According to a recent article published on the LiveScience website, there are approximately 200 Christian denominations in the United States and a staggering 45,000 globally. The early Christian church began to segment itself due to geography and then later by various interpretations of Jesus’ teachings and worship styles. Over time, Christians have continued to segment themselves and, in some cases, segment themselves even further within segments. Some have adopted restrictive rules regarding who can partake in the Lord’s Supper and attend certain services. Many denominations have adopted more ritualized services. It almost seems like Christianity has become very tribal in nature.
When my wife and I started our first ministry years and years ago, a person came up to me after the service and told me that she loved our service and my preaching. However, she could not join our congregation. I explained to her that what we had was a ministry and not a church. Although I referred to the flock entrusted to me as a congregation, I viewed the members as members of the flock or family. She explained that she was Methodist and that it wasn’t possible for her to worship with us and that she visited our service because she wasn’t able to attend her regular church. I thanked her for joining and reassured her that our ministry was here for those who didn’t have a regular church or could not go to church due to illness or distance.
For me, it was a very interesting conversation and I often reflect on it regularly and wonder why we have segmented ourselves into so many denominations and how some of them have become so restrictive regarding membership and participation in the most basic of all observances, the Lord’s Supper or Communion. As I continue to reflect on this, I sometimes wonder why Christians have become so tied to our denominations rather than tied to our faith. For some, I have noticed even changes in their words. When referring to other denominations or faiths, you can detect a certain arrogance when they refer to their own denomination and a certain level of distaste for others.
In the book, “Life with Father”, and the movie adaption, there is a conversation between a young lady, Mary, and Clarence Day, Jr. While they are playing a hymn, Mary admits that the words are exactly the same, but the melody is completely different. She tells young Clarence that she and her family are Methodist. Clarence is slightly shocked and announces that he and his family are Episcopalians. After saying that it is too bad, he tries desperately to reverse himself a bit. Later in the conversation as a way of settling their differences, Mary announces that one of her relatives was an Episcopalian before becoming Methodist as a result of marriage.
As a student of the Bible and Biblical History, I haven’t found a scripture or remnant of a hidden book that talks about separate lines for each denomination to enter heaven. Heaven is not some sort of grocery store with separate checkout lines for each denomination. We are of one family of faith and we shouldn’t be preoccupied with the tenets written by men who interpret the scriptures in different ways. Let’s examine the early church and what they concerned themselves with when it came to worship.
In chapter two of the Book of Acts, the author writes, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”
The one thing that becomes readily apparent is the first three words, “all the believers”, of the passage and how often that phrase is used in some form. Other references to the believers include the word, they. The point that the author is making is that they, as one body, came together to worship and praise God and enjoy “the goodwill of all the people”. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They all came to the table to share in the Lord’s Supper and to pray together. The believers in the early church devoted themselves to God and to helping those in need. There were no rituals to observe or get in the way of their worship.
When we begin to concern ourselves with the things that really don’t matter, it is so easy for us to get sidetracked. Our focus begins to shift from God to the tenets of our religion. We no longer think of ourselves primarily as Christians. We begin to see ourselves as members of a certain denomination first and then as a Christian. Instead of declaring ourselves first and foremost as Christians, we often will tell others that we belong to a certain denomination.
Later in the Book of Acts, we see a discussion between the apostles regarding circumcision. Some argued that new believers should be circumcised while others argued that it was not necessary. In the end, the decision was made that the Jewish practice was not necessary for the new believers.
After much debate, James, in chapter fifteen of the Book of Acts, said, “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”
If we follow James’ logic, we see that Christianity should not heap on a lot of rituals just for the sake of rituals. Things should be kept very simple and stay true to the Scriptures. There is no reason to add or subtract from the basic immutable tenets of Christian faith.
Think of the words of Jesus when he was asked by the Pharisees what the most important law was.
In chapter twenty-two of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus responds to the question put to him by the Pharisees and tells them, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Religion should not be complicated and subject to the interpretation of scholars. When we read the Scriptures, we can easily see for ourselves that faith doesn’t have to be hard to understand. We should love God totally and completely and love those around us. If we follow these two commandments, everything else regarding our faith simply falls into place.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, I urge you not to concern yourselves with the demands of your denomination or allow it to dictate your worship. Stay true to the teachings of the Scriptures and devote yourselves to sincere worship and praise of God and doing His work daily. When you follow those basic tenets of faith, you can easily stand firm in His grace.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.