost two thousand years ago is still and must forever remain God’s Inspired Inerrant Word. As a result, Christians will insist to you that their religion must forever condemn homosexuality because the Old Testament says, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death” (Lev 20:13). But the Old Testament is full of such outmoded nonsense! And in fact, even the most Bible-obsessed Christians feel free now to ignore many of the worst Old Testament laws. For example, if a girl is taken to wife and found to be not a virgin, “then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death” (Deut 22: 21). And if a son is rebellious, “then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death” (Deut 21:19-21). When you ask Bible-believing Christians why they aren’t stoning their rebellious sons and their daughters found to be not virgin, they will tell you those laws no longer apply. So why then is the law against homosexuality still so strictly enforced? The only difference that I can see is that stoning people to death has for quite a while been a violation of civil laws, while until very recently the shunning of homosexuals was an accepted social norm. And if that is what makes the distinction, Christians, then Jesus is saying to you now, “You hypocrites! Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (MT 15:7-9).
I don’t know how much clearer Jesus could have made His core revelation from God that religious laws are no longer inviolate. Repeatedly He broke the Sabbath laws, insisting that love is more important. “Have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (MT 12:5-8). And Jesus despised religious traditions! “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men… You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (MK 7:8-9).
At the root of this ongoing Christian fracturing is Bible-believing Christians’ refusal to confront one core question.
DOES GOD HAVE THE RIGHT TO GIVE US NEW REVELATION?
For those who insist that God gave us His final word two thousand years ago, it is past time to face this issue frankly. Is there, or is there not a still-living and all-powerful God? And just how clearly must God speak before Christians will listen and obey? Jesus tells us plainly in the Gospels that He came to replace the Old Testament laws with God’s new Law of Love. But then of course the old religious culture still remained strong in people’s minds, so after the Lord’s crucifixion God reinforced His new Law of Love by channeling through the Apostle Paul this extraordinary message that puts God’s Word as plainly as it ever could have been said!
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1Cor 13).
If you doubt this passage was divinely channeled, just look at what comes before it and after it! All churchy blather, then a quick transition: “All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way” (1Cor 12:29-31). Then after the miracle of 1Cor 13, Paul goes right back to talking about the same tongues-and-prophesy gibberish that God’s channeled message has just decried: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1Cor 14:1-4).
God’s direct Word was shoehorned into human ignorance here, without question!
A God Who cannot give us new revelations as we grow beyond speaking, thinking, and reasoning as spiritual children is not a God worthy of our worship. And the genuine God Who is all that exists revealed to us two thousand years ago through the ministry of Jesus Christ the fundamental truth that love is all! When we needed to have that truth reinforced, God channeled it again through the Apostle Paul.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22). If Christians will not unite in obedience to God’s revealed Law of Love, then Christianity will continue to die this dismal death of forty thousand cuts. Then soon, at last, those who follow Jesus will come together and begin to share God’s Law of Love with all the world!
Church photo credit: cattan2011 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/68166820@N08/40738628023″>Cherry blossoms, Saint Michael on Greenhill, Lichfield, England</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>