Sermon title:  Battle Lines Drawn in the Churches

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, March 21, 2021

 

 

As I was growing up,

our family hardly ever went to church.

 

While I was in grade school,

we went briefly to a Baptist church in Boston.

 

Then we moved, and in the 7th and 8th Grades

we attended a church in Milton—

an old white New England style church

with a tall white steeple.

 

But the odd thing about it was that

there was an identical church right next to it.

 

Even as a youngster, I thought it quite odd:

two big white steepled churches,

right next to each other, side by side

on the town green.

 

Eventually, I learned that

there had originally been just one church there,

and that church experienced a split long ago,

and half the people

built a new church right next door.

 

Churches experience splits for lots of reasons:

sometimes over doctrinal issues,

sometimes over personalities,

and sometimes over silly issues—

like whether the new carpet

should be blue or red.

 

And that’s been true

as long as churches have been in existence.

 

Satan the devil

actively seeks to sow discord among believers,

in his ongoing efforts to destroy the Church.

 

He sends in false teachers and false teachings

to disrupt the preaching of the Gospel,

and to lead believers away from the faith.

 

But sinful human nature also plays a big part

in many church conflicts.

 

It’s inevitable that conflicts arise among Christians,

because we are all just saved sinners

who still have some of the old personality left.

 

We can all be difficult to get along with, at times.

 

The Lord is still working on us, to re-shape us in his image,

but until that work is finished,

we have a lot of rough edges

that can irritate others in the church.

 

As we go through the Book of Acts,

we’ve been following Paul and Barnabas,

as they’ve traveled together and worked together

to share the Gospel across the

Eastern Mediterranean.

 

Well, in Acts Chapter 15 we find Paul and Barnabas

involved in two major conflicts within the church.

 

The first one pitted Paul and Barnabas

against false teachers in the church

who pushed for a false doctrine.

 

It had to be settled correctly,

in order to preserve the true Gospel of Christ.

 

But the second dispute pitted these two faithful men

against each other

over personalities and family members.

 

What happened in each case--

--and how they resolved these conflicts--

will help us to see how to deal with similar matters

in the church today.

 

Let’s look at the second one first—

the personal dispute between Paul and Barnabas.

 

 

 

 

When they first set out on their missionary travels,

Acts 13:5 tells us,

5 ...They had also John as their attendant.

And Verse 13 says that, early on in their travels,

13 ...John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem.

 

This “John” is the same

“John who was called Mark” at Acts 12:12

and apparently the one who later wrote

the Gospel of Mark later, when he was much older.

 

It’s not surprising that, as a very young man,

John Mark might have found missionary travel

too much for him, and abandoned it

to return home to his mother’s house.

 

But now, toward the end of the 15th Chapter of Acts,

Paul and Barnabas are planning

a second missionary trip,

and there was a blow-up between them

over whether to include John Mark.

 

Beginning at Acts 15:37, we read,

37 Barnabas planned to take John, who was called Mark, with them also. 38 But Paul didn’t think that it was a good idea to take with them someone who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and didn’t go with them to do the work. 39 Then the contention grew so sharp that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas, and went out, being commended by the brothers to the grace of God. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the assemblies.

 

It may be that Barnabas was so determined

to take John Mark with them,

because the young man was a relative.

 

Colossians 4:10 refers to

“Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.”

 

But Paul had no family ties to John Mark,

and he remembered how the young man

abandoned them during their earlier travels

and returned home to Jerusalem.

 

Paul didn’t want to take with them a quitter,

who might quit again and return home to mother.

 

It was such a sharp disagreement

that Paul and Barnabas parted ways,

and went off in different directions.

-------------------------------

 

Something like that can happen in our churches today

when those in leadership disagree among themselves

over who to appoint to a leadership position.

 

Someone in leadership may want to appoint an individual,

while others may be strongly opposed.

 

The disagreement could become so sharp

that they go their separate ways,

with one even leaving to go to another church—

just as Paul and Barnabas separated

and stopped working together.

 

But Paul and Barnabas still recognized each other

as strong men of faith.

 

They did not start to view each other as enemies.

 

It was just a difference over personalities.

And Christian love enabled them

to smooth over their differences, as time went by.

 

John Mark evidently matured to the point that

Paul later wrote to Timothy at 2 Timothy 4:11,

“Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

 

And Paul mentioned Barnabas favorably

in his first letter to the Corinthians.

------------------------------------------

 

So, we can learn from this

that we can weather the storm

when personality differences

lead to arguments and even to splits

with Christians going their separate ways.

 

We all have rough edges to our personalities,

but we should not allow that

to make us view one another as enemies.

 

Even if we need to stop working together for a while,

we should do that

with the aim of allowing time and space

to cool off,

and with the aim of reconciling again,

as Paul and Barnabas did.

--------------------------------------------

 

But, the other blow-up in the church,

related in the first part of Acts Chapter 15,

was different.

 

They were serving in a church that was made up of

both Jewish and Gentile believers.

 

But then Acts 15:1 says,

1 Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.”

That was a big deal.

Getting “circumcised after the custom of Moses”

meant coming under old Mosaic Law covenant

in order to be saved.

Jews were circumcised, and Gentiles were not.

 

So, if a non-Jewish male wanted to convert

to the Jewish religion,he had to get circumcised.

 

And that step of circumcision obligated the man

to obey the 600-plus Laws of Moses.

 

So, when

men came down from Judea

and taught the brothers,

“Unless you are circumcised

after the custom of Moses,

you can’t be saved,”

 

--they were teaching that you can not be saved

through faith in Christ alone.

 

Instead of salvation through God’s grace,

they were teaching salvation by your works

--the work of keeping the Jewish Laws.

 

It would have meant that believers of all nationalities

would have to become Jews in order to be Christians.

That was a deadly false doctrine,

and Paul and Barnabas stood up against it.

 

But the false teachers persisted,

so Paul and Barnabas needed reinforcements.

 

So, Acts 15:2 continues,

Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small discord and discussion with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.

 

One translation says,

“This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.” (NIV)

 

Another translation calls it

“a heated argument and debate.”  (NASB}

 

And another Bible version says they had

“a fierce argument.”   (Good News Trans.)

And that was appropriate, because faithful believers

can’t just stand still

and let false teachings corrupt the church.

 

But, when they got to Jerusalem,

they found some false teachers in that church, too.

 

Verse 5 says,

5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

 

These Pharisees were believers, but they

carried some Pharisaical teachings with them

into the Christian church.

 

Paul had been raised a Pharisee himself.

 

But he left that Pharisaical thinking behind

when he turned to Christ.

 

And the account tells us

that the Apostles and Jerusalem church elders met,

and that Peter and James joined Paul & Barnabas

in defending salvation through Grace.

 

So, they wrote a letter to the Gentile believers

telling them that they were NOT obligated

to get circumcised and obey the Jewish laws.

 

That should have settled the issue,

but those false teachers kept popping up

in the First Century churches,

and Paul kept denouncing them

in his letters to the churches.

-----------------------------

 

Some modern church controversies involve issues

with no clear biblical instructions—

like whether the new carpet should be red or blue.

 

An article in The Baptist Press last month

said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused controversies

and it quoted a prominent pastor as saying,

“masks are the new

‘color of the carpet argument’ in churches.”

Then he went on to say, “I know of pastors

who are quitting

just over the stress of this issue

...and I know churches splitting

over whether you should wear a mask or not.”

 

It’s sad to see that happen,

but it calls to mind how Paul and Barnabas split

over whether to take John Mark with them.

 

Hopefully those who split over such issues

will reconcile after the crisis is over.

-------------------------------

 

But there is another much more serious issue today

that is more like those Pharisees trying to

replace salvation through Christ

with earning salvation by following the Law of Moses.

 

And that’s the issue

of homosexuality and transgenderism.

 

They argue that people are “born that way”

and have a right to act out their feelings.

 

But medical researchers at Johns Hopkins have proved

that people are not born that way.

 

Psychiatrists classified these tendencies

as “mental illness”

until pressure from gay advocacy groups

intimidated them into saying they are “normal.”

 

But the Bible correctly classifies such behavior as “sin.”

 

And God is not about to be intimidated.

 

But churches and individual believers

need to be constantly on guard,

not to be corrupted by Satan’s world.

 

Romans 12:2 says,

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within.”

 

The enemy has drawn up the battle lines

in a full-scale assault against Christian values.

 

There are those today

who are trying to bring into the church

the moral depravity of today’s culture.

 

And we need to resist them forcefully and fiercely,

just as Paul and Barnabas resisted

those who denied salvation by faith in Christ.

 

These enemies of the Gospel have already succeeded

in getting several mainline denominations

to endorse that sinful behavior.

 

But the battle is still on,

as they try to penetrate evangelical churches, as well.

 

And they are making headway, with men like

Philip Yancey who has authored many Christian books

and former President Jimmy Carter,

who teaches a Bible study at a Southern Baptist Church—

men like that leading the way

in endorsing homosexual and transgender sin.

 

Those sins are different from, and worse than other sins.

 

Yes, I know that all sins separate us from God.

 

But some sins are worse than others

in how offensive they are to God,

and in the harm that they do to people.

 

Cheating on your income taxes does less harm

than raping and murdering a child.

 

1 Corinthians 6:18 says,

18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a man can commit is outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit...?

 

Notice that this verse says that sexual sins are different

from “every other sin a man can commit.”

 

Sex with someone other than your husband or wife

desecrates a temple of the Holy Spirit.

But homosexual sin is worse, even,

than other sexual sins.

 

We find that taught repeatedly in the Bible.

 

While Leviticus Chapter 18

lists a variety of forbidden sexual sins,

it sets apart homosexual sin as “detestable” to God.

 

Leviticus 18:22 says,

"Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

 

And God uses the same language for transgender behavior.

 

Deuteronomy 22:5 says,

5 A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.

 

It’s no surprise that Satan the devil

is debasing this modern world

by promoting these things that God detests.

 

We don’t see liars, drunkards and thieves

parading in the streets in “Liars Pride” parades,

or “Drunkards Pride” parades,

or “Thieves Pride” parades,

but we do see “Gay Pride” parades

flaunting homosexuality in major cities.

 

And God condemns such flaunting of sin.

 

Isaiah 3:9 says,

“they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.”

 

The people of Jerusalem

paraded “their sin like Sodom.”

 

God uses Sodom throughout the Bible

as an example of the worst sinners.

 

Our word “sodomy” comes from the name of that city

which God destroyed back in Abraham’s day

for its extreme sexual immorality and perversion.

 

And the word “Sodom” appears almost 50 times

throughout the Bible,

cited repeatedly as an example of evil.

 

The last place before Revelation

is in the New Testament letter of Jude.

 

Jude 1:7 says,

"Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire."

 

Why did Jude bring up “Sodom and Gomorrah”

in a letter addressed to fellow Christians?

 

Because, even back at that time, there were individuals

bringing such sexual immorality into the churches.

 

And Jude was calling on his fellow believers

to fight against such bad influences in the churches.

 

He cited “Sodom and Gomorrah” in Verse 7 because,

as he said beginning in Verse 3,

3 ...I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people.

4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

 

Just as Pharisees pushed the circumcision issue

and threatened to turn the churches away from

salvation by the Grace of God

back in the First Century,

there are those today pushing homosexuality

and transgender identity,

to turn churches away from

Christ’s righteousness today.

 

They “pervert the grace of our God

into a license for immorality.”

 

And Jude urges us to “contend” for the faith.

 

A number of translations render that, to “fight” for the faith.

----------------------------------------

 

And this “fight” for the faith pits us against enemies

both inside and outside of the churches.

The new Biden-Harris administration in Washington

is pushing executive orders and new laws

to force Christian churches, schools & businesses

to hire perverted pastors, teachers & workers.

 

And their new laws and regulations are again trying

to force Christian photographers, florists, bakers

and those in the hospitality industry

to service same-sex weddings.

 

People in other jobs who refuse to call her “him”

or to call him “her” are being fired or cancelled.

 

And Amazon, which sells most of the books in America

last month banned the sale

of the book “When Harry Became Sally”

criticizing the transgender movement.

 

Traditional media and social media are all censoring

Christians in ways no one could have imagined

even just a year ago.

 

The Christian president of Gab.com,

a social media site without censorship,

said this week that 5 banks have refused

to handle his transactions.

 

Without a bank to process credit cards or cash checks,

a business can’t buy or sell.

 

But the most dangerous attacks are those

that come from people inside the churches.

 

Our Lord Jesus holds Christians & churches responsible

to fight against such things.

 

At Revelation 2:20, the risen Christ told the church at Thyatira,

I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

 

We are commanded not to tolerate such sin in the churches,

and not to approve of it in the society around us.

It has been a long struggle, down through the centuries.

 

But now Satan is pressing the battle to the gates,

and we must not give in an inch.

 

We need to remember the counsel of

Romans 12:2 which says,

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within.”