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Confusion, division, and disagreement abound in religion. Religious people are divided into hundreds of different denominations, wearing different names, worshipping in different ways, and teaching different doctrines.
In this study we want to consider why there is so much confusion, disagreement, and division. Does Jesus approve of it, or does He seek religious unity? Does the Bible contradict itself? Is it impossible to understand? Do people fail to study diligently enough, resulting in ignorance? Are the problems caused by following man-made creeds and authority instead of following the Bible? What does God's word say?
Sometimes people suggest invalid explanations, which are not the real sources of the problem.
Some people say that disagreement exists because God has never told us everything we need to know. Or perhaps truths have been lost or changed over the centuries. But consider:
2 Timothy 3:15-17 - The Scriptures provide us completely to all good works. God has told us everything we need to know to be saved.
1 Corinthians 14:37; John 16:13 -Inspired men wrote God's commands and revealed all truth.
1 Peter 1:22-25 - This gospel lives and abides forever. It will always be here to teach us God's will.
When people are religiously divided, it is not because God's word is unavailable to us today.
Some people suggest that Bible believers contradict one another because parts of the Bible contradict other parts. Or perhaps the Bible is in error or inaccurate on some points.
John 17:17; Psalms 119:128; 33:4 - God's word is truth. It is always right and can never be wrong. And truth will never contradict other truth.
Mark 3:24,25 - A house or kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. If the Bible contradicts itself, then God would be divided against Himself.
1 Corinthians 1:13 - The Corinthians were divided and confused. Was this because Jesus contradicted Himself and led them into confusion? No! Christ is not divided against Himself.
God's word is infallible, harmonious and unified. It cannot be wrong, and it cannot contradict itself. If people disagree with the Bible, then it is the people who are wrong, not the Bible - Romans 3:4.
Some people think that the average person cannot possibly understand the Scriptures, so people just naturally disagree about what it means.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 - The Scriptures make us wise to salvation, profitably instructing us to all good works. How could they do so if we cannot understand them?
Mark 7:14 - Jesus expected all the multitudes who heard Him to understand His teachings.
Acts 17:11 - The Scriptures give the average man a way to distinguish truth from error.
God revealed the Bible to make known his will. If we cannot understand the message, then God has failed. But how can an all-wise, all-powerful God fail? He did not fail; therefore we can understand.
Some people think God does not object if sincere people are religiously divided. "All the churches follow Jesus, so just join the church of your choice."
John 17:20,21 - Jesus prayed for all who believe in Him to be one as He and His Father are one. Do Jesus and the Father continually disagree and contradict one another?
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 - Paul told the Corinthians to cease their divisions. Jesus is not divided, so His followers must not be divided. If "all the churches are following Jesus," why are they divided? His teaching does not divide people. So they must be divided because some are not following Jesus.
Ephesians 4:3-6 - True unity is based on seven things of which there is only one each. Following many false gods creates confusion, but following the one true God would promote unity. Likewise, there are many false faiths and false churches, which create division. But there is only one true faith and only one true body (which is the church - Eph. 1:22,23; 5:22ff). Following God's true way produces unity in truth.
We have now studied several suggestions people offer to explain religious confusion and division. The problem with all these explanations is that they place the blame on God and the Bible. But God is not the author of confusion - 1 Cor. 14:33. We must look elsewhere for the real causes of the problem.
Hosea 4:6 - My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Ignorance causes confusion and division.
Matthew 22:29 - The Sadducees were in error because they did not know the Scriptures.
Romans 10:1-3 - The Israelites had zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
Many circumstances may lead to a lack of knowledge of the truth. Consider some of them.
This was the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-11:18) and the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8:26-39). Such people need to hear words whereby they can be saved (Acts 11:14).
To discern good from evil, we must have our senses exercised by reason of use - Hebrews 5:12-14. We must "search the Scriptures daily" - Acts 17:11. Much religious error and division result from lack of study.
Even if a person studies and quotes the Bible, he may not be using it properly (Matt. 4:5-7).
For example, some people try to prove their practices by the Old Testament, not knowing it has been removed by Christ and is no longer in effect (Rom. 7:2-6; Heb. 10:9,10; Gal. 3:24,25; Col. 2:14,16).
Other people take only part of the Bible teaching about a subject but ignore other verses on the same subject. As a result, they reach conclusions that contradict other Scriptures (Matt. 4:4-7; Acts 3:22,23; Matt. 28:20).
We can truly be made free from sin only if we know the truth - John 8:32.
Much division results because people follow doctrines invented by men, but not found in the Bible. They may determine their beliefs by human guides such as the following:
Some people think, "It must be right, because Rev. so-and-so says so." Preachers are useful if they preach the truth, but many teach error (2 Tim. 4:2-4; Matt. 7:15; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). We must check out all teachings by the Bible (Acts 17:11).
"I was brought up in this church. If it's good enough for my loved ones, it's good enough for me." It is wonderful if our family and friends really serve God. But most people's families are in error (Matt. 7:13,14). We must obey Jesus, even when loved ones disagree (Matt. 10:34-37).
Most denominations have man-made rules that the denomination follows. These rules are often written down as official statements of church doctrine (manuals, catechisms, creeds, disciplines, etc.). But men have no right to make religious laws (Matt. 15:9; Eph. 1:22,23; James 4:12). No human writing or teaching should be viewed as an official, authoritative statement of church doctrine.
People sometimes follow other human guides such as conscience, feelings, beliefs of the majority, etc. All such standards can lead us into error.
Matthew 15:9,13 - Following human doctrines makes worship vain.
2 John 9 - Whoever goes beyond the teachings of Jesus, does not have the Father and the Son.
Galatians 1:8,9 - Any one who preaches any doctrine other than the one true gospel, is accursed.
Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12 - The way a man should walk is not found within man himself. A way may seem right to men yet result in death. We must trust in God's word, not in human wisdom.
Matthew 13:14,15 - People often close their eyes and ears to the truth. They may have believed a certain way for years, so they refuse to consider evidence for other views and they reject the truth.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 - People who do not love truth enough, will instead believe a lie and be condemned. Such attitudes invariably lead to religious disagreement and confusion. [Proverbs 18:13]
To accept the truth, we must "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6). We must honestly study what God's word says, then accept truth with "readiness of mind" (James 1:19-21; Acts 17:11).
Matthew 13:20-22 - Serving God requires self-sacrifice and effort. Some people will not pay the price, so they justify themselves in disobedience.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 2 Timothy 4:2-4 - Some reject truth because they just enjoy unrighteousness. They want preachers to justify their sins.
Acts 7:51 - Other people just rebel against authority and seek to please themselves.
All such attitudes as these contribute to religious division, disagreement, and confusion.
Religious disagreement, division, and confusion are not caused by God or His word. They are caused by people who do not obey God's word diligently.
Do you love the truth enough to follow it? If you want to learn God's true plan for your life, please contact us.
Copyright 1998, David E. Pratte
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The Importance of Bible Knowledge
The Preservation of the Bible
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
The Claims of the Bible
False Teaching & Religious Error
Is One Interpretation as Good as Another?
Tradition as Religious Authority
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
Can We Understand the Bible?
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.