One early morning at corporate prayer time at Ellerslie Leadership Training, I was speaking with a good friend and father in the faith. He said there were two things that God had challenged him on to believe; they would be the two hardest things for him to believe would one day happen. The first was his father’s salvation. The second comes from this verse in Ephesians:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. […] And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” – Eph. 4:4-6, 11-13 (emphasis added).
It was hard for him to believe that one day, all the church would be in unified, growing into the full stature of Christ. That is a tall order to fill, especially when you look at the state of the church today. There are so many denominations in America and in the west that it has become ridiculous: Baptist and Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Reformed, United Methodist and Wesleyan Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, and who knows how many more. Everyone has found their niche and is sticking to it, no matter what.
I think there’s something wrong with this pattern; it reminds me of cliques that are formed in middle school, especially when the bickering and doctrine wars begin. Right before the verse I mentioned above, Paul says we are to be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Too often we are instead promoting disunity in the body.
This is one thing that the Catholic Church is doing right, and I applaud them for it if it’s as true as I think. The advantage of having a Pope or a central authority figure is that everybody agrees on what they believe. Obviously, that becomes a problem when the head believes something false; however, they are unified. We Protestants, on the other hand, are a total joke. This is a call for unity in the body of Christ.
I understand that there are unique issues in the church today, and certain denominations have good reasons for splitting groups. For one, I would not want to have a church I am the pastor of partner with an emergent church, such as Rob Bell’s. We must keep integrity in what we believe and in the central truths of Scripture: what C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity – the things we all agree on. All the other issues are minor; they come second to unity in the body of Christ. Too often we make them the thing instead of just slight difference.
I suppose the question is, can a Baptist worship comfortably with a Pentecostal, and can the Calvinist discuss the Word in peace with an Arminian? I say yes. Why? Because: I have seen it in reality.
That same place I mentioned, Ellerslie Leadership Training, is a hodge-podge of every conservative, Bible-believing denomination you can think of. There’s a rule at Ellerslie, aptly demonstrated in this video, that we are not allowed to discuss controversial doctrinal issues during the 9-week basic training. The result? I have never experienced such deep fellowship. Out of the one hundred students I’ve met there, I think I know maybe ten people’s denominational backgrounds. We formed that bond, that unity in the Spirit; and once we did begin to discuss deeper doctrines, at the end of the night, we were all still friends.
The biggest obstacle between people of different denominations uniting is not doctrine; it’s Self. It’s when we say to ourselves, “This is what I believe, and I will not be moved; anyone who says otherwise is an idiot who obviously can’t read their Bible.” It’s that part of you that wants to be right and prove how amazing your intellect and insight into the Word of God is. Pride is the most deadly sin to the Christian life, because it exalts us over God. God says, “Be unified.”
We reply, “But Lord, they’re weird; they don’t believe in TULIP; they only sing hymns; they raise their hands when they sing; they don’t baptize infants.”
Yet God still says, “Be unified. You are one body; act like it.”
Let’s quit the bickering and discuss the Bible like the civilized people we are. Let’s quit dividing and start uniting. Don’t get caught up in a denominational “clique”. It is one thing if someone doesn’t believe a majority of orthodox doctrines (i.e. Mormons); but it’s quite another when someone who ought to be our brother is treated like a stranger and outcast. We need to deny ourselves by the power of the Cross and the Crucified. Let us strive by the grace of God to be the Body this fallen world needs.
Eric Ludy has a powerful sermon on this point called “The Ellerslie Experiment”. I would encourage you all to check it out: http://ellerslie.com/Eric_Ludy_Sermons/Entries/2011/7/10_The_Ellerslie_Experiment.html