According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary which has a branch in Charlotte, in 2008 there were 39,000 Christian denominations in the world with a new denomination forming every 12 hours. In 1800 there were 500 Christian denominations. To me this is an astounding number. If someone had said that there were 500 today, I’d have been amazed. But 39,000! Wow!
A reader emailed me recently asking if I thought that all religions were equally favored by God. I replied that I couldn’t possibly imagine that God would be happy about all the different sects in Christianity, much less all the world religions. These sects all read the same Bible, but draw very different conclusions from the Bible’s teachings. Some groups hold views that are the direct opposite of others.
What is a person to do with the proliferation of beliefs and the opposition of Christian beliefs from one sect to another? I don’t know, but I always go back to living the life that Jesus modeled: the rich, close relationship with the Father, always submitting to God’s will rather than his own, and showing love for all people regardless of their station in life. Following Jesus is more important to me than any beliefs I hold about him.
Jesus often said, “Follow me…” in Matthew 8:22; “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” in Matthew 16:24; “whoever serves me must follow me” in John 12:26. In John’s gospel he does talk about believing in him in the famous John 3:16 passage, but this is not just a passive kind of belief but a living fellowship with the Lord—a relationship akin to the relationship Jesus has with the Father. Later in John Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” [John 14:6ff](underlining added for emphasis)
So beliefs are important in so far as the person holding the belief has a close relationship with Christ and through him to the Father. It is in the relationship with Christ that all irrelevant beliefs would be transformed or corrected. Beliefs lead us into the relationship; they are the starting point of the relationship, but should not control the relationship, once it is established.
From that point onward, when the person has turned his life over to Christ, then Christ should have the last word on what is right to be believed or said or done. I don’t think one can contain God or Christ in a set of beliefs; one can certainly not contain God’s Spirit in the world by belief. How could beliefs limit a God we can’t understand with our minds which are unable to grasp the vastness and scope of who God is? So how do we get from a fixed set of beliefs to a living relationship in which we know, we know, in the depth of our being who God is and who Christ is? Certainly we study the Bible. We spend time with Christ in prayer and communion. We do what he inspires us to do. We are his hands in the world. This is how we know him through our life in and with and for him—what I call the Life of the Spirit.
We need to move beyond beliefs into true experience of the Father and Son and Spirit. This is what a personal relationship with Christ means: we are a captive of the Living God, present to God as he speaks to each of us, loving him, worshipping him, obeying him and in turn being loved and forgiven by him. In doing this we are transformed: body, soul mind and heart.
If you are still sitting in your pew with unchanging beliefs, I challenge you to let Christ transform you into the person he created you to be. It is just fine to gather with others who agree on how to approach this relationship with the Lord—the goal of all denominations–but to cling to the beliefs instead of the Lord misses the point of the relationship. Would you put the way you think about the Lord ahead of what the Lord wants to show you? Would you promote your beliefs as more important that the Living Christ? Would you limit his influence in your life by insisting on the way you like things to be, so you don’t have to change?
To me this is a stale religion belonging to the past. It is dictated by the denomination, not by the Lord. Which one will you cling to?