I used to always get a laugh when Leonard Ravenhill would comment, “Let’s talk about church abominations…uh, I mean denominations.” Yeah, that one always got me chuckling.
A couple weeks ago, the youth pastor at our church lamented that he couldn’t rally the youth departments of local churches to join together for a big service project in the local community. “Everyone’s afraid some other church’s youth group is going to steal their kids. So they won’t do events like this,” he says. You could see the frustration on his face.
A few miles down the road from me is a church. The sign out front says it’s part of The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly. Well, honestly, for all my experience watching the Church, that denomination was a new one on me.
I would have suspected that The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly may have started out as part of the larger Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) and splintered off. I’m wrong about that, though. But then our country, by one estimate, has 350,000 churches in it. And if it seems that it has 125,000 distinct church denominations, well, that’s the state of Christendom in the United States. Please don’t blame me if I can’t follow the history of all the schisms. Heck, it appears that The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly itself splintered into four separate groups. What led to that breakup is anyone’s guess.
My guess is that it was over something menial.
Now I’m not singling out a particular denomination for derision. I’m just noting the reality. Frankly, I think the Presbyterians have probably got everyone else smoked with the sheer number of breakaway Presbyterian denominations, especially given the total number of Presbyterians in this country. Even the ones, like the Presbyterian Church in America, that pride themselves on the purity of their doctrine end up breaking down into tinier bits of Christianity over time.
So if The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly and the Presbyterians can’t hold themselves together despite agreeing on major points of doctrine, how likely is it that anyone can bring together an American Baptist church, a Nazarene Church, a Holiness Pentecostal church, and a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church to do anything worthwhile as a group for the Kingdom of God?
Instead, we all go our separate ways, do our own minuscule outreach projects, and then wonder why nothing great ever gets accomplished for God in our communities.
With his cry of “Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King proved himself one of the greatest American prophets. Fact is, we can’t all get along. And nowhere does this show more clearly than in the Church of Jesus Christ in America—to our shame.
I’m a Christian first. No other label applied to me by anyone else truly matters. I go to a Pentecostal church, but I’m not really a Pentecostal. I’m a Christian. End of story.
Which is why I’m getting progressively irked by the inability of us Christians to break out of our denominational stupors, reach across the street, and tell the Christians who go to “That Church That Is Not The Same Denomination As Ours” that we all should work together for the common goal of getting the Gospel out.
I want to think that this denominational schism is about something more than money, but in America 2009, it’s probably not. I suspect that too many church and denominational leaders are worried that if they and Church Z work together, their folks will like Church Z better, and then Church Z gets the people—and their precious dollars. And if it’s not money, it’ power and legitimacy. Because for a lot of us, nothing proves our doctrinal correctness more than when our church steals away some other church’s people.
I really don’t want to be that cynical, yet I am.
So we keep fracturing the Kingdom of God into punier bits made in our own image, and along with that fracturing goes the power to effect real change on a wider scale. Rather than risk pooling resources, each church goes its merry way, satisfied with marginal accomplishments, each thinking it’s transforming the nation for Jesus.
Meanwhile, a look at the larger national picture tells an entirely different story.
So when I hear Leonard Ravenhill make his little joke about denominations, I don’t laugh like I used to. If he were around today, I don’t think he’d be laughing, either.
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
18 thoughts on “Splintered Kingdom”
So . . . when you have two nearby congregations (ok, across the street) and they both are, to say the very least, very interested in gay marriage and ordination — and an opportunity comes up to work on a mission project with them as a “Christian service” into the community, we lapse into long arguments about doctrine, witness, and clarity, and don’t work with them.
I’m in agreement about not doing joint VBS with churches that barely like to mention the name of the Carpenter’s Son, and not sending representatives to the installation of new staff who are openly partnered same-gender folk, and have been willing to upset colleagues and co-workers by saying i think both churches are “grievously in error with what they affirm,” BUT — as long as they claim to be Christians of whatever sort, i think they can be worked alongside of without said efforts being a necessary endorsement of their whole program.
I speak publicly on platforms alongside the Catholic priest down the road, and no one says i’m endorsing clerical celibacy by doing so, but we can’t find a way to work with the mainline congregations nearer us without a loud, small group within our church crying out that we would be offering false counsel and diluting the Gospel by so doing.
Am i just unrealistic here? But that’s where my thoughts and ongoing prayers go when i read Dan’s plaint. Can we, should we work alongside of heterodox congregations; or, what is the limit of heterodoxy that can/should be worked alongside of?
I would say that most of the time the reasons for keeping separate don’t come down to hotbutton issues like gay marriage. Even then, I believe that some effort should be made to bridge the gap.
A prayer initiative has begun in Georgia and is spreading slowly, but surely. It is very simple: Pray along with our LORD in John 17:23 that we would be one as He and the Father are One and make ourselves available for the LORD to use in making us one.
There is a well written devotional that people are encouraged to use in helping them better understand what it means to be ONE.
The website is listed below although it is very basic and is being upgraded at this time. It does list contact information if you are interested in learning more, or you can contact me since I am the one who will get your inquiry. 🙂
Thanks for sharing that! I will check it out. Sounds like a great idea.
I don’t think that the issue is just with the denominations. Years ago, I remember non-denominational churches around the city participating in various events and outreaches together. As time went on, and the individual congregations grew, they retreated inward. Each kind of fancies itself a one-stop-shop now, with very little (if any) outreach with any other congregations.
It’s quite sad. Each church used to be called to a certain part of the city and had a certain gifting. The churches working together would edify each other, building each other up and ministering to each other. This strengthened them for the mission and outreach to the city. Now, they’re mostly focused on their own internal growth.
I often wonder what the impact on the city would be if all of the like-minded churches went back to the earlier model. I don’t see that happening until a great shaking occurs.
Yeah, the bunker instinct is a problem, too. Us vs. Them is bad, whether it’s inside or outside of a denomination.
I was under the impression your church billed itself as non-denominational.
Yes, technically the church is independent and not subject to a particular denomination. For us, that seems to work, which is good. Perhaps more churches would be better off that way. Still, whether nondenominational or not, we can let our doctrinal distinctives get in the way.
Well, Dan, your subtitle on your blog is that you’re looking for the 1st century church in 21st century America. Who’s to say that the 1st c. churches didn’t vary in local practices just as much as they do today?
Seems to me like the churches in Corinth and Ephesus, say, were drastically different.
So the issue doesn’t seem to be about whether we disagree over infant baptism (or whatever) but whether that should lead to viewing one’s denomination (or local church, or even family for that matter) as superior to another’s. As a matter of fact, that sort of judging over what is an area of freedom is exactly what I was getting at in the Halloween posts.
So the problem of denominationalism is the arrogance, not the splitting over convictions.
As for the competition between churches, well that’s just consumerist Christianity at its worst. We are so caught in the attractional trap, that our ‘outreach’ has been reduced to stealing sheep through flashier programs. Sad. What if church youth groups stopped fighting over the limited number of ‘Christian kids’ in town and actually decided they’d go after the zillions of non-Christian kids? Plenty of fish in that barrel… no need to sweat about that competition!
I’m all for churches coming together to show unity. But perhaps if a youth pastor wants to pursue that kind of unity and is rebuffed, all s/he can then do is do what Jesus did: go after the second-stringers (by that, I mean, non-Christians who the Holy Spirit has prepped for the Gospel, they just need a welcome place to hear and accept).
Arrogance (as in we’re more godly than you are) is a big problem.
I feel for our youth pastor, though, in that there shouldn’t be this bunker mentality. If some youth department is that concerned that one event together is going to result in the loss of their kids to another church, then perhaps they need to get on their knees and ask God to give them a new vision for their own youth ministry so that it’s not so lame that it hemorrhages kids.
I understand the principle of unity and I believe we should work with other believers to present the gospel. But we are in the days of the apostasy of the church and Paul warned Timothy that he should turn away from those kinds of believers not work with them, 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Does God expect me to actively and enthusiastically work with churches that support Canaanite practices like child sacrifice and homosexuality? Does God expect the local church to excommunicate fornicators out of their body to keep the purity of that body, as in 1 Corinthians 5. And yet expect them to work hand in hand with another body that supports abortion on demand? What is the solution?
If the truth genuinely lives in me, then what have I to fear from people with suspect theology?
I would also add that there’s not a single one of us who did NOT hold a wrong view about something that relates to God at some point in our journey. If people who DID hold the right view shunned us, where would we be?
If I am so afraid that my own faith is going to be compromised by my interaction with people who hold mistaken beliefs about God, even other people who say they are Christians, then something is wrong with me! And I will never have the opportunity to be salt and light in their lives.
AMEN Dan… as usual!
I think the main issue is that firstly, we have so many doctrinal issues within ourselves that we are too lazy as a body to search out for ourselves that we can’t tell when the doctrine is NOT biblical. Second, I believe we WANT to be spoon fed instead of digging our own spiritual wells and becoming the feeders in time.
Heaven forbid this would become a responsibility and we would have to grow up! Instead, we become consumer Christians and dictate what church we will go to based upon the coffee flavor they offer, the type of music they play, how loud the music is, whether or not the pastor wore a tie, etc. Stupid childish things.
We have raised a body of believers that are stuck in puberty and refuse to grow up! When challenged to do so, instead of taking a deep breath and working a bit harder and building spiritual muscle, they revert back, act up, or split a church.
This is going to stop when churches start saying “this is the Gospel Truth, and you will NOT change what the Word of God says for your comfort!” When we get enough of them all standing on the Word… TRULY standing on the Word… then we won’t have to drive an hour or three to find like minded individuals, but while we have those who tickle the ears still residing in the pulpits, there WILL be division, because that is what results when teenagers are your congregation.
If it’s any encouragement,there ARE churches committed to working together with others. Some ladies at ours started a ministry called Truth for Women that involves other churches. We have a ministry to the homeless that’s housed at another church downtown. It didn’t work out due to space, but a largely African-American church offered to host our ministry to skaters (we’re mostly white) and we have plans to collaborate with them on extending a ministry to prisoners/ex-prisoners. A church serving the needs of the disabled meets in our building Sunday afternoons. There may be more examples that don’t come to mind. When we recast our vision & mission statements a couple years ago, the idea that we need to work with other churches became prominent.
That’s great to hear! Made my day a bit brighter.
*A couple weeks ago, the youth pastor at our church lamented that he couldn’t rally the youth departments of local churches to join together for a big service project in the local community.*
This is so sad to me. In my youth, the different churches got the youth together for different things. Of course, that was over half a century ago.
The Theoretical End State of Protestantism:
MILLIONS of One True Pure Churches, each with only one member, each denouncing all the others as Apostates and Heretics.