One of the things I neglected to mention in my last sermon, probably due to the awkward pause caused by my temporary thought vacuum, was how easily well intending folks can fall into the trap Paul warns against in Phil 3:1-6. For Paul its not “Who let the dogs out,” but “Don’t let them in!” These “dogs,” the “mutilators” of the flesh are trying to convince folks to place confidence in their good works in order to gain more favor with God and be a real part of God’s community.
But who are dogs which we should watch out for today? All kinds of parenting models or books on varieties of topics pop up from time to time and gain quite a following. Some can be quite terrible. Some can be OK, others great, but even good stuff can become divisive very quickly because we are so prone to need some sort of justification before God and others. I think that’s really the issue. You need Jesus, but you also need to school, or parent or think, or look like us. That’s why we tend to very fiercely at times propagandize our convictions. Some churches have been so infiltrated with “dogs” that they become a ________ friendly church. Ultimately something either good or bad (doesn’t really matter) has become another source of justification. Folks are justified before each other, aka, considered true committed Christians, when they follow a certain model of parenting, schooling, politics, etc…
So its not that folks are necessarily trusting in this stuff to save them from Hell, but they are trusting in this stuff to make God and others like them more. In other words, to “get in good” with God and us, here’s how you can belong. If you don’t think like us, we’ll make you feel marginalized with our little jabs, inside jokes, or celebration of how well our political, parental, schooling, worship models work.
Fellowship is granted and maintained based upon whether or not the other Christian shares the same convictions. Or fellowship is sought solely based upon shared convictions. But fellowship can also be granted by folks in the church based upon what they DON’T believe in. Sometimes we’re hesitant to grant the right hand of fellowship to folks who DO believe in something the majority of folks in the church DON’T believe. While some churches say, “You must believe in this model to be a part of us,” others may say or act like “You must not believe in this model if you want to fit in here.”
I think Paul is arguing that this behavior can’t exist alongside of justification by faith. Justification by faith reminds us that God justifies us before Himself. But now that we’re justified before God through faith in Christ alone, are we left to justify ourselves before others by our works, or convictions? Nope, justification is a one size fits all thing. It’s redeemable before God and the church.
Heresies certainly cause much needed church splits; there can be a time to divide. Personality, improper peacemaking, and worship differences cause more. But I think even more church divisions, and denominations as a whole, have sprung from people trying to justify themselves before God and others by their convictions. Jesus’ work is easily marginalized if we’re not super careful.