I repeatedly hear the question, “What kind of Christian are you?”, or some variation of that question. What the person asking wants to know is if I am a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Episcopalian, etc. Typically, I will play along and respond, “Presbyterian,” but in my head I am thinking, “What a silly question. I’m a Christian Christian.”
Because Christians are so divided–hence the many denominations–the bricks and mortar of a church tend to define who we are. To the extreme, some denominations believe that if you are not part of their denomination or part of their church, then you are not saved. Others believe that other denominations are damned because they are not baptized properly or have not recited a “Sinner’s Prayer.” Others have recognized this ludicrousness and formed so-called “non-denominational” churches, which become denominations themselves.
The tendency is for Christians to gather in exclusive “clubs,” believing that their respective clubs have a monopoly on Truth. But what does the Bible say about that?
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you . . . so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17.
Replacing denominations for the named individuals in Paul’s reprimand above, it would sound something like this: “I follow the Baptists”; another, “I follow the Methodists”; another, “I follow the Presbyterians”; still another, “I follow the Catholics.” And Paul’s response would be? “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you.” Harsh words to hear.
So are we to disregard these denominations altogether? No. But what are we to do with them? Paul, I think, answers this question directly:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9.
In the foregoing scripture, Paul explains that Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, are NOTHING. God is the sole source of Truth and is the One who grows His Kingdom. Paul, Apollos and Cephas were mere planters and waterers, servants to God. Planters and waterers do not make anything grow. God is the One who makes things grow. While “NOTHING” sounds harsh, Paul does not mean planters and waterers are worthless. Planters and waterers are in God’s service and are doing good work, but they are not to be worshiped or bowed down to.
Once again, inserting denominations into the place of the planters and waterers, we are cautioned that denominations are NOTHING. They are not to be worshiped or bowed down to. They are mere vehicles through which God works on the heart of the sinner. They are builders on the foundation of Christ. So, one should not beat his chest proudly proclaiming, “I am Baptist!” while looking down on other denominations, which brings to mind the image of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Unfortunately, there will always be divisions among Christians due to the Fall of Man. But, just because divisions are a reality due to the Fall of Man, this does not make them excusable. When the Pharisees confronted Jesus about Moses allowing divorce, He responded as follows:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Applying Jesus’ reprimand to denominations, they are tolerated because of the fallen nature of man just as Moses tolerated divorce. Denominations are evidence of man’s hardened heart. But these divisions did not exist “in the beginning” and are contrary to the unity of Christ.
So, what are we to do with denominations? We are to look at them as mere planters and waterers, builders on the foundation of Christ. We should not proudly beat our chests, proclaiming that we are glad we are better than and not a member of the other “club.” We must not take on the Pharisaical superiority complex. We are called to the unity of Christ. He is not divided; therefore, we should not be either. We are all servants, through whom Christians come to believe, as the Lord has assigned to each his task. All denominations are co-workers for God’s purposes and should be treated as such.