1 Corinthians 12:14 - For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.
Recently, I attended a memorial mass at a local Catholic church for a dear friend of mine who passed away. I had been to a Catholic wedding of a college friend many years ago. The things I remember about that wedding was that it was long (almost an hour compared to the usual 15-20 minutes in most weddings) and there was a lot of up and down in our seats. There was also a lot of kneeling and recitation. I was grateful when a lady next to me kindly told me that it wasn't necessary for me to do what "they" did. At that time, I was not it church so I didn't have a whole lot to compare it to, but I knew it was very different from a church like my grandfather's Methodist one.
The memorial mass also lasted about an hour and there was a lot of standing up and sitting down. It was a very orderly service, completely outlined for us in print. The handout gave you the responses to repeat at certain points in the service, as well as the lyrics to the songs. At the end of the service they had communion with a common cup, which was different from the cute little individual plastic cups we use at our church. The pamphlet said if you were not prepared for communion you could come forward with our arms crossed in an "X" and receive a silent blessing. My friends and I did neither, simply staying in our seats and respectfully letting the Catholic believers exercise their faith. I thought about the lady at the wedding and was thankful for her words all over again. She didn't think any less of me for not participating and I certainly didn't fault her for what she was doing.
While these things were quite different than I was used to in a service, there were many things that seemed very "Protestant". During the service there was a time of fellowship where we greeted each other with handshakes, hugs and "bless you". Several family members eulogized my friend. We prayed, praised and sang hymns to God in the name of Jesus. The priest read from the Word and offered us words of comfort. Most importantly, though, I felt the presence and the Spirit of God. In those moments, it was no longer a Catholic service versus a Protestant service. It didn't matter that the congregation was made up of people from different denominations or even non-believers. We were a body of believers in Jesus Christ who had come together to seek God's comfort in our time of loss.
During the mass, I thought about my friend, about how much I missed her and loved her. She had a profound impact on my life and was truly a blessing. What if when I first met her, I turned down the opportunity to be her friend because she was Catholic? I would have missed out on knowing a wonderful person. Thankfully, it was never an issue. Catholics are different from Protestants. Among Protestant denominations, there are also many differences. However, we love and serve the same God, the same Jesus, the same Holy Spirit. Yet the differences have fractured the Body of Christ to the point that it doesn't feel like one body. Our individual church may seem to be a unified body, but sometimes it feels like we have been amputated from the full Body of Christ.
1 Corinithians 12:4 - There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
It greatly troubles me when I hear someone -- and I mean someone who claims to be a Christian -- speak against a denomination or church. At first I thought the word I would use was "angry", but I think the better word is "disheartened", which means "to discourage the hope, courage or spirits of." I am disheartened when I hear Christian people disparaging someone or their church because they are a little different or perhaps for the way they all dress. I am disheartened when one church won't associate with another church because one church worships a little more exuberantly. I have seen the look in the eyes of other Christians when I tell them that I attend a Pentecostal church. But I have also heard Pentecostal believers being judgmental toward churches that worship in a quiet, conservative manner. It works both ways, and neither is right.
For example, I have never been to a Church of Christ service. It seems strange to me that, from what I understand, there is no music during their services. Though I find it different, I do not condemn them. I would attend a service if invited and would keep an open mind and seek God. There is no room for prejudice among Christian believers. Prejudice is defined as unfavorable opinion formed beforehand or without any knowledge, thought or reason. If someone has a prejudice about another church or denomination, it causes a separation in the body of Christ. Yes, I am disheartened by this, because I don't know how we are going to stand as the Church in the future if we keep allowing these types of differences to divide us. We are supposed to sanctify ourselves from the world, not from each other. Jesus said that a house divided against itself will not stand. In the same way, I do not believe that a body divided against itself can stand.
Romans 14:5-10 - One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Our associate pastor often says that the name over the door isn't what is important, but it's the relationship with Jesus of those who worship there that matters. One church doesn't have music during service but another has music throughout. One church is quiet and reserved, while another has shouting and singing. One church believes that women should dress a certain way, while another has a pastor in blue jeans. One church sprinkles for its baptism, while another performs them with full immersion. Each one thinks they've gotten it right and the others have it wrong. All this kind of thinking does is keep us from bonding as the full Body of Christ, which is exactly what the enemy wants. Instead of focusing on what makes us different, we should be looking at what must be the same and consistent standard for each of us Jesus Christ. The Newsboys have a song that pretty well sums it up. The chorus says:
We believe in God the Father, We believe in Jesus Christ
We believe in the Holy Spirit, And He's given us new life
We believe in the crucifixion, We believe that He conquered death
We believe in the resurrection, And He's comin' back again, we believe
What we believe is what matters. How we express it through worship is personal preference. I prefer a church where the people raise their hands and shout amen, but I can also respectfully worship in a more reserved setting when I am a visitor. As long as the preaching and practices line up with the word of God and nothing is being added to the plan of salvation, we can be unified in our beliefs and respectful of our differences and preferences. Even if you prefer not to attend one another's services because of these differences, you should still love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Romans 12:10 says: "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another". Can we all not come together outside the walls of the church to go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come in? Who cares which church they go to as long as they go? Let the Spirit guide them because no matter what we do or whatever clever marketing ploy we use, we are only going to draw those that the Spirit has drawn.
Philippians 2:1-2 - Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
A body is nothing without the head. When we look around at the Christian body, we must remember that it has one head. We are urged to be of one mind and one accord, and that mind is not the pastor's or the deacon's or the singer's or the prophet's. We are to have the mind of Christ, because He is the Head and we are His body. Imagine your own fleshly body having members that are in conflict with one another. There are some illnesses that illustrate this, such as in autoimmune diseases where the body actually turns on itself and attacks healthy tissue. Now how imagine how the Lord must feel when He sees the members of His Body acting like they don't know each other and not working together to fulfill His purpose. He is coming back one day for His Bride, the Church. Right now, she is a hot mess. It is time to set our differences aside and concentrate on what makes us the same. Every family has a crazy uncle or an odd cousin (and it might even be you or me), but they are still family and we have to love them because Jesus loves them. If God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11), then I doubt He shows favoritism for one church over another. Why should we?