I’ve written before about the unity of the different denominations of Christianity, but, at the moment anyway, that was little more than speculation and wishful thinking. Although nearly all mainstream Christian denominations are united by belief in Jesus as the Son of God who died and rose again for our sins, the doctrinal differences that do exist between the denominations is not something that can be easily resolved. I believe that, when Jesus returns, all doctrinal differences will be straightened out (or will simply cease to matter), but until that day, I think we have to accept that Christians will not always believe 100% the same things as each other.
What this post is about is unity on a local church level, regardless of denomination. I know that within parishes all the Anglican churches local networks, but this goes beyond denominational links. I’m talking about Methodist, Pentecostal and Church of England churches working together for the good of their local area; I’m talking about members of Catholic churches, United Reformed churches and Baptist churches working side by side in outreach events. There is no place for rivalry between churches because what it comes down to is this: if people are saved and going to Bible-believing churches, what does it matter which particular building they’re in on Sunday?
When Paul talks about Christ being the head of the church in Ephesians 5, he is talking about all the extant churches together as one. He makes no mention of the different locations, leadership and teaching of the churches around at that time, though we know from elsewhere that those difference existed at the time of Paul’s writings. Paul is abundantly clear throughout the New Testament that God doesn’t just see ‘churches’, he sees ‘the Church’, which will one day become the spotless bride of Christ.
As I write this, I realise that it might seem like I’m going over the denominational ground again, but remember, that’s not my emphasis. I’m talking local. In my town’s district, we’re blessed to have an organisation which encompasses most of the local churches, and this organise runs multi-church services such as a bookshop/café and a wintertime homeless shelter. Of course, the unity between churches is not perfect, but when we flawed humans are involved, nothing is.
There are two obvious benefits of churches working together:
1) We can do more. With more resources, property and more people available to help out, the Christian community can do greater things. The homeless shelter in our town would never have happened without the cooperation of a good number of churches in order to provide enough people to cook the food and oversee the operation on a nightly basis, and the bookshop just wouldn’t exist without the support of the multi-denominational Christian population of our area. But as well as things like this, fetes can be organised and run, charity events can raise more money and outreach can be spread wider if churches work together.
2) We’re different. What could be a more effective way of making an impression on non-Christians than showing them that people from all different backgrounds, and even with different beliefs (though obviously not on a fundamental level) can work together in harmony? Disunity doesn’t just harm those within Christianity, it also discourages people from getting involved, because it just looks like a gaggle of organisations fighting amongst themselves.
So what stands in the way of churches uniting? It could be any number of things; I’m not going to be able to think of them all. Pointless church politics – ‘cholitics’, as one of my friends calls them – create problems where they simply don’t need to exist. We need to look at the big picture; we’re all working for the glory of God, trying to reach our local communities. Letting petty disputes get in the way of that is utterly pointless. As well as ‘cholitics’ on a church to church level, inter-denominational disagreements could also cause problems. But we don’t need to agree with everything that another church believes in order to work with them to reach the lost.
I think this is about looking at the big picture. One day, in the future, we’re going to be presented to Christ as his unified bride. So let’s start acting as a unified body now, and not leave it until the last minute. We can’t even begin to imagine what God will do if we offer our hearts to him as one.