My denomination is in the process of moving from “united” to “untied.” We are a large and global church that has reached a point of considering schism because we can’t agree on major points of practical theology. All of us are grieving. Nobody wanted this to be the result of our decades of conversations. When we entered life in our local churches, few of us imagined that this would happen in our lifetime, yet here we are. In preparing for what inevitably will come, we try to soothe ourselves with the notion that two strong denominations will emerge from this separation There may be some truth to that, God willing. But this divorce will be costly, exhausting, and worst of all, it has taken our eyes off of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our infighting is a poor witness to the world Jesus came to save.
What does the Bible say about unity? Should people, churches, and entire denominations try to stay together in deep disagreement for the sake of remaining intact?
We look to Paul for answers:
1 Corinthians 1 (Common English Bible)
10 Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. 11 My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. 12 What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.
Paul could not have anticipated the many fractions of Christian expression that we have today. Where he encouraged preaching the good news, we have encouraged dogmas, doctrines, and disciplines that ended up drawing so many lines in the sand, we have neutered the message of “Christ-crucified.” Shame on us.
Human wisdom versus the cross
18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 19 It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent.20 Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish?
As denominations debate their individual positions regarding social justice and the practice of ministry as each one sees it, God’s wisdom is lost in a sea of cacophonous dialogue. Those of us who have no other choice but to wait for the results are exhausted, overcome, and ready for it to be over. Paul reminds us that our one and only job is to preach “Christ-crucified.” Unfortunately, much of the foolish preaching that goes on in our churches has strayed far from this mandate.
21 In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Paul went on to say that God’s plan for the conversion of the world was through those who were not considered wise or powerful, and were not from the upper class. Instead, the Gospel message would be carried out by those whom the world considers weak, low-class, and low-life:
26 Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. 28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. 29 So no human being can brag in God’s presence.
What does this say to all of the many top-heavy denominations? In creating hierarchies among people, have we completely lost sight of the mission?
30 It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us. 31 This is consistent with what was written: The one who brags should brag in the Lord!
As we move forward, may we take comfort in being part of the denomination of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone. That is the only place where our “membership” should reside. The rest of our structures and man-made institutions will all fade away someday, and rightfully so.
Let us brag only in the Lord, even if that means walking away from something we have loved for too long.