Mark of the Church

I’ve searched because I want to be open-minded enough to concede that perhaps God really does have only one church in mind for each person to belong to, and by leaving, that person rejects God’s will and should therefore be excluded from fellowship with those who remain. I will have myself be teachable and willing to accept new ideas thereby growing both mentally and spiritually, so I will temporarily entertain the idea of the possibility of truth in a concept that otherwise seems ludicrous. I think, this thing could go either way and I’m not enough of (or any of) an expert to sound off decisively that truth is either one or the other. And so I search.
I’m by no accounts a Bible scholar, but I’m a reasonably intelligent person with a desire to learn, a Bible, and the Internet at my disposal – all useful resources for Bible studying. I’ve given an honest and earnest effort to find a scriptural basis for Christians to quit associating with other Christians because they attend different churches.
Here is the one direct scripture I’ve discovered:
Romans 16:17
Now I beseech you, brothers, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them.

I know that my perspectives are contrary to the doctrine they’ve learned and the doctrine they’ve taught for indeed my perspectives now are contrary to the doctrines I learned as well.
Mark them, identify the dissenters and Avoid them.
Good grief, Charlie Brown!
Needless to say, I didn’t sidle right up to this idea. I was startled to find Biblical evidence supporting the way I’m being treated, or rather, the way I’m being ignored. The behavior seems unChristian, yet the directive is right there. This catylized an immediate suspicion of the application of this text, my decision to leave the old place, and the feelings of injustice at their actions.
All I could ask was, “Is God really like this? I must suffer in a place that teaches twisted scripture because to disagree is to be Marked and Avoided?” This wasn’t a part of God I was familiar with and I’m not even prepared to accept it now.
Then slowly, like dawn creeping over the sleepy sky, an awareness began to burn off my disgust the way the sun burns off a morning fog. Uncertainty faded as a new clarity brightened my mind. I said to myself, “Since when does one verse parading alone and posing as the whole truth reveal the fullness of God’s character?”
It doesn’t! The Bible is a whole book, front to back, beginning to end. You don’t just pick one sentence from any other book and think you have a handle on the plot! Likewise, you can’t pull out just a single verse and expect it to illuminate all the shades of grey in human activity.
Scripture may be pretty straighforward, but the working out of reality is not. Often, application of scripture to life is subjective and all things subjective are open to opinion and debate.
Thus I moved on to read the very next verse.
Romans 16:18
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

Well, that just turned the ride on full tilt. “They that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ.” That doesn’t apply to me, I thought. I do serve our Lord Jesus Christ. “By good words and fair speeches deceive;” some translations write it as “smooth talk and flattering words.” I’m not a smooth talker, nor have I ever been accused of flattering anyone.
With great relief I can soundly assert that this scripture does not apply in my situation.
Then I began to think even more broadly considering the events of the early churches. They helped one another by prayer or sending money or sending ministers or whatever it was within their power to do. Churches collectively cooperated with one another (or at least Paul taught them to) and the individuals comprising those churches often worked together, received one another into their homes, provided meals, wrote letters of encouragement to each other, even paid for travel expenses. They had to leave their churches and travel to new ones all the time; this teamwork was expected and necessary if the job of going and making disciples of all the nations would ever bear fruit. (Matt. 28:19) Aside from individual scriptures we have whole stories and retelling of events illustrating how the churches generally joined together working toward a common end.
If the example of the early church is one of cooperation, hospitality to those new folks coming, and well-wishes and prayers for those leaving, are we now exempt from that example? Does it no longer apply to the church? Who is above the scriptures that he can reinterpret them or tailor them to justify his own whims, pride, or lust?

One thought on “Mark of the Church

  1. Romans 16:17
    Now I beseech you, brothers, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them.
    Romans 16:18
    For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple
    Just a thought – but flipping it around the other way – for me they were teaching things contrary to the doctrine that i have learned etc. So this could go both ways. Are we to avoid them because they are teaching doctrine that we do not agree with? Also really consider Romans 16:18 with this and it makes it even more interesting.

    Like

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