“What denomination are you?”
When we tell people we are Christians, we tend to get asked this question. A lot. It makes sense. With all the different denominations out there, saying you’re a “Christian” is pretty vague.
Our denominational affiliation tells people, at least in part, what type of Christian we are. Do we like to chant in a spiritual tongue or play with poisonous snakes? Do we sit, stand and kneel in an elaborate service while a man in a robe speaks in Latin? Do we sprinkle or dunk? How we feel about instruments, Mary, the structure of worship and numerous other religious activities can all be communicated by our denomination. There is even a non-denominational denomination. We, as Christians, have fragmented the Church so much that there is a division that says, “We are against divisions in the Church.”
We have to admit these denominations are confusing. If you meet someone and they tell you they are third-Baptist-once-removed on their mother’s side, you have to ask: What does that even mean? But the real question that should be addressed is why. Why do so many different denominations exist? We divide the Church because we care more about our comfort than we do about the cause of Christ. We are more interested in what we want than what He wants.
We divide the Church like an OCD kid with a bag of skittles. Rather than enjoying all the different flavors, we compulsively sort them. The Church was created to unite followers in Christ under His mission and banner. We are supposed to be one body with many parts, but what we have become is a stockpile of different parts. We have churches instead of the Church. We have uniformity instead of unity. Apparently, we can’t have people who believe different things about Biblical issues come to the same building to worship the one, true God. That would just be chaos!
In the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit constantly working to create unity in the Church. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit shows up, illustrating God’s approval. Then in Acts 2, after Jesus has ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit shows up again. He arrives to show God’s support of this new Church. By Acts 8, the Jews were asking if Samaritans (half-Jews) could be a part of the new Church and the Holy Spirit appears to place God’s seal of approval on Samaritan Christians. Then the next time He shows up it is with a Gentile (completely non-Jew). All throughout Acts the Holy Spirit is working to create unity in the Church, to break down social, cultural and economic barriers.
Despite all this, we feel no qualms about dividing and subdividing the Church into more denominations than any reasonable person can keep track of. These divisions of the Church are offensive to God. We aren’t just creating separate institutions; we are defiling His bride.
The Bible tells us to be like-minded, but instead, we tend to become carbon-copy Christians. To a certain point, it makes sense. When everyone agrees, you will have less conflict. Perhaps it’s noteworthy that Jesus invited a tax collector and a religious zealot to be His disciples. That’s like trying putting members of the Ku Klux Klan in a small group with Black Panthers. Why would Jesus do something like that?
Jesus called different types of people to be His disciples because He intended for the Church to be diverse. God made us different. That’s the point. Without the tension of diversity we are not challenged to grow and to constantly dive into His Word. When everyone sees everything exactly the same, there is no healthy conflict. Instead of iron sharpening iron, we get complacent spiritual social clubs. God didn’t create the Church so we could all start acting like one another. He created it so we could all start acting like His Son.
Think of the Church like an army: We have cavalry, archers, swordsmen and various types of units and specialties. An effective army might organize different units in formations based on their strengths, but they still keep them all in the same army. An army consisting of entirely of one type of unit would easily be defeated because every type of unit has strengths and weaknesses. In the denomination divide we have lost one of the greatest strengths. Without diversity working together in harmony, we don’t have unity, we just have conformity.
Jesus didn’t give us many different churches. He gave us one Church. The more we divide it, the more our attention turns to what makes us different. We lose focus on the mission of Jesus because we are too busy looking inward. It’s time to stop warring over state borders and start focusing on national ones. Instead of fighting with each other over which denomination is best, we should be working together to advance the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
There won’t be denominations in heaven, so why do we make a big deal out of them on earth? The Church is not about how we interpret the Bible—that’s not to say sound theology isn’t important, but our understanding is not the primary focus. The Church is about Jesus. It is ever, only, always about Jesus. Rather than distracting ourselves (and everyone else) with all the different types of churches, we should be showing people what the Church is about: the love of Jesus.
It’s time for the Church to get back on mission. The final command Jesus gave was not “get every nuance of theology right,” it was “go, make disciples of all nations.” We serve the same God, are saved by the same Christ, and were given the same Commission. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should focus on the One who makes us the same.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.