On Denominations

One looming reason the Church seems unable to make any progress today is because of the fractured nature of our organization. Unbelievers see us and rightly call us hypocrites, who profess Christ and the One Body but yet cannot agree with one another.

Turns out, we’ve had this problem since Christ left. 1 Corinthians 3:4-17 says the following:

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.

So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

Now first of all, what is Paul not doing here? He’s not establishing a system of works-based rewards. Certainly not.

He is, however, addressing the apparently quite rampant problem that we still see today: that of division within the true Body. He also began the letter with a similar exposition, although he expands more on the topic here.

 

If this was relevant then, it’s certainly relevant now. In an age where information can be shared practically instantly, the Church can no longer hide its personal squabbles as it could in the past. Now, unbelievers see our lack of fellowship with each other, and think to themselves, “they claim community, and I’d like that, but I just don’t see it here.”

This can be inter-denominational, inter-church, and frequently within a church itself. While often personal quibbles, it also usually involves theological differences which we seem to be unable to resolve apart from violence or the breaking of fellowship.

 

This is unacceptable.

 

Now notice that Paul does not demand that we all have the exact same theology. Due intrinsically to the multi-faceted nature of the Word, everyone will have a different perspective,  which can be extremely helpful. Others will see things in the text that we never thought of before. And that’s good.

But sometimes it’s not so helpful. Sometimes they’re downright wrong. And in many cases, they’ll refuse to budge.

 

Paul has an answer: he likens it to the building of a house. Everyone should be building on the foundation, and some will build more skilfully and with stronger materials than others. Just because you build with straw instead of bricks and mortar doesn’t mean you lose your place in the Kingdom. Earlier in the letter, he said that the whole Christian credo boils down to “knowing Christ and Him Crucified.”

So if you believe that the Second Person of the Trinity died for our sins and rose again, you’re pretty much set, right?

Not exactly.

 

Because you can’t just slap together a frame and say “done.” Your work must be acceptable to the Lord, an advancement of the Kingdom. Therefore, at the Last Day, all of our work will be tested in a trial by fire. Some will withstand the heat. Some will burn, as it was not good work.

Those whose work came through the fire will be richly rewarded. As for those who failed: Paul does not say that they will be cast out, or even directly punished. Instead, they will suffer the loss of watching everything they did on earth be consumed in the Fire. They will still be saved,  if they renounce their impure works and cling to life. It will hurt: following the imagery – it’s like watching a house you built with sweat, blood, and tears come crashing to the ground in a fiery apocalypse.

 

There are those who say, “Hey man, we all worship the same God. Just let me have my theology, and you can have yours.”

Well that’s like me coming to you and saying, “here’s a table saw, don’t use that knife to cut through that board,” and you waving me off nonchalantly. Conversely, if you have a hammer and nails and I’m trying to glue the boards together and refusing any help…this house will not stand, obviously.

 

This is why we should always work towards a fuller understanding of Christ. As long as a fellow Christian affirms the basic tenants of the Gospel, we can have fellowship. But this does not mean we are to allow them to wallow in whatever ways they are wrong. Nor should we be haughty and not accept correction from the same.

 

A side note – this is why the Roman Catholic church is not catholic.  They have certain declared anathemas (essentially out of fellowship with the Roman Church), that ostracize many Christians from even being recognized as such. While most Reformers would not bar a Roman from their Eucharist, a Roman would certainly do so to anyone whose beliefs do not adhere to those of the Roman Church. Catholic means “universal.” This is the exact opposite of universal. Whatever else they believe – and this is not intended to be a Catholic bashing post, so don’t make it one – this is one of their most serious problems: the refusal to accept correction (as demonstrated strongly by the casual declaration of heresy on the Reformers, such as Luther), and the refusal to acknowledge the Reformers as communicants. Since there is no salvation outside the Church, and they claim Rome as the one true church, those outside Rome can never be saved.

 

Of course, we Reformers are certainly as guilty of barring other believers from the table, and refusing correction. Whenever a Reformed church, particularly in Presbyterian circles, incorporates elements into the Service that the Roman Church also uses, cries of protest erupt around the congregation: “Next thing you know, we’ll be praying to Mary.” We do this even among ourselves (Lutherans in particular bar other denominations from the Table).

However, we forget that the fool is one who despises correction; the wise man accepts necessary correction and thanks the one who helped him. This is pounded into us over and over and over again in Proverbs, and yet we still haven’t learned it – or perhaps our sinful natures obscure it.

 

What good does this do the Kingdom of Heaven? If we are constantly fighting among one another? As mortal men, its only natural that we have differing opinions. But to allow that to obfuscate our Christian fellowship is sin. I’m not promoting the passive lay-down-and-take-it attitude that the world views as tolerance, however: prompted by our fellowship, we are automatically in a better position to critique the views of others while learning from them.

Which is easier to take? Advice from a friend, or attacks from a stranger? They may address the same issue, but the friend approaches you with love and a concern for your own wellbeing, instead of the satisfaction of being right all the time.

 

Unless we can have genuine, friendly conversations with other Christians about their views, be they right or wrong, we’ll never get to a point where we’re all a bit better off than we were before. If all we do is attack, point fingers, and just refuse to be seen together, all the world sees is a bunch of squabbling chickens fighting over a piece of crusty bread (if you’ve seen this you know what I’m talking about).

That is not advancing the Kingdom: a house divided against itself cannot stand.

 

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

 

One thing we know: if you confess Christ before men, He will confess you before our Father who is in Heaven.

Your works will be judged, but you will be saved even if it is painful for you.

All of us serve One Master: why would we cast each other away? But more importantly, why would we refuse to serve Him in a more glorious and mature way? Do this: learn from one another, and the Kingdom will prosper and you will receive a rich reward. If you did less than your best, then you did not give your all for Christ.

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