When I was a child, I remember hearing my dad preach against being a carnal Christian. I was puzzled. I liked “caramel” and couldn’t figure out why dad was against “caramel Christians.” It made better sense after my vocabulary expanded a bit.

The word carnal means fleshly, and the works of the flesh manifest carnal or fleshly Christianity (Gal. 5:19-21). Prominent in our thinking are the obvious moral and social sins listed like fornication and drunkenness. But in the same list we often overlook the mention of strife, seditions (dissensions), and heresies (schisms or unnecessary divisions).

Paul provides an example of this kind of fleshliness in his first letter to the Corinthians. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (1 Cor. 3:3-4). Both Paul and Apollos were godly men. Therefore, the issue here was not godly leader/godly thinking versus ungodly leader/ungodly thinking. The issue was excessive attachment that produced unnecessary division or what may properly be described as “sectarianism.” Necessary division is biblical, as in the case of a false gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). Unnecessary division is fleshly. It’s carnal.

Those who claimed to be of Paul condescended those who claimed to be of Apollos and vice versa. Yet Paul, one of the leaders and labels claimed, called this mentality carnal. The issue here was not the legitimate and necessary addressing of sin; it was unnecessary division.

In our present world there is a strange irony. It seems when those on the political liberal left cannot find a substantive argument against those of a different persuasion, they label them as racist. Whenever this is the case, it stands as illogical and unfair because it brings emotion into the debate without substance. Ironically, it seems when those on the religious legalistic right cannot find a substantive argument against those of a different persuasion, they adopt the tactics of the political leftists and label their targets as compromisers. Doing so is also illogical and unfair because, again, it introduces emotion without substance. No one wants to be called a compromiser. Making such unfounded, emotive accusations produces unnecessary division.

When accusations are leveled without substance, it would be real compromise were we to bow to the non-substantive, emotive claims. It would be real compromise to bow to pressure to fit into the “I-of-this-only” mold that champions a man-made “only.” Real compromise is sometimes with obvious sin issues, but we cannot exclude instances of bowing to the fear of man.

Biblical separation is a different matter and is a biblical doctrine. For example, those who preach another gospel are not to be condoned. In fact in Galatians 1:8, the Scripture says of those who preach a false gospel, “let him be accursed (anathema).” This is black and white. Biblical separation is necessary for the purity of the gospel.

However, biblical latitude in areas that are not black and white is also a biblical doctrine. In consideration of these less clear areas, the Scripture is clear: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). To let each one be persuaded means there are areas where Christian charity and latitude is legitimate. It is not compromise; it’s biblical.

For those promoting their sectarian view, the Scripture labels that as carnal.

John Van Gelderen

John Van Gelderen

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