Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why So Many Christian Denominations?

Pastor’s Window for November 2010
Why So Many Christian Denominations?

Jesus prays for the unity of His Church. He prays for those who believe in Him, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21; ESV). The will of Jesus for His Church is that it be united in such a way that it reflects the unity of the Father and the Son, that it give a united confession of faith to the world, that the world may come to faith. There is no question that the divisions in Christendom are sinful. Jesus does not will that there be so many denominations. So why can’t Christians get it together? Why are there so many denominations? And how do we get Christians to unite?

It is tempting to sweep all the differences between Christian denominations under the rug, as if they don’t matter. After all, we all believe in Jesus, and since we all believe in Jesus, we will all be saved. Of course it is true, whoever believes in Jesus will be saved. This is the basic truth of John 3:16. But does this mean differences in doctrine don’t matter? If we say that, we are saying doctrine itself doesn’t matter. You can believe anything you want as long as you believe in Jesus. But Jesus never said such a thing. Instead, in the same prayer as the verse quoted at the beginning of this article, Jesus prays for His disciples that the Father would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Doctrine simply means teaching. Christian doctrine is the teaching of God’s Word, which is, as Jesus here says, the truth. To say doctrine is unimportant is to say the truth is unimportant, which is to say the teaching of Jesus is unimportant. Clearly the way to Christian unity cannot be to sweep our doctrinal differences under the rug as if they don’t matter. Christians must deal honestly and openly with doctrinal differences.

And here two very important truths come to light: First, the disunity of the Christian Church is man’s fault, and it is sinful; it is due to the teaching of false doctrine! Second, the unity of the Church is all God’s work, the work of the Holy Spirit uniting God’s holy people around His Word and Sacraments. This is a gift of God’s grace. When man tries to create unity by his own efforts and works, he only further divides the Church. But when man prays to God for unity, the Spirit works through God’s pure Word to create a true communion. Christians should pray fervently for this unity. They should seek the pure proclamation of Christ’s doctrine and make frequent use of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, which unites us as members of the body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. God unites His people around the means of grace. Our Lutheran forefathers recognized this. They confessed, and we confess, in the Augsburg Confession: “For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word” (AC VII:2; Tappert).

The unity of the Church depends on unity in the Word. The Bible is the one source, rule, and norm of Christian doctrine and life. Anything that comes from any other source is a false teaching, and must be rejected. And so in discussions with other Christian denominations, the Word must take the central place. Unity is always the goal. And you should know that the Missouri Synod is in doctrinal talks with many other church bodies. But we must not compromise the Word. We must not compromise doctrine. Any unity that is not the result of biblical, doctrinal clarity and agreement, is not really unity at all.

But don’t get the false impression that we’re saying only Lutherans will be in heaven (why do people always jump to that conclusion?). Of course, heaven will be filled by many Christians from many denominations, everyone who believes in Jesus. We’re simply saying that doctrine is important. It is so important, that false doctrine divides the Church. It is so important, that Jesus prays that His Church will be united in doctrine: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” In heaven, we will all believe the same doctrine. In heaven, we will all believe the right doctrine. Thanks be to God for His doctrine, His teaching, in His Word. God grant us all faithfulness to the true doctrine of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Krenz

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