Summary: The importance of unity within the church and other churches and denominations.
We had an interesting situation last Sunday. A person from another church visited us. But this person was not here to enjoy our fellowship, rather they came to convey a message and convert us. This person handed out papers stating that a certain denomination was the only true church, and the inference was that we were in the wrong and they were the only ones in the right. Now that was their privilege to do so, and I would welcome this person back again, but it is an example of just how fractured the Christian church is in our world. I have no particular beef with the denomination that this person was promoting, but obviously there is a reason that I am a United Methodist and not something else. I prefer John Wesley and his theological thinking, and I like our particular form of church government. But I do not believe that we are the only denomination and that all others are lost. In fact, Sue and I attended the Episcopal church before coming here and we enjoyed the ritual. Both the Episcopal church and the Methodist church have its roots in the church of England, so in a way I felt like I was getting in touch with our spiritual heritage. John Wesley, as you may know, was a priest in the Anglican church and remained so until his death. He never intended to start a new denomination, neither did he desire to do so. We have people here who were formally a part of the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations, and they still value parts of the tradition of which they were a part.
There is no “one true church” any more than there is “one true hospital” or “one true grocery store” to the elimination of others. We, as the church, are all trying to do our best in following Jesus Christ and bringing about his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. The thing that unites Christians is not our denominational name or church polity; the thing that unites us is our belief in the deity of Christ and our love for him. We are united in our desire to bring the world to him and see all people reconciled to God. We believe that God loves sinners and wants them to experience the forgiveness and life which he offers. Christians may each prefer different worship styles, and we may emphasize different things, but we are essentially one church united in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ prayer was, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). We do not have to be all the same denomination, but we do have to see ourselves as one in Christ. We have one purpose — to follow him and carry out his will here on earth.
In Jesus’ great prayer in John 17, which came at the end of his ministry, he had one great desire — for us to be united as one. Sadly, this prayer has yet to be fulfilled. And it is not just our different denominations, but the differences within individual churches. There are power struggles, differences of opinions, hurt feelings. Many churches are seriously divided within themselves over things as big as major building programs, and things as small as the color of paint or the kind of carpet. Many churches in recent years have divided over what has been called the “worship wars” — whether to have traditional worship with hymns, contemporary worship with praise choruses or a blend of both. It must break the heart of God.
I have to say how grateful I am for the unity of this church. There is a love for each other and a desire to get along that is remarkable. I have seen it in our worship and our business meetings as well. I believe it is a result of the spiritual maturity that is here. It is also a result of our commitment to each other and the love we have for God and one another. There have been problems in our recent past, but what has impressed me is that no one has come to me with a rehearsal of those problems, and most of all no one has run other people down because of disagreements. Disagreements are inevitable. It is part of being human. Disagreements will inevitably come, but it is how we handle disagreements. It is whether or not we are able to see the other person’s point of view, be patient with one another, and forgive one another. It is whether our commitment to love one another is larger than our disagreements. We put up with the faults of others because we have faults too. We extend grace to others because God has extended grace to us.