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Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Are We So Willing To Keep Dividing The Body Of Christ?

Last I checked there was reportedly about 41,000 Christian denominations.  That number is up from an estimated 21,000 in 1982.  (Wow! In thirty-two years the number of Christian denominations have almost doubled!) The names of these groups range from Amish to The Way, with thousands in between and perhaps there are even others before and after those names, which I'm unaware of.  This number includes churches that are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and whatever else.

Nearly one third of the population of Earth claim 'some form of Christianity'.  Yet it seems that just about every church sees things a little differently, and some a lot differently.  Personally, I'm not sure God recognizes denomination!  Jesus said He would build His Church upon the rock of truth that; He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Most, if not all, denominations have been built by man and not so much upon that rock, but other bits of truth that we feel are important. Yet God does have a people who are His.  Perhaps that Church includes people who are members of each of these denominations. Certainly our denominations aren't what it takes to save anyone and there is a purpose in the world for the Church to fulfill, but I'm not sure denominationalism is  really helping.

I've asked myself, are these designations useful?  Perhaps denominations within the Church serve a purpose.  Because of denomination, we can go to a church in one location and then another and have a similar experience, even hearing similar doctrine. For example, you can go to a Southern Baptist Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and hear basically the same doctrine as if you attend a Southern Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington. Just as you could attend an Anglican Church anywhere in the world and find similar faith.  The worship styles may differ, the length of service may not be the same, the culture may impact the proceedings, yet the basic doctrines are usually standardized within each individual denomination.  From a human perspective, it may serve a purpose.

Why do we keep dividing ourselves though?  There is only one true church. What does 41,000 different sets of beliefs do for the one who is looking for Christ?  And how does this dividing benefit the Kingdom of God in the grand scheme of things?  These are all valid questions that seem to recirculate over and over in my mind.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks on these things.

So what should we do?  Should we stop attending denominational churches? Should we stop attending church altogether? (Not necessarily, and No.)  Certainly Jesus foresaw this.  He even addressed it!  God's word forbids us to stop assembling ourselves together in Hebrews 10:25.  We need each other desperately... And divisions within the church were addressed in the Bible on several occasions, first by Jesus himself and then by the Apostle Paul.

In John 17:20-23 Jesus prayed for all believers.  He prayed that we be one, even as He and His Father are one.  That is amazing unity!  They are so united we cannot distinguish where Jesus ends and the Father begins, because they are one.  Jesus claimed that by unity within the Body of Christ, the world will see that He was truly sent by the Father.  Division in the Church then, hinders our advancement of the gospel and ultimately our presentation of Jesus Christ as God's Savior for a lost world.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10, the Apostle Paul said, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought."  He continued the thought in Chapter 12 when he told us there were many different parts of the body, with differing functions, but that all were important and there should be "no schism", or formal divisions within the Body of Christ.  Ephesians 4:3-6 also tells us to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

So, again, what should we do? Why are we so willing to keep dividing the Body of Christ?  Most of our divisions are caused by human pride.  Yet, I think the answer to our division is simple.  It's a four letter word that we say easily, yet find more difficult to live out.  A word that can only be lived out if we are living a Christ-Centered life. I believe the answer is love.  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

What about that church that baptizes differently? "As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  What about the church who meets on a different day of the week? "As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  What about the church that seems to exploit or manipulate the goodness of God's grace? "As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  What about that church that speaks in tongues?  What about that church that doesn't? "As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

Let God deal with all that... Just love.  It's not your church anyway, it's His. We have a purpose in the world that must be completed... So love!  Instead of looking at how different we are, we should remember the admonition of Jesus to his disciples in Mark 9:40, "whoever is not against us is for us"...and we should love.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Should the Local Church Respond to Ferguson?

If anything, the many recent tragedies of Ferguson and subsequent protests and riots across the country, have shown us how divided this nation still is on the issue of race.  Yet my hope and I believe God's hope, for the Church at least, is that we realize we are not of this world. We are not black, we are not white, we are not Hispanic, we are not Asian, we are not Middle Eastern. We are not Jewish, we are not Gentiles... We are the Body of Christ, one new man, the redeemed, a Holy Nation, the hope of the Earth -through Jesus.  We are, together, members of His body, diverse in appearance and function yet one in essence.  We are all necessary to complete the diverse-unity that is in Christ.

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:26-29) 

Sure, we all have different heritages and that is not objectionable.  On the contrary it's wonderful!  Individually, we should consider our heritage as very important to us.  It's what makes us who we are.  We are the sum of all of our parts!  You are unique and special to God just as you are!  

I believe that we should all personally celebrate our heritage. It's not wrong for African Americans to celebrate their identity, such as is the case with 'Black History Month'. But neither should it be considered socially unacceptable for those of white European descent to celebrate who they are.  The same should be acceptable for the person of Asian descent, or Native American, or any other. I have a friend who nearly every day, reminds me with pride that he is Italian. I think that his pride in his heritage is admirable. Yet our personal celebrations of our national or racial heritage should never be at the expense of someone else, by tearing others down, or by exalting our racial group over any other.  I should be open to celebrating your heritage with you too, while relishing the fact that we are different and yet the same.

My family and I don't talk too much about our ancestry.  We are not ashamed of it, yet it isn't something we feel the need to be boastful of either. I am of German/Irish/Cherokee decent. My wife is a descendant of people who were English/Melungeon.  (Melungeon is a racial mixture of European, African, and Native American.)  We are very much the product of the American Melting Pot. So, does our ancestry even matter? Yes, but it only matters to me, my wife, and our children.  It doesn't matter in the church because, in the Church, our identity comes from Christ. We have 'put on Christ', therefore it's Him we should look and act like.

When it comes to the Church, as a corporate entity, we need to stop being 'black church' or 'white church' and start being "The Church".  We need to first be Christians.  We need to hold tightly to our spiritual heritage as sons and daughters of God, spiritual descendants of Abraham through faith.  We should NEVER allow our differences in heritage to divide us, and certainly our skin color should have no effect on us whatsoever.  The Church is one.

So how should the local church respond to Ferguson and other similar issues?  Certainly not with silence: I think our response should be completely non-racial, but rather wholly spiritual.  Remember, we're Christians first. Hatred, prejudice, rioting, bigoted talk, all stem from one root cause, that cause is sin (See Romans 13:13 & Eph. 5:1-4).  Through hatred, sin divides us... but WE have been washed.  We are new creatures in Christ, those old things are passed away and the new has come (See 2 Cor. 5:17).  

Racism in any form is a manifestation of prejudice, or 'pre-judging based on a generalization'. Prejudice is most often a form of hatred.  Sure, it manifests itself from white toward black, but just as commonly from black toward white, from Asian toward Hispanic, and so on.  But that is not who WE are... We are the Church!  We are one (worldwide) nation of believers who are begotten by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  We are one people, of one blood, with one Lord.

A natural response would come from the flesh, but spiritual response must come from our spirit man which has been clothed in Christ. Just as the root cause of prejudice is sin, our spiritual response must have a root cause too. In the Church, our cause is Love.  If I'm forgiven, I'm required to forgive.  If I have received God's forgiveness, I will love.  Through that love and forgiveness we are unified.

As the Church we should be manifesting the love of Christ in such a powerful way that the world around us sees no division.  That's what Jesus prayed for (John 17:21). That's who we are called to be. They will know we are His disciples because of the love we have for one another (See John 13:35).  If love is manifesting correctly, my African American brothers and I will be standing together for Christ, and together against hatred.  I urge you reach out to people of other races and show them you love them in Christ.  This could do more to heal than you can even imagine. That's how we, The Church, should respond in Ferguson, or to any other example of racism... with love.