Harmony on the Ship

Paul Billheimer in his book, Love Covers, expressed a basic truth:

The continuous and widespread fragmentation of the Church has been the scandal of the ages. It has been Satan’s master strategy. The sin of disunity probably has caused more souls to be lost than all other sins combined.”

We were all lost in darkness and sin when God in His mercy found and rescued us. The Captain called us to join the navy ship that will carry us safely to the other shore.

The Master accepted us with our sins, failures and foibles, yet we came on board and soon started to pick on others who were different.

“Why are you not wearing our uniform?” one group asks another.

“You don’t use the 1611 translation of our manual, stay in your deep, dark sea!” says one group to another.

Some sailors even said, “Anyone who doesn’t have a Tulip pass code belongs to a pirate ship.”

We are all on the ship of Faith to serve. Different tasks for different folks.

Some rescue others from the water; some train the crew on how to work diligently.

Some help others detect warning signs and avoid dangers; some nurse the sick back into health; some ward off the enemies with mighty weapons and some work on the engines – the power house. Yet there’s schism in the ship.

Some members speak to the Captain in a personal language; critics said that language is fake, jibber jabber and extinct.

There were debates over payments of one tenth. There were quarrels over music – some wanted hymns, some preferred contemporary music.

Some wanted fixed patterns of meeting, others desired spontaneity.

There were arguments over timing of the tribulation storm – some said it would hit after we landed safely on shore, others said before it, and a third category said we are already in it.

Each group blasted the other as heretics.

Fights broke out. Some sailors were no longer on speaking terms. Members began to spite members from other groups.

Like children squabbling at the dinner table, they were pointing cutlery at each other, cutting one another off from supplies of cooked rice and stew right in the Father’s presence.

Some broke away to form their own “elite” groups – little empires built around their sailors – while attacking ex-colleagues from afar.

But the Captain had prayed: “That all of them may be one…” (John 17:21). That was His purpose. We have one Captain – Jesus Christ; one deck – the Kingdom; It’s one ship but many rooms. So why are there schisms?

Many Christians have made an idol out of their denominations. They carry it on their heads like a bag of cement.

I have reached a point where I don’t let anyone pigeon-hole me with denomination. I leave people to speculate on that. I simply want to be known as a Christian. It’s the content of a bottle that matters, not the label on it. Regrettably, many still refuse to see beyond the labels.

I was raised in an Anglican church. My childhood memories were of bright Sunday mornings; of ringing church bells, classic hymns and big church pews.

When I was 7, my mother began attending a Pentecostal church. Being that the Anglican communion was a ‘family church,’ that change earned my parents some flak from family and friends.

We were scorned for attending a “penterascal” church “where young pastors sleep with other men’s wives.” Our family patriarch became so hostile that he withheld his pecuniary promises to us.

Years later, in my undergraduate days, I began to attend a fervently praying church close by. Soon, I began to get snide remarks and mockeries – from fellow Christians – each time I mentioned the fellowship I attended. I had to put up some reticence as a barricade.

Even my home church began to attack this other praying church as heretical and fanatical, urging members to dispose of their books.

I soon observed that my recent church, though it claims to be “non-denominational,” also had a dim view of other churches. If you didn’t keep up with their litany of regulations, you were treated like an outcast.

In spite of the rigid rules, the same vices they decried in other groups were also in theirs. I decided to join another fellowship.

When the news broke that I now attended a Charismatic church, feathers were ruffled; some old friends instantly distanced themselves.

Apparently, they expected negative things to befall me as “proof” that I left the right way, but my life actually improved to the glory of God.

During my service year, I began to attend a Fundamentalist church close to where I lived, but during a sermon one Sunday, the leader of the church rather facetious said: “All these other denominations are no longer following the truth. They used to, but not anymore.”

That was it: the same mentality I had encountered time and again – “we alone” have the whole truth and others don’t.

Even online, I saw unnecessary battles among Christians. They seem to deploy more efforts in running down fellow Christians than reaching out to the lost and the hurting. It was tragic.

A friend once sent me a link to David Cloud’s Way of Life February 2016 article. I read it over and again and what I saw there was a ministry of condemnation.

There’s no way we will ever achieve anything good together if we keep engaging in denominational cat fights.

Romans 14:1 “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters.”

Some matters are essential e.g the Divine Trinity, the Deity of Christ, exclusive salvific role of Christ, salvation by grace through faith and the final authority of the Bible etc.

On the other hand, some matters are disputable and non-essentials e.g. type of music, dress codes for women and jewellery use, use of anointing oil, church administration, observance of Christmas or Easter etc.

We must learn to accept Christians who differ in disputable matters just as God has accepted them.

Romans 15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Christ didn’t accept us because we were perfect; He didn’t accept us because we met up with a standard of traditions, a labyrinth of denominational regulations or a 5-point theological system. Therefore, our acceptance of others shouldn’t be conditioned on them.

John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This “one another” must transcend denominational, ethnic, national or racial barriers. Otherwise, we are not living up to our Christian discipleship.

It’s a shame how the church in Nigeria has been so ethnically divided to the point that a politician would mandate his kinsmen never to attend any church led by another ethnic group. Anyone defending such hateful rhetoric needs to examine whose disciple he/she really is.

Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

That means we must emphasize what unites us instead of what divides us.

If we really adhered to this, a number of combative Christian Facebook groups would be taken down. While some of these discussion forums do foster mutual understanding, most of the time, they engender strife and needless debates on trivial matters.

In Mark 9:33-34 Jesus asked His disciples “What were you arguing about on the road?” They “had argued about who was the greatest.”

Notice that this was also in the apostles – the primal tendency of assuming superiority over others.

No matter the ministry God has called us to; no matter what gifts, talents or anointing we have; no matter our level of knowledge and achievements, we are all equal before God who called us.

Those working in the power house must not denigrate those warning others of dangers.

Those providing meals should not discredit the work of those rescuing the drowning.

Those removing the barnacles from the ship must not repudiate those warding off the sharks.

Our callings and ministries cannot all be the same. The foot should not say “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” and the eye shouldn’t say to the hand “I don’t need you” (1 Cor. 12:15, 21).

In Mark 9:38-39 John said to Jesus “We saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.”

Doesn’t the charge of the disciples sound familiar yet?

“Shut up! You’re not part of our little group!” or “Unless you are in our mould, your works in His name are fake.”

But Jesus pointed to the inner content of their faith. If their faith is truly in Christ and the fruits of their life testify to it, even if they are not in our group or agree with us in every detail, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’m neither approving of blind tolerance nor blanket rejection, but love and acceptance of all who truly believe in Jesus and adhere to His Word.

Recently, I’ve had to challenge a Christian guy:

“If you are truly serving Christ; if you were redeemed by His blood and if your citizenship is in heaven, where is your ethnicity? Where is your heritage? Where is your identity? We all gave up our earthly class, earthly heritage and tribes to become citizens of a different Kingdom.”

We cannot see eye to eye on every issue but we must be willing to build bridges and learn something from fellow Christians instead of cutting them off in arrogance or attacking them from afar in ignorance.

Anglicans taught me orderliness. Pentecostals led me to salvation and taught me how to walk in the Spirit. Charismatics taught me how to love and worship.

Fundamentalists helped me to be grounded doctrinally. Calvinists taught me apologetics and the non-denominationals taught me spiritual warfare.

I’m still learning from others.

 

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