Doctrines and Denominations Revisited (Again because they can be such a divisive enemy of unity)
I'd dare say that the only thing most Christians cling to tighter than the "'ol rugged cross" is their denomination, so this is where things really get interesting. "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment." 1 Corinthians 1:10
Did Paul just say what I think he said? He surely must have been out of his mind, right? Is it even remotely possible for us to "all agree"? The original text states "agree" as to "speak, teach and exhort the same thing". What is a division anyway? The Greek is "schisma" and references dissention. Can we really be in the "same mind" (Greek: nous - understanding of spiritual truth) and "same judgment" (Greek: gnome - view, purpose, intention)? To briefly reflect back on the embracing of denominations, would they not easily be qualified as divisions? If so, why do the majority so easily embrace them, without any issue? According to Paul, there are to be no divisions among us so that we can be "made complete". The Greek is "katartizo" which I love. It means to be made perfect, mended, perfected, prepared, restored and perfectly joined together. Honestly, does this sound like the Body of Christ as She now is to you? Not just your "church" or your Sunday School class – the entire Body of Christ?
The average dictionary's definition of "denomination" is this: "Religious organizations whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices; group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy."
In light of the Scriptures, this should immediately raise a great concern for anyone who genuinely desires to cling to biblical Christianity (which is the only true "kind" by the way). The Body of Christ has become one of the most segregated groups of people that ever gathered together and it is considered to be completely normal! How in the world can unity ever come about in such a divided "administrative and legal hierarchy"? It cannot. And it will not until we all learn to surrender and lay down our agendas and be led by the Spirit into a unified Body. Rallies, monthly sing-a-longs and denominational associations will not magically produce unity among local Believers for it is much deeper than casual interaction on an intermittent basis.
I know quite well that denominations can be an incredibly touchy subject, but we must ask, scripturally, when did God authorize such divisions? When did He say He'd approve of men gathering how they deem acceptable? If gathering together how we want, worshipping how we want and formulating our own doctrines cannot be found as acceptable in the Word of God, why is that nearly the entire Christian community at large does so? Is there anywhere within the Word of God where we are encouraged to form our own sects and doctrines? I hear people say how proud they are to be Baptist or Catholic or, well, whatever – is this biblical? Not, is this considered "normal" or culturally acceptable,
is this what we see the early Church model for us? If it is not, then why is it so completely embraced as acceptable? As I always state, just because it's what everyone does, it does not mean it is right! As I've stated in previous articles, I thoroughly believe that this is the wide way that the Scriptures say many travel. Hordes of Christians walk this path of schism that Paul stated that we should not have within the Body.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul addressed this clearly, "For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul', and 'I of Apollos' and 'I of Cephas' and 'I of Christ.' Has Christ been divided?"
What might Paul say today if he saw what the Body of Christ looks like? "For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of the Lutherans', and 'I of Reverend So-and-So' and 'I of Pastor What's-His-Name' and 'I of Christ.' Has Christ been divided?" Is this not accurate? Even in light of these words of Paul, churches that are next door to one another, and even members within one gathering will not even speak to one another, yet claim to be of one Body. This must not be so for the Body of Christ to ever attain unity! We must be willing to abandon the walls that the traditions of men have built to ever have the chance to enter into biblical unity that is led by the Spirit! It's more than just a casual referencing of our "brothers and sisters" that establishes unity my friend. People often respond to such a challenge with something along the lines of "Well the people I go to 'church' with are great people Joel!" I don't question that for one second. This is not an issue about character or whether people are pleasant or not, it is about those who claim to be within the Body of Christ striving to live together under the leading of the Holy Spirit in all things.
I think if everyone were to be honest, these things that Paul exhorted us to be as the Body of Christ seem so overwhelmingly impossible to achieve, they've just been pushed to the side and ignored - deemed unattainable, so why bother?
I would agree that it is surely a tremendous challenge! But we must cling to the Word of God, raise our expectations and stop settling for a disjointed Body! Is Christ, the Head of the Body not able to bring about such a miraculous reality? Of course He is! But we, those who make up this Body, must be willing to turn loose of our golden calves that we've learned to cherish so greatly.
* Part 7 will pose some tough questions regarding what several specific Scriptures say that blow many of our approaches to gathering to smithereens.