Fred the owl had passed away in his sleep at the age of 79. Presently, he was in Heaven, receiving the grand tour from his great grandfather. One of the the places they came to was a village of small buildings built using beautiful, rich, dark wood and stone. "Who lives here?" asked Fred.
"Mostly baptists." said Great-Grandpa.
"They all live together?"
"Not all of them, but this bunch likes to live near one another, since they were friends in life."
A while later, they passed a village with large buildings, full of huge windows. "Who lives here?" asked Fred.
A little later, they passed a small city with elaborite, decorative spires. "This place has mostly catholics." said Great-Grandpa.
Fred was beginning to catch on, but then they passed by an area surrounded by an enormous red, brick wall. "Walk softly." whispered Great-Grandpa.
"Why?" asked Fred. "Who lives here?"
"Missouri synod. They think they're the only ones here."
Last week, we talked about our identity as a church body. Our mission, what we stand for and who we identify with. Naturally, the subject of denominations came up. With denominations came the subject of labels. It has been observed, and rightly so, that breaking into denominations and calling ourselves by different names tends to cause divisions in the church, and this has been bourne out by history. Even in the very first century, Paul found it necessary to address a growing problem in which various Christians were saying "I follow Paul" or "I follow Apollos" or even "I follow Jesus!" Now this is not to say that it is wrong to follow the examples of Paul and Apollos. Both were fine Christian men who loved and served God, and both are excellent examples for us. We would do well to emulate them. But as Paul pointed out, it was Jesus who died for us. He's the son of God. He alone is the head of the church.
Paul warned us about breaking into factions, and anyone who seriously studies the bible knows to avoid this. So why do we have denominations? I can think of three reasons.
The first reason is because someone is doing something wrong. I'm not talking about the splitters, but about the body they are splitting from. Many of you may have heard me say "I can't control what you do, but I can control what I do." Churches are made up of people. Because of that, they sometimes make mistakes. They may be engaging in a sin or clinging to a heretical doctrine. Or, as often happens, the church may be spiritually dead. Let me explain what I mean.
In the beginning, there was one church. Over the years, a few began to embrace some strange doctrines. When the Roman empire decided to make Christianity the state religion, Christians and nominal Christians were called in to present their doctrines. That which sounded good became part of the official church. The state church was called "Catholic", meaning "universal", as it was meant to be the only Christian church. However, many churches refused to take part in this new church with its mish-mash of doctrine. These (for the most part) would become the baptistics. Shortly thereafter, a part of the catholic church broke away and became the orthodox church. Centuries after that, as a number of theologians began to study God's word and realize that the doctrines of the catholic church were full of errors, they broke away into the protestant denominations. They could not change the catholic church, but they could break off and form their own churches which held to what they saw as the truth. I don't think any of them got it completely right. Even in recent years, churches have made necessary splits. For example, when the Southern Baptists were sending out missionaries who didn't even believe in the virgin birth or the deity of Christ, some of them stood up and said "This is wrong!" They broke away and formed the conservative baptist church. In this way, the labels of denomination can be good because I can tell you with one or two words what I believe.
The second has to do with style. All Christians worship the Lord. That goes without saying. But we like to worship in different ways, and there's nothing wrong with that. In a family, people can love the same individual in a variety of different ways. Grandma loves Dad as her child. The baby loves Dad as a nurturer. The kid loves Dad as a provider. The adult son loves Dad as a buddy. Mom loves Dad in a way that's only appropriate for her. Is this wrong? Of course not. Everyone has a different relationship to Dad, but they are still all family. Likewise, people have different relationships with the Lord. Every one of us is unique and every one of us has a unique relationship with the creator. Some of us prefer to meditate on the scriptures quietly. Some like to sing out loud and dance. Some of us like to play in His presence. Some just love to talk to Him. One reason we have many different churches, sometimes only blocks away, is so that we can worship in our own mode. God loves worship that comes from the heart. If that involves lifting your hands, wonderful. If that involves gregorian chants, terrific. We just need to make sure that those of us who are gregorian chanting aren't looking down on those who are lifting holy hands and vice versa. We live in different houses and have different ways of doing things, but we are all God's family.
The third reason is the purpose of the church. We have said a number of times that the purpose of the church when it is together is to grow strengthen its members. The purpose of the church when it is apart is to spread the gospel. These are our general orders. Anyone who's ever been in the military knows that you have general orders and you have specific orders. General orders are those you obey all the time. In the army, they go something like this:
1st General Order
I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.
2nd General Order
I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.
3rd General Order
I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions, to the commander of the relief.
Special orders deal with whatever the soldier's unit is doing at the time. Naturally, they aren't going to be the same. A recruiting office is going to have a very different mission from an infantry unit. Paratroopers have a different job from tank squads. Engineers are not going to be doing the same thing as a MASH unit. Yet they are all soldiers, and they are meant to work together to perform a common purpose, which is to protect and to serve the citizens of the US and its allies. Now we know that in a single church, everyone plays a different part, all of which are important to the functioning of the body. One person teaches, another cares for the grounds, another is an encourager and another a spends hours in prayer. That is how we are here, for certain. But have you considered that the church as a whole may also work like that? Now certainly it does not have a history of being a healthy body. In five out of seven ages, there has been something very wrong with it. Yet I do believe that the different parts of the church are meant to work together to act as a whole. Some parts are meant to preserve the knowledge of God. Others to glorify Him to the world. Others are meant to help the church grow. Others to heal its diseases. Others to prepare missionaries, others to fund them. When I was in the service, I was a "98 X-ray". If someone asked me what my MOS (job) was, that's what I would tell them. They could look that up and know that my purpose in the army was to be a translator. Likewise, when someone says "I am menonite" or "I am assemblies", It is like saying "I'm with the 8063rd MASH unit." or "I'm with the 42nd Infantry." It should be a statement of purpose, not a declaration of division.
The challenge this week: For nonchristians, it's the same as it always is. If you're not one of God's children, you really need to get right with Him by accepting Jesus as your savior. Until then, going to any church doesn't matter. If you are a Christian, I encourage you to foster within yourself a spirit of love and alliance with all of God's people, but to take joy and pride in the purpose God has for you, whatever that may be.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
14 For the body is not one member, but many.
15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?
20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.
21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.