What kind of example does today's fragmented Christian community portray to the world? Is it what God really wants? Does God really "delight in diversity" when it comes to Christian denominations in the same way that he does about the wonderful diversity and variety found in the many peoples and personalities that are of his creation? Did God intend for there to be many different churches, or just one ?
Or, is there, perhaps, one special church out of the many denominations and subgroups of Christianity that is the "one true church?" Is there a church that is the sole repository of all Biblical truth, correct in all its beliefs and doctrines?
Or, are all the various Christian denominations still part of one great church, even if their members are in outspoken disagreement with members of other denominations?
Most Christians generally agree that God began the New Testament Church through Jesus Christ about 2000 years ago. At that time, the church consisted of just a few disciples, but then it began to multiply rapidly. On the day of Pentecost immediately following Jesus resurrection, 3000 people were baptized and added to the church. (Acts 2:37-47)
The Early Church Had Oneness
It is recorded in Acts 2:44-46 that ". . . all that believed were together, and had all things common, and they sold their possessions and goods, and divided them all, according to anyone's need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread in their houses, partook of food with gladness and simplicity of heart . . . ."
The early church was "together," as it says in the verses qouted above They even shared their possessions, selling them as necessary to provide for anyone who had need. They fellowshipped daily in the Temple, as it says in the book of Acts, "with one accord."
This phrase, "with one accord," is actually one word in the original Greek language of the New Testament. The word is homothumadon. It means "with one mind," or, "like-minded." They were in total agreement in matters of Christian belief.
Later, in Acts 4:32, it is recorded that "the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of his possessions were his own, but they had all things in common."
The earliest record of the church that Jesus established is a picture of oneness and harmony of thought and purpose. Everyone worked together for the common good of the church, as well as the needs of each member.
Disagreement Enters the Church
But, before long, persecution against the church began. The church became physically scattered as the people tried to escape. They became separated from one physical location and fellowship. God also had extended the gift of salvation to the non-Jewish peoples, so people from many different cultures began to be assimilated into the church.
Some of the Jews in the church had a hard time accepting the freedom that they were afforded under the new covenant. They held on to some of the old covenant laws and Jewish traditions, thinking that such things were still necessary in order to please God. They felt they somehow had to contribute to their own salvation by observing various prohibitions and good works carried over from the old covenant requirements. Their beliefs in varying degrees of legalism caused division.
Also, it wasn't long before various erroneous doctrines began to creep into the church from the gentile converts. They had grown up immersed in pagan religions, and carried many of their old beliefs with them into the church. This led to further division and disagreement.
Throughout the ages following the formation of the early church, open division and disagreement have been two of the most visible attributes of the Christian churches.
Disunity Bears False Witness
This disunity and bickering among denominations and church members serves as a false witness to the many people that God is calling to salvation, and who sincerely seek a right relationship with God and his people.
Jesus' prayer, recorded in the Bible in John 17:20-21, calls for unity among believers as a miraculous witness to the world that will prove that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, sent from God. This is the prayer of Jesus Christ himself, according to the express will of God, and as such it will not be denied. It will happen! Jesus prayed knowing the will of God, and in the power of God. Oneness is a foregone conclusion. It only remains for each Christian to decide if he or she will be a part of it, or will try to stand against it. Jesus Christ is issuing the call to oneness in his church from many quarters. The burden of this ministry has fallen on many of his messengers, and the church must heed the call. Each member now stands at the crossroads.
The miracle of oneness will be a sign of the messiahship of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, in his prayer in John 17 and verse 21, that the oneness he prayed for was to be a witness to the world so that the world might believe that God the Father had sent him. Throughout the ages, humankind has proven that oneness cannot be attained by mere human effort. The oneness of the Holy Church will indeed be a miracle that no human being can deny or refute. There has never yet, in the all the history of Christianity, been such a powerful, widespread witness as this...the witness of the power of the love of Christ in action that the oneness of the church and each of its members will show to the world. All Christians, serving as the unified Body of Christ, will be given power as has not been seen since the days when Jesus walked the earth in his body of flesh. Jesus said that "...he that believes on me, the works that I do he shall also do, and greater works than these he shall do , because I go to my Father." (John 14:12) Jesus went to his Father, and the Holy Spirit came to his church. It is through the Spirit that Christ lives in the church, and the church in him. The Spirit that God gives us is a "...spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7) The Holy Spirit will bring forth power, love, and a sound mind as never before in the Body of Christ, the Church of all Christians, when the Spirit that calls us to oneness in Godly love is no longer quenched.
Prophecies indicate, also, that there will be a counterfeit effort at unity that will attempt to deceive people into believing that oneness can indeed be attained by the various and sundry religions of the world, even including some who call themselves Christians, but have not the Holy Spirit of God. However, each Christian can rest assured that God will never abandon his beloved children to the Adversary. We must always draw near to God, and he will draw near to us. Resist the Devil, and he will flee (James 4:7-8).
Christians must become ready to carefully discern the truth, and to rise up in the power of the Great God of Heaven, to raise the banner of Christian unity over the church of the Living God, the Almighty Father, and his son, Jesus Christ.
As we draw near to God and to each other, God will reveal the absolute truth of his word, and begin to dispel error in existing doctrines. Theologians and all Christians must realize that truth is spiritual, and a gift from God to the one who possesses and follows the Holy Spirit of love. Intellectual pursuit of doctrinal truth is futile unless one is yielded to the Holy Spirit, and the most powerful urging of the Spirit is love.
When we learn to obey God's instructions to love God and one another, God will then make clear his next teaching, and then the next. We must trust him.
What should we as Christians do when our religious differences keep us from true Christian oneness" We can begin by following these God-inspired instructions given in Colossians 3:12-15:
"As the chosen of God, holy and beloved, be clothed in hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and freely forgiving one another where anyone may have a quarrel against anyone else. Even as Christ forgave you, you do the same. And, in addition to all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, that peace to which you were called in one Body, and be thankful."
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