The Church, more than denominations
Pastor Bill Wright
For the past two weeks we have considered the question, what did Jesus mean when He used the word “church” in Matthew 16:18: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” We have discovered He was not speaking of a building or a religious organization. He was not speaking of religion but rather He was speaking of a redeemed family of whom He is the foundation and the head.
This week we want to take another step at defining the church, according to the Bible, by seeing again what it is not. Jesus, in all of His teaching, along with the other writers of the New Testament had no idea of dividing God’s family into different groups. In fact, in the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 Jesus prayed that His redeemed followers would be one, so the world would know that He and the Father are one. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dividing the church into groups that claimed certain human leaders. (I Corinthians 1:12-13) “Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Wikipedia Encyclopedia states that there are over 34,000 religious denominations in the world today, just among those who call themselves Christians. The term denomination describes various Christian groups, as well as, divisions of Judaism, Islam and Hindusim.
Denominations are typically sub groups of the major world-wide religions, such as, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. For the purpose of this article we will simply discuss denominations that belong to the Christian faith.
Most Christian denominations have come into existence because of disagreements theologically that arose. Some divided over different forms of church government. Some divided over personalities. Whatever the reason, it has not turned out to be a positive witness to the world, concerning the church of Jesus Christ. Often the divisions have come as a result of things that are not essential to our relationship to Jesus Christ. Things such as the mode of baptism, or the different beliefs in the significance of communion, or the manner in which members are to dress or conduct themselves have divided us.
Rather than the Bible being the sole authority for faith and practice, the opinions of men have caused the plurality of what Jesus described as His church.
The administration of many Christian denominations act as service agencies to the individual church congregations that operate under their particular dogma and practices. My purpose in this article is not to debate the value or lack of value of denominations. My purpose is to ask some questions that hopefully will cause all of us to consider the need of unity in our message of the gospel. There are not different gospels for different groups. At least there should not be. There is only one gospel declared in the Bible and in that message we must not be divided, no matter what the label on our church building may be. There is only one Jesus and He is not divided. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is very God and very Man, without sin. He is the only means of salvation through His death, burial and resurrection. He is the only means of living the Christian life as modeled by Him, through His indwelling life in the person of the Holy Spirit. In other words Christianity is all about Jesus plus nothing else. The challenge is that many groups have made Christianity about much more than Jesus and that has caused the divisions among us.
Would to God the religious walls that separate us would come down. And that we would become one voice with one message of salvation through Christ and Christ alone. Have you ever asked the question how it is that in less than 60 years from the death and resurrection of Jesus His disciples turned the entire known world upside down with the gospel. I believe we find the answer in the fact that none of them were building their own little kingdoms. When we consider what divides us, it is amazing that it hardly ever has anything to do with the message of the gospel. It usually has to do with conflicts between people over matters that will not matter one second in eternity.
A man named J. Steward Holden, many years ago, made this observation: “The world does not believe in who they cannot see (God) because they cannot believe in who they do see (Professing Christians).”
One final thought in the form of a question. When heaven becomes a reality for all believers in the world, past, present and future, does the Bible teach we will be divided into groups? The church Jesus spoke of that He would build was to be one where it proclaimed Christ Alone, through Faith Alone. In other words the church Jesus is building is “JESUS PLUS NOTHING!”