Summary: This discourse explains why there is, at present, no one single understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and, why there are many different Christian traditions, theological interpretations of scripture and differences in church organization among Christians.
“Light” is one of the most frequently used metaphors in the New Testament. It encompasses God’s Word, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. “Light”, as it is used in the New Testament, symbolizes life, truth, goodness, and the Lord Jesus himself.
The Gospel of John begins with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:1-5).
“Light” is a particularly meaningful metaphor because it is easily understood due to its perceived importance to physical life. Plant life is dependent upon light for growth and sustenance. Animal life is dependent upon plant life. All life, directly or indirectly, is dependent upon light for life, growth and sustenance. And, Christianity is, above all things, concerned with life, regeneration, growth and sustenance in the spiritual sense. Reconciliation with God followed by growth toward perfection in Christ is the central purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The writings of the Apostle Paul which make up a large portion of the New Testament suggest that not only the human spirit, but indeed the whole of creation, strains to grow according to the purpose of its Creator. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:22, for example, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together”. This metaphor, the metaphor of a mother straining and suffering to give birth to her child, points to the striving of all of creation toward the new birth purposed by God. In 2 Peter 3:13 we read, “…we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
Growth, of course, leads to change. If every part of creation including humanity is straining toward the light; then we must expect change. Even as a seed dropped into the ground is going to change its shape and its form as it responds first to warmth and moisture and then to the light, so too, each human being and humanity collectively must change as it grows. That being the case, it follows that all human society and social institutions will change. Indeed, ever since its inception the church has been straining and groaning in its responses to the Holy Spirit. The church has been straining to grow in collective understanding, and, because of not understanding perfectly, it is constantly discovering ideas which need to be corrected or amplified. Ever growing by correcting its own errors, sometimes experiencing false starts only to be in need of further correction, reaching and straining toward the light which beckons it forward, the church collectively is ever change, ever growing into a more perfect likeness of Christ. The whole of creation is seeking perfect reconciliation with its Creator, this being the fulfillment of God’s purpose. And the “light”, which is Jesus Christ, is the way, the truth and the life toward which we are drawn.
Why are there so many varieties of Christian religion? Why so many denominations? It is because the church is always seeking to correct itself as its understanding of the Word of God grows through the influence of the Holy Spirit. And, because the church is ever growing toward perfection in response to the living Word, the unchanging Word and the eternal purposes of God our Father. Not all Christians and not all faith fellowships grow and mature at the same rate. Moreover, none of us are in possession of the full truth, all of us are still in the process of spiritual maturation. This accounts for the many differences between the various varieties of Christian religion that exist today. Quite simply, the church is “a work in progress”.
We know this to be true through observation, through personal and organizational experience, and through the teaching of the New Testament. Because we now understand only in part, there will be differences in understanding among us until such time as God’s purposes are fully achieved. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10: “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away, for we know in part, and we prophecy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
Jesus Christ “is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), but the church and our personal and collective understanding is not. There will be many church fellowships growing separately “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the Knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).