By Roland W. Keith
According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America (1990) there are about 20,800 denominations worldwide. Other estimates vary from 217 in the U.S. alone to over 41,000 around the globe, mostly existing within three major groups (Evangelical Protestantism, Mainline Protestantism, and Catholicism) and two minor ones (Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental orthodoxy). Regardless of the actual numbers or whether a particular denomination affiliates with any of these groups, most view themselves as separate from other denominations, groups, and traditions. In addition to these (actually, even among them) there are also a growing number of churches who view themselves as “non-denominational.” With these numbers continuing to grow year-by-year the question is “how many of these churches are scripturally authorized; how many are Biblically founded?”
In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Twice in his admonition the apostle exhorts the disciples to be of the same mind or of one mind. Likewise, to the Corinthians he wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
It is clear from these verses that the church is to actively remove division from its midst, by resolving issues before they become irreconcilable. We are to seek and achieve unity of understanding and exercise the same singleness of thought in our judgments. How do we accomplish such things? First, and foremost by heeding the words of Paul from his prison cell: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We must consciously compare our actions to the word of God. Are we motivated by our own desires, biases, or will? Or, do we seek to act in a manner worthy of Christ’s sacrifice?
Secondly, we must understand that there is no place in the church for such willful motives. It is our responsibility to bear with one another as we work through disagreements, always prayerfully using the Bible as our arbiter in all matters, remembering that we are all members of the same kingdom. It was Jesus prayer that His followers be one with one another in the Father and Son (John 17:20-21). If we have a sincere love for each other (I Peter 1:22; John 13:35), how can we bear to separate over a dispute concerning God’s word and His church? Yet that is the heart and soul of denominationalism. According to denominational standards we do not have to see eye-to-eye on a matter. You do it your way, we’ll do it our way and we an all agree to disagree and we’ll call that unity because we all worship the same God, that’s all that’s really important after all. That may be the denominational standard, but it is not the Biblical one.
Christians are a fellowship of the same Spirit. We are not kindred spirits, birds-of-a-feather, or bosom buddies. We are one body. Concerning that body Paul wrote, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12: 24-27). We are one. Not two. Not three. Not a member of this denomination or that one. This church or that one. We are one or we are nothing. Concerning our fellowship Paul told the Colossians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; see 5:22-25). We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can walk apart from each other and all still be in step with the Spirit.
Jesus Christ came to save the spiritually lost (Luke 19:10). His mission was to unite us into the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), telling His listeners: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). One of His greatest lamentations was when He overlooked the city of Jerusalem, the city of God’s temple and His people, and condemned it for rejecting His word. For claiming their religion and denying or twisting God’s laws, for killing His prophets, and rejecting their Messiah (Matthew 23:37). How many today are claiming Christianity while denying God’s word? It’s happening. If it weren’t there wouldn’t be so many church buildings out there with so many different names on them. How many claim Christ as their head but are not all a part of the same body? Paul wrote, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Are we building each other up by being divided? If so, how?
Jesus warned us about false prophets who would come to us in sheep’s clothing who would seek to lead even the elect astray (Matthew 7:15; 24:25; 7:15; II Peter 2:1). No one, nor thing can snatch us out of the hand of God (John 10:28). But Satan can tempt us to turn away of our own free will, as Paul warned the Corinthians: “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (II Corinthians 11: 12-15). Just as there were false apostles in the first century there are false teachers today. John warned us to test the spirits to see who is of God (I John 4:1). Ultimately, our salvation is our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). We are warned that trials will come (I Peter 4:12; James 1:12). We are also told to pray not to enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41). In addition, God gives us everything we need to overcome every trial and temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, the Christian who turns away from God and loses his own soul does so of his own accord.
Sadly, there are many who believe in God and seek Him out, but only if they can do so their way. Paul warned Timothy the day was coming in his second letter to him: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).
The day of false religion in the name of God has long since arrived and has never gone away. What can we do about it? In many ways it is harder to reach those lost in their religion with the truth than it is the one who has never heard of God. Many such people are so entrenched in their beliefs that they are unmoved by the truth even when it is presented in a reasoned, biblical study. Often, they cannot bear the consequences of the truth. If they are wrong then their parents or grandparents who have passed on were wrong as well, meaning that they are not where they thought they would be in eternity. If they are wrong then they have misguided their own children, friends, or strangers. If they are wrong… They just cannot bear the thought. So, they jeopardize their own salvation clinging to the false hope that somehow, they have been right all along despite the evidence. What can we do about it?
The only thing we can do is pray and evangelize and put it in God’s hands. Leave no effort unmade. And, be prepared, as Peter exhorted: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15). Be prepared, be patient, and kind, and hopeful— always realizing what is at stake for every person you speak to. And pray for the harvest. And work to ensure that all those brought into the kingdom will come in the strength and unity of the one Spirit.
By Roland W. Keith
Any distance runner can tell you what it is like to hit a strong head wind, especially on the backside of a long run. It can sap your strength physically and drain your mental resolve. There is a tendency to tense up and fight the wind which only makes the situation worse. However, the best runners learn to relax, even down to unclenching their hands and jaw, anything that causes undue tension. They learn to control their posture, leaning slightly into the wind without hunching over, and to maintain their stride focusing on effort rather than pace, knowing the energy cost for their body is significantly higher going into the wind. Moreover, the serious runner will use the wind and other adverse conditions in practice to make himself stronger for race day. Like the sign on the gym wall says, “No Pain, No Gain!”
On occasion, the apostle Paul used athletics as an example for fellow Christians, once writing, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:25-27). One might add, as Christians, that we not only discipline our bodies (physical desires) but our emotional and intellectual states as well. In many ways life is a marathon in which we find ourselves often running along inclining stretches of road against contrary winds. For the Christian and non-Christian alike, there is no escaping these ill-winds of life. The best we can do is to prepare for them and when they come to meet them head-on with the proper mindset.
The Christian mindset, however, should be distinctly different from the non-Christian. We know that God often uses conflict and tough life-lessons to prepare and strengthen us for what lies ahead, especially concerning the work He has for us to do. The Bible is full of men and women who, as an old Navy Chief might say, were tried, tempered and made true by the LORD. Joseph was buffeted by hard winds when he was sold into slavery, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and imprisoned (Genesis 37:28; 39:7-20). Esther put her life on the line for God’s people (Esther). Abraham’s faith was tested (Hebrews 11:17-18; Genesis 22:10-12). Perhaps no one in the Old Testament received a greater test of his integrity and faith than Job, when everything that he had, including his ten sons and daughters, were taken from him and he was physically struck from head-to-toe with boils (Job 1:1-19). Yet he remained faithful (Job1:20-22; 2:9-10), eventually saying of the LORD, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).
In the New Testament the apostles and other disciples were put to the test again and again, none more so than Paul, who once noted, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:24-28; Acts 27). Eventually, Paul would suffer various terms of imprisonment as well (Acts 16:19; Acts 24:23-27; 28:3-31; II Timothy 1; 2:8-9; 4:6-8). Yet, in all his trials and tribulations he would write, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).
Paul accepted the trials of faith as the Lord’s discipline, writing, “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood... For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:3-4, 6, 11). Jesus Himself made it clear that the Christian will not be removed from harm’s way— quite the contrary: “Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” John 15:20). Even so, He also said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
The apostle Paul suffered a lot for the faith, yet he rather philosophically told the Philippians, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul understood that our plight in life does not define who we are or our relative condition to God. By accepting the storms of life and proceeding through them with confidence in our ultimate victory in Christ we can endure whatever life throws at us. As he wrote to the Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9).
The world cannot destroy what God has built. If we reside in His kingdom then we can appreciate the words of the psalmist: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). The devil is a formidable foe yet as Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:8-10).
The Christian can count the opposing winds of life as a test that gives us the opportunity to grow and strengthen our faith, producing an ever-stronger Christian (James 1:2-4). A man or woman fit for the kingdom and the Lord’s work one who cannot only start the race, but finish strong because the adverse winds, the trials and tribulations of life that buffet us along the trail will not slacken our resolve nor overcome our ability to endure to the end. The Christian who is able to stand alongside Paul and Peter and a host of others on the Day of the Lord and proclaim “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.