Majoring on the Minors

A few years ago after my wife and I left our old church because it was going Purpose Driven, we visited another church not far from our home. It was a very traditional SBC church. After a few visits the Pastor asked us to have lunch with him and his wife after church services that Sunday. At the restaurant, we had to wait for the pizza so we had time to talk. He informed me that he had been to my blog and he had a lot of questions for me personally. This surprised me. I thought he was going to ask me about why I had such a hard stance on the PDC, but instead, his questions had to do with my understanding of theology and what we as Christians in this world should mainly be about. He wanted to know how I would get along with the other men in that church whose theological understanding was barely past that of a new Christian, et cetera. He told me that in his estimation that I was a thinker and since I was all about discipleship and obedience that some of those men would see me as a bit legalistic even though he knew that was not so. I made the comment that the vast majority of Christians I have ever known were enslaved to their flesh. He nodded in agreement and said that that was why the American Church was in such sad shape. He stated that we were welcome at that church, but I had better get prepared for a bunch of baby Christians who saw themselves as leaders having problems with what I taught. We went back one more time and I found that some others had been to my blog and none of them wanted me to even be in the same building with them. That was the last time we visited there. 

As I read the following article from the November issue of Tabletalk Magazine that memory of the visits to that church and lunch with the Pastor came to mind. It was as if God showed me why the Western Church is in such sad shape these days. I pray it speaks to you as it did me. – Mike Ratliff

Majoring on the Minors

By John P. Sartelle

I am confused! Paul warns Timothy against “quarrels about words” and “irreverent babble” (2 Tim. 2:14, 16). Yet, this same Paul quarreled with those among the Galatians who diluted and changed the gospel and went so far as to say that they should be accursed. Jesus used similar words when He called the Pharisees hypocrites and whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27). Did not Jesus and Paul argue and quarrel with those who opposed the gospel?

This is a significant question. New denominations are being formed by Christians pronouncing the churches to which they once belonged apostate and heretical. They leave after protracted, strong quarrels against their former denominations. As one who was intimately engaged in such a combative struggle, I must be sure that I am not like Hymenaeus and Philetus, the two men named by Paul as purveyors of irreverent babble that led people in the church into ungodliness.

Ravi Zacharias warns Christians of turning “either/or” issues into “both/and” issues. There are truths in the gospel that are not up for debate between Christians. They must be true or they must be a lie. They cannot be both. We dare not turn these into both/and issues. Some insist there is room in the church for both those who believe Jesus is the Son of God and for those who don’t believe He sis the Son of God. The Bible does not allow such tolerance. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23). In other words, when someone in the church denies the orthodox basics of the gospel clearly taught in Scripture, we must quarrel with them. There must be conflict.

Paul told Timothy to present himself to God as one who was “rightly handling” the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). The Greek word Paul used was orthotomeõ. Literally it meant “to cut straight.” Our term orthodox is derived from part of this word. With the basics of the gospel we must cut a straight line. We must not deviate from the truths set forth by Christ Himself. That is why Paul vehemently argued with those who corrupted the gospel in the Galatian church.

Aside from irreverent babble, Paul also warned Timothy about becoming involved in quarrels over foolish controversies (2 Tim. 2:23). There were those under Timothy’s charge who were turning both/and issues into either/or issues. This has been a plague attacking the peace of the church in every generation. Sometimes this has to do with subjects from Scripture that are interpreted differently by orthodox scholars. I have two friends in the ministry whose faithfulness to God’s Word is beyond reproach. Yet they differ in their interpretation of what the Bible teaches about the millennial reign of Christ. They love each other dearly and have not let this become a litmus test for orthodoxy and fellowship. Paul was warning about taking such an issue and turning it into a declaration of war.

Often matters arise concerning times of worship, structure of Sunday schools, church property, length of terms of church officers, and son on. I have known people who have left local churches and separated from brothers and sisters in Christ over flowers in the sanctuary, the type of pews or cross selected by the building committee, and the colors of the carpet and church doors. I must constantly remind myself and the officers with whom I serve that the issues we as local church leaders face in most of our meetings are both/and issues and to make them either/or issues is an insult to God’s Word and will invite discord. This is where we will hear Jesus call us to biblical wisdom, to let go of our petty agendas, and to listen to each other as brothers anointed to lead by the same Spirit.

Take this test. Are you known as one who is contentious? Do you frequently become angry with leaders in the church or with fellow officers? Do you insist on your own positions? Do you argue each issue as if it were a life and death matter?

A man I deeply respected fought long and nobly for orthodox Christianity in the denomination he loved. The battle was so furious that he developed the habit of making every issue he favored a matter of orthodoxy. He even alienated his like-minded friends. In his later years he went to an isolated mountain cabin with only his Bible. When he returned he had relearned a love and respect for his brethren. He quit debating every small controversy. When he spoke of what happened on the mountain, he said, “you can determine which Scriptures you will take to Jesus, but you cannot determine which Scripture Jesus will bring to you.” Brothers and sisters, we need to learn to take these both/and issues to Jesus and listen to His words to us. His words of truth will probably be about meekness, loving, listening, and the fact that there are other saints anointed by the Holy Spirit.

Rev. John P. Sartelle is senior minister of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.

Soli Deo Gloria!

11 thoughts on “Majoring on the Minors

  1. I always try to remember that a soldier must handle a sword. You see so many popular teachers as well as baby Christians handling it like cotton candy, as if they are the vendors at a baseball game.

    In all of our trials and tribulations, God will demonstrate his own severity and sovereignty when it comes to standing firm. When we are given a responsibility in laboring for the kingdom, spiritual maturity is a sharp edge (spiritual advantage) in the way that we respond to those dreaded attacks that come from an ungodly world. As a young Christian, I set out to please God in my own flesh assuming that sacrifice is greater than obedience. The scriptures say that obedience is greater than sacrifice simply because it is more pleasing to God when man forsakes the world, his sin, and all the idolatry that results from living the lukewarm life. Once a man forsakes the world, repents, and takes God’s commands seriously, he then dies to the world through Christ, taking on the new nature. He is now an enemy of the world, an object of their scorn and reproach…….no if’s and’s or but’s. Whatever stance he takes on behalf of Jesus Christ will and can cost them dearly. The wisdom to speak the truth in the midst of opposition comes from the Lord, and when given this task of feeding the sheep, he will not be pleased when his servants shrink back. God still chastens those who have been given a responsibility to feed the sheep but they shrink back for fear of persecution from the world. And it is even worse for those who attempt to serve God as a means of personal gain, hoping that their outwardly acts will get God to do things in their favor. (Take for instance the rich man who tries to bribe God, or the publican who appears ‘spiritual’ not knowing that his outwardly actions are mere vanity)

  2. It’s a sad day when calling for holiness is mistaken for legalism. There is obviously a plethora of Scripture explaining what God expects from His new creations, but I find Romans 12 to be one of my favorites (I seem to go to it a lot anyway):

    1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

    Not only are we to become holy as He is holy through the heeding to the Holy Spirit, but this is the least we can do – our REASONABLE service! The NIV calls this our spiritual act of worship.

    I’m so thankful and blessed to be in a bible-based church where Spirit-filled believers are taught, encouraged, and discipled to be holy unto the Lord.

    Thanks for the article, Mike!

  3. Anyone can appear quote ‘spiritual,’ but the real proof of genuine conversion is obedience. Being salt and light does not always mean that we are nice to everyone who persecutes the Word of God. There are times when confrontation is inevitable and unpleasant, yet extremely necessary. The Lord stiffened the forehead of Ezekiel against a rebellious people in order to complete the mission. Jesus set his face like flint to complete the task ahead.

    Resisting sin will cost us relationships while making us an enemy of the world. There is nothing more annoying than stiving to stay on the narrow path and along comes someone to buffet you, putting your obedience in jeopardy. There are and will be many who lay in wait to seize the opportunity to trumpet our failures, since after all, it is more popular to make fun of the guy who wants to do right. Men who like to buffet God’s people can be a real stumblingblock. Satan uses them to hinder us.

    I saw an article on MSN that grieved me. The article was advising readers to not obey the rules at work and to be the bad guy in order to get promoted. The writer said that nice guys are hated by other coworkers. Is this not evident that men who love darkness will despise the light?

  4. Hi Mike
    Bless you and thank you (and the Lord) for a timely word. I spent a large part of Friday afternoon discussing this very thing with a dear sister of mine.

    Hi Josh
    That was really great!

    Bless you both
    Steph :-D

  5. Amazing Mike. I wonder how long this pastors baby christians had been in his congregation? What I don’t understand is if they were babys and the pastor is the teacher, he should of been teaching them the ‘right’ way and they wouldn’t of been so critical of you……In fact, they should of ask you questions about being a sunday school teacher because they wanted to learn more and learn it the right way!!

  6. All,

    Most of the issues with this congregation had to do with two things they saw as legalism on my part. The first was my stance on the Purpose Driven deception. They had actually been studying the Purpose Driven Life there in some of the classes. The other was that fact that I am Reformed in my theology. In any case. I knew I was not wanted there so we quietly went somewhere else.

    On the other hand. I detected a great deal of churchianity there, which is the result of spiritual blindness which is always rooted in idolatry of some kind. I think these people were in idolatry toward three things. 1) Their exclusivity in their little church body. 2) Southern Baptist all the way and everyone else is going to hell. 3) They worshipped their pastor.

    I liked the Pastor, but he was not very well up to date on what is really going on in the Church. He was amazed when we had that lunch together as I shared what was going on. His wife looked at me like I was from Mars or something. She got very offended at me when I spoke of the PDC the way I did. Idolatry is very insidious and people who are in it are usually not aware that they are.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  7. Pingback: Thanksgiving Sabbatical « Possessing the Treasure

  8. Brother Mike,

    I’ve been visiting your blog for awhile now. I just wanted to thank you for standing for the truth of God’s Word. I pray you and your family have a blessed and joyous Thanksgiving holiday!

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