Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Avoiding Divisions

 Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

17 Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, σκοπεῖν τοὺς τὰς διχοστασίας καὶ τὰ σκάνδαλα παρὰ τὴν διδαχὴν ἣν ὑμεῖς ἐμάθετε ποιοῦντας, καὶ ἐκκλίνετε ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν·

Romans 16 is a very happy chapter as Paul speaks so well of so many people and sends them his greetings.  It's always had a special place for me just because I can see my name in the Bible.  That's nice and all, but hardly very deep.

This verse stands out rather starkly in the middle of the chapter.  Paul takes time out to Παρακαλῶ.  This word has the sense of exhorting or asking earnestly.  In other words, Paul isn't just making a suggestion here.  He wants them to consider this.  But what does he ask them to consider?  They need to be careful about those who are causing problems relative to the doctrine that these folks have been taught.  Anyone concerned about orthodoxy can give a hearty "amen" to this, right?

However, I can also see how this verse can be twisted if we're not careful.  This would be a great verse to use to maintain control over a congregation.  Let's say that someone was at a very fundamentalist, KJV-only country Baptist church and the pastor was teaching something that seemed biblical with a verse out of context, but was wrong when examined either systematically or biblically.  Now let's say that one or two congregants are reading their Bibles faithfully and they begin to see the problem with the pastor's theology.  They bring this up in Sunday school.  What is likely to happen?

I bet you dollars to doughnuts that this verse gets used.  These two faithful men would likely get corrected or outright ousted because they are causing division.  Heaven forbid someone goes to seminary and starts to question the text behind the KJV.  Talk about creating a stumbling block!

I am not trying to make a caricature of all churches like this.  I simply give this as an example.  The same thing can happen at big urban churches as well.  It can happen in parachurch organizations, as I know from my own experience.  We certainly need to guard our doctrine, but we also don't want to have a cult-like mentality that we are right and the rest of the world is full of wolves out to get us.

I'm not quite sure how to balance all of this out though.  Any ideas?

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