Help write my new book and provide me feedback on this article. Please comment at the end after reading this article! – Kent
Not since the Civil War have soldiers fighting for the same cause been segregated—for any reasons. Yet the divisions among denominations continues, diluting the Christian cause to win our world… for Jesus Christ. What is the origin of this circus of needless duplication, and, to the unchurched, a confusion of diversity?
The Protestant Reformation is well known for its biblical quest toward clarity. Thank God for the reformers! Perhaps no one at the time could see it coming, but the movement spiraled into theological nitpicking. Would Jesus call it “straining at gnats”? It amazes me that people equally sold out on Jesus as the only way of salvation and, committed unilaterally to the mission of The Great Commission, would build churches across the road from each other in a small rural town, because they look at The Lord’s Supper differently.
Equally profound and respected theologians disagree about how to explain certain issues about The Lord’s Supper. Truthfully, there are dimensions of The Lord’s Supper no one totally understands, or could ever understand. Much of Christianity is accepted by faith, not reason. After all, Christianity is…a faith.
In the denomination of my upbringing, for example, there are pastors who will not allow practicing Christians from another church- in town visiting their Christian relatives- to attend The Lord’s Supper with the rest of their family, who are members of the church. This is greatly offensive to these Christians. It is judgmental, and a bit arrogant. It sends the message: “we know it all, you don’t, and we’d like to stick it in your face in a public display of non-acceptance.”
Biblical integrity, at the highest level, is an important and non-negotiable objective. However, irresponsible and judgmental aberrations of Christian hospitality, in an air of superiority, represent the arrogance of Pharisees rather than the spirit of Christ.
Somehow the mission of The Great Commission has been hijacked by a mission of division on the basis of theological sticking points, even though all sides agree that these sticking points are not “deal breakers” for salvation. For example, when I was in seminary, I trained to be a counselor for a Billy Graham Crusade in St. Louis, Missouri. In the days and weeks before the Crusade, Billy Graham received a lot of attention in the media. One day I attended a class on theological systematics. Instead of following the syllabus, my professor took liberty to spend the entire class talking about what is wrong with Billy Graham’s theology. This was offensive to me, because Billy Graham was one of my spiritual heroes, who, among other things, had something to do with my desire to study for the ministry. Billy Graham’s passion for the lost was catching, and ignited my lifelong desire for Christian outreach. Further, since I paid good money to support this professor, I felt it was a breach of contract. ( I was wise enough to protect my future ordination to avoid speaking with my professor on that issue). However, after class, I did approach him and asked this question: “Bottom line: will Billy Graham be in heaven?” He responded, “Absolutely! The Bible says,” He continued, “whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.” I thought about pursuing my point, but simply said “thank you,” and politely walked away, wondering why he had the license to waste an hour of twenty students who were studying to reach people for Jesus Christ, just like Billy Graham. I wondered why Christians who are sold out on the basics of faith couldn’t agree to disagree on less than bottom line issues and work together for the sake of lost people for whom Christ died.
In my perception, the Christian church—as a global effort birthed by the King of the universe—has been derailed by the Age of Rationalism. It seems like no one wants to admit it, but we are often hyper-focused on content minutia while the Leader of the movement is dying to see the world receive the love and relationship of abundant life.
Denominationalism is dying. This decline is a major contribution to effective world evangelization. In this information age, isolationism and imperialism, bullying and arrogance among nations—including America—will simply not fly. Neither America nor any other country can parade as a savior of the world and impose their will on other nations. This has also become true of denominations. At the end of the day, Christianity is a team-oriented movement.
During my mission school training, which came in graduate school, I had a breakthrough moment about this issue. It was also substantiated years later. Among missionaries there is a saying: “you hang together or you hang all by yourself.” I have seen this in many places on the foreign mission fields around the world, and nowhere more clearly than Almaty, Kazakhstan. I was there, with a team leading a teaching conference for about one thousand pastors and church leaders who served every day in the challenging environment of that mostly Muslim area of the globe. Many of them were missionaries. They don’t pretend their mission is The Great Commission. They don’t give lip service. They live and breathe the mission—something Jesus intended for all his disciples throughout history.
My breakthrough moment in mission school was a teaching about the missionary worldview. Many denominational nitpickers have a worldview that would render them missionally impotent. Since worldviews are subconscious, they don’t realize what they believe. What they believe, in fact, is that there are only two worldview positions one can take as a Christian: (1) the closed set, and (2) the open set. This can be visualized as follows:
The closed set worldview describes anyone outside of these boundaries as part of an open set—based on the false assumption that there are only two worldview choices. This worldview continues with the concept that if you cross the line on any specific understanding of, for example, The Lord’s Supper, it puts you outside of my worldview. In this understanding, the only other option is that you must be part of the open set. This approach says, “If you are outside of my box on any issue of theology, you are part of a system with no boundaries whatsoever.” That is a slippery slope—a biblical domino disaster waiting to happen. “You don’t agree 100% with me about The Lord’s Supper. Watch out! It won’t be long and you will deny the divinity of Christ or say that Jesus’ resurrection is a myth.”
This approach is both right…and wrong. It is right, because there are those who choose an open set and their theological journey leads to Christianity without Christ. Missionally speaking, this is truly a non-option because it moves to a faith without substance. Churches that move to that position become the “body of Christ without a backbone.” No one is attracted to a faith that believes nothing, or so little it is not identifiable. So, that part of the closed set observation is correct.
However, it is also incorrect because there is another set—a third set, an additional worldview option. It is my perception, that this third worldview is the biblical option. It is a fundamental worldview for effective mission. It is the worldview of the centered set. This can be described in the following diagram:
The centered set understands that we as fellow Christians are on the same journey, and that journey is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) Already, this is a dramatically different worldview. Christianity is not a destination or a position, but a lifelong journey. This has profound impact on the way we understand the Christian world and the way it works. The church is not a destination, but a community of believers, called out from the world to be not of the world but in the world. We are called “disciples” not because we have arrived at every conclusion about everything, but because we are dedicated to a quest that ends at death and not before.
It was the Pharisees, not the Christians, who made judgments about where people were positioned. The Christian, centered set, worldview is one that makes mission possible. When you are focused on position, you construct walls that inhibit effective mission activity. The closed set is closer to a sect than a movement, the movement of Christianity. Sects tend to subdivide into oblivion and die out. They begin with an attitude “we are right and everyone else is wrong.” Then, during the natural course for human beings, insecurities arise: “well I thought we were right, but after learning more about you, I think I’m more right than you are.” This leads to division and ultimate disintegration. It is not the way of Christianity.
The centered set recognizes that even people who don’t know Christ, have imprinted in their being, a notion that there is a God of creation, who they do not yet know. The mission-minded Apostle Paul said it this way in Romans 1:19-20: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” (The Message) Such a person who is at that point, in the missionary perspective, is far from Christ, representing one of the dots in the centered set diagram that may be quite a distance from the cross. But there is great hope, and with that hope, there is an attitude of acceptance because a person is on the divine journey even though they may not know it. This worldview is the only way that churches can reach people that most churches don’t reach. The key element is a worldview issue. The more we focus on denominational distinctives and ignore spiritual globalization, the more ineffective we are in reaching people for Jesus Christ.
Help write my new book and provide me feedback on this article. Please comment below! – Kent