Note: This article was originally written for the Highlands Ministry magazine Every Thought Captive. Thanks to them for allowing me the opportunity to contribute.
An age old criticism of Christianity is how divided and willing we are to divide. We not only have different types of denominations, but we have different types of each one. “You’re a Southern Baptist, in Vermont?” “Wait, how can you be the Presbyterians in North America, but not America?” Some divisions are necessary and often have valid points of concern that may indeed lead to a division within a church or a division within a fellowship of churches. Paul and Barnabas separated and the New Testament doesn’t treat it as a major scar on the Christian faith. Why isn’t this seen as a scar on the Church, but today’s divisions are? Paul and Barnabas divided over a third man on a mission trip. We are having divisions over how present Jesus is at the Lord’s Supper. Surely our divisions are of greater importance…right?
It is possible that we are unfairly criticized while Paul and Barnabas aren’t, but isn’t likely because the rest of the book of Acts and the New Testament give no indication of vitriol or slander from either Barnabas, Paul or John Mark. Paul even wrote himself, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. The difference in Paul and Barnabas’ division and ours is that when we divide, we often treat the other as casual competition in the religious market or as friendly acquaintances in the same field. We don’t consider, treat or speak of them as brothers and sisters because we don’t depend on each other or see ourselves as bound together. Ask yourself: Do you see yourself and your church as dependent and bound in any sense to those outside your local church or tradition? When another local church has problems that we perceive as linked to a weakness that our particular church doesn’t have, does it hurt us because they are our family or do we blame their problems on an improper or deficient ecclesiology? Shamefully, I often respond with the latter. I prove my faith is weak in Ephesians 4:5: “one faith, one Lord, one baptism.” Yes, I believe this, but mainly for me and my tribe. Do Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans have the same faith as me? Same Lord? Same Baptism? Yes, and therefore they are my family. We are bound together and depend on each other for the propagation and protection of the gospel.
As the church faces increasing opposition, it is time we cling again to Ephesians 4:5-6, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all.” Our denominational divisions can exist, but our unity and love must increase. We are brothers and sisters, linked together eternally by our great Elder Brother. The day is upon us where we will be standing side by side with Baptist, Pentecostals and Presbyterians and it may be in a jail cell because we bear the name of Jesus. In those moments, our biggest concerns will not be the continuation of apostolic gifts or a memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper, but over what Bible verses to quote for encouragement and what hymns to sing and share with each other. Church, we must be willing to suffer for and with those whom we share the same faith, Lord and baptism as Christ suffered for us. When the world sees Baptists and Presbyterians suffering for one another because we believe we are bound to each other by Christ himself, then they will know we are his disciples.