Are we united as Christians? It’s a simple question. Yes or no. But the truth is that it’s not necessarily that simple. Okay… maybe it is, and we just don’t like the answer. For one thing, a quick Google search reveals that we have over 34,000+ denominations. (My jaw actually dropped when I read this!) I understand the need to attend a church that views certain particulars of Scripture the way you do, but is this what Jesus wanted when He prayed in the garden that we would be united as believers? (John 17:20-23) Is this what Paul meant when he reminded us that we have the mind of Christ and that we should be united by this fact?
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If I’m being brutally honest, it’s not the number of denominations that bothers me. It’s the way we treat each other. Let me give you some background. I live in a smaller town with quite a few churches. I have witnessed first-hand people shunning one another because they attend a different church. And not just once, but on numerous occasions. I’ve heard the gossip that circulates when someone leaves one church for another, and I’ve seen this both in terms of the congregation as well as the leadership. Aren’t we all part of one body? One faith? And one Spirit?
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. – 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV, emphasis added)
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:5-6 (NIV, emphasis added)
There’s no doubt that our Christian walk was meant to be shared with one another. We are all in this together. Yet over time, the enemy has used our disagreements over theology and doctrine to segregate and divide us. And I’m not saying that it is wrong necessarily that we have denominations of like-minded believers. I am, however, acknowledging how we treat one another based on these differences.
Paul addressed the same issue in his letter to the Romans. They were fighting over what foods were acceptable to eat and which days they should worship. They were letting these small disputes get in the way of what really mattered – their faith in Jesus.
For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. – Romans 14:17-20
Now when Paul talks about “the church,” he is not talking about our local church. Rather, he is talking about the church as a whole – the entire body of Christ.
Anyone who bows the knee to Jesus, who receives the truth of the gospel and becomes a child of God, is your brother and sister in Christ. It doesn’t matter what church they go to or where they stand on minor theological issues. As Paul said, “Don’t tear down the work of God” over something that has no effect on your salvation.
We are all part of the same family. And we are called to be of one mind – and that is the mind of Christ.
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:1-5
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*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.