It appears that some churches feel the need to distinguish themselves from other churches, as if they are competing for members. I was once involved in a denomination that publishes a list of what they call distinctives to quantify how they are different. Yet I read in 1 Timothy:
“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3-5 NASB)
The point I take from these verses is that we need to exercise caution when deciding to make ourselves distinct from the churches around us. If we are to be distinct, it is to be in our commitment to preaching and living out the gospel, a distinction that we should be happy to observe in the other churches around us. Any other distinction brings division rather than unity.
Notice that Paul warns against myths and endless genealogies that give rise to speculation rather than building up the believers. Be careful of churches that have pet doctrines, especially if those doctrines have not been universally embraced by the church through the centuries. We do not need additional energy around bringing division in the church.
For example, 1 Thessalonians speaks of believers being caught up with Christ when he returns. Based on this verse, some churches have developed elaborate prophetic timelines to indicate how the events of the last days are going to play out.
It is one thing to have a personal opinion as to how all the prophecies fit together. It is entirely another thing to build a whole doctrinal platform on these types of speculations. Paul warns us about doing so. Rather than building elaborate theologies over which good men have disagreed, it would be so much more profitable to build on the fundamental truths of the Gospel.
When Scripture is vague about something, it is intentionally so. We believe that God has superintended the writing of Scripture and stands as the voice behind the prophecies. It then stands to reason that if is important to have a definitive understanding of a particular prophecy, God would have made it clear to us. If it is unclear, we must hold our interpretation of that prophecy loosely; we may find that we are wrong about it.
There is no doubt that Scripture predicts that Jesus Christ will return and set things right. Upon this all that consider themselves orthodox would agree. But, it is not clear as to how or when this will take place.
Can we stop dividing over speculative interpretations of Scripture? Can we agree that God has not clearly spelled out a timeline for the end? Can we focus upon what is clearly presented in Scripture and allow freedom on what is not?
This is one example. There are other issues such as Bible translation, women wearing pants, clothing styles and music that can bring out emotions bordering on hatred.
There are too many people who are put off by the denominational squabbles over non-essential doctrines. Efforts toward market differentiation should have no place in the Church.
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