What denomination are you?
This question would confuse many people outside of the Christian hemisphere, but it’s sometimes overly important to us. (For those of you who don’t know, a denomination is an individual sect of Christianity that has a unique set of beliefs about Christian doctrine and philosophy.)
Are you Baptist or Pentecostal? Methodist or Presbyterian? Anglican or Lutheran? And the possibilities don’t stop there. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of Baptist sub-denominations, and the same goes for Pentecostals. Oh, and don’t forget non-denominational, which, ironically, has become a denomination in and of itself.
How We Separate Ourselves
We find all sorts of ways to categorize ourselves, but this inevitably separates us from our brothers and sisters. These categories can range from anything as crucial as church doctrine to the color of the sanctuary carpet. (The answer is anything but lime green, by the way.)
Here are a few more questions for you. Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian? Egalitarian or Complementarian? Do you practice infant baptism or is baptism only for those old enough to profess Christ? And then is baptism only by immersion, or is sprinkling ok? Are the spiritual gifts only for the Apostles who are long dead or do you speak in tongues on Sundays?
Disagreements about such things have split local church bodies and separated the body of Christ for hundreds and even thousands of years. Some differences warrant such splits, but quite frankly, really stupid things have driven the body of Christ apart.
I was born in the midst of the worship wars of the 1990s, and while I don’t remember much, I do remember my dad pastoring a church full of people happy to let their congregation dwindle and die as long as they got their way. That church is now either a rotting building or the new site of a Taco Bell. While genuine concerns exist in many of the quarrels that split, weaken, and kill church bodies, pride is often the reason for such divides.
The Original Plan For Unity
Why is it that one of Jesus’ recorded prayers in Scripture seems so unimportant to us?
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17:20b-23
Jesus prayed that we would be one as he and the Father are one. How can it be that we are so divided then? Why do we split churches over something as stupid as the style of music being played on Sunday? Why do we have so many conferences and organizations and events that cater solely to our own denomination? I’m not saying that it’s wrong that we have such things, but why aren’t there more conferences, organizations, and events that bring people of different sects of Christianity together in unity?
I recently graduated from a Christian university. While their theology is blatantly Baptist, the school hosts a diverse student body of Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Non-Denom. Three days a week, we would have our own version of chapel called convocation. Regardless of who the speaker was (a pastor, politician, musician, athlete, writer, etc.) each convocation began in worship. Thousands of college students joined together in musical praise to God. Probably every (legit) denomination you could think of was represented in that auditorium, and we were all united in worship every time. In those moments, it didn’t matter what our stances on predestination, female pastors, or spiritual gifts were. In those moments of worship, what mattered was that we were all children of God and that we were all madly in love with him.
How To Heal The Divide
Obviously, things like women in leadership, baptism, and spiritual gifts are important. We need to understand our church’s stance on such things, and we need to form our own beliefs too. But what’s more important is that we are all part of the body of Christ. The most important thing is not what we disagree upon, but what we all adhere to: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are all the bride of Christ. Regardless of our stances on any of these secondary issues, we will all stand around the throne one day and worship the King of kings and Lord of lords for eternity. When that day comes, we won’t care about secondary theology or minor issues. We will be too preoccupied with the glory of God that will surround us in all its mesmerizing, awesome fullness.
The world, especially this country, seems to be more divided than ever. Tensions between classes, races, and political parties are so ridiculously heightened and obvious. Let us not reflect the state of the world. Let us instead reflect the unity of the Trinity. Let us be more like Christ than ever. Let us reach across the divides, the barriers, the fences. Let’s join hands with our brothers and sisters, despite what differences we might have. What we have in common (our salvation and our love of our Savior) is so much more important than any of our differences. Let that be enough to be an example of unity in a time of division. May we be one, as God is One.