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When Beliefs Collide Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer
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June 24, 2022 1:00 am

When Beliefs Collide Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer

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June 24, 2022 1:00 am

Some critics of Christianity look at its many denominations and ask, “Where is the unity Jesus talked about?” The church landscape is filled with fissures. In this message, we review four reasons why we have differences that have wreaked havoc on the visible body of Christ. What happened to Jesus’ church?

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Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Some critics of Christianity look at its many denominations and ask, where is the unity Jesus talked about? Bible interpretations vary widely. So, how should a believer handle the fact that the faith is represented in so many different ways?

To find out, stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, it seems Christian unity is an elusive goal.

Give us a look ahead for today's message. Well, you know, Dave, in today's message, we're going to be looking at some of the reasons why there is oftentimes disunity. I have to tell you, of course, that there are many times that denominations have been formed that should not have been formed.

They separated over trivial issues. But there are also times when we need to separate for the sake of the gospel. The Apostle Paul even affirmed that. So, what we must do is to understand that the unity for which Jesus Christ prayed is true of every single believer. We may go to different churches, we may have different beliefs in some areas, but the centrality of the Christian faith must always be there. So, let's listen carefully as we have more insight into the topic of division, unity, what does the Bible say.

I have a reading I'd like to share with you. It's entitled, Baptists on the Bridge. Once I was in San Francisco walking along the Golden Gate Bridge when I saw this guy on the bridge about to jump. I thought I tried to stall him, detain him long enough for me to put film into my camera. I said, don't jump. He turned his head, he said, nobody loves me. I said, God loves you.

How do you know there is a God? I said, of course there's a God. He said, I guess you're right.

And a tear came to his eye. I said, are you a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu or what? He said, a Christian. I said, me too, small world, Protestant or Catholic or Greek Orthodox. He said, Protestant.

I said, me too, what franchise? He said, Baptist. I said, me too, Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist. He said, Northern Baptist. I said, me too, Northern conservative Baptist or Northern liberal Baptist. He said, Northern conservative Baptist. I said, me too, Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist or Northern conservatives reform Baptist? He said, Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist. I said, me too, Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes region, or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern region. He said, Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes region. I said, me too, Northern conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes region council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes region council of 1912. He said, Northern conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes region council of 1912. I screamed, die, heretic, and I pushed him over.

I have a question to ask you today. Whatever happened to the church that Jesus built? Millions of people say that they belong to the church that Jesus built, but we are so divided. And the divide isn't only between Catholic and Protestant. You look at the Protestant side of the ledger, and you find that there are Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians and Episcopalians. And then you find that within those groups, you have various categories. And you have different kinds of Baptists and different kinds of Presbyterians. Why do we differ?

That's the question. And what can we do about it if we need to do anything about it? Some people say that we have too much unity already and that we're sacrificing truth. Other people say what we need is more unity.

Where do we go? On a superficial level, it's understandable why we might disagree, because if you read the Bible for the first time especially, it is a vast book treating many different topics in many different ways. And it's difficult to get your mind around it, and some differences are very understandable. It is sometimes said that Martin Luther opened the Bible to the common person. That's true, but he was against the idea that I have my own little interpretation going on. He said that if everybody interprets the Bible in their own way, then each person can go to hell in his own way. We need to stand on the shoulders of those who have preceded us. We need some collective wisdom when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

Let me give you some reasons why we do have differences. First of all, we could point to such things as the limitations of man, the limitations of man. It's understandable that there would be disagreements regarding free will versus predestination.

I mean, there are all kinds of mysteries connected with that, and so some come down on one side of that ledger and others come down on the other side, and so that's understandable. Also, some of the verses in the Bible need to be interpreted within a larger context. For example, let's suppose that the only verse in the Bible regarding salvation was Acts chapter 2, verse 38, where Peter said, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Now, if that were the only verse about salvation, we might conclude that baptism is necessary for salvation. But then you've got hundreds of references in the New Testament, particularly in the book of John, that clearly say he who believes is saved.

So what do you do? And then you look at chapter 2, verse 38 of Acts, and you realize that there is a reason why Peter connected it with baptism, but baptism isn't necessary for the forgiveness of sins. So you can understand that that happens, and so differences arise. Also, we have not only the limitations of men, the perversions of men, our bias, our sinfulness. We all have a tendency to go to the Bible to find out what we want it to say. And if we want to say that we are part of our salvation and that we contribute to our salvation, we can find texts that seem to say that, and then you can build a whole system of doctrine and sacraments and good works and penance, and you can build all those things around a certain theories because of our desire to say that if salvation is free, people are going to misuse it. Also, you have the power of the church throughout history. For example, in medieval times, it was believed that grace was communicated through the sacraments.

Now, think of what that meant. That meant that the priest had in his hand the destiny of the souls of his parish. If he didn't give them the sacraments, they would go to hell. In fact, there were times, such as in the days of John Hus in Prague, where the pope issued an interdict. That meant that there could be no sacraments whatever in the city because Hus was preaching the gospel. And it was known that if there were an interdict, people would become so angry with him that they'd kick him out of Prague, which is exactly what happened. Because you see, if you're told that there are no sacraments, it means that you're all being consigned to hell.

The power of the priest was absolutely overwhelming. And people love power, don't they? So you have the perversions of men. You have the unbelief of men. There are some splits in Protestant denominations, for example, that are legitimate and that are right. Because you have certain bodies of believers who have moved away from the truth of the gospel. The Episcopalians are facing the possibility of a split over ordaining gay clergy. And there are some Presbyterian churches that no longer preach the gospel, if I might say. And so there were different groups that broke away. And now you have many, many Presbyterian churches that very clearly preach the gospel, but they had to separate.

So some of that is all understandable. Then you have the preferences of people. Oh, we're into preferences. We're into worship styles. I go to this church because I like its worship style.

I like its music. But I can't take that church because I don't like its music. And personal preferences today trumps doctrine. It trumps oftentimes the vision of a church because we want to go where it just suits us perfectly. You know, when I'm at pastors conferences, I'm always asked, is Moody Church a traditional church or is it a contemporary church? And I smile and I say, we are a biblical church. Isn't that wonderful?

And thank God we have both traditional and contemporary as we try to take the best from both. But where does this leave us? Now, I do have to distinguish between what is sometimes called the invisible church.

I don't like that word very well. But it refers to the whole body of Jesus Christ, the Church Universal. Everybody who belongs to the universal church, the church invisible as it is called, is a born again believer and will be in heaven. And that transcends denominations. Sometimes God's people are found in the most unlikely places.

That's why we do not consign people to hell just because they don't belong to our denomination. Because we realize that even in some of these churches that no longer preach the gospel, there are saved people. And so what we recognize is that there is the invisible church. The invisible church includes the living and the dead. Paul says in chapter 3, verse 14 of Ephesians, he says this very clearly, the father before whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named.

And someday we'll all be together in heaven. And that group of the elect is called in theology the invisible or universal church. Everyone who's a member of it is a born again believer. But now let's talk about the local church. Let's talk about Moody Church. What can we say about it? First of all, it's a mixed multitude to some extent because we're not God. When you become a member of Moody Church, you are interviewed by someone who asks you your understanding of the gospel.

It's not a huge theological test. We just want to know whether or not you've savingly believed on Jesus. About 15 or 20 years ago, I had lunch with a man over at Michael's. And I could go to the table that we were sitting at, who was a member. And he was saying things that were far out there. And he sits there and tells me that in no sense does he want Jesus to bear his sin, that he will bear his own sin for himself and the penalty of it. He said, I can't expect somebody else to bear my sin. I said, of course you can't.

But that's where grace and love come in. Now you have to understand he's sitting on one side of the table and I'm sitting on the other. And I'm sure I took off my glasses. And I looked at him and I said, if you keep believing what you are believing, you are going to hell. And then he said something very shocking. He says, if I have to go to hell to bear my own punishment, to hell I will go.

Chilling. Now he was a member of Moody Church. Back then maybe we weren't very good at screening membership.

I think we maybe improved a little bit on that. But let's not kid ourselves. We don't always know who's saved and who's lost, because we can't see the human art. So you have a mixed multitude in that sense. You also have a lot of people who are part of the church who are not members. And there's another thing that you need to know about the visible church is it is very, very imperfect. My friend, if Moody Church were a perfect church, I would urge those of you who have never joined to be sure that you never join. Because if you joined, it would be perfect no longer.

All right? But we're just imperfect sinners. And we recognize that there is carnality. There is all kinds of struggle. There's struggles with sin. Spoke to somebody yesterday who's related to me who doesn't go to church, a nephew of mine. And he said, well, you know, we don't go because there are so many hypocrites in the church. Well, I know there are. But maybe it's better that they are there than any other place. Maybe some of these hypocrites will get converted someday if the gospel is preached. I'd rather have the hypocrites in the church than somewhere else.

Yes. Now, where does this leave us? How are we unified? Ephesians chapter 4, very briefly, Ephesians chapter 4, the apostle Paul says in verse 1, Ephesians 4, 1, I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you've been called.

Live up to who you are. You'll notice he says, with all humility, and now what he says is, we are unified in our attitude. Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love. Eager to maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace. We're patient with one another.

We don't insist on our rights. We're not saying it has to be done my way or else I'm out of here. We are willing to forbear and to work with and to bear with one another and the bond of peace. Because you see, Jesus purchased our unity at high cost. And so we want to walk in the unity that has been created by the Holy Spirit when we receive Christ as Savior.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every church split that ever happened, that one of the requirements, before you stand up and go to the microphone in a conference, that one of the requirements would be that you would have humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, love, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace. That's what the Bible calls us to. And you see, that's why we have to come to church.

We have to meet believers who are imperfect. And we have to put up with them and do so in a loving way because we are members of the same body. All right, now, our attitude unites us. Our life unites us. Verse 4, it says, there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope. We are unified because we're members of the same body.

And when one part of the body hurts, the other part hurts also. We are a part of those who rejoice with those who rejoice. But it isn't just that we're committed to each other. It's because God has metaphysically connected us together.

You've had this experience as I have. You can go to another part of the world, and you can meet a believer in Jesus. And even though you've never known him or her, there is a whole area of commonality that you know instantly because they, too, have been born again of the same spirit. They are part of the same body.

Paul says that you are one. There is one body. There's one spirit. There aren't many bodies.

There aren't many spirits. It's all one. There's one hope by which you were called. If you're a believer here today in Jesus, it's because God called you. And the same call to salvation that I answered at the age of 14 is the same call to salvation that you answered at some point in your life when you believed in Jesus. So what you can see here is that what the scripture is saying is we are one loaf. We are members of the same body. We share the same attitude. We share the very same life.

We're all connected to the head. And we're members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. We are one, even with people with whom we disagree and people who it is difficult to love. Well, my friend, this is Pastor Lutzer. Yes, we are unified in Christ.

All believers are, even despite our differences. Rebecca and I have written a book entitled Life Changing Bible Verses You Should Know. Now, this book doesn't simply list Bible verses, but rather it expounds various topics found in the scripture. I believe that it will be life changing.

Why? Because in the Christian life, what we have to do is to understand the broad scope of Christian ideas, Christian doctrine, and issues regarding Christian living. And all that is covered in this book, more than 40 different topics. Each topic is given three or four pages.

And we deal with issues such as grace, grief, heaven, hell, the Holy Spirit, hope, justification. It will be a great means of growth for you and for others. For a gift of any amount, this book can be yours. Here's what you do. Go to

That's Or call us right now at 1-888-218-9337. Remember, the name of the book is Life Changing Bible Verses You Should Know. And you can go to the phone right now and call 1-888-218-9337.

Let me give that to you one more time, 1-888-218-9337. It's time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. When coming to grips with the purposes of God, sooner or later believers will face the really tough questions.

Brad is now in that category. And here is his question. Can I love a God who has destined people to hell? Even if they go to hell of their own free will, he still knew when he created the world that this would happen and could have prevented it. Suddenly, though I am a believer, I am traumatized with the thought that I am finding it impossible to love God.

How could God do what he does, given the earthquakes and horrendous suffering, all of which could have been prevented? How can I love when all I see are cruel decrees? I am in distress.

Help me. Brad, powerful question. And every honest Christian who's listening right now has been where you are. Maybe they haven't asked the question so eloquently. But clearly, we've all wondered this. Couple of comments.

First of all, just know that you are in good company. Before Luther came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, he said, love God. I hate him. Because all that Luther saw was judgment. Every time he turned around, God had something to say about your sin. All that Luther could imagine is the God of judgment. And it's very difficult to love a God who is nothing but judgment.

And sometimes, God looks that way. But the reason that Luther eventually changed his mind and became a God lover is because when he understood the gospel, he discovered that God was also a God of mercy. And so we love God because of his mercy, because of his forgiveness.

Thankfully, he isn't only judgment. He is always also grace. He's forgiveness.

He is love. Now, with regard to these cruel decrees, and we could enumerate them, and you've commented on them, the fact is that you and I need to understand that everything that God does is good and right. And to believe that God is good in the midst of these decrees does take faith, and God is honored by that faith.

Furthermore, we would not naturally love God were it not for the fact that he implanted that love in our hearts when we receive Christ as Savior. That's why the people of the world hate God, is all that they see is judgment. They don't understand grace. They don't understand his love. They don't understand his forgiveness.

And so they respond as you are struggling to respond, namely with hatred and no love. The bottom line is that throughout all of eternity, we are going to agree that God did well, and God did justly and lovingly. And we're going to agree that all the suffering of this world was worth it, if I can put it that way, because God is going to get glory.

Justice is going to be administered throughout the whole universe. And you and I will sing, just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints. And someday, Brad, we're going to love God for his justice and for these supposedly cruel decrees, just as much as we love him because of his grace and mercy, because we will see things from his viewpoint. Go on loving God. Go on trusting God, because that indeed is the way to go. I'm glad that you're a believer.

Share the good news of the gospel with others, that they might also become God lovers and not just God haters. Thank you, Brad, and thank you, Dr. Lutzer. If you'd like to hear your question answered, go to our website at and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer. Or call us at 1-888-218-9337.

That's 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you understand God's roadmap for your race of life. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are two sacraments all Christians observe in one way or another. Next time on Running to Win, Erwin Lutzer will tell us what we share as fellow believers despite our differences, and he'll give us a big picture view of the church from God's perspective. Thanks for listening. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-30 00:18:12 / 2023-03-30 00:28:46 / 11

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