A Divided America Needs a United Church
Analysis. An increasingly divided America needs a united Church – now, more than ever. After all, God’s people, like no other people on earth, have access to divine wisdom and truth, and can lead people to the gospel that reconciles us to God, sets us free, and gives us hope. We are supposed to be living examples of unity, love, reconciliation, and forgiveness, and employ the God-given power of prayer to bring about lasting change. One Body, with one message about one Savior, one God, and one Holy Spirit, and one way to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
It appears that we are anything but united. Last week, 70 churches in Georgia announced their split from the United Methodist Church, the first of many nationwide. Some of those will dissolve, others will go on as independent congregations, and yet others will join the newly formed, doctrinally more conservative Global Methodist Church. To many news outlets, LBGTQ rights are at issue. But to many of those who split, as voiced by a lifelong Methodist pastor I know personally in a phone interview with WSBTV Atlanta, the split is more about staying true to the authority and infallibility of Scripture than gender inclusiveness.
The schism has been brewing for several years, partly because an unlikely coalition between conservative southerners in the U.S. and the primarily orthodox African church has sought to keep the UMC as a worldwide denomination true to the authority of Scripture, whereas a large number of others through other parts of the US has become more liberal in theology and practice.
The UMC split is the latest of several that have taken place in mainline churches. Similar splits occurred in the Episcopal and Presbyterian denominations. On the surface, the issue often seemed to be views on homosexuality and the notion that conservative notions on what the Bible teaches equate to exclusivism.
You could, of course, argue that Satan is attacking the unity of the Church wherever he can. And he does indeed because a divided Church is a weakened Church with a compromised gospel.
In my opinion, however, these splits are part of the global Body of Christ being prepared for the return of Christ, who wants to find His Bride ready (see Matthew 25:1-13), whether Satan has his hand in it or not. In Ephesians 5: 25-27 we read that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
“The washing with the word” is a significant phrase. It signifies the centrality of God’s living, active, motive-exposing, mind-renewing, transforming, ministry-equipping, truth-imparting, Satan-busting Word in the sanctification of the Church. From it should spring all our views, decisions, and actions regarding life, relationships, and above all, God Himself.
The result of being “washed with the word” is the removal of all lies and falsehoods, everything that is in accordance with the world and contrary to the truth that is in God Himself and that He has revealed to us.
The key to letting Christ wash us with His Word is our decision to believe, trust, and obey that Word. Do we give it the authority it deserves as His revelation and face being labeled exclusivists, bigots, haters, and “behind the times” by a world that prizes tolerance of a “do whatever you want to do” lifestyle?” Or do we choose to try to attract people to Christianity by being inclusive according to the world’s definition and remove anything from the gospel and Christian teaching that might offend?
Scripture warns us that spiritual truth cannot be understood by unspiritual people (1 Corinthians 2:14), that to some the gospel is the stench of death rather than the aroma of life (2 Corinthians 2:15,16), and that friendship with the world means enmity with God (James 4:4). Jesus warned in Matthew 10:34-36 that He did not come to bring peace, but the sword, dividing even households against each other over the truth of the gospel.
And yet He fervently prayed in John 17 that all who would believe in Him would be one as He and the Father are one.
What gives? Don’t church splits fly in the face of that, as the world seems to find more reason to not believe the gospel because of our quarrels, divisions, and strife?
I think it is helpful, and hopeful, to see the global Church as a Body of believers united by faith and not by doctrines, campuses, institutions, and theological views. In other words, it is a worldwide movement, a community of redeemed people inhabited by one Spirit, characterized by a vibrant faith walk that attracts people by the life of God in them and by the truth they hold to and proclaim. Some may meet on church campuses, others in home fellowships. Some meet openly and others in secret. Theological or denominational systems can get in the way of Christ being made visible through the lives of His children. After all, God draws unbelievers to Himself through the uncompromising truth of His Word and His love made manifest in His sons and daughters, not through denominational distinctives or theological systems.
Jesus also warns us in Matthew 24:10 that many will fall away from the faith during times when pressure on the Church mounts. That is already a reality in large parts of the world and is knocking at our door as well. Churches suffering in countries where Christianity is illegal are rarely divided. That seems to be part of the sifting and purification process, as those who stay faithful to the end will remain.
So let us not be dismayed by church splits and how the world may view Christianity in light of them. Rather let every fight, every fall, every split serve as an encouragement to keep praying for unity in the Church, and an increasingly united Body of believers to become visible by its love and its knowledge of and obedience to the truth.
“Father, we grieve over church splits and theological disputes, as we know they grieve the Holy Spirit. We also grieve over compromise on the truth and authority of your Word to be more appealing to the world. We pray, therefore, for unity in the American Church. Bring a great spiritual awakening to the centrality of Scripture, its authority and power in our lives. Unite us in desperate prayer to see Christ made visible by our love. And while the world casts doubt on our faith because of the dissension it sees, may you continue to draw people into your kingdom, one life at a time, through the aroma of life that comes forth from those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and walk with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
How are you working toward and praying for interdenominational unity? Share your thoughts and prayers below.
Author Remco Brommet is a pastor, spiritual growth teacher, and prayer leader with over 40 years’ experience in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the US. Born and raised in the Netherlands and pastoring his first church in Amsterdam, he moved to the US in 1986. He and his wife Jennifer currently live north of Atlanta, GA When not writing books, he blogs and assists his wife as content developer and prayer coordinator for True Identity Ministries. Jennifer and Remco are passionate about bringing people into a deeper relationship with Christ. Photo Credit: Daniel Morton on Unsplash.
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