It has become popular in our day to pick at denominations. They are easy targets (they tend to be big and move slowly). People ask, “Why can’t all these Christians just get along? Why can’t there be unity between all these folks who claim to love and trust in Jesus? Aren’t they majoring in the minors? It must be the result of sin, because Jesus would not want his church divided.”
There is no doubt that some denominations exist because of pride and the inability to love one another as Christ has commanded us. But I don’t think that is why all denominations exist. As a matter of fact, I believe that denominations may well promote the Gospel of Christ rather than hinder it.
How can that be? Consider for a moment that most denominations exist because of doctrinal differences. Baptists say, “Infants should not be baptized.” Methodists and Presbyterians say they should. Anglicans believe that the Bible teaches that bishops should govern the church. Presbyterians hold that Scripture teaches a plurality of elders should govern the church and Baptists (for the most part) hold to a congregational view. Some denominations believe that ordaining women as pastors is right; some hold that it is wrong. Of course, this list can go on and on.
A church cannot just sit on the fence on these issues and say they really don’t matter. Sitting on a fence is uncomfortable and eventually you have to step off on one side or the other. You can’t baptize infants and not baptize infants. You can’t ordain women and not ordain them. You eventually must decide what the Bible teaches. If a church does not make these decisions then inevitably it will fall into constant debate and infighting as each side continues to press their case for their Biblical convictions. When this happens, the church is pulled away from its primary calling to glorify Jesus through worship, teaching, acts of mercy and the spreading of the Gospel. The church simply must declare its position on what we might call secondary issues.
But once the church has done that, there is a dilemma. I’ll use the ordination of women for my example. You will have some folks in your church who firmly believe that ordaining women is wrong. It is their Scriptural conviction. As the apostle Paul says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rm. 14:5). If the church has decided that they will ordain women, then those who are opposed will, week after week, feel that they are taking part in what they are convinced is contrary to Scripture. We cannot ask people to do that.
So what is to be done? The answer is that person would be better off joining with other Christians who share the same convictions. However, this should not be done in anger or pride or self-righteousness. It should be done in sadness and in love — sadness, because we cannot come to agreement. But love, because we are truly family in Christ (as long as the difference does not strike at the fundamentals of the Gospel).
As one pastor has said, “Christian unity and Christian truth are served best not by removing fences, but by loving across them and having welcoming gates.” These churches and denominations should love and serve one another not compete with and disparage each other. We see this love “across the fence” every year in Destin at the Week of Blessings, the Crosswalk, in the Local Pastors Prayer Group and in countless other ways.
One more thing. Some people like to point out that in heaven these differences that divide us will not matter. I disagree. Truth always matters to God. In heaven it will not be that these things do not matter, but that all of us will be in agreement about them. In Christ we will be fully united in truth and love.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.