By The Rev. Robert Weaver
First Baptist Church in Vandalia
As a pastor, I have been asked many times, “Why are there so many different churches?” This is an excellent question, but a hard one to answer. Why do we have different churches following Jesus?
We have 19 different churches in the Vandalia Ministerial Alliance. We have Apostolic, Assembly of God, Baptist, Christian, Church of God, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran, Free Methodist, Missouri Synod Lutheran, Nazarene, non-denominational, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United Methodist. (The list is in alphabetical order, and if I left a church out, it was by mistake only.)
We wonder why the world is apathetic toward the church today. I believe it is because they cannot figure us out. Why so many?
In John 17:21, Jesus prayed: “…that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be is us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus said that the world would believe in him when it saw the oneness of his followers. Did a light bulb just go on over your head? Did you just come to understand why it is so difficult to bring people to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives? Do we even know why we worship in different churches each week?
We worship in different places because we have argued over different doctrines. (We call them doctrines and give them difficult names because it makes them sound more important.) We argue over how and when to get people wet, and call it baptism. We argue over how we should eat bread and wine, and call it Communion or Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper (we cannot agree on the name). We argue over how we came to be followers of Jesus, and call it our salvation experience or method. We argue over how we make decisions in the church, and call it polity. We argue over how Jesus will return to earth, and call it apocalyptic theology. We argue over which particular version of God’s word (the Bible) we are going to use, and call it Biblical integrity. We argue over what and how we sing, and call it worship style.
I could go on, but I am running out of space.
And while we sit and argue, people around us die in their sin and spend eternity separated from God. We, the church as one (that means all who follow Jesus), need to focus on the important things that make us followers of Jesus, and stop arguing. So what are the important things?
First, the source of our knowledge. The Bible must be the doctrinal basis for everything we believe. Everything we use beyond the Bible must be supported by the Word of God. The Bible is our rosetta stone that allows us to understand God as fully as we can, and anything that contradicts the Bible must be looked upon with skepticism.
Second, the source of our salvation. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way of salvation. We cannot come to God on our own, so God came to us through Jesus. God provided the way of salvation. But it is the only way. How we get to Jesus may differ, but we still must come to Jesus and allow him to be lord and savior of our lives.
Third, the source of our worship. Obedience is the evidence of our salvation and the fruit of our faith. If Jesus is our lord and savior, the world will know by our obedience to his Word. To claim to be a follower of Jesus and not follow him is to be a liar. I may not be keeping as close to Jesus as I should, but I am following him only – no one else.
Fourth, and last, the source of our mission. Telling others about Jesus is our task. The only reason God leaves us here after we choose to follow him is to tell others about him. We may show Jesus to the world in different ways, but as his followers, we must show him to the world.
Sharing Jesus with the world is why we have churches. Reaching the entire world is why we have different churches – because everyone is not the same.
If we will remember what we agree on and not focus on our differences, we “may all be one,” as the answer to Jesus’ prayer.