Many things can be said about the modern state of Christianity, but there is one thing that is particularly divisive – the idea of the Christian “denomination.”
Denominations are just another part of the Christian vernacular anymore – and they’re all very different. But this division is not what God intended. Jesus prays in John 17:11:
“That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
Simpy put, we are to be one as Jesus is one with the Father. Our unity as Christians is fundamental to the world believing in Christ.
The attitude that has evolved in the past few decades is that we can all be “Christian” and have “Christian values,” but still believe what we want. This relativism is not only un-Christian in itself, but it also undermines our Christian testimony to the world – that the world may believe.
Jesus built a Church, not a divided religion with many “churches.” The fact that we are divided into tens of thousands of “denominations” is something that should stand out as gravely wrong.
Some claim that there is no visible, organized, unified Church of which to belong. They believe that the “church” Jesus began has no visible, authoritative representation here on Earth. But that view isn’t consistent with scripture, nor with the historical, Apostolic Church.
We read in scripture that Jesus gave the first leaders of His Church, the Apostles, the power to forgive sins in Jesus’ name (John 20:23). He gave to Peter the “keys of the kingdom” and the authority to bind and to loose on Earth and Heaven (Matt 16:19). These are visible responsibilities – actions. And they are actions requiring authority. They must be done by a visible, organized, and authoritative Church.
The notion that Jesus, in referencing His Church, is only referring to some vague, undefined, unstructured body of believers is quite simply unfounded. It would be impossible for such an amorphous church to carry out such important responsibilities and certainly impossible for it to remain unified.
Scripture instructs us (Matthew 18:17) that when Christians cannot resolve something among us our last resort is to: A. Consult the bible? B. Vote on it and decide democratically? C. Just agree to disagree? D. None of the above
The answer is D. Instead, scripture says to take it to The Church. But this Church must be visible, defined, and structured. Otherwise, we could not take such issues to The Church for clarification as Christians. In fact, taking an issue to the multitude of “churches” available today, would simply lead to further confusion and disagreement.
In 1 Timothy 3:15, we are told that the “pillar and bulwark” of the truth is The Church – not the Bible. Scripture says that The Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth. How can an amorphous, undefined, loosely associated group of disagreeing Christians be the pillar and bulwark of truth? It can’t.
But denominations are not the cause of this division and confusion – they are a result of it. At the heart of the matter is, I believe, a misrepresentation of what Christianity actually is.
In western culture’s slippery slide into relativism, it is superficially main-stream to believe that there exists no single, absolute Truth.
The belief that two conflicting belief systems, or denominations, can both be true is accepted as mindlessly as our morning Starbucks routine. And any attempts to question this false logic are met with accusations of intolerance and arrogance. Perhaps worse is a growing belief that we simply can’t know the truth, or must accept some type of truth based solely on a faith that contradicts our reason.
The truth is that Christianity is not denominational – it’s broken. People have settled for simply searching for which “denomination” they like the best, instead of searching for what is actually true.
Society has convinced many that this universal Church doesn’t exist– and that there is no absolute Truth. But this is a lie.
Jesus began a real, visible Church with real people (Matt 16:18). He gave them real authority (Matt 16:19, Matt 18:18, John 20:22-23). He promised that the Holy Spirit would guide it unto all Truth (John 16:12-13). And He promised that the “gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18)
So how do we begin to find this one, universal Church? For many of us it must start with throwing our denominational biases out the window and attempting to see denominational Christianity from a fresh perspective.
The common view of a Christian denomination might be something like a stream. There are many streams – each one distinctly different from the next. Some flow strongly making their own way. Most simply bend according to the obstacles in their paths.
Many people stay in the stream they start out in, either never questioning what other streams might be like or far too comfortable to venture away. Some float along their whole lives and one day find that their stream has merged with another, or that they have split off onto a stream all their own.
Nobody knows for sure where these streams end up – and common knowledge suggests that they all end up in the same place. So it’s easy to understand why many people don’t bother worrying about which stream they’re in.
Then there’s the Catholic Church – often seen as the slow, meandering stream that hasn’t quite caught up with the modern world. It seems the only reason it remains notable at all is because of its long winding tradition and history, but its real uses have run out. It started out flowing in the right direction, but it has slowly veered further and further away from the destination.
Now let’s consider for a moment that this view is wrong. That maybe each of these streams don’t all end up in the same place? What if we find that when we dare to question what we’ve always been told, venture down that over-grown path of the Apostolic Church, and clear away the jungle of relativism that we don’t actually find that trickling, dying stream everyone has always told us about? But instead, we find a massive, steadily flowing river? A river so wide we can’t see the other side? A river so fast we could never swim it on our own? A river so strong that we can’t change a thing about it? A river so rich with life that we could spend our lives fishing it and never catch the same thing twice? Now this sounds like a Church that God himself would begin. And wouldn’t you know it looks a lot like the Catholic Church.