“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, NASB95)
After walking away from these verses in the last post I began to think about how we as Christians deal with conflicting understandings of what God’s Word says in some areas, and where lines might be drawn and conflict might occur in our walking with others in the body of Christ who might not understand some things as we do. One significant area of difference in this regard is over the issue of the continuance of sign gifts and particularly over tongues and ecstatic prayer.
Thinking about this my mind was drawn back to a question I had to answer nearly forty years ago when I attending a church in which strong warnings were bring given from the pulpit about associating with “charismatic” Christians. As I sat under the teaching I became increasingly uncomfortable not with the theological understanding on the issue because I actually agreed with it, but with the position taken urging us not to associate with others who understood this issue differently. I had to ask myself if these others truly were Christians, and if they were, was the priority of oneness of Spirit somehow greater than our inability to come to agreeable terms in our understanding of what God’s Word had to say. The conclusion I came to is that they did indeed come to Christ in the same way as I, and I would have to trust God with sorting this out. While I may not attend the same church with these believers, and I may not agree with them on this biblical issue for what I believe are sound scriptural reasons, I did have to acknowledge that they were my brothers and sisters in Christ united into one body (the church) by the Spirit given us both.
Over the years I came to realize that there are other such areas of unmatched understanding such as whether or not there will be a rapture of the church and what to expect concerning the end times. I use the term unmatched because I believe with all of my heart that God’s Word is complete as He intended it and sufficient for our instruction in Him. But as we look at it and study it we, in our humanness, somehow come to places where to do not match in our understanding of what God intends. My response to this, though, is not to throw up my arms and give up, but to go back to His Word, continue to study it, hide it in my heart, and to ask the Spirit to give me a proper understanding so that I might handle it properly and respond with godly integrity.
Up to now we have dealt with those who believe the same gospel and are united in the belief that the Father sent His Son to die for our sins, to be buried, and rise again on the third day as our only means of salvation such that there is salvation in no one else. This is the foundation in which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, and upon that foundation there are also other non-negotiables learned from Scripture which form a basis for doctrinal agreement, even leaving room for grace in others where there might be disagreement.
But the other part of this reality is that there are teachings that are clearly in conflict with Scripture and some which even point to a Christ different than Him who is shown to us in God’s inspired and inerrant Word. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthian believers of this, writing, "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” [or, “you put up with it readily enough”, ESV] (2 Corinthians 11:2–4, NASB95) Paul was concerned that these believers would become enamored by people with flash and influence that might come along and preach a different gospel, being led by a different spirit (opposed to the Spirit of God), and preaching a different gospel than that of salvation by faith in Christ alone.
In Acts he warned the elders of Ephesus, as we have looked at previously, to be on guard against these “savage wolves” that would attempt to come in and destroy the flock. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:28–32, NASB95) His answer for these elders was to entrust them to God while encouraging them to look to God and urging them to hold to His Word.
Paul clearly taught us that there is only one foundation which is Christ, and he warned us against anyone attempting to lay a different foundation or build a different building. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9–12, NASB95)
Studying the Word of God is critical to understanding what God has said to us, and the truth of God’s Word is never to be sacrificed on the altar of tolerance. But as we walk with each other in grace we also need to be careful how we treat those with whom God has made us one. Jesus came in the fullness of truth and grace and we are to walk in the same way with one another as we encourage each other to grow in our proper knowledge and understanding of His Word.