Artist rendition of St. Nicholas slapping Arius the Arch-Heretic.

Conflict in the Church: Destructive or Cleansing?

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Truth Matters – Column by Linda J. Cook

“He sees you when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’re a heretic, and he’ll punch you in the face!”

Legend has it “Saint” Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (who is said to be the inspiration for Santa Claus), struck Arius the heretic for denying the eternality of Christ and the triune nature of God during his speech at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

Deck the halls, and heretics too.

I am convinced that as long as the Christian Church has existed it has been filled with conflict. Being at war with the world is our role and should be as natural and shameless as breathing. Conflict with each other is woven into our fabric, and this disturbs the crowd of people who are increasingly calling for unity. “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” as the prophet Jeremiah said.  

My question for this day is: Should there be peace? Is it a destructive, egotistical fight or a healthy cleansing of the body of Christ? It is both. The competing goals guarantee the combat will intensify, as these days the love of money, power, and fame forces the teaching of sound doctrine to take a back seat.

In former times, when Peter was called out by Paul it was blunt and in public.  

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed.

Galatians 2:11b (NKJV)

This is disturbing to a squeamish church, and the current mantra, “You must go to your brother in private,” is often applied to false teaching. If the point in question is teaching, it is to be dealt with openly. Matthew 18:15 does speak of going to your brother in private, but in a context of personal offense between two people or a private sin that needs to be corrected.

We are called, indeed commanded, to contend for the faith. Jude wrote using the Greek word epagōnizesthai which translates “to contend earnestly,” and usually describes an athlete striving with extreme intensity.

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude 1:3 (NKJV)

This is the basis for strong striving and also the explanation for its necessity. The faith that saves from hell is the one we must have. Accept no substitutes.

So why does doctrine matter?

Does being wrong about who Jesus is and what He taught, then living out that error, have consequences? If not, this current battle is nothing more than vain posturing about who is the most right. If so, you may pay with your soul.

In II Thessalonians, there is a forewarning of the coming of the antichrist:

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

II Thessalonians 2:9-10 (NKJV)

In II John, we are warned of deceivers, this time focusing on Jesus not coming in the flesh.

Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.

II John 1:9 (NKJV)

Then, it gets down to what we are to do with people who proclaim heresy.

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

II John 1:10-11 (NKJV)

In Paul’s day, he was assessed by the Bereans, and he commended them for their cynicism about his message. It drove them to the scriptures to weigh if what they were hearing about Jesus could be confirmed. The result was that “many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.” Acts 17:11-12 (NKJV)

We have a perfectly complete template to determine the answer to any question. This is a tremendous consolation, but also a dreadful responsibility. Why would we neglect it?

The answers vary as much as the people abusing the Word. It can be as venal as money:

And many shall follow their pernicious way; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

II Peter 2:2-3 (KJV)

The reason could be as simple as self-defense. If the spoken word is in direct conflict with God’s word, a frequent ruse is, “You don’t know his heart,” asserting that only God can judge the heart. Which is true, we cannot divine what is in a man’s heart. Yet, if “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and “the mouth speaks with forked tongue,” then we are free to draw some conclusions.

This particular pastoral head fake is one of the most popular ruses today: “Thou shalt not judge.” How is it, then, that Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth contains this gem: 

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

1 Corinthians 14:29 (NKJV)

We are indeed called to assess, discern, and pass judgment. The Greek word Paul used was diakrinetōsan, which can be translated to “judge” or “pass discernment.”

This is the obligation of all of us who are known as Christians, but it weighs far more heavily on those who are pastors and teachers. They are not to sit idly by while the wolves rip into the sheep, devouring entire flocks. Here is the discouraging truth: In the majority of American churches, the pastoral leadership is not content to merely let the wolves gorge themselves. At times, they are aiding and abetting by providing cover and paying fat speaking fees.

The ramifications for neglecting the true gospel are severe. Again we go to Paul:

 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you that what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you that what you  have received, let him be accursed.

Galatians 1:6-9 (NKJV)

Let’s return to the prophet Jeremiah. Why did he say that even with calls for peace, there would be none?  

They have healed the hurt of my people slightly.

Jeremiah 6:14a (NKJV)

What happens to a hurt that is slightly addressed? A band aid on a sucking chest wound comes to mind. The injured person thinks you have helped him, maybe saved him, but you have merely covered over a fatal wound. You have tricked a dead man into thinking he is safe. I can think of few things more cruel.

But wait, there is more.  

Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely.

Jeremiah 6:13 (NKJV)

I am not saying that deserves a punch to the face, but I would not take it off the table.