But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7)
Christians Are Not Identical
If the first and second chapters of Ephesians taught us anything, it’s that the gospel is not what we can do for God. Its essence is not what we can do for ourselves. The gospel is about what God does for us. It’s about his merciful provision through the Savior, Jesus Christ. We are a passive, undeserving people whom God has called into a life of faithful obedience and good works.
Paul tells us that this new life requires humility, meekness, patience, love, and a strong desire for unity among God’s people. The family of God is bound together by Christ and his Spirit, so the Bible commands us to live accordingly. We are united by the Spirit, so Paul says, “Maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3). To quote another passage out of context, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mk 10:9).
As I’ve said before, the thrust of Paul’s message in his letter to the Ephesians is that all believers are made equal. We are all “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6).
Your past is no longer relevant. Your cultural background doesn’t matter. Were you a Jew? Not anymore. Were you a Gentile? It makes no difference. You are the workmanship of Christ, “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10). “He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14).
Do you get the impression that our calling into the church strips us of our personal identity? Does it seem as though God molds us into a stereotype where our individuality is lost? Is Christianity a religion where one size fits all? You either fit the mold, or you don’t. If not, some may think, you don’t belong here.
If that were the case, why would a believer need patience when dealing with others in the church? Why would we need to maintain unity if everyone is the same? Unity would come naturally. If we all think the same, act the same, talk the same, and dress the same, how could there be any division?
The fact is, we are not the same. There is something profound and fundamental that binds us together (namely, Christ), but we are not identical. God doesn’t expect us to be identical. We were born with different personalities. We lived through different upbringings and experiences. God gives us different gifts. As Paul says elsewhere, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1Co 12:4-6).
Unity Is Not Uniformity
I believe the body of Christ can be summed up this way: The body of Christ is a group of supernaturally-empowered distinct individuals who work together to build up the body, reveal Christ to the world, and glorify God. We are distinct individuals with unique gifts and ministries, but we are also called into the same body to work together for the same end.
After reading Ephesians 2-3, we might lose sight of our individuality. I would argue that many, many problems have been caused in the church simply because we fail to accept our differences. The church has split many times as the sad result of people not willing to budge on matters of opinion and personal preference. The color of the carpet has become a catchphrase for that very reason. How many churches have split over something as meaningless as the color of the carpet?
Music has often been a divisive topic for churches. Some insist on congregational singing sans musical instruments. Some prefer old hymns while others like contemporary songs. I read an article the other day which debated the merits of drums in the church. Some people have strong views that drums represent an instrument of the devil. Others, however, such as Native American Christians, come from a cultural background where drums have a uniquely spiritual quality.
In most of these matters, I believe Paul would say, “Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Ro 14:19). Regarding our distinct personalities and gifts, I believe he’d say, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1Co 12:7).
Here in Ephesians 4, Paul says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7). I appreciate the translation of that first word, but. Occasionally, an English Bible will say, “Now grace was given—” This conjunction, however, is an adversative conjunction. In other words, it is intended to mark a contrast between what came before and what comes after. It’s the same as saying “regardless” or “on the other hand.”
Previously, Paul has spoken extensively about the body of Christ. He has emphasized the body’s unity, potentially leading us to think that we lose all personal identity when we join the church.
Several years ago, I was talking with a pastor who is certainly unique. He tends to break the mold when it comes to conservative Baptist pastors. He was telling me that when he started preaching, he tried his hardest to be just like every other elder he knew. He looked at these other men and thought, I guess that’s what a pastor is supposed to be.
After a while, though, he realized that God had called him to preach. God had called him with all of his distinct personality traits and different ways of doing things. He told me, “It was only after I learned to be me and use my special gifts that my ministry became truly effective.”
Paul is leading us here to think in similar terms. “But,” he says, “grace was given to each one of us.” Peter doesn’t become Paul when God calls him. Paul doesn’t become Peter. In other words, unity is not uniformity. The unity of believers is not to be misunderstood as removing the uniqueness of believers.
The Tribalism of Christianity
Just the other day, Pamela shared an article on Facebook written by a Reformed charismatic, and she asked for my opinion. I never gave it, so I’ll do that now.
First of all, I know what some of you are thinking when you hear “Reformed charismatic.” You probably hear an oxymoron. How can a person be so grounded in Scripture as to believe in Reformed theology (i.e., the doctrines of grace) but also be a charismatic who believes in some of the same doctrines as false teachers such as Benny Hinn? It doesn’t make sense.
The author of the article describes himself this way:
I’m a Reformed charismatic. With one foot I’m firmly planted in the historic Reformed world. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, I sat under the feet of world-class professors like John Frame. Yet my other foot is planted elsewhere—in the world of the modern, global, charismatic movement. I admire the missionary zeal of the global south and east along with the spiritual power and miracle-producing faith they embody. Yes, it’s an odd space in the church world to occupy. (“Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other” by Adam Mabry)
What is it that makes us think it’s contradictory to be Reformed and charismatic? These doctrinal positions are not mutually exclusive. One can certainly believe in the sovereignty of God and salvation by grace while also believing in the continuation of miraculous gifts. Frankly, the Bible does not tell us that miraculous gifts would cease. It simply warns us that Satan will use “false signs and wonders” for the purpose of deceiving people (2Th 2:9). But let’s not forget that he uses the Bible, too.
If Reformed Christians are not separated from charismatic Christians by any obvious substantial differences (especially Reformed charismatics), then why does there seem to be such a wide gulf between us? Why is our first thought, You can’t be a Reformed charismatic?
The short answer is tribalism.
Back in the day when I actually cared about politics, I noticed just how tribal people tend to be with their political ideologies. They can be so tribal, in fact, that individuals cease to have distinct opinions. If you are a conservative, for instance, you must believe in lower taxes for the rich, a strong military presence around the world, and every other viewpoint on the conservative checklist. If you’re a liberal, you need to check every box on their list. There’s not much room for the people who defy the categories. There’s not much room for the guy who believes in taxing the rich, but also believes in a strong military presence.
The same is true in Christianity. Two-thousand years of church history have produced well-defined tribes among believers. Chances are if someone scoffs at the notion of a Reformed charismatic, it is the result of two things.
First, they know very little about the charismatic movement. It was never part of their Sunday school curriculum. They have no personal experience with it.
Second, they’ve learned to make caricatures out of charismatics. We may very well have exaggerated perspectives. When we hear “charismatic,” we may instantly think of the charlatans on TV selling magical prayer cloths or the Pentecostals rolling around on the floor. Let me ask you this: As Reformed Baptists, do you want to be judged by the outliers such as the Hyper-Calvinists? Do you want people to assume that all Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists? Of course not. Maybe we shouldn’t do the same to charismatics.
Practicing Grace Between Denominations
Let me read a bit more of this article:
In church history, bad things have happened when those with teaching gifts [referring to the Reformed side of the divide] have been relationally or structurally separated from those with “miraculous” gifts [the charismatic side]. … This separation has never been more apparent than the present. It’s cause for concern when Pentecostals/charismatics get together in their conferences, read their books, remain in their churches, and never get out of their sandbox. Such tribalism is how some pretty egregious errors are birthed and nurtured—the prosperity gospel being the most obvious example. Numerous times I’ve listened to my Pentecostal/charismatic brethren and thought, If only they looked more closely into the Scriptures, they could have avoided this problem. As one of my mentors put it, “Charismatics love the fire of God’s power, but sometimes we burn things down with it.”
As has often been noticed, charismatic experience can lead honest, well-meaning Christians astray into terrible error. The God-always-only-ever-wants-to-bless-you-and-make-your-life-great nonsense that accounts for some louder voices destroys our ability to suffer well. The Word of Faith movement is sometimes indiscernible from sympathetic magic. But that’s where the profundity of the Reformed love for the Bible can come to help. That is, if we would come to help.
Next, he turns things around to focus on his Reformed brethren, saying:
Just as concerning as it is when charismatics stay in their own sandbox, so it is with us Calvinists. I’m so grateful for the recent explosion of interest in Reformed theology. I was Reformed before it was cool enough to come with tattoos, plaid shirts, and beards, but it’s nice to be part of the in-crowd, I guess. But let’s not fool ourselves—the Reformed movement pales in size to the Modern Pentecostal/charismatic Movement (hereafter, MPCM). MPCM is the fastest-growing religious movement in the history of the human race. In 1900, there were statistically a meaningless number of such Christians. Presently, the number sits around 700 million, or 1 out of every 3 believers. Just to put it into perspective, that’s more than the total number of Buddhists, Jews, and all folk religions in the world. MPCM isn’t going away. Quite the opposite.
And it’s not growing because they’re all heretics (many are, to be sure, but not nearly all). They’re growing because they’re making disciples. For as much as we Calvinists talk, think, and teach well on the subject, the charismatics seem to be doing more of it. To use my mentor’s metaphor again, we Calvinists construct a beautiful fireplace, but sometimes we struggle to get the fire going. We might learn something from our charismatic brethren, if we knew any.
I’ll jump ahead to the very end of the article and read his conclusion:
Can you imagine the exponential good that would happen if charismatics learned exegesis from the likes of Don Carson? What kingdom fruit would be born if Calvinists learned to exercise missional faith like our MPCM counterparts? I sometimes daydream about what could happen if the passion of the Pentecostal for the power of God and the passion of the Calvinist for the Word of God could be combined to accomplish the work of God. The world just might see the glory of God.
This purpose means we’re going to have to lead. The history of the Western Church, particularly since the Reformation, is so pot-marked with breakups, splits, and violent divisions over second- and third-tier doctrinal differences that it’s little wonder our culture thinks Christians are divisive. We who cherish the doctrines of grace must lead in practicing grace toward those with whom we differ. And we can because the gospel shows us that this is precisely how Christ treated us. We can because the Spirit is available to enable such grace in us. We can because God knows that accomplishing the mission is going to mean we must work together.
Charismatics and Calvinists need each other. We don’t have to agree to be agreeable. We don’t have to compromise our consciences to effect change. And we don’t have to sacrifice biblical faithfulness for spiritual power. We can have both.
3 Reasons To Avoid Extreme Tribalism
The author makes several good points in this article. Let me highlight just a few.
1) There is no perfect church.
The author doesn’t say that explicitly, but he implies it. Regardless, we know it’s true. If we know it’s true, then why should we act as though it isn’t?
Our tribal nature makes us extreme. We would never say it this way, but we often act as though our tribe has it all figured out while everyone else is completely wrong. The truth lies somewhere in between. Doesn’t it? We don’t have it all figured out, and just because other churches are wrong about one thing or another, doesn’t mean they’re wrong about everything. Perhaps we could learn from them.
Notice what Paul says in this chapter of Ephesians:
He gave … shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15)
In the church, there should be a mutual striving for maturity and knowledge of the truth as we grow up into Christ.
2) We can’t be a positive influence on people with whom we refuse to associate.
When we build walls around our church or ourselves, we’re not just keeping everyone else out. We’re not just preventing false doctrine from entering. We’re trapping ourselves inside. We’re preventing the truth of God’s Word from spreading beyond us.
I’m going to make a statement that will probably sound more controversial than I intend, but please try to discern what I mean. I am less concerned about being a good Reformed Baptist than I am being a good Christian. Spurgeon said it best when he said, “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist. I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist. But if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.'”
The point is this: We are disciples of Christ before all else. Let’s not forget that. If we do, we may find ourselves doing more to promote Joy Christian Church or the Reformed Baptists than the kingdom of God. If we grow more concerned for our tribe than the entire body of Christ, the walls go up, and we cease to do much more than hurl stones over them at anyone who passes.
Of course, this problem of tribalism isn’t a new problem for the church. Do you remember what Paul told the Corinthians?
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
The church was forming divisive factions even 2,000 years ago. There is nothing new under the sun.
3) We don’t have to agree to be agreeable.
That’s a direct quote from the article, and it’s true. I’m not suggesting that we strive to form a megachurch which includes people from every Christian denomination. I’m not suggesting there aren’t vital issues which warrant strict separation. Paul commanded, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Ro 16:17).
Even so, we often have trouble identifying our brothers and sisters in Christ. Oh, you’re charismatic. I’m not one of you. Get thee behind me, Satan.
We’re not alone. The apostles struggled with this problem as well. In Luke 9, John so proudly announced, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us” (Lk 9:49). Apparently, he wasn’t part of their elite group. Jesus responded, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you” (Lk 9:50).
It’s interesting to see the progression in that chapter. First, the apostles argue over who is the greatest among them. Second, they prevent a man from using the power of God over Satan because he wasn’t one of them. Then, the Samaritans show them disrespect, so James and John ask Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk 9:54). Jesus rebuked them, by the way.
Let me back up in Ephesians to the passage we looked at last week. Paul tells us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3). Remember that our unity already exists. We have unity because God has “made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:5). When Paul tells us to maintain that unity, our goal is to strengthen the relationship between fellow believers (members of God’s family). To which tribe they belong is a moot point.
Prioritizing Spiritual Unity
I like what Richard Phillips said in his book, The Church. He said:
Denominations allow us to have organizational unity where we have full agreement and allow us to have spiritual unity with other denominations, since we are not forced to argue our way to perfect agreement but can accept our differences of opinion on secondary matters. (The Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic
His statement gets to the heart of the point I’m trying to convey. I’m not promoting organizational unity among all Christians. I’m talking about spiritual unity. I’m talking about discerning the difference between a disagreement over secondary points of doctrine and, let’s say, worshiping a different god.
For example, I was talking with someone I know about someone she knows. She said to me, “I know this woman, and we just cannot discuss biblical matters with one another.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “This woman worships another god.”
“Another god?” I asked. “So she’s not a Christian?”
“Yes, she’s a Christian, but she doesn’t really believe in the sovereignty of God. Her god is weak, begging people to be saved rather than saving them according to his sovereign purpose.”
I thought about it a minute and determined it might be a teachable moment, so I quoted a few passages.
First, I quoted 1 Timothy 2 where Paul says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti 2:3-4).
Then, I quoted Romans 10 where Paul quotes Isaiah: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Ro 10:21).
Lastly, I quoted Jesus who said, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Lk 13:34).
Here we have just three examples of God expressing a desire to save people who were not willing to come to Christ to be saved. Obviously, God did not decree them to be saved, but he did desire their salvation. Why wouldn’t he? Through Ezekiel, he says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone … so turn, and live” (Eze 18:32).
My friend, however, was seemingly trapped in her Calvinist tribe. She had grown to so severely reject anyone outside of her tribe that she was inclined to view them as worshiping another god altogether. She couldn’t find any merit in the views of her acquaintance.
After quoting these verses to her, I asked, “Do you believe this other woman is saved? Do you believe that ‘grace was given to [her] according to the measure of Christ’s gift’ (Eph 4:7)? Has she been made ‘alive together with Christ’ (Eph 2:5)? Has she been ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works’ (Eph 2:10)?
“Yes, I think so,” she said.
“If so,” I said, “she doesn’t worship a different god. Whether you like it or not, she is your sister in Christ. She may be wrong about some vital points of doctrine, precluding close fellowship between you in the same local church, but you are both members of the body of Christ for a reason. You are both striving to ‘attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ (Eph 2:13). Rather than casting her off completely, perhaps you should teach her in meekness and with patience while also learning from her.”
The Case For Complete Separation
The Bible gives us two reasons for totally purging people from our lives and fellowship: (1) unrepentant sin and (2) heresy.
Concerning sin, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Purge the evil person from among you” (1Co 5:13). If someone persists in their sin with no signs of repentance even after we’ve tried everything to restore them, Paul says they must go. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1Co 5:6). Allowing blatant sin to remain in the church is a recipe for disaster because it spreads.
Concerning heresy, the Bible pulls no punches. The problem is that we’re tempted to label every theological disagreement a matter of heresy. Worse yet, we struggle to discern between false teachers (wolves) and misled ignorant sheep. Let me give you a sample of what the Bible says about false teachers from 2 Peter 2:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)
They will deny Jesus Christ, deceiving people for their personal gain. We can’t throw everyone we disagree with into that category. That’s a deadly serious charge. It’s a real threat, but we should be very careful about who we label a heretic.
Working Toward Unity
Paul says, “Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7). Does this verse apply to only our church or did Paul have the entire body of Christ in mind?
My point is this: Let’s not raise a “dividing wall of hostility” where one shouldn’t exist (Eph 2:14). Let’s not be guilty of undermining the redemptive plan of God which seeks to unite God’s elect people. We’re still sinners in a sinful world, so perfect unity is not something we’re going to accomplish. But that’s not the point. We’re simply called to work toward unity, not against it. We are called to lead one another and learn from one another, not create bigger barriers between us.
Danae and I sometimes watch the show, Fixer Upper. If you’ve ever seen the show, then you know Chip Gaines loves demolition day. It’s a lot of fun taking a sledgehammer to the walls. It’s also a lot easier than rebuilding the walls.
Criticism is easy. Pointing out another’s flaws can make us feel good about ourselves, but what has God called us to do?
To walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
We are called to recognize our distinct gifts and how they work together for the good of the entire body. We are called to speak the truth in love so the whole body can mature and grow up into Christ our head. Even when the Galatians fell into terrible heresy, deceived by opponents of Christ, Paul said, “You who are spiritual should restore him [the deceived person] in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1).
Just imagine what would happen if Christians everywhere tried harder to teach one another and learn from one another rather than find fault and even more reasons to separate. As long as we “see in a mirror dimly,” as Paul said, there will be factions in the body of Christ. Lord willing, however, our efforts to love and understand fellow Christians will minimize the creation of further divisions.
When dealing with someone from outside of our tribe, first ask yourself, “Is this person a redeemed member of the family of God?” Second, look for common ground between you. It’s there. Third, listen closely before you assume anything. Fourth, learn what you can from them. Fifth, teach them all you can with patience and kindness. Finally, disagree if you must, but try to be as agreeable or peaceable as possible.