United in Christ

Have you ever wondered what is going on with all the denominations of Christianity around the world (or even simply in your own town)? Have you ever thought, “How does this show the unity that we are meant to showcase? Is Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21 not being answered?”

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.

I have most certainly had these questions, and several years ago I mentioned this concern to my pastor. He recommended the following book, which I finally took the time to read over the past week or so: Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity. This book “addresses how denominational affiliation can be natural without being negative, and how evangelical identity can help rather than hinder Christian unity.”[1]

In the introduction, Anthony Chute explains that the book “is designed to demonstrate that godly, thoughtful, and kindhearted Christians have significant reasons for identifying with a denomination, and the Christians represented here have done so in full recognition that God’s family is much larger than their own traditions.”[2]

Next, the biblical basis for unity is explored by Christopher Morgan. He does this primary through a lengthy explanation of Ephesians. One thing he is clear to point out is the following:

church unity is a meaningful concept only in terms of genuine Christianity. The Christian church is created in and through the gospel; it is not and cannot be united with those who deny the gospel, the deity of Christ, or any other core truths of the faith (cf. Gal. 1:6-10). Any approach to ecumenism that seeks church unity by minimizing the gospel may promote some sort of amorphous religious unity—but not authentic church unity.[3]

As Shai Linne rapped on his latest album, “like Boaz without Ruth is unity without truth.”[4] Before we can get to a practical understanding of church unity, it is necessary to be united in the basic doctrines of the faith; after this has been established, church unity can be achieved when denominations “walk in love”[5] with each other.

Anthony Chute then tells the history of denominations, beginning with Catholicism. From there the Reformation occurred—with the posting of the 95 theses—under Martin Luther.[6] From there, the Presbyterians were born—because of a disagreement with Luther over the Lord’s Supper—under Ulrich Zwingli. Next, the Anglican church emerged because King Henry VIII wanted out of his marriage to the aunt of the “Holy Roman Emperor” Charles V. Baptists followed because they regarded the baptism of infants as not reformed enough. Methodists came next—out of the Anglican church—under John and Charles Wesley. Pentecostals came later, emphasizing the importance of the Spirit, under the preaching of both William Seymour and Charles Parham.

Gerald Bray writes about why he is an Anglican. After giving the history of the denomination in more specifics than that described in the prior chapter, he spends a lot of time on the theological beliefs of Anglicans. For him, “Anglicanism is not just mere Christianity, it is applied Christianity, a faith that leads to action.”[7]

Timothy George writes about why he is a Baptist. He begins by laying out the history that unites Baptists with the ancient church.[8] Then he explains the different flavors of Baptists that have sprouted since the Reformation. He concludes by saying, “Being a Baptist gives me all the freedom I need to appropriate as fully as I can the gifts [other denominations] offer without abandoning the Baptist principles and ways that I cherish.”[9]

Douglas Sweeney writes about why he is a Lutheran. He begins by telling his spiritual journey—from being raised in a Baptist home to him and his wife becoming “joyful Luthern evangelicals, grateful for our Reformation heritage.”[10] He then concludes by discussing that regardless of your denomination, neither that nor your evangelical status is enough.[11]

Timothy Tennent writes about why he is a Methodist. His chapter consists of nine reasons for his denominational affiliation, which are summed up as follows through his chapter headings: prevenient grace, means of grace, conversion through faith in Jesus Christ, sanctifying reorientation of the heart, discipleship, missional movement/social consciousness, doctrinal clarity/catholic spirit, global vision, and centrality of worship.

Byron Klaus writes about why he is a Pentecostal. He begins by describing his upbringing by parents who were both Pentecostal ministers. He then takes time to describe the difference between Pentecostal and charismatic, aligning himself with the former and declaring himself an evangelical above all.

Bryan Chapell writes about why he is a Presbyterian. He begins by sharing his personal experience, and then moves into the historical nature of the denomination. He describes Presbyterianism’s doctrine, organization, and worship, all of which typically make Presbyterians stand out from other denominations. He concludes by saying, “I pray that these thoughts may encourage others while recommitting me to seek the glory of Christ in the life of His church.”[12]

In the final chapter, David Dockery discusses Denominationalism. Instead of describing the origins of denominations, Dockery describes the impact of denominations on church history. One of his conclusions is the following:

Most of the mainline denominations have sadly lost their way. Some have become disconnected from their heritage, and even more so from Scripture and the great Christian tradition. And some today are clearly not only postdenominational but also on their way toward becoming post-Christian as their conversations focus on issues of inclusiveness and universalism, sexuality, and interreligious spirituality.[13]

He then asks the question, “What about denominationalism’s future?” He points out that while the west was once the primary place for Christian growth, the statistics have shifted.[14] He concludes, “We pray not only for a new commitment to confessional, convictional, and courageous orthodoxy as modeled by many global church leaders, but also for a genuine orthopraxy that can be seen by a watching world, a world particularly in the West that stands on the verge of completely giving up on the Christian faith.”[15]

In conclusion, I thought that this was an excellent book, and I highly recommend it to anyone curious about the importance of denominations. It is a great starting point to learn about different denominations and their views, and it definitely lives up to its subtitle and thesis statement (as found on page 15, quoted in the opening paragraph).

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

Click here to buy this book on Amazon

 

 

[1] Anthony L. Chute, ed., Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 15. (Henceforth cited as “Page x.”)

[2] Page 16.

[3] Page 33.

[4] Shai Linne, “Random Thoughts 3” on Still Jesus (Lampmode Recordings, 2017), MP3.

[5] See Ephesians 5:1-2

[6] Though Luther probably would have insulted people for naming a denomination after him.

[7] Page 88. Emphasis in original.

[8] He discredits the claim that Baptists have been around since Jesus walked the earth.

[9] Page 109.

[10] Page 131.

[11] “The best way to run the race that God has set before us (Heb. 12:1) is to trust in the real presence of Christ in Scripture and the sacraments, cling to Him and the faith that God has given us by grace, and  make good on that gift of grace in true devotion and discipleship” (page 132).

[12] Page 207.

[13] Page 226.

[14] “In 1900, 80 percent of the Christians in the world lived in Europe and America. But in 2000, 60 percent of the Christians in the world were found in Asia, Africa, and Latin America—an immense change. . . . There are now more Christians on the continent of Africa than there are citizens in the United States of America” (page 227-228).

[15] Page 231.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s