Speaking the Truth in Love
Religious Division at the Time of Jesus
A. Religious division is a reality. There are thousands of different groups all claiming to follow Christ but differing widely in teaching and practice.
B. In this divisive environment, we seek to communicate the Biblical plan of serving God without being attached to any humanly devised church.
C. In other words, what does it mean to simply be a Christian?
D. There are three attitudes people generally hold about religious division.
1. Total rejection of Christianity due to confusing, contradictory churches.
2. Reform of denominations that leads either to the joining of one or the creation of one.
3. Combine all groups into one mega-church as long as all believe in Jesus - NO OTHER CHANGES REQUIRED!
E. What should our attitude be toward religious division? Should we hold to one of these three attitudes?
F. To find the answer, we look at the attitude of Jesus whom we claim to follow as Lord. Whatever His attitude was should be our attitude.
II. What would Jesus do about religious division?
A. At first, we may think that religious division is a new phenomenon and that was not at work during the time of Jesus.
B. Acts 20:28-30; "...savage wolves will come...to draw away the disciples after themselves."
C. However, there was much division in the days of Jesus with the Gentiles worshipping a variety of idols and the Jews divided into various parties that differed widely from one another.
D. Let us look at the characteristics of these Jewish groups.
1. Sadducees - These were religious politicians that compromised with the Greek-thinking world in order to hold onto the power they held over the Temple and the office of the High Priest. They went farther than the Greeks and denied the existence of the spirit after death. Therefore, they did not believe in the resurrection (Acts 4:1-2, 5:17-18, 23:6-8).
2. Pharisees - They made no compromise with the Jewish parties, Greeks, or Romans. They believed in angels and the resurrection. They believed in strict law keeping but they exalted their traditions above the law and wound up violating it. They also thought paying taxes to the Romans was sinful (Acts 23:6-8, 22:3, 26:4-5, Luke 18:10-14).
3. Herodians - They were supported by the dynasty of Herod, and therefore the rule of Rome. They supported Rome and believed in paying taxes. They joined with the Pharisees to oppose Jesus (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 3:6, 12:13).
4. Zealots - They were a sect of the Jews who were Pharisee extremists. They were bitterly antagonistic toward the Romans and were mainly from Galilee. Simon, one of the apostles, once belonged to the zealots (Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13).
5. Essenes - They were not mentioned in Scriptures. They were isolated from society living in small groups in the wilderness. They were thought to have totaled about 4,000 people. They were responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls which are the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament that have been found. A copy of Isaiah was dated about 100 BC (the oldest known) along with part or all of each book except for Esther. They had their own strict rules of conduct including purification rites and making oaths to be faithful to their organization. Historians feel that some of the Essenes who were not killed by the Romans, became Christians.
6. More than likely even more divisions than these listed exsisted.
E. Jesus came to a divided religious world
F. Did Jesus reject religion altogether? Did Jesus join one of these religious groups that existed? No. Jesus did not attach Himself to any of these groups nor did He take part in or condone them at all.
1. Was He a Sadducee? No. (Mark 11:15-16, John 2:14-17, Matthew 22:23-33)
2. Was He a Pharisee? No. He upheld keeping the Law but rebuked the Pharisees for their traditions that caused them to disobey the law (Mark 7:1-13). He also rebuked them for their hypocrisy and self- righteousness (Matthew 23:23-28). He did believe in angels and the resurrection.
3. Was He a Herodian? No. Although He believed in paying taxes He sharply criticized Herod whom they revered (Mark 8:15, Luke 13:31-32).
4. Was He a zealot? No. (John 18:36-38)
5. Was He an Essene or any other goup not listed? Obviously Not. (Mark 16:15-16, John 17:14-18)
G. Did He try to make a supergroup or mega-group of all these groups? No!
III. What was His attitude toward religious division?
A. He was a servant of God yet He did not belong to any human party.
B. Although denominational folks admit that it is possible to be a Christian and not be a part of a central organization or a denomination, many still insist on branding themselves and others as various "kinds" of Christians.
C. Jesus and unity.
1. He first united Himself with God (Luke 2:46-49, John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38, 14:8-11).
2. He taught others to do the same (John 14:21, Matthew 19:16-17).
3. All his disciples who did this were united (John 17:11, 20-22, 1 John 5:1-5).
4. Why is there not more unity? (Matt. 10:34-38, John 10:22-30)
IV. What denomination did the teaching of the Gospel produce?
A. It produced the Lord's people, His church wherever people obeyed the gospel (Acts 2:41-42, 47).
B. We cannot demand any more of someone than God does - IN FACT IT IS WRONG TO DO SO!
C. Some use Mark 15:1-8 to try to prove that Christ authorized denominations.
1. The arguement is that Chirst is the vine and the branches are the different denominations.
2. Was Christ talking about multiple denominations or was he talking about multiple individuals?
3. Christ often used examples that the people around him would understand. Certainly farming was something people understood then. What vine, even today, can grow strawberries, grapes, watermelons, kiwi, cucumbers, etc.? Any botinists would quickly tell you that no such vine exists. Why would Christ use such an absurd example? Unless of course, the passage has been misinterpreted to try to prove something Christ did not intend.
4. The passage clearly teaches that we (those of Christ) are to abide in the the vine (Christ) not in the branches as the false doctrine promotes.
D. Jesus did not want denominations then and does not want them now (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). IS CHRIST DIVIDED?!?
V. Personal Application
A. We can all be sons of God through obedient faith (Galatians 3:26-29).
B. We must be proud to be a Christian as God has described rather than feeling that being simply a Christian is not enough. When we attach another name to ourselves, aren’t we really saying that being simply a Christian is not good enough?
C. Let us clearly follow and teach others what it means to be simply a Christian and not a part of any human religious organization.
We hope to see you next time on “Speaking the Truth in Love”.