How is it that both Calvinist and Arminians can read from the same Bible and yet come to different conclusions? How is that premillenialist and amillenialist can come to the book of Revelation and yet come to completely different conclusions about what the book teaches? How is that the charismatic and the non-charismatic can read the book of Acts or the lists of the gifts of the Spirit and yet disagree on what is for today and what is not?
In the nearly 2000 years of Church history there have been 33,820 denominations that have started. While some of them agree more than disagree (for example the Pentecostal denominations of the International Pentecostal Holiness and the Church of God, Cleveland, TN are almost alike in every way except in name), the 33,820 all have started because of some sort of disagreement over Scripture, traditions, or leadership. Many independent churches also begin in the same fashion. The small church I attend begin just a year ago after splitting off another local church because of disagreement over leadership styles. By no means do I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is unified.
Nor are any other religions. Islam, for example, demonstrates its disunity in Iraq between the Sunnis and the Shiites. In the nation of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, you will find little unity as the Wahhabi’s battle all other branches of Islam (this is the religious belief of Osama Bin Laden). In Christian cults such as the Jehovah’s Witness or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), we again find no true unity as their have been many branches that have split off these groups as well. Therefore, unity does not necessarily define the truth.
Yet among Christians there is no doubting that there is little unity. Ephesians 4:4-6 or passages such as John 17:20-23 or 1 Corinthians 1:10 give us the impression that God desires unity among his children. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (ESV). Since the Bible teaches such unity, why is the Church so divided?
There have been others who have asked this question and many have tried to bring unity to the Church. For example, Alexander Campbell in the 19th century along with others tried to abolish the idea of denominations and simply call their churches, The Church of Christ. Sadly, Campbell’s movement (called the Restorationist) quickly begin to divide even before his own death. Today there are many branches within the Restoration movement. Others such as John Wesley or even Martin Luther would oppose the fact that denominations have formed around themselves.
So how is this disunity so prevalent in the Church? How is it that two people can read from the same Bible (same translation if you want) and yet come to different understandings? I believe the answer is this:
1. Man Is Sinful – Romans 1:18-25 establishes the reality that we all want to please ourselves. In many of the churches that have split, the problem was sin. Either sin in those who left or sin in those who stayed. Sometimes both sinned. Sinful humanity often wants to be right at the sake of ignoring the obvious. Politics are of this nature. Half the time neither the Republicans or Democrats are right but most of the time they are both wrong yet this is not obvious for those who are loyal to one or the other. Because we are sinners in need of salvation, our insight is limited. We are not perfect despite what Harvard would like for you to believe. Our ideologies often are so easily swayed by our flesh. How could normal people in Germany commit such crimes against others? Because we are sinners. Why is the Church divided? Because we are sinners!
2. Our Minds Are Limited – The Bible is clearly the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21) but this does not mean that it is always clear. This does not violate, however, the fact that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. It simply demonstrates that we are sinful people trying to figure out a holy God. Our insights are limited (John 20:31). We know in part (1 Corinthians 13:8-12) but we do have enough insight from the Bible for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). Nonetheless, we must not become arrogant that we have all knowledge. We don’t know everything! Because our minds are limited, we tend to major on what we know. Most of us know how to drive a car but how many of us know how it to fix our car when it breaks down? We are limited in our understanding yet this should not deter us from studying and seeking to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
3. We Like Those Who Agree With Us – We tend to associate with those we agree with. Most disciples of Jesus would not be found in Mecca except to evangelize. Most Democrats tend to avoid pro-life rallies. Most Republicans are not found at NOW meetings. Even in sports we tend to avoid those teams we dislike (such as Clemson fans). We associate with those who we feel agree with us. This is human nature. This is true of the Church. Arminians usually don’t attend Reformed churches. Calvinist rarely attend Free Will Baptist churches. The theology would clash. Contemporary music folks generally would not enjoy a Lutheran church service. We associate with those we agree with. This doesn’t mean that we are right. We could be wrong. But it does show that many denominations have come came forth because of the desire for unity, but we tend to be unified with those who agree with us and try to persuade others who don’t. One note: this is not the case with evangelism. We are not trying to win arguments (1 Peter 3:15-16) but to bring regeneration (Matthew 28:19-20). Salvation is not believing facts but salvation is through faith in a person!
4. Biased Exegesis – Here is where it gets tough. All of us read our Bibles with our own presuppositions. Me being Arminian, I tend to read John 6:37, for example, through the lenses of my Arminianism. My Calvinist brethren will read Hebrews 6:4-20 or 10:19-39 through their own Calvinistic lens. We come to passages on the baptism in the Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Acts 1:4-5) and yet Pentecostals would see one thing and the Reformed cessasionist would see something else. We tend to exegete passages based on our own presupposition. True exegesis is rarely found. We have disunity in the Church because we read the Bible with our separate lenses on. How do we begin to take them off?
By no means am I trying to attack the Church. I love the Church of God (Acts 20:28). I love being a disciple of Jesus and I love fellowshipping with other disciples. However, I know that I don’t know all things. I am persuaded that Arminianism is biblically based. This doesn’t mean that it is perfect. I don’t always agree with Arminians on all points. I do know that Jesus alone saves by his grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). I do know that it is my duty to spread the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word (Acts 1:8; Romans 10:14-17). I do know that the Bible is the Word of God and it alone is the final Word of God (Psalm 119:89). I do know that the Spirit of God indwells all true Christians (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13). But after that, I don’t know hardly anything at all.
[Link to original post and comments on Roy Ingle’s blog, Arminian Today]