“The denominational divisions which accentuate the problem are perpetrating an image of a divided Christ to the community in which we live. Such an image is at variance with the unity of the body into which we were all baptized. The same arguments that Paul used to deal with the factions and personality cults of the Corinthian church are applicable [here and now]. We can not hide behind some concept of ‘spiritual unity’ which has little or no embodiment in structure or institution; for, not only does it drive an unnatural and unbiblical wedge between the physical and the spiritual, it is also nonsense to the world to which we are called to be in mission, and thereby denies the very basis of the unity for which Christ prayed.” (Ian Cundy)
It’s funny how two guys can look at the same thing and see something completely different. For instance, I’m a fan of church history. One guy I read says that denominations are essentially exclusive; that is, they are a cause (or result?) of division and therefore separate believers in Christ from one another. Another guy says that denominations were initially created to be inclusive, so that there could be room for all who name the name of Christ to express and practice their faith differently, because differences of opinion and interpretation are inevitable.
Funny, isn’t it? Either way it’s not my point. My point is simply this: The denominational divisions of Christendom must be either inclusive or exclusive. They can’t be both at the same time. So the question is, which one is it?
Think about the situation in Corinth in A.D. 55. Let’s say the members of the church in Corinth decided they could no longer get along with each other, for various reasons, and that the wisest solution for them would be to part ways. Then there would be a little group over here who gathered around the name of Peter, another one over there who gathered around the name of Paul, another around Apollos, and yet another who decided to buck the leadership of man altogether and say, “we follow Christ only.”
Would that have been ok?
Don’t be so sure of your answer. Because regardless of what you might say in response to such a question when it has been posed to you so bluntly, your very participation in any system or group today that has been formed in similar fashion and for a similar reason as those factions in Corinth sounds out a resounding “yes” as to your actual belief over whether or not such a situation is really acceptable.
You don’t believe me? That’s ok. I’m not asking you to. 😛
Here’s my take on the matter: God is out to gain an expression of Himself in the world we are living in. No man had seen God at any time before Jesus Christ came into the world. When the Son came out from the Father and was born of a virgin, grew up as a normal human being and began to do great and unprecedented things, mankind for the first time got a glimpse of what God actually looks like.
Bad news, though. Jesus died.
Good news is He rose from the dead!
Bad news again: He went away.
But good in the end, for He sent His Spirit to live within the hearts of His followers!
All this was part of God’s plan, for the image of Himself He wished to display in the earth was never that of an individual. God’s plan from the beginning has been to display Himself through a corporate Body… an entire race of individuals who bear His life together!
Hold onto your seatbelt, though, because this corporate race of individuals who bear the life of God together He calls… the church!
God gained an expression of Himself in His Son while Jesus of Nazareth was here on this earth in the flesh. But God’s intent, which He achieved through the death and resurrection of His Son, was to reproduce that same life within the hearts and lives of all who would come to believe in Him thereafter!
Christ is the expression of God. The church is the expression of Christ. She is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in every member. So, by putting two and two together we see that the purpose of God for His church is that the church would be here in this world as the visible display of all that He is. And where does this expression begin?
“Father, I pray for them, that they might be one, even as we are one, that the world might believe…” (John 17)
Oneness. Unity. Indivisible love and fellowship. Such is the Godhead. Such is the Father, Son, and Spirit. This is what Christ displayed as a man, and this is what the church has been given to express as the fullness of Him who fills all in every member.
All this was at stake in Corinth in A.D. 55. Viewing the situation in this light, then, we can easily see why Paul was so darn upset. Notice, then, the question Paul asks in response to the threat of division in this erstwhile assembly:
“Is Christ divided?”
Well, dear reader, is Christ divided? The question is rhetorical. Obviously the answer is no. But what does it matter? It matters because the church is the expression of Christ. And if Christ is not divided then neither can the church be divided. If the church were to be divided in her practice, she would be presenting a false expression of her Lord. Now, maybe that doesn’t matter to you or me, but it mattered to Paul, and it matters to God. The Father is very concerned about having a true expression of His Son for all this world and for the principalities and powers governing it to see.
(Remember, too, that in all this I am talking about the church on the local level. I’m not talking about vast denominational systems all spread throughout the “universal” church worldwide. I’m talking about all the members of Christ’s Body in the town in which you and I live. Once upon a time all the believers in Christ in any given place lived and gathered as one Man in the town where they resided. Times may have changed, social conditions may have changed, but the intention of God has never changed.)
In view of this revelation of God‘s purpose, then, do you think it would be too extreme to say that it is an absolute atrocity for the church in your city to be divided in her expression? The only obvious recourse when such a revelation really comes home to a person’s heart is to make a clean break with any system or institution that puts forth such a decimated view of our Lord. Is it going too far to say that much?
Either way, let’s say you agree with the above statement. You have left “the system,” left the denominations and the loosely networked independent churches, and now you are out on your own. What’s the answer now? House church, right?
You might be surprised, so stay tuned! 🙂