Summary: There is a difference between Christianity and religion and the difference is important to God.
Title: Which do you have? Christ or religion?
483 years ago an event took place in Europe that would forever change the face of the Christian church. This event began when a German monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg and as a result of that action the Reformation was born. Now Luther’s 95 theses were in reality nothing more than 95 grievances that he had with the Catholic Church. You see Luther had become troubled by what he saw as the lack of scriptural support for such things as the selling of indulgences. And for those of you who may not know what an indulgence was, it was in its most basic form nothing more than a piece of paper guaranteeing that the possessor of it would have the forgiveness of all sins for a certain period of time, and all for a certain amount of money. And it was things like this that caused Luther to take a stand for what was right because he knew from reading the Scripture that paying for pardon was contrary to the message of the Gospel, a Gospel which said that God freely gives salvation to all who ask.
Well it wasn’t long after Luther posted his 95 theses that other reformers such as John Calvin came on the scene. Now both of these men were Catholic priests who had one desire, and only one desire, and it was not to create a following after themselves, to create their own churches, or to further fracture the unity of the Church. Instead they wanted to reform the Church that they were already a part of. Unfortunately, for all Christians that never happened. But two things did come from the activities of these two men. And the first thing was very positive because through the Reformation the gospel of Jesus Christ was once again preached in all of its purity and men could once again see that salvation was from beginning to end the act of a gracious God who freely gives to sinful men. But the second result wasn’t quite so positive because Luther and Calvin had different opinions on how certain things should be done. And as a result of these differences the Church became completely and totally divided. And these differences caused men and women who professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to look upon others who made the same profession, but who did not belong to their group, with suspicion, as though they were followers of the Devil himself.
And because of this suspicion and the division that resulted from it, one Christian went to war against another Christian and between the years 1562 and 1648 tens of thousands were slaughtered – all in the name of Christ. Since those early Reformation days Christians have become much more tolerant of one another and yet what does the world see in this toleration? They see a Church where the spirit of purity has waned and the spirit of division has increased. And they see a Church that has become so splintered that there are now hundreds if not thousands of Christian sects that have very little interaction with one another. But the seeds of division that the modern Church experiences today were not sown when God used Luther or Calvin to begin a much-needed reformation of the Christian Church. No, those seeds were sown much earlier. For you see, long before there was a Martin Luther or a John Calvin there were Apollos, Peter, and Paul. And though these men were not reformers they were nevertheless powerful men of God who had inadvertently, through no fault of their own, developed a following after themselves. And it was in these followers that we first see the seeds of sectarianism that would plague the Church throughout much of her history here on the earth. Now unlike many of the religious people of today the apostle Paul was not happy with his fan club, and do you know why? Because he knew it was divisive and he knew that unnecessary division is always counter-productive to the work of the Gospel. Now I would like to take a moment to emphasize that word unnecessary, because when heresy threatens the Gospel division may very well become necessary. But perhaps some of you are confused and not quite sure what is meant by heresy. Well, as defined by the Bible heresy is basically a teaching that denies the person and work of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. And with that definition in mind was the division in the Church at Corinth necessary? Apparently not because Paul addressed it head-on when he said in 1 Cor. 1:10-17:
“Now I plead with you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos, or I am of Peter, or I am of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides them, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”