So I have been contemplating how we Christians have affronted God’s graciousness by the divisiveness of our denominations, at least within the United States. But first let me share two important scriptures that address this concern. There are more but these two highlight the problem.
The first is from the mouth of Jesus in his wonderful prayer to his Father as recorded in John 17. “I do not ask for these only but also for those who will believe in me through their word (he is speaking of the disciples) that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us that the world may believe you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them so they may be on as we are one, I in them and you in me that they may become perfectly one so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (Verses 20-23)
In the U.S. there are 217 protestant denominations and 35,000 independent or non-denominational churches. Separate from these is the Roman Catholic Church that has 68 million adherents.
Oh, and the other Scripture? In Philippians 2:2 Paul writes “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love being in full accord and of one mind.”
All the disharmony and disunity within the Christian church seems to be in complete disobedience to what the Scripture calls for. At the very least we can say that it is not within the most revealed word of God. Jesus asks for unity and Paul is often encouraging his established communities towards unity, towards a place where they might just get along with one another.
If there are differences they would be in the matter of gifts given by the Holy Spirit, not in walls of ‘truth’ and ‘doctrine’ and ‘practice’ we have built against each other. And while in past days there maybe have appeared good reasons to divide, there is even greater reasons now to come together as one as a witness to our oneness in Jesus Christ, not just in name, but in the way we love one another. I confess my own part in this divisiveness desiring to stand my ground on the basis of what I believe to be the will of God in certain doctrines and ethics rather than making the effort towards graciousness and love.
Consider for a moment just some of our differences, things that keep us apart.
Baptism: believer or infant, immersion or sprinkling, age of accountability and the like.
Communion: symbolic, real presence, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, memorial, qualification for participation, and probably more.
Mary: reverence, veneration, worship, prayer to, life virginity, mother of God.
The Bible: inerrancy, literalness, good advice, infallibility.
Then there are the disagreements and divisions about faith and works, about justification and sanctification and the return of Christ, war, abortion, pro-life, social justice, republican and democrat. Fine, let’s have conversations about such and let’s reason together but we don’t have to walk away from one another. Love is sacrificed for truth.
There was a time when the churches used the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed as a common expression of faith. Now there are so many different creeds it would make your head spin. At least mine does. I recall from the scripture the most original confession, JESUS IS LORD. There you have it.
Then there are the different expressions that divide us. Charismatics, Pentecostals, Traditionalists, Fundamentalist, music in worship, no music in worship, raising hands, speaking in tongues, and so forth.
I am not sure how I or anyone else has a corner on truth. I think it is more the war between our fleshly selves than a desire for right worship and love for God and one another. I am not saying we should not strive to better understand the will of God revealed in the Bible and particularly in Jesus but for heaven’s sake let us be loving towards one another and be one family again like the early church. I realized that even then there were problems but they were addressed and Paul once wrote, ‘put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ Colossians 3:14.
I really believe that protestants and Roman catholic should come back together and give way to one another, to bear with one another, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13.
Oh there may be actual differences that have to divide the church such as the confessing movement in Germany during Nazi Germany or when the abuses of the Roman church brought Martin Luther to the forefront in the 1500’s let these be the great exceptions and not the norm and when they are resolved in some form let us get back together in oneness and love and as a witness to the world of Christ’s life in us.
Let’s look to something like the Sermon on the Mount as a confession of life, or 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s help the poor. Let’s do all we can that people don’t have to choose to end any life. Well, enough said for now but I think you get the idea. I do.
I want to choose graciousness and love to be the central doctrines of my life in Christ.