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.