Is the large number of denominations a disgrace to us, the church, or merely the inevitable result of our diversity of views? Paul has some pretty hard things to say to the Corinthian church concerning their disagreements. I wonder what he thinks about the church today? I wonder what God thinks?
We had a busy day in Children’s Church (for us) today. A dozen kids, several of them new to us, doesn’t sound like much compared to a lot of churches I’ve attended, but it’s a lot of little noise-makers, all the same. Lots of puppets. The youth group kids are getting to be quite good puppeteers. I’m proud of them. The weather has warmed up a bit, despite the fact we woke up to snow this morning. I’m certainly ready for Spring!
This passage in 1 Corinthians does bother me. Of course, there’s nothing in sight that will unify all the many denominations of the Christian church under one umbrella, but it would be great if we could at least work together inter-denominationally. I’ve seen that happen a number of times, but I’d love to see more of it.
While we’re supposed to get along with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, what do we do when our denomination has strayed far from God’s word and become enmeshed in extra-biblical (or even unbiblical) tradition? I believe Martin Luther’s break with the Catholic church was a factor in preserving biblical Christianity even though I realize it didn’t go far enough toward restoring the simplicity of New Testament doctrine. I believe the Wesleyan (my present church) break with the Methodist church over the issue of slavery was also justified. I don’t honestly know a lot about this incident, but in the words of a prominent politician, “He (a preacher who made hateful racial comments) wouldn’t be my pastor.”
Of course, the Methodist church no longer approves slavery. So why can’t the Methodists and the Wesleyans, at least, get back together? Well, there are other differences of course, and the churches each have their own governing bodies, and, and, and . . . . There are a lot of “ands”. Important “ands”. So the church remains splintered.
It seems a shame that so many denominations that believe essentially the same things remain divided from one another. I wonder whether there is such a plurality of denominations in countries like Pakistan where Christians must meet in secret and must trust one another with their freedom and their lives? Are there North Korean Baptists who disapprove of North Korean Pentecostals who disapprove of North Korean Catholics, who believe all the other denominations are “separated brethren”? Somehow I doubt it. Maybe persecution would bring us together? I don’t want that, but I do want to paint a picture of Jesus for the world to see–a true picture, on one united canvas. For more on this subject, see Denominations: Necessary Evil or Necessarily Evil at All This Monotony.
We mustn’t let personalities become the face of the church, or ultimately follow anyone but Christ. We should imitate more mature brothers and sisters as they imitate Christ, but not glorify them instead of God. The church shouldn’t have rock stars. I say this metaphorically, but it does apply to Christian musicians as well as evangelists, pastors, teachers, and so on. We are all God’s servants and none of us better than another. The face of the church must not be Billy Graham or Pope Benedict XVI, or Saint Augustine or the Apostle Paul, or the latest hip preacher or musician. It must only be Jesus Christ, manifested in all His people.
We are Jesus’ body. If we are divided, that paints a false and fractured picture of Him.
Paul may occasionally cross over and perform some function (baptism) that is not technically part of his “job description” of “Apostle”, but picking something up with your toes, while convenient at times, does not turn your toes into fingers. Paul was sent to preach, not to baptize, but we all must sometimes do things that lay outside the realm of our calling simply because we’re there and the thing needs doing.
Paul segues into his next point. The gospel is not dependent upon, nor is it enhanced, and may even be hindered by a clever presentation which appeals to the “wise,” intellectual, highborn, successful–those who might be referred to with respect as the “cream of society”.
Paul continues in this vein in verses 18-25, which will be the subject of my next post. You can read this passage here.
See you next time. 🙂