Out of all the people who are counted in the big Christian family – over 2 billion alive today – the variation in beliefs is incredibly, depressingly broad. From Rome to the East, Southern Bible belt Baptists, Mormons, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, wily Lutherans and Seventh Day Adventists, everyone is counted in when it comes to the umbrella label “Christian.”
And this is one of the greatest scandals I can think of – for it is in the writing of the Apostles that we see Jesus praying for the unity of His people (John 17), and Paul exhorting the Church to be all of one mind, speaking the same thing (1 Cor. 1). How could it be that there is so much disagreement as to what Christianity actually is and teaches?
The short answer is that much of what is called Christianity is made up of aberrations of the true Church. Many of the denominations in the world right now are Christian in name only, bandying about the flag of Christ with no earthly idea what they are doing.
The fallacy we can all fall into is concluding that since there are so many different groups claiming Christianity, that therefore there is none which is true. Muslims go for this conclusion, while Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses thrive on the visible division between churches. Yet if we are honest, none of this logically excludes the possibility that there is a church that represents the biblical formula, and which is the best visible representative on earth of Christ’s ancient promise that “the gates of hell would not prevail against” His Church.
Unity where God’s Word is Faithfully Represented
The Church is created by the Word of God (Acts 2:39, 47); is made up of individuals who have repented from sinful self-autonomy, idolatry, wicked lifestyles, and gross unbelief (1 Cor. 6:9-11); and who gather visibly to hear God’s Word proclaimed, celebrating the sacraments of baptism and the communion supper (Matt. 20:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Anywhere in which these elements are gathered (born-again Christians who are baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins, led by officers of the Church as instituted by the New Testament instructions, hearing God’s Word, sharing in His body and blood at the communion table, and confessing the orthodox gospel to the world at large), we have the Church.
Over time, the Church has been more or less visible according to the degree of heterodoxy that has entered into official, hierarchical teachings. The ecumenical Church of the first 10 centuries after Christ was forever shattered by the East-West split in 1054, and so has never risen again. Since that time, and then with the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, visible unity in Christianity has been elusive at best.
When Churches Teach What is Contrary to the Gospel
Although a physical church parish may have within it true Christians (those who are really born from the Spirit of God, justified in His sight through faith alone in Christ alone), the leadership and teaching ministry may stray far from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and so imperil the visibility of that local church body.
The sacraments are only one element of the true Church (Rome and the East have the two biblical sacraments [plus additional sacraments by tradition and not Scripture], but have added to the Gospel in such a way as to bury it), while simply teaching the Bible without baptism and the Lord’s supper obscures the visibility of the Church as well (Salvation Army and others).
Any addition or subtraction from the core of what constitutes the Church puts that congregation/parish in jeopardy of no longer being part of Christ’s visible body. The form of Christianity may endure, and the true sheep of Christ may be present, but the unity of the faith is imperiled and destroyed by these amalgamations.
No Amount of Error in the Teachings of Men Can Negate the Christian Worldview
I have written this post to lay the groundwork for my coming posts on Christian worldview. Because so often error and hypocrisy in the churches and denominations of Christianity are held forth as proof positive that we are a false religion, I want to pre-empt that fallacious charge.
My long series on Christian hypocrisy from last year addresses many different angles of this same issue – please search the “Christian hypocrisy” tag on the right side to read those posts.
No matter how much junk is piled onto the Church of Jesus Christ, no matter how much error in teaching and living, no matter how many denominations, these things do not negate the fact that we have the one, true religion and worldview.
So many under the Christian umbrella are laboring in a false doctrine and worldview, not because Christianity is false, but because they have not believed Christian doctrine – rather they have followed a deviant path and retained the Christian label.
I would never have had to have defended Christianity in this manner just a few hundred years ago, but today modernism and post-modernism have wrought destruction on the thinking of Western humanity. We assume that truth is either impossible to know for certain, or that there is no universal truth.
Yet when the all-knowing, all-powerful God speaks, He is able to communicate Himself in such a way that we can know for certain that He has spoken, and so that we may know for certain the things He means for us to know.
Christianity is the Location of Ultimate, World-Framing Truth
So then the object of the Christian is to know God’s Word contained in the Holy Bible; the revelation of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Our mission is to then believe the things revealed therein, and to express these truths to all of humanity so they might be reconciled with God (1 Cor. 5).
We are supposed to be equipped with knowledge so that we can answer any objector – in fact, Jesus said “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:15 NKJV).
Do we believe that?
With over 80% of kids of Christian parents leaving the faith once they go to college, something has become seriously detached in American/Western Christianity. As our culture dies, we still have the opportunity to disciple and train the next generation. Let’s be busy learning God’s Word and will, and training people in the consistency and beauty of the Christian worldview.
Thanks for reading,