By Jude Obuseh
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind – Philippians 2:2
Christianity, as I was brought up to understand, is a monotheistic religion that professes unreserved belief in one Almighty God who dwells supremely in heavenly places from where he omnisciently oversees the affairs of his earthly children. Polytheistic belief in many gods is completely alien to the Christianity I am familiar with. All Christians serve one God, despite differences in denominations, which are manmade. Hence, the body of Christ is one united congregation of believers who should dwell together as one, in love.
The question now is, how did we get all the denominations in the first place? To understand that, we have to look back 400 years to the century following the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe. The Reformers rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church because of its stranglehold on politics which made religion territorial, resulting in all sorts of corruptions in the Christian doctrine they practiced. Sadly, the Reformers fell into the same pattern, insisting they had a corner on truth and wanted everyone in the countries they controlled to agree with them.
One of the major consequences of the Reformation was that Christianity became taxonomically divided into five main groups: Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Christianity now has denominational families (or movements) and also has individual denominations (or communions).
There is no denying the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach to Christianity is not possible. We have different denominations because we are all very different people—what works for you might not necessarily work for others. There are varied ways of connecting with God. While some spend a great deal of time in contemplation, others are energized in their relationship with God by taking stands and social activism. What a church believes doctrinally and its view of Scripture divides us the most. But there are other factors as well. Many of us put up with worship styles and practices we aren’t crazy about because we like what our denomination stands for on certain issues, such as whether or not to participate in war, or whether or not to place women in leadership. Or we feel strongly about the mode of baptism or the meaning of Communion. Some love liturgies and a more formal worship while others have a more relaxed approach.
However, our individual differences notwithstanding, we must all realize that there is only one indivisible body of Christ; that irrespective of our distinctive approaches, we are all working and walking towards the same goal. That is why I am deeply bothered by the cutthroat competition for supremacy amongst contemporary Christian congregations. It is a mind-boggling phenomenon that has continued to accelerate at an alarming rate, with no end in sight, inadvertently creating the false impression in the minds of adherents of other religions that the Church of Christ is a house divided against itself, with each denomination worshiping its own exclusive God.
The popularity contest among contemporary Christian bodies have given rise to series of discriminatory practices in the body of Christ – developments that are alien to a religion that was founded on the collective sacrifices of Christ’s apostles who were united in the propagation and spread of the gospel. Christianity, during this early apostolic times, was based on the fundamental principles of communal living, not on the exclusivity that defines relations amongst the adherents of the faith in contemporary times.
These days, when you interact with some professed Christians, you would be appalled to hear bigoted utterances such as, “my pastor is more gifted than other pastors”, “members of our Church are more successful than members of other Churches, because the glory of God is more evident in our Church, “when you come to our church, all the challenges you were experiencing in your former church will vanish”, “our Church is the true House of God”, “our church leads, while others follow”, “only the members of our Church will make heaven” etc.
This zero-sum contest has been to taken to extreme lengths as media platforms – regular and social – have become mediums through which Churches, like commercial brands, ceaselessly strive to outwit one another in their desperate quests for attention and dominance. Towards this end, unscrupulous, largely secular Public Relations gimmicks that are meant to outfox one another in the battle for supremacy and superiority are adopted; unethical attempts to promote unique selling points that are supposed to distinguish one denomination from another.
The searing void in the body of Christ has become so wide that Christians now relate with one another on the basis of denominational affiliations, and no longer on the basis of love amongst believers. When you identify yourself as belonging to a congregation that is different from that of some supposed brothers and sisters in the faith, don’t be surprised to be treated as someone with the palsy or an incurable infectious disease; it is as if you are an alien from outer space who should be avoided like a killer virus. Don’t be surprised to be refused help by a fellow believer simply because you don’t belong to the same congregation.
Sadly, some Church ministers, the supposed shepherds of the flock of Christ, who should be exemplary in their conduct, are unfortunately involved in these reprehensible discriminatory practices in the body of Christ. Some of them condone and even promote these sacrileges willy-nilly. It is that bad.
In the same manner as “every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste” (Luke 11: 17), a divided army cannot win a war. There is an ongoing spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil, with the devil, the king of darkness, leading the charge against the army of Jehovah, led by Jesus Christ. Knowing how potent and impregnable a united body of Christ can be in this battle, the devil, in his usual manner, has decided to fight dirty, conjuring the most lethal weapons in his arsenal to gain some momentum in the ongoing struggle, before his ultimate defeat.
The supremacy contest in the contemporary body of Christ is one of Satan’s key weapons for weakening the effectiveness and spread of Christ’s gospel of salvation for lost souls; a gambit that is meant to prevent the children of God from possessing their collective inheritance in Christ. Through subterfuge, half-truths, arrant lies and other subtle forms of misdirection, the Sun of the Morning has had a field day bifurcating the body of Christ. Unfortunately, most Christians seem oblivious of his sinister gimmicks.
The painful truth is that no Christian will make heaven because he/she belongs to a particular congregation. That is not how it works. Anybody stuffing your ears with such white lies is a dark angel. Without truly knowing, accepting and following Christ, and obeying God’s commandments to the letter, making heaven will be a mere mirage for most Christians. A Church is not more acceptable to God than others because they are architectural masterpieces, for so was the Church of Rome which boasted some of the most magnificent cathedrals the world had ever seen, but which were nothing but rank, stale and offensive whore houses. Your Church is not more acceptable to God than others because of the several miracles that are performed there all the time, for even the devil himself works great signs and wonders to fool the elect (2 Corinthians 11:15; Jude 4). These things don’t make us Christians, much less, better or worse Christians. Following Christ is what makes us Christians (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
Brethren, the time has come for the true followers of Christ to recognize the devil’s well-crafted masterplan to keep the house of God perpetually divided against itself, and come together to collectively resist his dark designs. It is time to cast off those worthless things that estrange us, and embrace those common godly values – love, forgiveness, compassion, charity et al – that unites us in Christ. We might be of different denominations, but we all belong to one Church of Jesus Christ (Romans 12: 4-5). We are much more than just many denominations; we are one body of one mind (1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4: 3-6)).
*** Jude Obuseh is the Executive Director of Conflict Prevention and Peace Building Initiative (CPPBI)