Denominational Differences – Deception or a Divine Diamond?
Many well-meaning leaders today are promoting the idea that we should be cautious when associating with Christians from other churches or denominations. Cautious – because there are deceivers in our midst, who would devour us – or so we are told. I won’t dispute that there are people in the body of Christ who are deceived. I won’t even dispute that I might be one of them.
What I believe today is different from what I believed 5 years ago. Back then I didn’t believe in healing. Today I do. From that fact alone – it’s obvious that either I was deceived then, or I’m deceived now. If we were honest with ourselves, we’d admit that something in our belief system is probably a little ‘off’ now and then. In one way or another – we are all somewhat deceived.The fact that we all hold to slightly different beliefs, means we all have slightly different practices. Diverse practices and beliefs separate us into sects and denominations.
There is a belief by the world that these differences are evidence that God’s plan must have gone haywire, somewhere along the way. The world asks, “How could so many different denominations (each one based on different beliefs and practices) have sprouted from the “one true way” if that way were really true?
Doesn’t such division prove that none of us are on the path to truth?
The bible speaks of believers as a body – as one being have many and diverse parts. It should surprise no one that the body of Christ has grown into an odd-looking collection of parts that don’t resemble one another, believe the same things or function in the same way. That’s what a body is.
Some believe that if we’re all being conformed into the image of Christ, we would all be identical. But that is not the case. Our conformity into the image of Christ speaks of our character being changed into the perfect image of love. Our differentiation and uniqueness, (especially in the areas of form and function) are retained in the process of sanctification. Unity in the spirit of love does not erase uniqueness in gifting.
What if, instead of being evidence of religious schizophrenia and falsehood, the differences between denominations and streams of Christianity were more like the facets of a diamond? A natural diamond reflects one type of light, but each facet of the body of Christ reflects its own unique part of the spectrum of God’s gory revealing a unique aspect of His eternal truth. One cannot fully appreciate the light and glory of God in the church unless one looks at every facet.
A friend once suggested that each subgroup of Christianity exists by God’s design and that each has been given an eternal truth to preserve – and that the totality of true Christian doctrine can only be seen by viewing the truths contained in all of them, while ignoring each one’s errors. It’s frightening to consider the possibility – that rather than having a monopoly on truth, each of us may only be holding on to a small speck of it. Frightening perhaps, but I think this is the case, however humbling it may be.
God is emphasizing unity during the days we live in. While men may emphasize suspicion, separatism, and mistrust of others, God is emphasizing understanding, brotherly love and cooperation among the different parts of His body. The prayer of Jesus was that we would be one as He and the Father are one. The body cannot be divided by man. It has been united once and for all by Christ himself for a divine purpose – the perfect revelation of the glory of God in the earth.
Let us endeavor to live in the unity of the spirit, in the bonds of love.
You could entitle this article Denominational Dofferences – Or Diversity. Recalling Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22
to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
I would like to suggest that the difference introduced by denomination have nothing to do with the distinctions of parts in the body, since you could easily do away with denominations and retain the distinctiveness of each individual part…so that must lead to the question “If denominations are not contributing to the distinctiveness of each individual part, what purpose do they serve?”…just because the distinctions exist INSIDE a denominational framework is not exactly endorsement that the framework is needed.
My own take on it suggest that denominations are really the structure left over by a social evolution from revival activity…if my analysis is correct then you will soon see Bethel in Redding doing church plants…oh wait…Jesus Culture just moved to Sacramento to start a church…the first one to come out of Bethel…following John WImber with Vineyard, Charles and John Wesley with the Methodist, etc…
Our problem stems when we begin to say “the church is the body” and I am a member of this or that church…anytime you start with the church and not the body you are going the wrong way…it is more accurate to say “The body is the church…” and we are members of the body…
With that definition…mission becomes more important than distinction or difference…
I think God knew the nature of men (since He created them) and foreknew their fallen nature and their tendency to start exclusive cliques or parties based on culture, race and individual understanding of revelation. So, in His permissive will, He allowed all the differences in order to reach all kinds of men and women. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” He could have removed all the variations in denominations and made us homogenous if that was His will.
This is a pretty serious ‘hot potato’ you’ve touched on P.M. However it is also a subject that must be addressed in our day. Knowing history the founders of all the denominations didn’t plan on creating a denomination, it happened because their followers were closed to all other forms (practices) and idealism (doctrines) that were contrary to what they were experiencing and understanding. Take John Wesley for example; here was a brother that saw tremendous Biblical/ethical issues with the Anglican church of his day, he left them, that is, their practice and some of their doctrine because what he was seeing in the Word of God didn’t line up. The results were hundreds; even thousands were reaped into the Kingdom during his time. But he was left with the dilemma of discipleship and accountability. So John Wesley created a ‘method’ to solve those issues. Someone else tagged that group as “Methodist’s” this was not John Wesley’s idea to start another denomination. Church history is full of theses examples right down to our very day.
To say that oneness is contingent upon a doctrine or agreements on every point sounds impossible, but look at the early church and Paul’s statement. 1 Cor. 4:17 – For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. Paul made sure that every church was on the same page both in practices and doctrine. So we do have oneness in teaching/doctrine. Concerning practice we see in I Cor. 14 is the only place in the N.T. where there is a format or instruction on how to gather as the church, thus we see oneness also in practice.
Our ‘Oneness’ to me is only found “in Christ”. We are One with each other because of Christ plus nothing. Every Born from above follower of Jesus Christ has the resurrected Spirit of Christ in them, and that is the common denominator that makes us one, not doctrine, although it should be there as well along with oneness of practice because that is what is reflected in the early church. “Acts is the genesis of the church’s history, and the Church in the time of Paul is the genesis of the Spirit’s work…we must return to ‘the beginning.’ Only what God has set forth as our example in the beginning is the eternal Will of God. It is the Divine standard and our pattern for all time…God has revealed His Will, not only by giving orders, but by having certain things done in His church, so that in the ages to come others might simply look at the pattern and know His Will.” Watchman Nee, ‘The Church and the Work’
But for now, let’s understand that our oneness is indeed a fact that whether a true believer is sitting in a Catholic pew or meeting in a living room meeting with others, if they are Born from above and their spirit is joined to the Lord, they are one Spirit and we all are one in Spirit with Christ and each other. That perhaps is why Paul wrote to one church in each city. It consists of every Born again follower of Christ, the church which is His Body. I am one with every believer in Christ in Dahlonega, Ga. I happen to meet with some on Fridays at Pecks Mill Road, and others on Mondays at Woodland Lane; sometimes I meet with the church in Gainesville, Ga that just happens to meet at the Free Chapel building on Sundays from time to time. We don’t have to embrace denominationalism but we do have to embrace one another in Christ’s love.