In church circles today “polarization” is a dirty word. To polarize, the dictionary tells us, is “to cause to concentrate around two conflicting or contrasting positions.” Ever since the Church was established in Corinth, it has been plagued by divisions based on personalities and nonessential doctrines. This sort of polarization is certainly reprehensible. But polarization is not something to be avoided if it happens because some in the churches are loyal to God and his Word.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:34–39).
Loyalty to Jesus Christ entails a polarization from which no true believer can escape. All the world is polarized through loyalty to either good or evil. There are two who lay claim to the souls of men—God and Satan. Every man has a captain of his soul—Christ or Satan. Our Lord makes it clear that inaction itself means commitment: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). Remember, it is not left to theologians to determine the validity of this distinction. These are our Lord’s words.
To what are you committed—the flesh or the spirit? Is it the Holy Spirit who dominates your life, or is it the dictates of the flesh? Have you surrendered to Jesus Christ, or by ignoring or rejecting him have you placed yourself in Satan’s camp?
A great deal of the much deplored polarization within the Church today results from conflicting attitudes about the nature and mission of the Church, and about the Christ of the Scriptures as contrasted with a “christ” divested of his deity and supernatural power.
The Bible is a book about polarization, and the world is a constant reminder of conflicting opinions and ideas. Perhaps the first time this point was brought forcefully to my mind was when I heard a minister inveigh against the teachings of the first psalm. His thesis was that men do not fall into two camps, one wicked, the other righteous; nor did he like the conclusion that “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Ps. 1:6).
The Old Testament is crystal clear about the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man but points to the coming One who was to bridge the gap between man and God. The New Testament further reveals the chasm between the righteous and the unrighteous and the one way by which sinful man can enter the family of the redeemed.
By faith Abraham was “polarized” as one called out to follow God in obedience. Joshua demanded of the people decision: “Choose this day whom you will serve …; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15). Elijah, confronted by the enemies of God and an uncommitted people, cried out, “How long will you go limping with two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21); but the people were afflicted with a deadly indifference, and they “did not answer him a word.”
Daniel was a completely committed person, determined not to compromise his conscience by partaking of the king’s rich food or by praying in secret to escape the consequences of the king’s decree. Nor would his three companions compromise their faith in God in order to escape the fiery furnace. In a polarizing situation, these men all took a firm stand for God, as did Stephen and all other Christian martyrs who have died for their faith.
Polarization? That is what the Christian message is all about—the contrasting positions of darkness and light, of death and life, of judgment and forgiveness, of despair and hope.
We make an issue of this because the distinction between the Christian and the world is being assailed on every hand. A neo-universalism has crept into the Church that denies the lostness of sinners and magnifies the love and goodness of God while denying his holy wrath and judgment on those who refuse his Son.
Not only is the content of the Christian faith being blurred and denied, but also God’s call for holy living on the part of believers. It is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between a child of God and a follower of Satan. God has given a solemn warning: “Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.… And her prophets have daubed for them with whitewash, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken” (Ezek. 22:26, 28).
Although there is a necessary polarization in the churches, there are also divisions that are not of God. The Corinthian church was plagued by quarreling among the brethren. Some claimed allegiance to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Cephas, while losing sight of the fact that believers are bound to the One in whom they believe, not to his servants. Some of the divisions in the Church today are the results of misplaced loyalties that dishonor the great Head of the Church.
Making a clear distinction between the things that should divide and those that should unite requires a wisdom and devotion that God alone can give. There must be a standard above and beyond man and this world, and we have this in the revelation God has given of himself in the Holy Scriptures. The Westminster divines stated this truth in words that are as valid today as they were when written, more than three hundred years ago: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, Section IV).
By and large the movement in the Church today is away from the divine revelation to be found in the Scriptures and toward the opinions of men—opinions and interpretations that often go directly contrary to the clear teachings of the Bible.
Polarization is inevitable; each man is either for or against God and his truth. And what is at stake is each man’s eternal destiny, determined by his reply to the question, “What will you do with Christ?”
Neutrality is impossible. We are either surrendered servants of the Lord of Glory or the captive slaves of the one Christ came to overcome.
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