Jesus prayed for unity with His disciples (John 17), but I feel that we are so divided as a Church these days. Do all these denominations go against what Jesus wanted?
I am going to take the long way around to answer this one, so hang in there with me. To begin, as we think about God’s work of creation, both with the material world and with the creatures living within it, we see an enormous amount of creativity, diversity and beauty. Through each stage of creation, God brought about something amazing and different – and then He called it good. Just in North America alone, we see beauty and creativity in the diversity of the landscape, from the majestic Rocky Mountains, to the glaciers of Alaska, to incredible sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. We see beauty and diversity among plant and animal life. We marvel at the pristine beauty of a single rose, and we also stand in awe of mighty elephants roaming the savannah. We see the creativity and contributions of people from a variety of world cultures and traditions bringing joy and vitality to our experience.
Throughout the Old Testament, God accomplished His purposes through a wide variety of people and situations. He told an elderly couple He would bless the people of the world through a child they did not yet have. He used an obnoxious younger brother to organize famine relief for a world power. He used an escaped convict with a speech impediment to lead an entire people group out of slavery. He used a shepherd boy to defeat a military giant. He used a victim of domestic violence to prevent a mass murder. He used three teenage refugees to speak truth to a foreign king. He used an immigrant orphan girl to prevent genocide.
In the New Testament, Jesus engaged people from all walks of life. Unified around the call to follow Jesus, a diverse group of fishermen, tax collectors, women, lepers, Roman soldiers and convicted criminals came to know the love and grace of God. The apostle Paul, missionary and author of most of the New Testament, was a highly educated religious elitist who had formerly led the charge to murder Christians. As the church began, there was a great deal of internal conflict about what it meant to be the church, because the people in the church were so different from each another. They eventually came to recognize that some were called to be ministers of the gospel in one particular way, or to one particular group, while others were called to the same purpose (living and sharing the gospel) but in a different way with different people. Because God created people with diversity, He reaches out to them in different ways. His purpose is the same—He wants to redeem and restore people; His methods are unique and creative.
When different denominations are unified in their love for God and people, and unified in the goal of bringing God’s love and healing to a broken world, we see that they can often be more effective reaching specific people, with specific needs, in particular areas, with their calling and gifting. Unfortunately, all too often over the last few centuries, followers of Jesus have succumbed to pettiness, pride, quarrels and gracelessness, which has harmed their witness to the watching world.
Jesus prayed that His followers would have unity of purpose so that people would see God through their love, generosity, obedience and faithfulness. When the church universal functions as the body of Christ and unifies around their shared purpose, each part of the church body has a part to play in their own unique way. When each part of the church body, denominations, local churches and individual believers, faithfully pursues the calling to take God’s love and healing to a broken world, the world can know the goodness of God in a mighty and beautiful way.
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- Genesis 1, 12, 15, 37, 41; Exodus; 1 Samuel 17, 25; Daniel 3; Esther; Matthew; Mark; Luke; John; Acts; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12