As a new Christian, I learned that not all Christians agree. Sadly we are divided over many things. New Christians need to be nurtured just like newborn infants, but when there are family dysfunctions, newborns can suffer. For example, I read an account of a church family which divided over the shade of green for the new carpet in the sanctuary. Yikes! The tragedy is that when families divide, the children suffer most. Thankfully, God is our Father and not the church! Though the church is a haven for believers young and old, God alone is our perfect Heavenly Father. Nonetheless, it is tragic to think how self-centered, weak, and poor in judgment we Christians and our churches often are.
Christians have also divided over more significant matters. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century is an example. In that case, there was a sharp disagreement about the gospel message itself. Martin Luther believed one thing while Catholic orthodoxy believed another. Moreover, the protesters could not even come to an agreement among themselves. Further splintering continued. Some followed Martin Luther (Lutherans), some followed John Calvin (Presbyterians), and still others followed Michael Sattler (Anabaptists). Also note that the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church had already divided centuries earlier. Today the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anabaptists are not just three groups, but have each divided again, too many times to count. This is just a short account of the "organized" church. We ought to call ourselves the "disorganized" church! Other Christians prefer to follow Christ apart from this confusion, but they are not without their own sin and divisions as well.
My son once said as a young boy, "It would be great if we could all live in one giant house!" That was a special season of time for our family. We lived in a rented apartment. It had a large screen door that opened onto a grassy field surrounded by other apartments. Each neighbor had a screen door just like ours, and kids would pour out onto the field every evening and weekend to play kickball and other games. We had fun, but at day's end everyone needed to go home. My son thought it would be great if we could all go home to the same house so the fun would never end!
Sadly, because of the divisions, we Christians no longer live in the same house. This is nothing new. Divisions among Christians began in the first century as I Corinthians 1:10-17 (WEB) records Paul pleading,
10) Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11) For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12) Now I mean this, that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' 'I follow Apollos,' 'I follow Cephas,' and, 'I follow Christ.'
13) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14) I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15) so that no one should say that I had baptized you into my own name. 16) (I also baptized the household of Stephanas; besides them, I don’t know whether I baptized any other.) 17) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Good News—not in wisdom of words, so that the cross of Christ wouldn’t be made void.
If Christians began dividing in the 1st century and 2,000 years later the divisions have multiplied into the thousands, what hope is there?
There is hope because Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23 (WEB),
20) Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who will believe in me through their word, 21) that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. 22) The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 23) I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me and loved them, even as you loved me.
So we press forward with confidence, knowing that the prayer of Christ has been heard. Jesus' prayer is hot on our Heavenly Father's mind as he works his will in this world. Will you and I keep step with Christ and the oneness for which he prayed? Or will we be the cause of yet another division? Do we need to be confronted with the prophet's words yet again in Malachi 2:10 (WEB), as he asked, "Don’t we all have one father? Hasn’t one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?"
So, looking past carpet color disputes, please join me in revisiting the gospel message.