-According to the Apostle Paul, it is not God’s will that Christians group together in competing factions where we worship God in a spirit of disunity. Preserving the unity of the church was central to the mind of Paul’s vision for the gospel. He writes,
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow Christ.” [1 Cor 1:10-11 ESV].
When the early Christians used the term “catholic”, they didn’t mean it in the Papist sense, as though the Pope in Rome is the earthly king of all Christians. But rather, it was understood that all true Christians living in each city, were all members of the catholic (universal) church. Yet how often do all the Christians in your city get together to worship and thank God for His faithfulness; once a month? Once a year? Once every ten years? Once every hundred years?
If you live on the planet earth where I live, you experience what I experience; a fractured church that is failing God; a church where “some follow Peter”, “some follow Luther”, “some follow Calvin”, or perhaps even more pointedly, “some follow John MacArthur”, “some follow the Pope”, “some follow James Vernon McGee”, and “some follow John Piper”.
As long as a spirit of disunity is allowed in the church, we as the bride of Christ are miserably failing Paul’s admonishment to do all to preserve the unity of the brethren. True discipleship incorporates Paul’s teaching and seeks to build unity within the body of Christ.
When I was a young adult, each year during Easter month, Pastor Pohly was involved in an ecumenical month of services and fellowship. Each week during the month of Easter, the pastors in our little village would leave their pulpits on Sunday morning, and visit each other’s churches in a spirit of unity. Each week leading up to Easter Sunday, there would be fellowship services and meals that the congregations of all the different churches were encouraged to participate. Pastor Pohly and his wife would regularly pick me up at my house, and the three of us would have dinner at the local baptist church, congregational church, and other Christian fellowship’s in our city. On Easter Sunday, a sunrise service was held in which all the pastors and all the members of the different churches in the village would assemble to worship God in a spirit of unity.
This month of ecumenical unity came about because the pastors of our village would regularly get together for prayer and breakfast. I believe it was once a month, or every other month, that the pastors in our community got together for a prayer breakfast to seek God’s direction, to ask that he unify the entire church, and to bless our community. Because Pastor Pohly was a man of prayer, he believed this ecumenical prayer breakfast was one of his more important duties as the pastor of our congregation. He believed he was only a small cog in the greater catholic (universal) church, and by setting a good example in fellowship and praying with other ministers, Pastor Pohly was teaching his own disciples that we are not to be cut off from our fellow Christians; but rather, we should be working toward unity.
One of the common criticisms leveled at Christianity is the competing, and in some instances “warring” that exists between churches. For example, for some time now, mega churches have not made a dent at bringing in non-Christians to their seeker services, but seem to merely draw from the pool of existing churches. A type of shuffling of the deck occurs; Roman Catholics become Protestant, Baptists become Presbyterian, Lutherans become Pentecostal, and after a few years, the deck gets shuffled again and Christians once again play their game of musical chairs, exchanging one set of theological doctrine for another. In many examples, the denominational game of musical chairs is viewed as a type of maturation for the disciple; the more they grow in their Christian walk, it becomes imperative that they move on to more cerebral forms of Christianity. From low church to high church, from simple mega-church evangelicalism to the higher theology of Reformed Presbyterians or Orthodox.
However, true discipleship is not interested in these migration patterns of Christian laity; discipleship is not about stealing from one pool of Christianity and training them up in our particular brand of doctrine or theology. When we view denominational doctrine as a methodology of Christian growth, a spirit of disunity takes root in our heart.
If we truly embrace the catholic (universal) church is all Christians who profess Christ, then it is imperative in our local communities that the whole catholic (universal) church begin praying and worshiping God together. This type of unity breaks down denominational walls. When Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Christian denominations get together monthly to pray and seek God in a spirit of humility, there is no longer room for Christianity to exist as competing factions.
Each of the different denominations have a lot to learn from each other. It is self-evident that there are strengths and weaknesses within each different denomination. There is both maturation and infancy within the walls of our different brands of Christianity; true discipleship is about breaching these walls to allow ministers to begin praying and hanging out with each other, which would then foster discipleship relationships among the laity that truly transforms lives, families, and communities.
True discipleship is about building and preserving unity. It is not about competing with other Christians, or competing with other denominations. True discipleship is not about tearing down other churches, but rather, it is about building each other up in Christ.
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