I will start this blog off with a joke.
A man dies and goes to heaven. Upon arriving there he sees some people he thinks do not belong, so he asks to speak to someone in charge.
Man- I know you all have a lot to keep up with up here, but I have to tell you there has been some kind of mix-up. Now, this guy Frank, I know him, known him for years and I can tell you that he does not belong in heaven. I think you can check my record and see that I clearly belong here but if you re-check his you will see a horrible mistake has been made. In addition to his behavior, Frank also belonged to a Christian denomination that misinterprets the Bible and supports un-Christian practices and political agendas.
Jesus - So what do you suggest should be done?
Man - You need to kick him out, send him to hell where he belongs. I object to staying in any place with this low character.
Next scene the man finds himself in hell. He again asks to speak to who is in charge.
Man: There is some horrible mistake. You need to check my record and you will see that I do not belong here, I belong in heaven
Satan: I have here on my record that this was a voluntary requested transfer.
Man: Who would be so stupid as to voluntary transfer from heaven to hell?
Satan: You, you told Jesus that you could not stay in heaven with such a horrible person.
Religious/political differences have existed since the beginning of humankind. Never underestimate the human tendency to divide into warring factions, even within the same religious groups using the same faith designation.
In a blog by Dave Barnhart, pastor and author, he discusses the political divisions among Jews during the time of Jesus
file:///C:/Users/Threats/OneDrive/Desktop/God%20is%20in%20the%20Details%20Photography/Blogs/R eferences%20for%20Blogs/References%20for%20strive%20among%20Christian%20denominations/Zeal ots,%20Essenes,%20Pharisees,%20and%20Sadducees%20_%20Dave%20Barnhart.pdf
Zealots believed in the overthrow of the Roman Empire. They would not tolerate pagan idols and practices in their land. God would bring about the Kingdom with their help.
Essenes believed in withdrawing from the corrupt Temple system and the Empire. They would live holy lives in an alternative world until God brought about the Kingdom without their help.
Pharisees believed in radical personal holiness. They believed in internalizing their religious law, and that God would give punishment and reward in the afterlife.
Sadducees believed in the establishment. They made peace with Rome and focused on religious ritual. They believed divine punishment and reward happen in this life.
There is considerable debate about just how many different denominations that there are of Christianity, with perhaps a reasonable number being 300 in mostly 3 large branches. These are typically defined as 1) Catholicism, 2) Protestantism, 3) Eastern Orthodoxy. There are some globally large denominations that do not consider themselves belonging to any of these three divisions. Protestantism is a large group consisting of many specific denominations including the following: Baptist, Episcopalian, Evangelist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Lutheran, Anglican, Evangelical, Assemblies of God, Christian Reform/Dutch Reform, Church of the Nazarene, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Mennonite, Christian Science, Quaker, and Seventh-Day Adventists. This list is NOT exhaustive just the ones with the most members. However, within each of the above denominations there are divisions. For example, in the Lutheran Church in the United States, there are divisions with the three largest being Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. All Catholics are not part of the Roman Catholic Church. The other Catholic denominations are Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, East Syriac (Chaldean), West Syriac, and Maronite (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholicity#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20the%20Latin,as%20the%20R oman%20Catholic%20Church) Baylor University lists 22 denominations of Baptists-
In addition, there is a growing number of non-denominational Christian churches.
Making distinctions among people who have the same core beliefs has and will always exist, as shown at the beginning of this blog with the Jewish groups of the Bible. This was a group that was in the same geographic location, all claiming the same holy books, same ethnicity and race, and same common ancestry history. Yet, see how they split. The differences were, now and then, as not as important as the tendency for each group condemn each other, declare the other not the “true” faith.
I have a theory about what contributes to such strife among Christian denominations. I think it is our desire to be part of an exclusive select group because that is how we judge our human earthly world. Don’t “the best” and most “selective” students get into the top universities? Only the best are allowed to compete in the Olympics and we certainly give the most attention to gold medal winners, even through the bronze winner is supposedly the 3rd best person at this sport in the entire world. People want to be seen dating the best-looking person, live in the best neighborhoods, belong to the most selective social organizations. Thus, we think God cannot really want to have everyone in heaven. I mean, if it is so common, then it would not make it special. And getting to heaven, to be part of the those who are saved, is surely a bigger deal than getting into the most selective social club or university!
In Romans, Paul is trying to convince the Jews who had converted to belief in Jesus to allow Gentiles to join and be welcomed in the church. However, the Gentiles are not circumcised, like the Jews. They want basically the Gentiles first become Jews and then they can become Christians. They must do the necessary behaviors to “join the club” before they can be accepted.
Non-believers delight in the division among Christians to discredit it. How can so many people with different beliefs ALL be right? They cannot even agree on the same ultimate “truths”. Thus, none of them are right, all just man-made entities no different than political parties. When Christians do engage in this divisive manner, it keeps people from Christianity, we set a bad example. It might be daunting if one wants to convert to Christianity to be able to know which one is the “right”. With so many competing choices (and yes different denominations are often openly competing for members), one could become paralyzed and not be able to join anything. This again is the flaw of human thinking, not the desire of God.
If the divisions among Christian denominations were merely a matter of style and preference of church services, this would be alright. Some people want their sermons to be serious, solemn, almost like a college professor lecture. Others like those with the spirit high in them and shouting. Some people like folk music at the ceremony; some the classic traditional European and early American hymnals; some (like me) love soulful gospel music; some prefer the use of contemporary music with Christian themes; some like country Christian music; and some like contemporary Christian music. There are people who like churches that are also politically active and some who think that churches should never talk about politics. On the topic of politics, some churches are more conservative and others more liberal. Some people like smaller intimate churches which feel like extensions of their family, while some like large churches with feeling the grandeur of the setting and large numbers of people in communal worship. There are some churches that take a more literal view of the Bible and others who view it as much as the word of God as anyone but think that some passages of the Bible are metaphorical.
We have different lives, tastes, personalities, and preferences. Who invented these differences? God. Who revels in these differences? God. In addition, we have different religious backgrounds and histories which influence us. Some people as adults stay with the denomination they were raised in, and others later find other places they feel more comfortable.
Now if the above were the only differences between denominations, we would be fine. Among those people who like luxury cars, there are ones loyal to Mercedes-Benz, others to Lexus, others to BMW’s. However, these groups do not dislike or distrust each other, call each other tasteless and state that the others are not “real” luxury cars (Okay, perhaps that is true, but these people obviously have serious problems!). Well, Christianity is certainly “higher” than luxury cars so we should all be elated in each other, that each has found their own way of honoring Christ.
But . . . we don’t. Some say that those in these “wrong” denominations are not saved. Point of order, WE do not get the right to assign this!! I know Christians who would not step into the church of another denomination, even if a close family member invites them. Why? This goes back to the theme of this blog. Some want to be in an exclusive club. Others might not outright condemn the others but know that they have got Christianity “wrong.”
Now, I am not saying that there are not organizations that claim to be Christians that perhaps do not belong in the family. In the Bible, God repeatedly warns of false prophets. We cannot accept that anyone who slaps the name Christian on their organization as really so. I admit this can sometimes be difficult to discern. Often, a new non-denominational church springs up and at first everything seems fine. But then they slowly, slowly start to drift from the true Word. This is often due to a charismatic leader who is corrupted by the power. They may have meant well at first (or not) but they start the lead their followers astray. As I just said, it is slowly. Why? Because Satan knows that if you start with something true that can hook people and then start slowly straying, in a way perhaps not recognizable by the followers. That is one of Satan's "wiles". Once again, I am not saying that this distinction is an easy task. However, if a leader is a false prophet it does not condemn all the followers, especially if they realize when their leader is not doing all in the ways of God.
But we do have to do is understand is that, in the grand scheme of things, we should not fight over those practices and dogma that are not essential. God is real; He is loving; He created the world; He gave his Son Jesus to die for our sins; He watches over us to make us the best that we can be; He provides for us part of Him in the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts; He wants us to love and care for one another. He wants us to be glad, to illuminate to others in our words and actions. He wants us to find other souls for Christ by our example. He wants us to be tolerate of all, realizing all are made from God's image. That does not mean we accept any behavior, but we acknowledge the sin but still love the sinner, as God does for us.
We are not God. We are not sovereign. We are not all knowing.
But we are all sinners. We do not always choose the right path. We can interpret a Bible verse incorrectly, often for our selfish desires or to confirm our own thoughts. We like to think that we or our group are better than others, we like to feel superior to someone.
Churches are not God. Churches make mistakes, some grave. Churches can foster prejudice and discrimination against others. Churches can have doctrines that displease God. Churches can cover up the sins and transgressions of their church leaders to avoid bad publicity or a drop in donations. Churches can misuse funds meant to help others. Churches, through their behavior, can even lead people away from God.
In short, none of us are getting it all right, completely in accordance. But we Christians should always be trying, trying to be better Christians and thus better people. A given denomination could indeed be right about some specific belief or practice, and another not so on target. None of us have the monopoly on fully understanding God’s word and plan. We are incapable of it because we have only our human minds. However, we do have the Holy Spirit within us so there is hope that we will grow closer in our faith as we think upon the Word and develop our own personal relationship with God. God saves us, not our denomination. Our salvation is ultimately a personal relationship with Christ, not your church, your pastor, or your denomination.
This concentration on the so-called wrong practices of other Christians prevents us from examining our own selves, our own thoughts, or beliefs. It can hinder self-reflection. It can hinder growth. Read other Christians thoughts and see if they can inform your own.
Paul directly addressed the differences in believers at the time-
14 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14: 1-12, ESV)
So which one to choose? My view it is like exercise. When fitness experts ask what is the best exercise, they say the one that you enjoy and will be able to do consistently. I say same for Christian denomination. Choose where you feel the most comfortable, where you can fellowship with other Christians, where being around them makes you feel and live better in the Word. In short, pick somewhere that feels like home. If there is just one aspect of the church's doctrine that you do not quite agree, do not let that separate you from your fellow parishioners. However, if you feel a change, something that makes you ill at ease, be willing to leave that church. This does NOT mean because they painted the walls of the community room a different color you do not like!! Don't be fickle, but do keep an eye around you knowing that any institution can be corrupted. Satan most delights in bringing down those with God.
Who benefits for Christians fighting each other? Satan. So busy against each other that do not see the real enemy. Divide and conquer, it is the oldest strategy in the book. Have our healthy disagreements, it strengthens our minds, our own believes. But let’s stay united in Christ. Let us do what we are called to do as in the following verses:
“I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
1 Corinthians 1:10
“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.”
“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.”
“Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
1 Peter 3:8
“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude.”