Calvary Road Baptist Church

“KINDS OF CHRISTIANS”

John 15.2

 

What different kinds of Christians are there? Have you ever thought about the differences that exist in the kinds of Christians that can be found? It is an important consideration.

We know that someone becomes a Christian when, under gospel preaching, he is convicted of his sins by the Holy Spirit and is justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But after a person becomes a Christian, what kind of Christian will he be?

I have always maintained that you are unlikely to find the right answers until you ask the right questions. The question that I set before you today is related to the different kinds of Christians that exist.

A hundred years ago, the average churchgoer would probably tell you there are Protestant, Roman Catholic, Baptist, and Orthodox, Christians. Today, however, I am guessing that the average churchgoer would likely answer Charismatic and non-Charismatic, Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal, with perhaps Catholics and Baptists sprinkled in.

However, let us assume, for the purpose of our discussion, that we are not considering denominational or theological tags. What kinds of Christians are there if all you are considering are Biblical kinds and types?

To help you shed the cultural baggage that each of us has accumulated just by living in the United States, I want to look at three different types of categorization of Christians:

 

First, THERE IS THE SCOFIELD BIBLE CATEGORIZATION OF CHRISTIANS

 

Listen as I read The Scofield Reference Bible note on First Corinthians 2.14:

 

Paul divides men into three classes: psuchikos, “of the senses” (Jas. 3.15; Jude 19), or “natural,” i.e. the Adamic nature, unrenewed through the new birth (John 3.3, 5); pneumatikos, “spiritual,” i.e. the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God (Eph. 5.18-20): and sarkikos, “carnal,” “fleshly,” i.e. the renewed man who, walking “after the flesh,” remains a babe in Christ (1 Cor. 3.1-4). The natural man may be learned, gentle, eloquent, fascinating, but the spiritual content of Scripture is absolutely hidden from him; and the fleshly, or carnal, Christian is able to comprehend only its simplest truths, “milk” (1 Cor. 3.2).[1]

 

Though Christianity in the United States has grown so used to Scofield’s categorization of Christians as to confidently believe it to be Biblical, it was a new way of looking at spirituality. But Scofield’s new way of looking at spirituality in 1909 was so appealing to so many professing Christians that it took hold.

How could this happen? Although I know of no definitive studies that support what I think happened, I am confident that something like this happened: Though the Second Great Awakening was a genuine work of God, Satan was also successfully working to counteract the advance of the gospel during and immediately following the first three decades of the 19th century.

History shows us the Restorationists[2] came on the religious scene at that time. The Campbellites,[3] the Mormons,[4] the Millerites,[5] the Russellites,[6] and several other groups rose up in the mixture of confused Christianity existing at that time in which there was so little regard for trained ministers.

However, the greatest danger of that period resulted from the influence of a man named Charles G. Finney, an unschooled heretic who denied the depravity of fallen man, and who denied the doctrine of justification by faith, but who was embraced by many naive and undiscerning orthodox Christians because of the spectacular crowds and the large numbers of professions of faith in Christ resulting from his manipulation of the crowds he preached to.

My own opinion is that Finney’s unscriptural methods produced so many false professions of faith that the many unschooled and ungrounded ministers of that day who jumped on the Finney bandwagon and followed his example were perplexed by the large percentage of so-called Christians who did not attend church regularly, who did not live holy lives, and whose behavior was inexplicable. Something obviously had to be done to explain away the confusion. After all, you cannot consider even the possibility that a person who has prayed the prayer but who does not regularly read his Bible or pray, who does not tithe or regularly attend church, who does not involve himself in evangelistic outreach and will not allow his pastor to equip him for Christian service, might not be a Christian after all.

Again, my opinion is that C. I. Scofield, the editor of The Scofield Reference Bible, and those who collaborated with him, devised an explanation that would satisfy the unschooled multitudes. I am in no position to question Scofield’s motives. However, the fact that he abandoned his children and first wife (a Roman Catholic who divorced him while he was being ordained to the gospel ministry in another state)[7], the fact that the court ruled him unfit for custody of his children[8], the fact that he used the honorific title of “Dr.” without having either earned a doctorate or having been awarded an honorary doctorate[9], and the fact that he seems to have begun courting his second wife while married to his first wife[10], would cause anyone to be suspicious of such a man’s motives. Though I do not challenge Scofield’s motives, I do challenge his behavior.

That said, I am convinced that as he looked out over the religious landscape he saw huge numbers of professing Christians whose spiritual lethargy and lackadaisical attitude toward the things of God, whose utter absence of fear of God, and the complete absence of anything like the godly sorrow that worketh repentance not to be repented of, he conjured up a marketable explanation.

Not having the formal theological training one might think was necessary to edit a study Bible,[11] Scofield seems to have invented the categories found in the note to First Corinthians 2.14 that I read to you. To recapitulate, Scofield categorized people into three groups: There are those who are lost, those Christians who are spiritual, and those Christians who are carnal. However, are those categories really scriptural descriptions?

Remember, unless you ask the right questions you are unlikely to arrive at the right answers.

 

Next, THE APOSTOLIC CATEGORIZATIONS OF CHRISTIANS

 

Consider three passages in which Christians are categorized by apostles in the New Testament:

First, there are the Apostle Paul’s categories, found in First Corinthians 3.1-4:

 

1      And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

2      I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

3      For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

4      For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

 

At first glance, you might think Paul is categorizing Christians in exactly the same fashion as Scofield’s note. However, careful examination reveals a number of things: Paul does not divide Christians into carnal versus spiritual categories, but into the categories of mature and immature Christians. That distinction is very important. Though not stated explicitly, Scofield’s view of Christians being carnal or spiritual has led to the assumption by almost everyone who accepts it that the carnality to which Paul refers here is long term, completely ignoring the broader and narrower contexts of the passage and the First Corinthian letter, which precludes the possibility of long term carnality in this situation. The fact is, the Corinthians were behaving in a carnal fashion, exhibiting behavior that was typical of what is commonly seen in the lives of immature Christians. But when you look at a map to see where Paul was when he wrote this letter, the amount of time it would take to notify him of the Corinthian’s problem, the amount of time it took for his response to be taken back to the Corinthians (which is First Corinthians), and the Corinthian response (which we know from Second Corinthians), it is clear that their carnality was short-lived and not long term.

To state the conclusion another way, the passage that is most commonly referred to in support of Scofield’s view of Christians being divided into carnal and spiritual categories simply does not support that view. When Paul consciously divided people into groups to the Corinthians, he did so in First Corinthians 10.32, where he divided mankind into three groups: Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God. Scofield’s scheme of categories is nowhere to be found in First Corinthians.

Next, there are the categories found in the epistle to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 5.12-14:

 

12     For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

13     For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14     But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

 

In this passage, the inspired author rebukes Jewish Christians for not living up to their potential as teachers. However, notice that no reference is made to them being carnal Christians. Instead, he is rebuking them for being immature. When you first think about it, you might think the distinction between being carnal and immature is a small one, but it is actually significant. You see, spiritual maturity is not automatic, but the result of purposeful and directed activity. Therefore, while these Jewish believers are rebuked for being slow to mature as Christians, it is not suggested by the writer to the Hebrews that they are not spiritual. In other words, this passage categorizes Christians in a markedly different manner than The Scofield Reference Bible does.

Now turn to First John 2.12-14:

 

12     I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.

13     I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.

14     I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

 

Is it not obvious that the Apostle John also categorizes Christians, not in terms of whether they are carnal or spiritual, but according to their maturity? Since he was the last remaining of our Lord Jesus Christ’s apostles, and outlived the others by at least three decades, it is no wonder he refers to his entire audience as “little children” in verse 12. However, when he distinguishes them one from another, it is based on their spiritual maturity and not their so-called carnality or spirituality.

Do you not find it very odd that C. I. Scofield would separate Christians into two groups, one of which he designates to be carnal and the other he designates to be spiritual, while the apostles make no such separation? Instead, the apostles were agreed in their categorization of believers based on their spiritual maturity.

 

Finally, WE TAKE NOTE OF CHRIST’S CATEGORIZATION OF BELIEVERS

 

Turn to John 15, and read verses 1-5:

 

1      I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2      Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3      Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4      Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5      I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

 

This is a very familiar passage of scripture, but there are some features of this passage that are oftentimes overlooked by readers, such as the categories into which the Lord Jesus Christ placed His disciples. Notice that, in verse 2, our Lord refers to “every branch that beareth fruit.” But bearing fruit, while indicating the presence of real life, is not satisfactory. For that reason, the husbandman purges it, which is to say he prunes the branch. Why so? “that it may bring forth more fruit.” However, even the production of “more fruit” is not the end that the husbandman has in mind. The goal for the husbandman concerning his branches is found in verse 5, when “the same bringeth forth much fruit.” There are a number of different types of fruit mentioned in relation to believers in the New Testament, but the pinnacle of importance would have to be fruitfulness in evangelism. In John 15.8, Jesus said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

If you think about it carefully, this picture the Savior illustrates, using the figures of Christians being branches and He being “the true vine,” is yet another categorization based upon maturity, not whether someone is carnal or spiritual. The more mature the branch is the more it has been pruned by the husbandman to bring it to its full capacity in bearing fruit.

 

What different kinds of Christians are there? C. I. Scofield, and now most professing Christians (at least in the western world), believe that Christians ought to be categorized according to their spirituality, with most Christians obviously being thought to be carnal and some few Christians obviously being spiritual. However, the Word of God makes no such characterization of Christians. To be sure, it is possible for any Christian to behave carnally, as Paul’s First Corinthian letter clearly shows. However, even in that letter, the Apostle Paul did not categorize Christians as “carnal” versus “spiritual.” He categorized them according to their maturity.

I maintain, and this would be another sermon, that “he is that is spiritual,” First Corinthians 2.15, is actually Paul’s description for every believer, not just those few who are better than most.

When we considered the epistle to the Hebrews and First John, we found the same types of categorization, according to spiritual maturity, not according to whether Christians were spiritual or carnal.

Even the Lord Jesus Christ categorized His disciples according to their productivity as fruit-bearers and not according to whether they were “spiritual” or “carnal.”

Thus, it is clear that The Scofield Reference Bible reflects a philosophy about Christian life that does not accurately reflect what is taught in the Bible. My own conclusion is that Scofield’s philosophy is part of what is wrong with American Christianity. How so?

First, Scofield’s view that most Christians are “carnal” and that only a few Christians are “spiritual” is defeatist, reflecting very poorly upon God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Second, Scofield’s view that most Christians are “carnal” and that only a few Christians are “spiritual” actually conceals the sad reality that most professing Christians these days are not Christians at all, since our Lord Jesus Christ very clearly showed that all real Christians produce fruit at some rate, while the professing Christians these days who are not genuinely converted have little or no concern about reaching the lost. If a Christian has never played a role in reaching a lost friend or loved one for Christ that Christian simply is not a real Christian . . . according to the Savior. And this nonsensical foolishness that the older a Christian gets the less he has to do with ministry and the less concerned he is with evangelism flatly contradicts the impression our Lord gives that with greater maturity comes greater fruitfulness.

Now, to set you at ease, it is obvious that the young and the restless are stronger, are more vigorous, and have the physical stamina to plunge into ministry in ways those of us who are older no longer can. However, if you think a new convert at age 25 can possibly be more excited about and more committed to serving God and bringing sinners to Christ than a 60 year old who has walked with the Lord for 25 years, I am here to tell you that you are mistaken. Turn to First Corinthians 3.8: “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” Using yet another image of serving God and bringing the lost to Christ, the Apostle Paul here shows that we are in this together. At different times in life, and at different stages of maturity, the role you occupy in reaching the lost and in serving God will change. However, keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ showed that the older a branch attached to the vine is the more fruit it will bear. The only thing that produced no fruit is that which is not truly alive, which is fit for nothing but burning in fire.

Finally, Scofield’s view that most Christians are carnal and that only a few Christians are spiritual actually conceals yet another truth. If you think some few Christians are spiritual and most Christians are carnal, then you typically think that some few Christians have fought sinful tendencies and that they won, but that most Christians fight sinful tendencies and have been so thoroughly defeated that they give up and live defeated lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every Christian’s life is a constant and ongoing battle against sin and sinful tendencies, and no Christian can ever be said to have “conquered” sin. Remember, it was a seasoned and mature Apostle Paul who wrote these words:

 

15     For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

16     If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

17     Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

18     For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

19     For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

20     Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

21     I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

22     For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

23     But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

24     O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

25     I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

 

Christian, do not become discouraged by the constant struggle you find yourself in against sin. That is the story of the Christian life. Thank God, you already have victory in Christ. What you need to do now is mature as a Christian and continue to faithfully serve God. Amen? But you Christians who are perpetually “carnal,” who never serve God, need to consider the real possibility that you are not a carnal Christian, as Scofield would say, but that you are actually lost and need to be born again.



[1] See footnote for 1 Corinthians 2.14 from C. I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1909), pages 1214-1215.

[7] Joseph M. Cranfield, The Incredible Scofield and His Book, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1988), pages 87-90 and 98.

[8] Ibid., page 90.

[9] Ibid., pages 135 and 148.

[10] Ibid., page 100.

[11] Canfield, pages 95 and 204.

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