Putting Denominational Disagreements in Perspective for the World and the Church

In a world in which the standard for disagreement is tolerance, we are called not just to tolerate each other, but to love each other deeply, from the heart.

J. Warner Wallace tackled the question, Do Denominational Disagreements Falsify Christianity? recently from an apologetic angle. A common challenge to Christianity is that we don’t all agree. If Christianity is true, why so much disagreement? Why so many denominations?

I like the way Wallace tackles the issue. He starts by observing that truth is often complex, and finite beings such as ourselves often disagree on the complexities. This is true not just in Christianity, but even in science. Wallace lists some of the various “theoretical camps” on the origin of the universe and the various types of atheists who don’t agree with each other in their atheism.

Wallace observes that disagreement doesn’t negate the truth. Truth remains truth whether people understand it or agree on it. Paul is saying the same thing, basically, when he says, “Let God be true though every one were a liar.” (Romans 3:4) We can’t judge God by the way people act, and we can’t judge the truth of Christianity by the way the Church acts.

On that last statement, I can imagine someone saying, “Now wait a minute! Shouldn’t we hold the Church to a higher standard? Shouldn’t the Church, of all institutions, be better than secular ones? If Christianity is true, shouldn’t we expect more harmony in the Church?

I actually agree with these criticisms. What about the inquisitions, and Christians burning other Christians at the stake for heresy and Puritans burning Puritans at the stake for supposedly being witches? That sounds like a lot of infighting for a group of people who are called to be “one in Christ”!

These are serious charges against the Church and Christianity. Wallace is right, that every human institution under the sun has disagreement, but shouldn’t the Church be different? If God is God and Christianity is true, shouldn’t the Church stand apart?

Jesus called his followers to be like a city set on a hill, like a beacon of truth. He said the world would know his followers by their love for one another, and he prayed for them to be one with each other as he and the Father are one.

We don’t have to dig very deep, or look very far, or think very long before we find examples in history and in current events today that paint a very different picture of the Church. The Church, universal, is fragmented. Even denominations, within themselves, are divided. Division and dissention occur in our local churches on a regular basis.

The skeptics put up a serious challenge to believers when they make the claim that our penchant for disagreement calls into question the truth that we stand for. How do we respond?

Yes, disagreements in the Church do not negate the truth, but how do we put them in perspective? How do our disagreement fit the truth that is revealed in Scripture? (That the world should know us by our love for one another) How do we reflect the love of God to the world as a fractured and broken Church?

I don’t believe I have a complete handle on these things, but I have some thoughts on how we can square the disagreement in the Church with Scripture and how we should respond as believers to this challenge.

Continue reading “Putting Denominational Disagreements in Perspective for the World and the Church”

Listening While White: Respecting the Image of God in People of Color

Jesus, himself, broke down the dividing wall that separates people.

I feel like I need to begin this with a request to “hear me out” (at the risk of appearing apologetic). I am a white, evangelical Christian. The title recognizes who I am. I realize as I wade out into these waters that they are treacherous today. Many are the rocks on which ships with good intentions have been dashed.

Should I even have to say that people of color bear the image of God? I shouldn’t have to say it, but I feel I need to say it nevertheless. Why?

That impulse, alone, signals to me that something is not quite right.

I just read that slavery is “the original sin of the United States”. It colors our past (pun very much intended). It continues to leave its imprint on the present. I have to admit to finding some truth in that statement.

Obviously, race is the subject of this article. But not just race. I am writing about Christianity, generally, and the church universal and global.

If any group ought to be able to speak with wisdom into the race issues that we continue to face, it should be the Church, right? Yet, we see as much segregation in the church as a whole as we do in society.

Spoiler alert. God has been orchestrating the entire course of human history from the beginning to this end:

“A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb….”

Revelations7:9

This is God’s endgame. Are we onboard with the plan?

This is the unity for which Jesus prayed for his followers. (John 17:20-23) Jesus, himself, broke down the dividing wall that separates people. (Eph. 2:14) God began working though His Holy Spirit toward His endgame soon after Jesus died and rose again, working through Paul and the disciples to break down the wall between Jew and Gentile. (See Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius)

We won’t participate in achieving the unity for which Jesus prayed without recognizing the big picture – the kingdom of God – and the foundation on which we all stand – Jesus. Given the purposeful prayer of Jesus for unity among his followers, disunity that exists in the Church means we have failed in some way to focus on the things that should unify us. We have allowed differences that shouldn’t matter to divide us.

If the endgame includes people “from every nation, tribe, people and language”, then we should not allow those kinds of differences, at least, to divide us. Racial matters should be a non-issue. We should be one in Christ, right?

Continue reading “Listening While White: Respecting the Image of God in People of Color”

Tension Leads to Accord: Peter, James & Paul

The big issue that threatened to divide the early Church

Paul wrote to the Galatians to address a grievous error in their thinking. They were holding on to a belief that followers of Christ, even Gentiles, must continue to follow Jewish law. Though Jesus prayed for unity among his followers (John 17:20-23), it was a rocky start for his fledgling following. They didn’t last 10 years without division!

To emphasize the gravity of the situation, Paul recalled to the Galatians a time when he opposed Cephas (Peter the Apostle, himself) “to his face” over the Jew and Gentile. (Gal. 2:11)

Consider this: Peter lived with Jesus for 3 years. He was one of the closest people to Jesus during his life. He was there when Jesus died, and he was one of the first people to see Jesus when he returned, risen from the dead.

Paul was never around back then. He despised Jesus and his followers! He held the cloaks of the people who stoned Stephen to death, and he was hellbent on quashing the “rebellion” of the Jesus followers to the traditions of Judaism…

Then, Jesus dramatically revealed himself to Paul. Paul changed completely and became the boldest of proclaimers of the Gospel. Still, what gall to confront Peter of all people! Right?

First for a little back story. In my last post, I described Peter’s vision of animals on a great sheet and the encounter with the Roman Centurion that convinced him Gentiles can be saved from their sins, the same as Jews. It was no small revelation. It took quite the orchestration of visions, angels, voices and a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit to convince Peter to accept the fact that God wanted to share the Gospel with Gentiles.

Peter experienced his own change, though not as dramatic. He went from being concerned that he should be not associating with Gentiles to baptizing the Centurion and his entire household and welcoming them into the family of believers!

I also wrote about this story in relation to the theme of the unity of believers: Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius. The great shift from the following law to faith, was a change to beat all changes.

It took a nothing short of a divine appointment of Peter, the Apostle on which Jesus said he would establish the Church, orchestrated by God with all the bells and whistles to provide clear direction. We might think that this encounter settled the score for Peter, once for all, right?

Not so.

Continue reading “Tension Leads to Accord: Peter, James & Paul”

Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius

Sometimes we need to hesitate, suspend judgment and be open to the prompting and move of the Holy Spirit who comes along side us to achieve the unity for which Jesus prayed.


The message I listened to today in the online Chapel Street Church service was about the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-23:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It got me thinking about what I see in my social media platforms: the polarization, division and disunity among the people with whom I am connected. Our nation is as divided as it ever has been in every possibly way.

When we look at the church, do we see a contrast to what we see in the world? Or do we see the same kind of division and disunity in the church?

I know my initial reaction to those questions, but let’s not jump to conclusions yet. God’s word doesn’t go out and come back void. If Jesus prayed for unity, can’t God accomplish it?

When I look out on the Church and think about Church history, I see a lot of division and disunity. Our history books focus on the disagreements, rather than the agreements. In fact, we see disagreement right from the beginning: Paul disagreed with the Gnostics; the Corinthians were fighting over following Paul or Apollos; and even Peter and Paul disagreed over whether to continue to follow Jewish laws on foods and religious rituals.

Disunity seemed to spring up immediately. Or did it?

Paul would say the Gnostics were not true believers. They denied the deity of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection, among other things. Paul urged the Corinthians not to identify either as followers of himself or Apollos, but to identify as followers of Jesus only. The Holy Spirit settled the disagreement over the eating of foods and Jewish rituals when He gave Peter a vision that was repeated three times followed by a “divine appointment” with Cornelius, a Gentile (though Paul would have to confront Peter before Peter finally go it).

In the rest of this blog post I will explore Peter’s story, and what it might mean for us, and maybe I will come back to the other examples in future posts. Continue reading “Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius”

God’s Plan for Unity from Diversity

God’s end game is a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.


I have been thinking quite a bit about diversity and the Church (universal, the body of Christ) lately. NT Wright commented recently that a modern secularist might believe that the church is catching up to the issue of racism following a largely secular cry for attention, but the truth is different from what it appears.

When asked about the church’s response to issues of race, Wright commented that God has always had a plan for the diversity of His creation. The comment got me thinking in what ways it might be true.

In fact, if we “read ahead” in the story, we see John’s great vision of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” standing before God. (Rev. 7:9)

If this is the end game, where do we find evidence of the plan of God to gather that multitude from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages to Himself?

Continue reading “God’s Plan for Unity from Diversity”