Denominations and the Mission of God

“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.

0 Responses to Denominations and the Mission of God

  1. Carolyn says:

    Is the Body of Christ divided?….or…are there multiple traditional institutions like those of the Pharisees in Christ’s day? Christ says He is the corner stone, we are ‘lively stones fitly joined together’. Collectively, each and every true believer make up Christ’s spiritual (not physical) Church. He says, ‘what..don’t you know your body is the temple of God’!

    Ray, I know we call all congregations in every denomination…the Church. But the true Church is indwelt by the Third Person of the Trinity…The Holy Comforter. As Jesus says, we will know these believers by their kindness, mercy, meekness, peacemakers, and so forth. The true ‘Body’ parts can likely be found in each and every congregation. But the true Church is much, much, much more than wood, stubble, and hay. The true gospel is the one Christ preacher, “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

  2. K. Rex Butts says:

    Some of us are not divided, that is we have made the choice not to divde ourselves from other professing Christians regardless of what is written on that sign in front of their building.

    When I lived in Ithaca, our church helped support several area ministries (such as the local pregnancy center and Young Life) that were officially operated by other denominations/fellowships. Our church also ran a coffee house ministry for high-school students which several other church denominations/fellowships in the area helped support. We were working in unity for the cause of the gospel.
    So what did we all do about those worship issues that tend to divide so easily? For the most part, this was a non-issue because we were not worshiping together (there was no building large enough to house every Christian). But for the National Prayer Day, we collectively sponsored a prayer-worship meeting that included high-church, low-church, charismatic-church, reformed-church, free-church, restoration-church ideas and we all had to practice mutual submission. The end result… it was a wonderful time of glorifying God in prayer and worship as a unified body of Christ in Ithaca, NY.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. Philip III says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, Matt. I always like reading what you take the time to write.

  4. ransom33 says:

    I just read in somebody else’s blog the beautiful comparison of the different denominations in the Body of Christ to the different streams that lead to the same river, and in that moment of becoming part of the bigger picture (the main current), gain momentum and unity of purpose. Surely, that is what we have to aim for, respecting our minor differences, but always and above all being secure in what we have in common: being followers of Jesus Christ and bringing praise and glory to God in word, thought and deed.

    Thank you for this post.

    God bless you

    ransom33 @ http://www.ransom33.wordpress.com

  5. Preacherman says:

    could it be that God us using different groups to do different ministries and different forms to get his message out? Could God be working in the lives of all BELIEVERS?

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