So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Romans 12:5
Have you ever wondered why there are so many hundreds of different Christian denominations?
If we all believe in Jesus, why can’t we agree on everything else? How can two people, two churches, or two theologies, look at the same Scripture and come away with completely opposite interpretations? Then add to these two divergent views hundreds more. It seems sometimes Christianity has splintered into so many warring camps, each claiming they are the only true believers.
How does this happen?
If you want to know how, study history. I think the more important question to ask is: Why does this happen?
There are lots of reasons, one of which is the attempt, consciously or unwittingly, to mingle the pure teachings of Christ with man-made doctrines and the ways of the world.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it’s also a function of human nature. The human mind believes what it sees. But it also sees what it believes.
Imagine you and I are sitting across from each other at the table with the salt and pepper in the middle. To me, the salt is on the right. To you it’s on the left. Vice versa for the pepper.
We could playfully argue with each other about whether the salt is on the right or the left, but we would understand it’s actually a matter of perspective that determines what we see.
Now imagine that the “salt and pepper” is actually a theological issue but we don’t realize we’re looking at it from different perspectives. The argument is no longer in jest, but becomes heated and judgemental. I don’t know if you’ve ever had those kinds of theological discussions, but they are no fun. Both sides think they are right and won’t budge an inch. Neither side realizes that the other person is looking from a different viewpoint and therefore sees something different.
Once I had a “conversation” with someone who used the very same Bible verses to prove his point that I used to disprove it. That was a real eye-opener. We were obviously sitting on opposite sides of the theological table.
Different interpretations of the Bible
How can Christians disagree on important Biblical teachings?
There are two basic reasons: the filter or lens we look through and the perspective, or point of view, we look from.
You’ve probably heard the joke about the lady who looked out her kitchen window and noticed that her neighbor was hanging up dirty laundry to dry on the clothesline. This went on for several days. She got pretty judgemental of her neighbor until one day her husband cleaned the kitchen windows. Miraculously, the neighbor’s wash was clean that day when she hung it up to dry.
The dirt was not on the laundry but on the window. Duh!
It’s hard to notice when we have “dirt” on our mental windows. It colors the way we see things. We think something or someone else is the problem.
If you grew up in a church that preached God was wrathful and merciless with the tiniest sin and was ready to punish you any and every minute, that view will color the way you interpret the description of God as Love in the New Testament.
The challenge is to wash away all the cultural, sociological, and religious “dirt” from the way we look at ourselves, the world, and especially the Bible. It’s not always easy to realize there is dirt on our windows. We just see what we see. We believe what we see. Then we end up seeing what we believe, sometimes even after the dirt is washed off.
All this affects the way we interpret the Bible.
This is why baptism, not with water but the Holy Spirit, is vital. It washes away dirt we don’t even realize is there.
The other main reason we disagree on what the Bible says is that we are looking at it from different perspectives.
Let’s say I have six iPhones and strap them to my body, one on my head, one on the shoulders, one at my waist, one at my knees, one on my foot, and one on my back. If I turn on the video camera on each and walk down the street, what happens?
Even though my body is only doing one thing, each video from the six cameras will show something different, especially the one facing backwards.
If I come to a cat, in the video taken from the camera on my foot it will look like a monster, but to the others it won’t be so intimidating. If I go up to a waist-high wall, the cameras on the feet and the knees won’t see anything but the wall. The video taken at waist level may just be able to see something over the top, the videos from the shoulder and head will see a wider view and the one from my back won’t even see the wall.
And yet my body is in the exact same place.
In his letters to the Christians in Rome and Corinth (see Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12), Paul addresses the simple fact that everyone in the church has a different place and function. He metaphorically describes the church as “the body of Christ.”
Just as each part of the human body has a different place and function that coordinates and contributes to the whole, so in the body of Christ, all believers have a unique place and a function that no one else can fill, different gifts, talents, and abilities. He encourages them all to work together in harmony and appreciate how all the different gifts work together as a whole.
Just as a cat may appear as a monster at foot level, so a challenge may appear to some in the body of Christ as a terrible demon that is about to devour everything that is good. But to others, the same problem is just an opportunity to express love.
Just as the feet and knee videos can’t see over a waist-high wall, some members in the body of Christ may say, “We’re just not meant to understand these things.” And as the video from the back doesn’t even see the wall, some Christians just don’t even see something as an issue.
Perhaps some of our theological differences are not so much in disagreement with each other as they are differences of perspective in looking at the same thing.
We still need this message today
I used to get all up in arms when I found someone I disagreed with theologically. I was a nitpicker. I knew the salt was on the right of the pepper. End of story. No discussion necessary.
As I have matured in Christ I, have come to love all members of the body of believers, even if I radically disagree with some of their theology. I can appreciate that they are part of the whole and am grateful for them.
Maybe you are in a church that is the very right hand in the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean that everyone else has to be just like you.
But isn’t that how many Christians think? They know they are sincere Christians and falsely assume everyone must be just like them in order to be Christian. They have defined “Christian” as being the right hand. They even have their suspicions of the left hand: “I mean really, they have everything backwards.”
The body of Christ is not a giant right hand. There are many members or parts and each has a unique place, perspective, and function. Each has something different to offer to the whole that no one else can.
What if all those who believe in Christ could appreciate all others who do? Instead of arguing over our differences, we need to appreciate what everyone else is bringing to the table. Instead of arguing over whether the hand or the foot, the knee or the elbow is right, we need to rejoice in the wholeness and unity of our faith in Christ.
“Is Christ divided?”
Paul asks this exact question (see I Corinthians 1:13). How would the world respond to Christ if it felt the unity among the members of his body instead of all the bickering that sometimes goes on today?
The problem arises when we look at things from our perspective on the body of Christ. Your body does not have eyes on its shoulders, waist, knees, feet, and back. Your eyes are in the head. So it is with the body of Christ.
Christ is the head of the body, the church. We must give up the assumption that the perspective from our place in the body is more valid than what Christ sees. We must subordinate our view to see what Christ does.
This is how Paul could say in humility, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (I Corinthians 13:9, 10 KJV)
In other words, we only see part of the picture from our own place in the body of Christ, but when we let Christ show us what he sees, we will see the whole picture and our partial view will disappear.
To answer Paul’s question, I have realized that the true body of Christ is not divided. We are not a bunch of body parts flopping all over the place. We cannot operate as separate parts or without all parts combined in one. The unity of Christ’s body already exists. We just need to notice and appreciate it.
An invitation: Even if you disagree heartily with a fellow Christian’s theology, I invite you to appreciate their place, function, and purpose in the body of Christ. Maybe you even question if they are even Christian. But you cannot see their heart the way God does.
We may not agree on whether the salt is on the right or the left, but we can agree that the salt and the pepper are together.
We may not agree on every detail of doctrine, but everyone who believes and confesses that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, I will cherish as a member of the body of Christ. I hope you will join me.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the body of Christ. Please leave a comment below.