Division In The Church - Salvation (Regeneration)
Division In The Church
As seen in the last chapter, there are differences in men's beliefs as to the role of man in the salvation process. Since salvation in its complete process involves many steps, it is my hope to cover each step in consecutive chapters. The first step of salvation looked at will be regeneration. Having looked at the division seen between "election" and "free will" the focus will now change as we look at the advocates of "free will" and see that there are differences as to the extent of action man must perform Godward in his quest for eternal life. The following are different doctrinal views concerning the initiation of regeneration:
Regeneration initiated by God alone (no initiation on man's part):
The Westminster Confession Of Faith, 1647: Chapter 5- paragraph 2- "This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man (II Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4,5; Eph.2:4,5,8,9; Rom.9:11); who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit (I Cor.2:14; Rom.8:7; Eph.2:5), he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it."
Regeneration initiated by man's faith:
Evangelical Friends: JUSTIFICATION: "In response to sinner's , surrender of themselves, and sincere faith in the power and sufficiency of Jesus' atoning death and shed blood (I John 2:1-2), God pardons them from past sins and declares them righteous..."
Regeneration initiated by man's faith plus outward works:
Independent Church of Christ: "We do not believe baptism is any more important than faith, repentance, or good works. Neither do we believe there is any virtue in the water. But we believe baptism is an act of obedience commanded by Christ in order to receive salvation."
The differences of opinion of Christian brothers ranges in scope from total dependence on God for initiation of salvation to total dependence on man, with different degrees of responsibility manward and Godward lying in between. Historically speaking two main segments of the early church believed as follows (taken from Schaff's History of the Christian Church Vol.3 pg.786):
The Greek and particularly the Alexandrian fathers in opposition to the dualism and fatalism of the Gnostic system, which made evil a necessity of nature, laid great stress upon human freedom, and upon the indispensable cooperation of this freed om with divine grace. This developed into a "synergism" which coordinates human will and divine grace as factors in the work of conversion. The Latin fathers, especially Tertullian and Cyprian, Hilary and Ambrose, guided rather by their practical experience than by speculative principles, emphasized the hereditary sin and hereditary guilt of man, and the sovereignty of God's grace, without denying freedom and individual accountability. This developed, under the influence of Augustine, into the system of "divine monergism" which gives God all of the glory, and makes freedom itself a result of grace.
The question, at this point, is not who is right or wrong, the question on my mind is, can these differences be reconciled? Are they differences which constitute warfare between brothers in Christ?
In my study of the scriptures, there is only one means of reconciliation and that is through the action of the Spirit of God in the individual's heart and life. Unfortunately, in this life, many believers, in order to become more spiritual, are seeking to find the key though human understanding and not the leading of the Holy Spirit. One of the pastors which sent me a statement made this comment which really seems to hit home in this study: "As for determining whether divisions in the church are scripturally based or man-made, I can assure you they are man-made. You have only to look at the 17th chapter of John to know that division among Christians was never Jesus' will. It usually comes about as a result of people's intolerance of one another rather than as a result of doctrinal statements. And it is true of human nature that once you have decided not to tolerate your brother's ideas or way of believing, you can always find a doctrinal argument that will seem to support you. But Jesus will not honor it. Every impulse I have from His Spirit tells me that He is deeply grieved over our divisions, our unwillingness to love and help one another, and our passion for sitting in judgement on one another."
This is the root problem of all doctrinal differences. As believers, we often sit down at God's Word with the intent of discovering something that will prove a fellow Christian wrong. This causes us to be no longer led by the Holy Spirit in our search of the scriptures but rather led by human desire. When this occurs our findings will always be in error because our study is being done in the natural mind. I Cor.2:11-14 is a scripture which describes the situation perfectly, "For what man knoweth the things of man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have recieved, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man recieveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." We know that in each of our lives a constant battle is going on between the flesh and the Spirit, Rom.7:18-25. Gal 6:8 tells us "For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall reap life everlasting." How do we know whether we are sowing to the flesh or to the Spirit? The Bible is very clear on this point. To sow to the Spirit is to do the will of God and the will of the Father is that we love one another (John 13:34-35) any doctrinal statement that is arrived at through discord and not love is a doctrinal statement made under the thoughts and pretenses of the human will and according to the scripture will result only in error.
It is my firm belief that if we, as believers, approach the Word of God with the desire to know the will of God as our only objective in study He has promised to reveal the truth to us John 15:15 "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." The Word of God is a treasure house of truth, truth that will be revealed to the man of God whose love for his Father and brothers causes him to seek unity and not division. Is it so terrible for a brother or sister in Christ to believe their salvation is totally of God? Would this not increase his or her love for such a God? On the other hand if God is totally omnipotent in the initiation of salvation does it really matter if a brother in Christ thinks he has a part in the process? Is not a sovereign God going to build His church regardless of how some of His children may think it is being built? Can we not look upon these beliefs as wood, hay, stubble, and gold, silver, and precious stone, which does not destroy our brotherhood in Christ but are personal beliefs which will be known at the coming of our Lord?
Some of the questions we need to answer concerning this doctrine: 1. Is saving faith a work of God in a man's life or a work of man?
2. If saving faith is an action of an unregenerate man toward God, how do we justify Titus 3:5 - Eph.2:8-9?
3. If baptism is an action of an unregenerate man toward God, how do we justify Titus 3:5 - Eph.2:8-9?
4. If we believe we must work the work of faith toward God for our salvation how do we know for sure that the action of Baptism is not also necessary?
Hard questions to answer but if we are to know the truth of the scriptures they must be answered and answered by the individual believer as he or she builds upon the foundation of Christ. It is interesting to note that once the problem of the initiation is remedied all doctrinal statements I have received agree that the work of regeneration is of Christ alone through the Holy Spirit.*
Christian and Missionary Alliance: "Salvation has been provided through Jesus Christ for all men; and those who repent and believe in Him are born again of the Holy Spirit...."
Grace Brethren: THE HOLY SPIRIT- "His personality (John 16:7-15) and deity (Acts 5:3-4); and his work in each believer: baptism and indwelling at the moment of regeneration (I Cor.12:13; Rom.8:9).
Independent: "Conditions to Salvation- Salvation is received through repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost...."
Wesleyan: "We believe that regeneration is that work of the Holy Spirit by which the pardoned sinner becomes a child of God." Baptist: "We believe that justification is that judicial act of God whereby He declares the believer righteous upon the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ:" Perhaps it would be good to dwell on this aspect of regeneration on which we all agree and argue the other point out in private with God and His Word.