Why are there so many Christian churches and denominations? Can’t you all just get along?
Maybe the fact that there are so many churches and denominations is proof that Christianity is false. Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21 that not only his twelve disciples, but also those who would become his followers through the ministry of the twelve, would be one, unified. Does the presence of all the various denominations mean Jesus’ prayer request has failed? He prayed that we would be one, and yet there are thousands upon thousands of Christian denominations and independent churches. How are we to think about this?
To answer that, we continue looking at an event that happened in Deuteronomy 3:12-20. With the defeat of King Og, Israel has conquered the land on the eastern side of the Jordan. You can read about that in verses 12-17. This is the first fulfillment of the promise God gave to Abraham to give his family the land. 500 years have gone by, and this is a huge moment, as a couple of the tribes are given their land on the east side of the Jordan
Look now at verses 18-20. This section shows how God is commanding the tribes of Israel to help each other. We’re now at a part in the narrative where God is giving direction about what is to happen next as the people enter the Promised Land. Up until this point in Deuteronomy, Moses has been retelling the nation’s history to the new generation. They are encamped on the east side of the Jordan. So far 2 ½ tribes have been given their inheritance land on that side of the River.
Now Moses is about to convey what they should do next. It would be very easy for those 2 ½ tribes to settle down, build houses, start farming, and finally relax. God says NO. The fighting men from those 2 ½ tribes must continue across the Jordan and help out their brother tribes. Once their brother tribes have been established, then the 2 ½ can go back to their families and make their start.
It is an “all for one and one for all” mentality. God is a God of unity, and he wants his people to be unified. We Christians have many tribes too, and we tend to fight against each other rather than support one another. This is why I am convinced that Faith Church, while remaining faithful to our EC “tribe”, must also be incredible supportive of the other churches in our community. This is why we have sought to be involved to a high level in our local Ministerium. It is why I’m so glad we’re renting to The Door and seeking to work together. We need each other. We should not be territorial. We’re all part of the same family.
I encourage you to read John Armstrong’s excellent book, Your Church Is Too Small. I was greatly encouraged and challenged by it. I had been youth/associate pastor at Faith Church for six years, and senior pastor for about 2 years before I read Armstrong’s book. During those years, Faith Church had very little interaction with any other community churches, except for our sister churches within our denomination. Personally I felt competition with other local churches. A family from Faith Church might move on to a different local church, and it would leave me frustrated and angry, with a bitter feeling toward that other church. Then a good friend put Armstrong’s book in my hands, and it was life-changing. One day, perhaps a month or so after reading the book, there was a knock on our church office door. It was a local pastor whom I had never met. He was representing the local ministerium, as they had reorganized and were seeking to include every church in our school district. I marveled at the timing, and felt God was at work. I jumped at the chance to practice the principles of unity Armstrong teaches in his book.
When he refers to “church” in his title, he is not talking about our individual local churches. Instead he suggests that we Christians widen our view of church. It is okay to have tribes, different denominations, within the larger church. We are not called to uniformity, as if all of us need to become one uniform denomination with totally uniform beliefs and practices. Instead we are called to unity. We can practice the selfless and support that we see God requiring of the tribes of Israel. We can work together, share, help one another.
I have said for years now that, in our school district, Conestoga Valley, though there are many churches, it cannot be said that we do not work together. I am so thankful for our ministerium, and how our wide variety of churches support one another. Together the churches of CV launched a social services organization called Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, that has taken off and is making a wonderful impact in our community, especially through feeding the hungry and clothing those in need. Our ministerium runs two Homes of Hope, helping people transition out of homelessness. Every year we give the CV School District social worker thousands of dollars in benevolence funding for families in need. We provide an annual scholarship to a graduating senior going to college to study ministry. Our CV Ministerium pastors pray together, study the Bible together, and we bring our congregations together for worship a couple times each year. I could go on and on.
So how about you and your church family? Is your church too small? How can you practice the selfless unity God expects?