Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many “versions” of the Christian faith? Why do we have Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, and so on? Obviously it wasn’t always so.
The answer is both simple and complex. If you aren’t a Christian already I can easily understand why you might think it’s been splintered or even fractured into seperate groups. Let’s imagine a giant window or mirror, unbroken in our minds. This glass reflects what Jesus had in mind. It does so because it represents the time when Jesus walked the earth. It presents a clear picture or provides a focused understanding as he meant it to be.
Next, imagine that glass with a single complete break or giant crack running from top to bottom. The mirror is broken and is now two pieces. This represents the point in time where Jesus left the earth and ascended to heaven. One half is His church as He meant it to be. The other half is what is left once fallible men, including the apostles were in the practical sense given charge of the church.
We now turn to 1st Corinthians 3:4-15 NKJV
3 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and [a]behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on itendures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Clearly, the apostle Paul is admonishing those believers who were creating divisions in the church. He addresses them in an authoritative fashion because the Spirit has moved upon him to do so. The half of the broken glass that represents the point where leadership in the church in the practical sense was given to men is now becoming shattered or broken further and is in danger of splintering into many smaller shards of glass.
Now, through all this remember Jesus’s words in John 16:17 KJV
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
In the Spiritual sense, Jesus is always the head of His church. He is saying the Holy Spirit will be sent to comfort and guide us.
So what happened? Something not so good, and yet something not quite as bad as it appears. Men took charge of the day to day practical affairs of the church as it grew. Undoubtedly, some followed Paul. A few did not. Christianity spread and unlike our society today it did not have the various electronic means to remain in close contact with its various local groups. Time passed. And, hundreds of years later we began to see further results.
You might even imagine that at the precise moment when Paul asked “Who is Paul, and who is Apollos?” or, certainly shortly thereafter; the institution of ” religion” was born. Of course, few if any knew it at the time. Fewer still probably understood what it meant. I’d like to think the apostle Paul did.
But, is Christianity truly fractured? The answer, thankfully is no. Granted, I pray and hope that the various denominations of Christianity would seek the common ground they have and move in unity rather than argue, but there are divisions and we will discuss those further.
Think of it this way. Ask yourself what exactly is “religion?” … Could it not be said also that part of the definition of religion has to do with each of us both individually and together corporately working out the sincere beliefs we hold so that we may follow God?
At this point I want you to take a blank sheet of paper and write upon it a list. Your list will consist of all the essentials you personally believe you and perhaps others must or should believe in as a Christian. This is an exercise of sorts intended to illuminate the idea of religion.
It could look something like this:
A.) Jesus is who He said He is… The Son Of God. B.)Jesus died on the cross, rose again, paid the price for our sins. D.) Salvation is by grace through faith. It cannot be earned…
Go ahead with your list until you have at least 20 items on your list.
In the beginnings you will have what I call “Christian Essentials”… those are the things you must have to be considered a “true” Christian. If you followed my instructions and made at least a dozen or more items on your list I now want you to re-examine your list. Are you sure everything that is on your list is absolutely essential?
Are there things on your list that are debatable? Perhaps your denomination doesn’t require full immersion baptisim? (Remember, baptism itself doesn’t provide salvation. Only the blood of Jesus does that!). What about being Spirit filled, or speaking in tongues? (Again, speaking in other tongues is not required for salvation.)
In point of fact, truly being a Christian is not as complicated as it might sound to some of you. This is great news for the state of Christianity as a whole! Praise God! Your neighbor the Baptist, or Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc… if he or she is a sincere believer is probably heaven bound! (I say probably because only God knows for sure the state of a persons soul.)
But what of the fractured mirror or glass? I’m glad you asked me that. I posit to you, that what is actually “fractured” is not Christianity but rather religion itself. Here is the kernel I want you to glean. While theologians and believers can debate the things on your list of “Christian Essentials” it is not necessary for us to do that here to understand that when you go down your list there is some point where you come to the first item that is non essential . For illustrative purposes we don’t even need to know what that item is. Just recognize it as a dividing line of sorts.
Now, remember I have often said religion is also the practical means by which we answer the question “What is next?” after we accept the fact of ” God Is”… or, God exists! And, that religion is the means whereby we as mere mortal men are allowed and even encouraged to learn about God. It’s a bit like the act of physical therapy for someone recovering from an injury. Except of course, this is primarily a spiritual matter. You might even say that perhaps at the point of your salvation you begin your therapeutic regimen and begin to recover from sin! You dose yourself with God’s word and begin to learn. You start to “get better” spiritually speaking. You “put on” the mind of Christ and reap the Spiritual rewards.
Now, make no mistake! It is Christ that provided the atonement for sin, and in so doing, your salvation. And, it is the Holy Spirit that draws you to surrender to Him and teaches us to rightly understand the Word of God. But, religion is a reflection of or the day to day means that we use to carry out the sometimes mundane acts we might be erroneously taught by fallible men.
Let me put this another way. I am not a catholic. I was as a child indoctrinated into that church. I do not herein seek to attack the catholic church. I’m just using this as an illustration. Point in fact, I know people who do not believe the Pope is “infallible” and that consider themselves to be catholic. They attend mass, are listed as members, yet they seek to work out in their religion according to their honest beliefs and are settled in their minds that no man is infallible! Congratulations to them! I agree!
Hundreds of decisions similar to this have been made inside the church at large regarding a variety of topics in the lives of individuals everywhere. It also happens on a corporate basis within groups of believers. Hence, the result is the varying denominations we now have!
The good news is that on one hand we have people in all denominations and walks of life actively and sincerely using their religion to aid in their personal efforts to follow Christ. And, that the church at large actually consists of true believers who have accepted Christ from many denominations. Beware of any denomination or church that tells you only its members have salvation and that you must join them to be saved.
The not so good news is that also across those various denominations are some who are not saved or born again.
James 1:26 KJV
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
So what do we look for when practicing religion or examining it?
James 1:27 KJV
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
In closing, I make this point. All is not always as it seems. The true church which crosses denominational lines remains led and comforted by The Holy Spirit and in Christ it finds unity, and is unified.
My prayer is that the true believers in Christ unite together if not physically in this material world in the literal sense, that they unite in the Spirit under the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer for all of Christendom as it faces what I believe will be some of its greatest challenges in the years to come. And, to pray for these United States Of America in truth and humility and submission to God.