“All of these church structures profess, in some manner, a biblical rationale for their existence. Some bolster their biblical claims with historical arguments. Others consider it a value to think ahistorically and operate as if they were a direct application of what the New Testament intended the church to be. The question requiring an answer is not so much, Do denominations have a right to exist? but rather, “How are we going to explain this church form? This collage of church forms needs to be sorted out if we wish to develop a missional ecclesiology for North America. Such an ecclesiology should provide criteria and direction in assisting these diverse forms to express more fully God’s design for the church in our context.” – Guder, Missional Church, 68.
Do you find yourself somewhere in that quote? There is no way to deny that denominations exist. There is no way to claim exclusive rights to being God’s people if you have a certain sign over the door as opposed to other possible labels. How do we reconcile all of this with God’s will for Christian unity? How do we apply a concept like mutual submission in order to find acceptable ways to worship with people we disagree with on a variety of issues and yet agree with on the central issue – the Lordship of Jesus Christ? How does the body of Christ move forward from our current situation?
Seeing denominations as labels on the body:
I would like to think of the church, as scripture says, like a body. Sure all the different parts have names and we have sure taped labels to their corresponding parts of the body and yet the body is still whole. No matter how many parts of the body you can name they are all still connected. No matter if the body has arms and legs and eyes and ears Christ is still the head. So as hard as we try to pull away from each other and differentiate each other and divide over finely tweaked theological nuances…the body remains the body. Jesus remains Lord and head over all. I am not pleading for universalism here. I am not willing to say anything goes theologically speaking. I am saying that we need to keep the core things core and realize that we often draw lines in the sand where there is no scriptural support for doing so.
If we actually put Christ front and center in our lives we would certainly have a more difficult time dividing his church. And so the church lives on. Divide it over and over and over but it is still the church and it will continue in the mission of God. It is certainly a challenge to accomplish that mission as fragmented as we are but I have faith that God can accomplish his purposes in us, through us and often even in spite of us.