A month ago I was asked to preach at the anniversary of a congregation. The suggested scripture passage chosen was the lectionary text of the day, recorded in Luke 12:49-53. After reading these verses, I wondered if it was a good text for a congregation celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. However, after more thought, I concluded it was a wise choice, for it talks about the Church in the world.
What did Jesus mean by these words, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”
Fire, division, judgment. Those are hard words. Had he not prayed to his Father, “That they might be one”? Now Jesus is saying that where he is, there are divisions. Is this not a contradiction?
No. When Jesus talks about unity in John 17, he is praying for his Church Ð those who are believers in Christ Jesus. In our churches, we should have a spirit of unity, not necessarily uniformity, but a oneness in Christ. Yet when the Christian steps into the world, he will find hostility to Christ and his committed followers. It is in this culture where the Church lives that we find division. Let us point out some of these words of Jesus that bring division with the world.
You all know the Bible verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
This is a favorite verse of many. God loves the world. This is a beautiful thought that warms our hearts. But read on and you find out that this love and salvation is for those who believe in him. The Bible does not say that all people will be saved. We wish it could be that way, and so does God. No. His plan says that salvation is limited to those who receive him as their Savior and Lord.
Try that on some of your unbelieving friends and you will understand what Jesus means when he talks about division. Your friend asks, “You believe my father is lost and is not going to heaven? He died as an unbeliever. He was a good man, but had little time for religion.”
And you reply, “God has not made me the eternal judge of anyone, but Jesus says ÔNo one comes to the Father but by me. I am only to proclaim this truth.”
Your friend, with strong emotion says, “Well, I doubt that and if you believe it, this is where we divide.”
Jesus once said, “No man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Again, it is the same thought: Christ is the only way to heaven. One member of your card club says, “We have some wonderful people moving into our neighborhood. They are Moslems and Islam is their religious faith. What do you think about the Moslems?”
Imagine your answer. “I am sure they are nice people and should have all the rights that any American citizen has. We should respect them and be kind to them. We can also learn many things from these people that will benefit us. Yet there comes a place where we have to draw the line. These people will acknowledge Jesus as a great teacher like Mohammed, but they will not confess him as their Savior. This is a major disagreement that goes to the depth of the Christian’s soul. We will share our faith with them and pray that the Holy Spirit will go to work and convert them to faith in Christ.”
All is quiet around the bridge table until your friend says, “I do not agree. There is more than one way to heaven, and it is wrong for us to believe that Christ is the only way.” Suddenly there is a division in your club, and the game is over for the afternoon. At the next gathering of the group, it is decided that apologies are in order, but you cannot apologize for something that you believe as strongly as you do. Christ alone is your Savior. The group is still together, but a division exists in your group that will never heal. It is far stronger than a division over political parties.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Jesus neither taught, nor gave the impression, that the Church is going to be a cozy group, where each can believe what they want to believe, and they are not challenged because unity is all important.
In some circles today it is taught that we must give a little and take a little, not to upset others no matter how far from the scriptures their ideas are. We are to keep the congregation and the denomination united.
If this happens Ð peace at any price Ð we soon will have weakened the biblical message and congregations and denominations will have little to offer the culture. This is happening and is a major reason that so many thousands of people are leaving mainline Protestantism.
Bishop Ryle of England wrote in his commentary, “How useless it is to expect universal peace and harmony from the preaching of the Gospel. Thousands of well-meaning people now days are crying out for more unity among Christians. To attain this, they are ready to sacrifice almost anything and throw even sound doctrine overboard, if by so doing they may secure peace. Peace is useless if purchased at the expense of truth. Certainly they have forgotten the words of Christ, ÔI came not to send peace, but division.'”