The modern world stands torn between competing understandings of the origins of the universe and of life on Earth: the spiritual understanding of the creation by God as described in Genesis 1-2, and the naturalistic explanations of modern scientific theory. The conflict between these understandings represents a significant stumbling-block to many. Let us look into these matters to see if we can have a better understanding of the conflict between our spiritual understanding and the naturalistic explanations currently offered.
Ever since the middle of the nineteenth century there has been rising incompatibility between religion and modern scientific theories. Before this time, many scientists were deeply devoted theists, and saw the world in terms of having been created by God. Ever since the Enlightenment, and especially since Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, religion and science have become as enemies, not complements.
On a personal level, the matter of science was a significant stumbling-block during and immediately after my conversion. I had been raised in an agnostic environment and was taught to accept what science said was the way things were. At first, I lived in cognitive dissonance (holding to two incompatible ideas simultaneously)-- not quite able to explain away science, and yet not wanting to dispense with Genesis 1, either.
My epiphany that led me out of my cognitive dissonance came not from the Scriptures but from reading Aristotle. For those who may not be knowledgeable on Aristotle, he was a Greek philosopher of the fourth century before Christ. He was a disciple of Plato, but was far more interested in nature than his teacher. The majority of the corpus of his works represents discussion on natural phonomenon.
When one reads Aristotle, one is struck by the simpleness-- primitiveness-- of his science. His conclusions are, in modern terms, laughable: illness is caused by being too cold or too warm, or having bad humors in the body. I read such things, and at first chuckled a bit-- but then I began to reflect upon it. If you dispense with the microscope, and looked at a patient and could see only what the naked eye can see, the conclusions seem to make sense. Ill people are either feverish or plumb cold. When some illnesses strike, mucus, blood, and other unpleasant substances can sometimes come out. It's easy to see those things and consider them the source of the illness, not recognizing that it's merely a symptom.
These things prompted me to consider what would happen if you were able to travel back in time to the fourth century before Christ and talk with Aristotle. What if you told him that illness was not caused by humors or temperature change but by little bacteria and virii that you need a microscope to see? Let's face it-- he'd laugh at you. It would be considered preposterous that something so small that it cannot be seen by the eyes would cause such terrible things.
What, then, shall we say about these things? The problem that Aristotle would have is scientific arrogance-- the concept that one's theories are right no matter what because you percieved them to be true. Are we any better off today? Yes, we can see smaller things with microscopes and larger things with telescopes, but are we not still limited by the same handicaps as Aristotle, being confined to what we percieve? And the major question: if we look at Aristotle as primitive with simple theories that don't take into account things he cannot see, how will people 2400 years from now (if man is allotted to live that long) view our science? Will it not look just as primitive to them?
The point, then, is that science is shifting sand. It is based on what we humans can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. We may invent instruments that can allow us to sense things we could not sense before, but the limitations are not removed. Science constantly changes: as an example, the theory of human evolution presented to me in high school is different from the theory advanced now-- and I am not that far removed from high school! What if people 2400 years from now view the modern theory of evolution as we view Aristotle's theories about illness?
Does this mean that science has no value? Far from it! Science has great value to us in its proper place. Sir Francis Bacon established the theory of science-- the scientific method-- and it is still valid today. Something can only be validated as scientifically true if it can be tested and reproduced. In strict scientific terms, macroevolution is a mere hypothesis, since it cannot be tested nor reproduced in a suitable setting. Now, many things can be tested and reproduced-- including microevolution-- and we have no qualms or quibbles with such matters. One can work well in biological sciences believing only in microevolution, and all of science would do much better if they recognized their own limitations and that no matter how much proof they can compile for any theory, it will always be tenuous.
Science can tell us how things work now; all science can do is hypothetize about what happened before. This is my problem with the theory of macroevolution-- it is beyond the reach of the scientific method and cannot explain everything. It requires blind trust in dirt deposits and the ability to ascertain dates of thousands, millions, or billions of years based on location in dirt. It necessitates belief in the randomness of creation, and takes far more faith to accept than Genesis 1 does. Therefore, it is best remain a strong skeptic of that which is completely beyond the realm of scientific practice to prove-- and time will tell if evolution is perpetuated or if it falls out of favor.
It is lamentable that many, in an attempt to harmonize science and faith, have espoused "theistic evolution," an attempt to say that evolution did occur, but was guided by the hand of God. Such an effort is misdirected, and we can see from the past that it is not wise to attempt to harmonize faith with science.
This can be seen in the "major clash of religion and science" as evidenced in the conflict between the Roman Catholic church and Galileo Galilei. The story should be familiar to us: in the seventeenth century, Galileo, thanks to the invention of the telescope, confirmed that we live in a heliocentric (sun as center), not geocentric (earth as center), solar system. The Roman Catholic church believed the earth to be the center of the solar system, and therefore persecuted Galileo. The bias added to the story demonizes the Roman Catholic church for persecuting "science" on the basis of "faith".
The Roman Catholic church was certainly in the wrong in this event, but not for the reason most determine it to be wrong. They were wrong because they accepted the scientific assumptions of the Greco-Roman world, and then attempted to rationalize them with some Biblical passages. The Bible never teaches that the world is flat or that the world is in the center of the universe-- the language used in the Old Testament describing the sun, moon, and stars is little different from the language we use today, despite our "enlightenment." The conflict in the seventeenth century was not religion vs. science; it was a conflict between the scientific assumptions of the Greco-Roman world vs. the new scientific assumptions of the seventeenth century. Had the Roman Catholic church not been dogmatic on scientific theory concerning which the Bible is silent, the conflict may never have happened. Imagine, for a minute, the irony of the future: imagine that in the year 2905, that a newspaper article is written about a conflict going on between the Roman Catholics of that day and the scientific community since the Roman Catholic church espoused theistic evolution and justified it with some Biblical passages, when everyone else knew better that the world developed in x way. It's a very possible scenario.
The irony: that which science wants religion to do becomes anathema to a later generation of scientists.
In the end, we must believe that the world was created as God said it did. He spoke, and it happened. This world is full of unimaginable complexity that we do not currently understand; we understand it better than our forefathers, yet those who come after us (if God wills) will understand it better than we do. The problem comes in when we become dogmatic on that which we percieve-- and this has been the sin of science since its origins.
Let us not conform our faith to science, but recognize the limitations of science and the greatness of God. Science is as shifting sand, with its assumptions and beliefs changing whenever new things are discovered. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27:
"Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof."
Let us build upon the Rock, and not shifting sand.
Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power, (Colossians 2:8-10).
O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with you, (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
Ethan R. Longhenry
I definitely hope the answer is a resounding YES. In this world with all its influences, it is easy to go with the flow and accept certain things as they are. That is, of course, unless you want to be Making A Difference (M.A.D.). People who genuinely want to make a difference for the better only accept things that are true, righteous, just, pure, etc. Christians ought to be such people because Jesus was and still is such a person - Jesus came to Make A Difference.
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost, (Luke 19:10).He came to make a difference in our relationship with the Father. Are we prepared to do the same? Can we seek out and help save those who are lost in this world unless we are willing to go against the grain and Make A Difference? Let us consider one way in which we have to NOT go with the flow and accept things as they are.
Throughout the world, even among those who consider themselves "Christians", it is a widely accepted belief that many different churches (denominations) are okay with God, acceptable to God or authorized by God. However, Christians on the other hand have taken the scriptural, albeit unpopular stand that Jesus has only one church. Are they going MAD? Are they really attempting to Make A Difference and go against what is almost universally accepted? Exodus 23:2 states, if not warns us, to
not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment.So, if it is really true that the Bible teaches that there is one church, then regardless of popular opinion, political correctness or social accecptance, Christians should speak and uphold the truth. Why? Christians are the building blocks (stones) that make up the church (1 Peter 2:5) and the church, after all, is "the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Timothy 3:15).
Before anyone runs off and takes a dogmatic position that (1), "Christ has only one church" (2), "one church is as good as another" (3), "it doesn't matter what church you belong to" or (4) "all the different churches (denominations) make up the church," I'm sure that all who believe in God and His authority will agree that it is always best, safe, wise and expedient to let God speak for Himself on this or any other issue. Jesus is God (John 1:1,14), and seeing that He was the one who built (established) the church in the first place (Matthew 16:18), it seems only fair that He be the one to speak concerning His church (or churches, whatever the case may be as we hope to determine). We are admonished in 1 Peter 4:11 that,
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.I would like to believe that we can agree that no man can speak as the oracles of God better than God Himself, so again it's best to let His words suffice.
Let us for a moment examine a verse mentioned earlier, Matthew 16:18. To set the stage (context) for this verse, Jesus was having a discourse with His disciples and asked them,
"Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Matthew 16:13).The responses given teach us a vital lesson in itself. Here we see a classic example of many people having interpretations and opinions as to what they think the truth is, and yet, nevertheless, they were all wrong, regardless how sincere they were. They all mentioned good men in verse 14, who did good deeds, but the answers were wrong-- they did not know the truth about who Jesus was. Often times in religion, many people can have an interpretation as to what they "think" the truth is, but it is possible that they can be wrong. The only way to know for sure is by God's written, infallible word (John 8:32, John 17:17). We cannot be wrong in our understanding of something and expect to be right in our interpretation of it at the same time. In Matthew 16:15, Jesus then asked his disciples,
"But whom say ye that I am?"In verse 16, Peter answers,
"Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
This was not Peter's opinion nor was it his own subjective "interpretation" as is clearly stated in the following verse (v. 17). Peter knows it is the truth because it was revealed to him from God and God's word is truth (John 17:17). Like Christ, we ought not to be concerned about what men think but rather what God's word (the truth) says.
With this contextual background laid we now move to the verse in consideration, Matthew 16:18:
"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
There is so much to be learnt from this single verse that it is a shame that in the course of casual reading its depth is so often overlooked. The first phrase of the verse seems to be a bone of contention particularly with the Catholic community. The phrase says, "...thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church..." It is misunderstood and incorrectly "interpreted" by Catholics that Jesus is implying here that the church is built upon Peter. This they have done without taking into consideration the previously discussed verses. The "rock" mentioned by Jesus does not refer to Peter (petros, Greek for pebble or small stone) but the fact, the truth, the confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. This is the Rock (petra, Greek for a [mass of] rock or large rock) or foundation upon which the church is built (1 Corinthians 3:11, 1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus Christ (being the Son of God) is the head and the church is His body (Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:22).
Matthew 16:18 (as well as many other verses in the New Testament) shows us in more ways than one that Christ built a church and not just "a" church among many, but one church. Read the phrase again:
"...I will build my church [singular, jj]; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [singular, jj]."As a matter of fact, the only plural in the entire verse are "the gates of hell." Jesus did not say,
"I will build my churches; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them."Regrettably, this does not seem to be straight forward enough for most people to comprehend that Christ built one church. In His wisdom, thankfully, we are given much more evidence (the Scriptures) to help us understand.
One of the most unambiguous statements in the New Testament is, "there is one body," (Ephesians 4:4). Question: Is there one body? Does the Bible say so? Answer: Don't take my word for it, read it for yourself-- Ephesians 4:4. However, to those who appeal that one verse is not enough (for them I suppose), I beg your attention to the following-- Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 10:17, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 20 (stated 3 times in verse 12 and repeated again in verses 13 and 20!), Ephesians 2:16, and Colossians 3:15. This is not even counting in the many other verses that speak of "the" (definite article, singular) body. Understanding now that the bible clearly teaches one body, it should not just be assumed in what context the Bible refers to this single body. So, the next logical question should be: What is this body that the Bible speaks of? Answer: Again, don't take my word for it, read it for yourself-- Ephesians 1:22-23. The body is the church. They are one and the same. Again, for those who need a point emphasized: 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:23-32, and Colossians 1:18. The body of Christ is the church of Christ (Ephesians 5:30, Colossians 1:24). To be a member of His body is to be a member of His church (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 5:30). After careful consideration of the above-mentioned scriptures, I'm sure that you too would agree that it would be safe, wise, expedient, true, and Biblical, to say, "Christ has only one church." To affirm this is not arrogantly dogmatic but Scripturally accurate.
To quickly address the next two positions (dogmas #2 & #3) that, "one church is as good as another," or "it doesn't matter what church you belong to," let us first reflect on the Biblically established fact that there is one church. If the Bible teaches the singularity of Christ's church (and clearly it does), then can any other church be as good as the one Christ built? In the days of the great flood, would it be too far-fetched to believe that other men also tried to build their own "arks" when the floodwaters came in order to save themselves? Would another ark be as good as the one God told Noah to build? If Noah had used his own dimensions and materials to build the ark in the same way that men use their own differing doctrines and practices to built the church, would it be as good as the ark God designed and the church Jesus built? Did it matter whether one was in Noah's ark to be saved? (1 Peter 3:20) Can one be saved in another church just as in the one Jesus built? Knowing that Jesus built one church should I be a member of just any church or only His church? Shouldn't I only be a member of the one I can read about (specifically and totally) in the Bible? Shouldn't I be concerned about those who are not members of His one church? Acts 20:28 tells us that Jesus purchased the church with "His own blood." Since He did this for only one church, can I be in any other not purchased with His blood? Ephesians 5:23 again tells us that "He is the Savior of the body," i.e. the church. Is He the Savior of any other body, i.e. any other church? The answers to these questions should be self-evident to any honest individual who loves the truth of God's word no matter how difficult it might be to stomach.
Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it, (Psalm 127:1).
Now on to the final position (dogma #4) that, "all (or some of) the different churches (denominations) make up the church." There are indeed quite a number of instances in the New Testament where the bible refers to churches. It should be however understood that this was not in reference to different churches, i.e. denominations, but rather the same church in different locations. This is unmistakably evident in 1 Corinthians 14:33 in these words,
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.God is not the author of confusion! Could this be true if God thought it was okay to have different churches with different teachings, doctrines, and practices? We read again in 1 Corinthians 4:17 where the apostle Paul writes,
For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.Imagine Paul says he taught the same thing everywhere in every church! Does this sound like the denominational view of Christianity today? Do denominations propose that the same things ought to be taught everywhere in every church? The whole idea of contradicting doctrines is contradictory to the Scriptures themselves. In Romans 16:16 were we read,
Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.Was Paul referring to different churches (denominations) all teaching and practicing different faiths and doctrines? By the way, remember Ephesians 4? Verse 5 also says there is one faith. Is it not clear that Paul is rather referring to the churches (congregations) in different locations that were all continuing in the same doctrine (Acts 2:42), teaching and speaking the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10), walking by the same rule (Philippians 3:16) and called by the same name (Ephesians 3:14-15)? While we're on names, we read in Acts 11:26,
...they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.Can we read anywhere in the bible (from Genesis to Revelation) about Christians being called by any of the denominational names we here of today? I do not mean to be disrespectful or insensitive to anyone, but honestly, can we read about disciples being called Adventists, Anglicans, Apostolics, Baptists, Branhamites, Catholics, Evangelicals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-Day Saints, Methodists, Mormons, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Salvation Army or any other denominational name? Where did all these names come from? Is it not enough any longer to simply be an unhyphenated, undenominational Christian? Just a Christian. Doesn't the bible teach that it is in Christ that "the whole family in heaven and earth is named?" (Ephesians 3:14-15).
In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, there is recorded an occurrence where certain Christians sought to call themselves by other names (v.12). In deciding what to call oneself (religiously speaking) Paul asked these three questions in verse 13:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?I would to God that everyone who wears a denominational name asks the same question. Is Christ divided? Was [denominational name] crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of [denomination]? While praying in the garden, just hours before going to the cross, Jesus pleads that those who were to believe on Him, "that they all may be one," (John 17:20-21). Bear in mind that the very definition of "denomination" not only suggests, but also requires division. Is it not both logical and Biblical that the body (church) of Christ cannot be made up of any denomination (i.e. division)? Do the words of 1 Corinthians 1:10,
that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,mean anything whatsoever to those who propagate and support denominationalism. A very succinct question is asked way back in the Old Testament,
Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3).Can religious people think it acceptable to walk differently now on earth but miraculously do so harmoniously in Heaven? Again for your reading pleasure, please consider Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 3:3-7, and 2 John 1:9-11. Christians are to be one like God the Father and Jesus are one (John 17:21). Does God contradict Jesus; does Jesus contradict the Holy Spirit? How can denominationalists claim to be one body (church) while their doctrines contradict each another?
As for dogma #4 that "all the different churches (denominations) make up the church", this position is neither Scriptural nor Biblical. Rather, it is a compromise of God's word fueled by the Devil's deception, blind religious passion, and
zeal but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God, (Romans 10:2-3).In context, Paul was referring to Israel in his day who did not want to accept that with Christ being now raised they were no longer under the law of Moses (Old Testament Covenant) but under faith (New Testament Covenant). The principle however, still applies today: zeal without knowledge.
We've ventured far from our original question-- are Christians M.A.D.?-- but all for good reason: serious questions require thorough answers. Christians ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) in the way people think, no matter what the general consensus says. Christians ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) in saying that there is one body/church because God's word says so (Ephesians 4:4). They ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) in saying that Christ built only one church because He says so (Matthew 16:18). They ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) in saying that we ought to teach and practice the same things because the Bible says so (1 Corinthians 4:17, Philippians 3:16). They ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) in saying that we should use Scriptural designations because that's what is written (Ephesians 3:14-15). They ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) in saying that there should be no confusion or contradiction in Christianity because that's what the truth says (1 Corinthians 14:33). They ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) if not also being gregarious in saying that there should be no divisions in Christianity and we should all be one because it is found in the inspired word of God (1 Corinthians 1:10, John 17:20-21) In short, Christians ought to be M.A.D. (making a difference) because the Bible says so in Jude 22:
And of some have compassion, making a difference.
So, does the truth make you M.A.D. (make a difference) or does it just make you mad?
It is my sincere prayer and hope that you seriously consider not what I think but what the written, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God states. Honestly consider the Scriptures mentioned and ensure that your beliefs are in harmony with them. Do not allow any person or organization dictate your understanding and obedience to God's word. It would do us well to heed the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:6:
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
The earnest and diligent understanding of God's word promises eternal salvation of soul as Jesus points out in John 5:39:
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."As Levar Burton, host of the popular PBS childrens' series, Reading Rainbow, often says, "Of course, you don't have to take my word for it." Be a Berean because:
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so, (Acts 17:11).
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