Posted on February 6, 2013 by


It’s a given that the Christian Church is fragmented. But one thing we should not be is divided.

That may seem obtuse so let me clarify this…

In 1 Corinthians Paul addresses some division that was happening among the Church in the city of Corinth. This specific instance was that people were identifying with specific teachers, apparently to the detriment of their relationships.

‘For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”’

(1 Corinthians 1:11-12 ESV)

Paul confronts this attitude by presenting their common grounds of salvation through Christ.

‘Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?’

(1 Corinthians 1:13 ESV)

It’s fairly easy to look back on this and see how misguided it was for them to be devoted to a teacher rather than to Christ. But this is actually one of the things that can quickly get under my skin in the evangelical world.

They were fragmented into a few groups based on who taught them or who baptized them. Today we are fragmented into a thousand groups each with dozens of subgroups and we all think we are right.

Sadly Hilarious.

It is sad that so many Christian leaders think this way, and sadder yet that our people are being taught this way.

Today we have Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Calvinist, Wesleyan, Zwinglian (just fun to say), Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Non-Denominational, Emerging …I could go on. And just like then we fight over who has it most right.

Now I can only really speak from my experience which is in the evangelical, mostly non-denom., world. So if you are from a different tradition please chime in.

Because the protestant, evangelical, world is all over the place theologically we have a necessary tolerance of other traditions… to a degree. There is a cutoff point in all directions where we seem to not only judge their apparent lack of theological correctness but refuse to partner with, support, or heaven forbid, endorse. It goes like this;

  •           If you are too closed with whom you accept. i.e. fundamentalists, catholic, orthodox
  •           If you are too open with whom you accept. i.e. “seeker”, emerging, mainline
  •           If you are opposed to the Holy Spirit. i.e. liberalism, mainline
  •           If you are TOO into the Holy Spirit. i.e. Charismatic, Pentecostal
  •           If you value tradition too much. i.e. Catholic, orthodox, mainline
  •           If you don’t value tradition enough. i.e. “seeker”, emerging

You get the idea.

But beyond not supporting groups past our comfort zone we seem to think of them as having a different mission or God. In several instances I have heard, or heard of, Evangelical leaders talk about partnering with a charismatic church as if it was beyond consideration. As if, to be associated with them would be to support a false gospel.

*I will say that there are branches of “Christianity” that really are teaching a false gospel, but the qualifications for what is a false gospel are far narrower than our doctrinal statements. *

I believe that the furthest we can go in judging someone’s salvation is their belief about Jesus and the spiritual fruit in their life. If someone confess Jesus Christ as LORD, that he came as God in flesh and died for our sins, rose again and will come again, and their life is marked by the fruit of the spirit than you should consider them a brother/sister in Christ.

And if we are bonded together by our faith, then we should be united in mission.

It is a cycle of Christian on Christian hate that develops when you refuse to engage with believers of another tradition. Because, they become a faceless set of doctrinal beliefs it becomes easier to dehumanize them. And when you dehumanize them you are far less likely to engage with them. And the cycle goes on and on until we have developed an insular community that is trying to go it alone and ignoring scriptures call to be united and fight division.

This issue of removing humanity from a group of people is one of the reasons these divisions are rarely noticed until undue animosity bubbles to the surface.

I can say that a major contributing factor to my being aware of the genuine faith of other traditions is because I know people in those traditions.

  • I have several friends who went to IHOP and were trained as pastors and missionaries, or just go to their conference every January
  • One of my high school friends who showed more of Christ to the world than most people I knew, or know, was and is a devout Catholic
  • A close friend of mine who is way smarter than me and someone whom I trust implicitly is now part of the Greek Orthodox Church.
  • Some of my professors in college who are influential in so many lives, pointing them to more Godly lives lived for the cause of Christ, would be called Emerging by some.
  • Someone whose heart for God and the lost and broken I respect deeply would be called by some a mainline liberal.

I have no doubt that each of these people are my brothers and sisters in Christ. They love Jesus and the fruit of the spirit is clear in their lives.

I know that at times it can be difficult to find common ground with people. But as Paul emphasizes in verse 30

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

We must start from our salvation in Christ and learn to love each other despite our differences.

So that’s a lot, and I can say that I mean it with a great deal of passion.

I’ve noticed this becoming an increasing passion of mine. It started with seeing how people that you would assume would be partners in a great deal end up trying to trip each other up, in the name of theology. The older I get the more it’s a thing that can get under my skin to hear someone make comments about other traditions that makes them seem like another religion.

Posted in: Praxis, Theology