Judaizers! Part Four:
The Judaizers' Teaching and Christian Unity
As He anticipated the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the unity of His followers:
20 "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. – John 17:20-21.
Jesus was about to depart this earth, leaving His chosen apostles to spread His word. His prayer was for the unity of those who would come to believe through their word. The reason for this prayer is stated at the end of verse 21. Unity among Christ's followers would provide the world with evidence to know that this "man" – Jesus of Nazareth – truly was sent into the world by Almighty God.
Strange as it might seem, the Judaizers' teaching – introduced twenty centuries ago – adversely impacts Christian unity until this day. We will be developing this idea more fully. But first, we will make some remarks on the subject of Christian unity in general.
Was Christ's prayer for unity answered?
Yes it was!
41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:41-47
Unfortunately, this kind of unity among Christ's followers did not last for very long. His followers in fact, have been so often – and so widely – divided that some have actually believed that Christ's prayer for unity was not answered at all.
The impact of unity versus disunity
Jesus had prayed for unity among his followers with a purpose: "that world might believe that [God the Father] had sent [Him]".
The unity that existed in the early church had its intended effect. The loving fellowship of those early Christians served as evidence that Christ was of God and that His claims were true. The unity of the early church helped to promote phenomenal growth. Their tremendous rate of growth was sufficient for the permanent establishment of Christianity in the world.
But the unity did not last. We see the first clues of disunity in trouble that arose between Hellenistic Jews and Hebrews in Acts 6:1ff. The introduction of the first Gentiles into the church (Acts 10) also created some temporary conflict, even among the leaders of the early church (Acts 11). But those troubles were resolved. Satan's early efforts to "divide and conquer" Christ's followers failed. But he kept trying.
The Judaizers' teaching introduced lasting troubles with disunity. The ruling of the Acts 15 council should have resolved this but the Judaizers did not accept the authority of the decision that was made. Paul's writings, as well, should have been a sufficient "cure" for this "illness". But the Judaizers did not accept his authority either - and many who had followed the Judaizers' teachings were unconvinced.
Disunity among Christ's followers has the exact opposite effect in the world as unity. Unity among Christ's followers gives evidence that Christ Jesus was of God. Disunity creates the opposite impression; that Christ was not sent from God.
There is a town several miles to the west of us where three different church buildings stand together at the same intersection. Why this division if we are one body? Why all the different teachings if there is just one book, one bible, one message? These are good questions and it is only natural for the people of the world to ask them.
I have never counted for myself but have been told that there are over 400 different Christian denominations in today's world. In spite of that, many "believers" seem to think that we are all "one big happy family". But the world isn't buying it. And why should they? Driving through town, they see fast food franchises competing with one another on one corner. On the next, they see competitive church buildings. Seeing this kind of thing, they do not believe that we are united – and neither should we. Today's Christendom needs to stop fooling itself.
"Christian unity" as it exists in the churches today is a unity based on compromise. While acknowledging that there are differences between churches, modern Christendom is convinced that it is united "on the doctrines that really matter". We are careful not to delve too deeply into which doctrines these are, of course. That could lead to trouble. But most believers today are nevertheless convinced that we are united on "the important stuff". But there is a fly in the ointment.
This whole concept of "Christian unity" depends on the assumption that there are many doctrines in scripture that really don't matter very much. The denominations of Christendom are for the most part convinced that their unique teachings are derived from the Bible. But their unity with other churches is based on the idea that only a few of those doctrines are important. Biblical authority has been sacrificed on an altar of pretended unity.
As a result the Christendom of our day conveys impressions that promote disbelief.
- The division itself is the 1st problem. If there is one message in scripture why are there 400 different churches based on that one message? The answers we are able to give aren't really very satisfactory.
- Essential to our compromised unity is the attitude that a few doctrines are truly important while many others are not. But if only a few biblical doctrines are truly important to modern Christendom, modern Christendom isn't really taking the Bible seriously. And if "believers" don't take it seriously, why would an unbeliever?
Sources of division.
I have often remarked (tongue in cheek) that there was only one flaw in the design of Christ's church; He decided to let people in. The salvation of man, of course, was the whole point of Christ's shed blood for the church. And there are, in fact, no true flaws in the church – as designed by Jesus Christ. But the saying makes a point. Anywhere there are fallible and sinful men, troubles will arise.
Divisions within Christendom arise from the teachings of uninspired men. The Biblical distinctions between the "very important", "moderately important" and "not so important" (?) teachings of scripture are not exceptionally clear. Therefore, if we want to make those distinctions, the task must be entrusted to uninspired men.
Though all scripture contains important teaching, there are clues in scripture that help us recognize its most important teachings. Jesus often said, "Truly, truly, I say…" or "Let him who has ears, hear". Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 said "I delivered to you as of first importance…" And the overall tone of Ephesians 4:1-16 seems to indicate a listing of doctrines that are "essential" or "central" in nature.
Such clues as these are subject, though, to the interpretive skills of uninspired men. Not all have the same gifts to engage in this task, nor do they all have the same diligence. We also realize that not all interpreters have the most wholesome of motives.
Problems of interpretation, of course, are not the only source of trouble that arise when fallible men are involved. Some problems arise, for example, from a disdain for authority. If those of the 1st century, for example, had respected the authority of the Jerusalem council and the apostle Paul, they'd have complied with their decisions and accepted their teachings.
While on the topic of authority, we must make note of the fact that some men like having it. The religious hypocrites of Christ's day loved to have the best seats, special titles and the praises of men. Those particular men have now gone to "their reward" (such as it is). But it is not as though "their kind" has died out from the earth.
The Judaizers' Teaching as a Source of Division
One of the main points in the Judaizers' teachings was that the New Testament gospel is not enough.
"unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved – Acts 15:1b
Today, circumcision continues to be widely practiced among professing Christians. Though not usually taught as being essential many believing people seem a bit nervous about not circumcising their newborn males, so they go ahead and do it.
Other holdovers from Mosaic Law are taught as essentials, though; most notably the Ten Commandments. Serious discussions about teaching "the Ten Commandments" will reveal that many believers aren't ready to let it go. Not only this, but teaching that it is not necessary to teach them can bring some pretty rancorous opposition.
Prior to the cross, of course, the Ten Commandments were in effect and Jesus even instructed those of that day (prior to the cross) to keep the commandments – Matthew 19:17-19. But when Jesus died, the Law died with Him, being nailed to the cross – Colossians 2:14.
Yet many still want to keep teaching the Ten Commandments. They know that "the sacrificial system" was nailed to the cross but want to keep "the moral law". Why, when the teachings of Christ actually improved on the old moral law? Christ has identified rage as "murder in your heart" and lusting for a woman as "adultery with her in your heart". There is nothing of value in the "ten commandments" which is not contained also in the New Testament, and quite often the New Testament contains these moral precepts in an improved form.
When a clean break has not been recognized between Old Covenant and New, division will inevitably arise. No-one wants to keep all of the Old Testament Law. As stated above, they usually want to keep some parts of it while discarding other parts. Most agree that the "Moral Law" is to be kept and the "Ceremonial" or "Sacrificial" portions of Law discarded. Others say that in addition to keeping the "Moral Law" that we should keep the "Dietary", "Hygienic" and / or "Health" Laws from the Law.
Some of these distinctions are obvious but others – while being obvious to me – might not be obvious to you. The Bible itself does not make any of these distinctions, so when we make those distinctions it is a do it yourself deal. Which slot does the command "Do not boil a kid in its mother's milk" go into? Are the laws concerning mildew found growing in your home still in effect? Why or why not? Is our church going to keep just the "Moral Laws" or do we want to include the "Health", "Hygienic" and "Dietary" Laws, as well. And can you tell me again which ones are which?
Who decides how these questions are to be answered? Fallible men do; fallible men sitting in the high seats of ecclesiastical hierarchies. Those ecclesiastical hierarchies – whether you are talking about the Vatican or some denominational headquarters – are the power structures that divide Christendom. Why? Because they are sources of authority within Christendom made up of uninspired men. They are made up of men who – even if they always had the most wholesome and spiritually focused of priorities – would still make some mistakes in their understanding of scripture, inevitably disagreeing with each other.
We are not so naïve as to suppose that such hierarchies would not exist if Christendom had made the full break from Mosaic Law, as ought to have been done. As we mentioned above, arrogant, ambitious, hypocritical and pretentious religious leaders of the sort who opposed Christ are still present in the world.
But the point is that even if such men did not exist, failure to break cleanly from the Mosaic Law would almost necessitate the formation of some kind of uninspired ecclesiastical hierarchy. After all, I have a skin blemish and according to the Law, might need to be quarantined from the rest of the camp. If there is no governing body over the church, who is to determine whether this part law is still in effect?
By His Grace, I am,
Rich in Christ