The church of Jesus Christ is not a building, it is not a denomination; it is the body, all the believers who dedicate their lives to God, who live in the kingdom of God here on earth, who want to be part of the mind of Christ. The apostle Paul describes how every part of the body of Christ is needed, just as every part of our bodies have different functions, but are all necessary. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”
No more can any of the protestant churches say to the Catholic church, “We don’t need you; we have the right beliefs, you don’t!” Nor can the Baptists say to the Methodists, “We have the right beliefs, you don’t!” These are very human, egotistical claims that would never be made in the body of Christ, because we are all one in the Spirit of God when we give our lives over to God. Catholic, Protestant, Independent, Asian, Western, African, South American—the denomination does not matter; the territory, the culture doesn’t matter. We are all made one in Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Galatians 3, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
[Perhaps I should declare that I am a born-again Christian who belongs to a Presbyterian Church U.S.A., but I have also belonged to a Baptist Church, a United Church of Christ and a Southern Presbyterian Church in my childhood. I attend Catholic masses sometimes and have done the Ignation Exercises. I do not consider myself a Presbyterian, first of all; I belong to the body, the church of Jesus Christ. My first loyalty is to Jesus and to my relationship with Him.]
I think that where we get so off-message lies in our own pride and feeling better than any other Christian—a very worldly, egocentric point of view. Our loyalty seems to lie in our dedication first of all to our church, the very building/denomination we belong to. But our primary loyalty should be to Jesus Christ himself. No matter the beliefs of our denomination, we belong first of all to Christ. We are to be His in all things and in all areas of our lives: our work, our families, our leisure time and our church worship and offerings. If we are one in the Spirit with Him, we are beyond caring about who has the right beliefs or who’s going to heaven and who’s not. We are not of this world nor beholden to all its attachments and hierarchies.
Then, It is very natural that we join with the people in a church who are of like minds with us; denominations are the result of this inclination. We humans are not made like cookie cutter pieces, all alike. We have different ways that we are called, different purposes, different groups of people we are drawn to. The church or denomination we belong to is can be a natural draw or it might just be where God has called us to be. But we should not get into arguments about who has the right beliefs about Christ and who’s going to heaven—those arguments are better left to those left in the world, not to those who aspire to the kingdom of heaven.
Rather, we should ask what can we learn from other denominations [and sometimes even other religions] about living this life in Christ? How can we expand how we look at our life in Christ? How can we grow, not just in learning the Bible and what it means, but also growing in wisdom about the teachings in the Bible? We should listen to others’ experiences of God and really hear what they are offering us that we might not have thought of. If we stay in the narrow framework of our denomination’s beliefs and in our own way of thinking, we may miss all that Christ is inviting us to embrace, to live.
We must honor all the parts of the church, the body of Christ, for we are all in His care. We must work together in the world to promote Christ’s vision for how we are to live. Unfortunately, those arguments in which we are enmeshed about who has the right beliefs turn off people who might be drawn to Christ. We don’t seem to be models of love for our neighbors, near or far, not even for our neighbors who are Christian.
Just as our bodies have many different parts, but they all work together to keep us whole and healthy, so our churches need to be of one mind, the mind of Christ to keep us human beings and our planet whole and healthy. Even more so today than in the past, now that 7 billion people live on this earth and compete for all its resources, when our behaviors are changing the weather patterns on our planet, when we’re still fighting ridiculous wars based on who’s better and who wants what, whether it belongs to them or not—we, the whole church of Jesus Christ, need to model the love He shows us and how we are to live with each other.
We need to stand as one people in Christ before the world. How much more will we have to say to the world if we do? We need to bring the whole measure of God’s will for us before the world so that we can influence the direction of all human relations. This is our task in the 21st century: to live in love and mercy and compassion for everyone in Christ’s name, to make the kingdom of God real on this earth. Amen.
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I put down or ridicule others’ beliefs? Do I think that I have the right beliefs and others don’t/ Or am I willing to learn from other denominations what they know that I don’t? Am I really open to all that Christ is saying to me?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are open to all that He is telling us. May we put our faith in Him and not in ourselves. May we be humble and not judging.
If you live near to Charlotte, I am offering a two day retreat on “Living the Two Great Commandments of Jesus October 12th and November 9th at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in The Third Place, 1604 Park Drive, Charlotte, from 9 to 4. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org. $50. for two sessions. Bring a bag lunch. Drinks and snacks will be provided.
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Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. 9.1.19’s is entitled “All of me, why not take all of me.”
 Philippians 2:5-8
 1 Corinthians 12:21
 Galatians 3:28
 1 Corinthians 12:12-31