It seems like–in America especially–Satan has largely succeeded in dividing the Church. Not only are Christians broken into factions, sometimes called denominations, but individuals in a single church are often isolated from one another. The Christian community talks about unity. But how many of us develop friendships outside our Bible studies (or cliques, or churches)? How many Baptists would have anything to do with Pentecostals, or Protestants with Catholics? (I am speaking to individual believers, not congregations.)
But, some say, God can’t really expect Baptists and Pentecostals to get along, and certainly not Protestants and Catholics. We’ll have to call it good at civility. Firstly, there’s a long history there, not all of it pretty. Secondly, what about doctrine? What about traditions and practices? Someone has got it wrong somewhere, that’s why there were arguments that ultimately resulted in schisms.
…for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assign to each.” (1 Corinthians 3:3-5, ESV)
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:14-15, ESV)
As far as I know, that’s written in all copies of Scripture. If we are Christ-followers, disciples who want to daily conform to God’s will, Christ Himself charges us with a great responsibility. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, ESV)
But it’s hard–very hard, I’ll admit–to have this sort of love “in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) There are some weighty disagreements that I can’t brush off as trite. What about denominations that have accepted issues of sin? What about the areas that other Christians have bordered on, even crossed into, heresy? God doesn’t mean for us to hold hands and overlook those things… does He?
Let me be very careful to say that Scripture is clear that we should have discernment and that a lifestyle of habitual sin disqualifies a person from fellowship with the body of Christ. (See Matthew 18:15-17.) However, I’d like to further assert, based on the scripture mentioned thus far, that any Christ-follower ought to have fellowship with any other Christ-follower. That is, any person who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who has rescued believers from their sin through His death and resurrection, ought to be an encourager of any other believer in their pursuit of Christ and Christ-likeness. Nothing in this life besides the pursuit of Christ and Christ-likeness matters.
Therefore, pray! Pray fervently and constantly for personal holiness and clear guidance from the Lord, in your own life and in the lives of the believers you know. And encourage! I think God has given the gift of exhortation to many, but it’s seldom practiced. Encourage other believers in their pursuit of Christ, to study His Word and to pray. Where there are doctrinal mistakes and misunderstandings, they can only be corrected by the prompting of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. Ultimately, however, my thoughts on the subject mean nothing. Try Hebrews 10:23-25 for some proper food for thought.