Building a Bridge


 Building Bridges to a Fragmented Church

                                       Matthew 16:13-20

During a meeting of his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked about “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Disciples had varied answers: “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

Jesus asked them a direct question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, Peter said, Thou Art the Christ the Son of the living God.” Jesus reminded Peter that his confession was not by man, but by the prompting of the Father in heaven.

And, upon Peter’s confession, Jesus said “upon this rock (confession of faith in Christ the Son of the living God) I will build My Church.” [1] Simply stated, the foundational rock of the church is on faith in Christ, the Son of the Living God; pure and simple.

If Jesus were to ask about such a question today, there would be many answers, as they did at Caesarea Philippi 2000 years ago. In fact, if the question were asked today, it would be many more answers than then. Today there are multiple views of the church upon which Jesus built.

In the Handbook of Denominations in the United States, the Tenth edition in 1995 (so there are probably many more now), there were included almost 200 denominations, sub-divisions and other groups that are divided over their teachings which are a little different from others.

For example, Baptist, considered the largest denomination in the United States, have thirty-two separate Baptist denominational groups. The Church of God has twenty-four sub-groups differing slightly in their own doctrinal tenants. The Adventist group, have 13 divisions; Brethren have 11 divisions; Christian have 8 divisions; Church of God have 24 divisions; Episcopal/Anglican have 10 divisions; Friends (Quakers) have 7 divisions; Latter Day Saints (Mormon) have 5 divisions; Lutherans have 11 divisions; Mennonites have 13 divisions; Methodist have 14 divisions; Moravians have 6 divisions; Old Catholic have 6 divisions; Orthodox (Eastern) have 10 divisions; Pentecostals have 11 divisions; Presbyterians have 9 divisions; Reformed have 23 divisions. Not to be out done by the Christians, Judaism has 4 divisions. Although all the many divisions and subdivisions of churches who distinguish themselves from others as the “one true church” – fundamentalists, dispensationalists, conservatives, non-denominationalist, reformed, Anabaptists, Wesleyans, holiness, Pentecostals, Charismatics, progressive, radicals, or mainline.

According to a recent survey from Pew Research Center, of those in America who are religious, 70.6% are Christians; 5.9% are non-Christian; and non-in-particular are 15.6%.  So, it seems that Christians still have the majority in this country, yet we are so diversified that we our influence for Christ has decreased dramatically. Non-Christian faiths have increased since 2007; atheists and agnostics has given the greater increase since 2007 from 12% to 15.8%. 

What has happened to the church Jesus established?  Man has gotten his own ego into the equation. We think that we are more intelligent, more educated, and more spiritual than Jesus.  Yet there is still one central idea of a “true church.”  We have changed, diluted, added to, taken away from, and created our own “church.”

If we are to fulfill the great commission Jesus gave us to reach the world, I believe we need to build some bridges to a fragmented church.  The church is divided; weakened, and are losing our influence for the cause of Christ. We have become a social club with all our own ideas about church and letting the world go to hell.  Jesus warns about being divided, about building foolishly. It is evident that we are NOT reaching the numbers we should be reaching because our foundations are not solid. We are losing ground as the non-Christian crowd is gaining.

Jesus shared a parable to his disciples called the “The House upon the Rock.”  He said to them, “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded upon the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.[2]  Remember, Jesus said, “and great was its fall.”  Why are we not winning more and more people to Jesus Christ today?  Are we building upon other than the rock?  Are we divided with your own ideas about serving God?

I had a dream one night, which has re-occurred several times in different ways, but with the basic same subject – division within the body of Christ and how the body of Christ is suffering from the divisions. 

In my dream, a friend of mine and I were sitting under the trunk of a big old Oak tree waiting for a weekly scheduled community singing.  We were eagerly awaiting the Servants of God Quartet to come on stage and sing.

Usually the area was filled with people waiting to listen to these guys sing.  It was almost time and only my friend and I were there.  We were both out of town for a few days and didn’t know what had happened.  We wondered why people were not beginning to gather to hear this group sing.

We then saw one of the guys setting up on stage with his mic and speakers. Well, maybe they were just late getting it all together to sing.

I turned around and saw one of the other guys setting up in a ditch to my right; turned to my left saw another one of the guys setting up at the edge of lawn next door.  Finally, I looked back to my rear and saw the other guy across the road under some trees setting up.  What was going on?   Hey, that sounds great, looks like they were going to have some kind of a round-a-about, singing?   

 The first guy started singing, then started making comments about how he was singing to the glory of God.  The guy in the ditch started to sing and made the same comments that he was singing to the glory of God.  The third man in the neighbor’s yard said the same thing.   What was going on?  I looked around and there was still no one else but my friend and me. 

Then we heard the fourth guy in the trees across the road singing a song and before he sang, he said that he was singing to the glory of God. It seemed that all four of these guys were declaring with some sort of message that they were singing to the glory of God exclusive of the other three.  What’s going on here?  Only the two of us are awaiting the singing event, and now there seemed to be four different messages of the same kind, but with a sense of hostility from each of the four Servants of God.

Suddenly it dawned on us that the Servants of God had had a spat and split up, each of them claiming that they were singing for the glory of God (excluding the other guys).  My friend looked at me and remarked, “They all claim they are singing for the glory of God, but it looks to me like they are embarrassing God, not glorifying Him.” 

I looked at him and remarked, “and now we know why we the only ones here.” 

I walked over to the first man, handed him a business card, and said, “if you would like to talk about it, give me a call?” I got no response.

I walked over the one in the ditch and did the same thing, I got a grunt and a nod. I then walked over to the third guy and extended a card and told him the same thing, he said, “thank you,” and no other response.  
I walked across the road to the fourth man and extended him the same invitation.  He said, “We really need to talk with you.  I said to him, “Get the others together and let me know.  I’m waiting!”

I don’t know for sure what that dream was all about, but I wonder if it could be about the multiple church denominations in the world, all spouting off about “serving to the glory of God” in our own inclusive ways, but not willing to get together and settle our differences, while we are simply embarrassing God by our own prideful differences, and missing out a tremendous opportunity for reaching Jesus.  People were no longer attending the singings because there was a rift in the group, who had together touched many lives for Jesus Christ. 

It was interesting to me, that in the dream only one of the four wanted to talk about tiff that had split up one of the most popular gospel groups around. And only one said “we” need to talk about this. 

Are we doing an embarrassment to God by claiming to serve to His glory while we are fighting amongst ourselves with our own stubbornness.

A member in my Bible study group just the other day said it like this:  In the Essentials we need unity, in nonessentials we need liberty, but in all the essentials and nonessentials we need love. We need to come together in the love of Christ and get about the work we were commissioned to do.

 If we could follow the example of the early church (post-Pentecost), we could probably reach the world with message of Jesus Christ in a very short time, like those disciples did.  They were from all walks of life, different regions of the country, different languages, but they turned the world upside down in a short time, going from house to house, breaking bread together and sharing their testimonies about experience with God in Christ under anointing of the Holy Spirit.

When will we learn why we are not reaching people – we are divisive instead of united as the body of Christ.  We need to build bridges to span the difference and bring about unity within the body of Christ.

 Let’s get back to the idea of the “true church.”  The true church is built upon the confession that Peter confessed at Caesarea Philippi. Paul said to the Romans “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”[3] It doesn’t matter the name of your church, group, sub-group, or denomination, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[4]  In the essentials and the nonessentials we are to love Christ Jesus as one and reach, teach, and equip others to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

If you have not made the confession that Peter made, you are NOT part of the church of the living God. Peter’s prompting was by the Spirit of God to make his confession. It’s plain and simple.

What we need to stop holding on to our divisions, sub-divisions, and denominations, and turn our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.[5]  

We need to move toward building bridges to the fragmented and broken body of Christ that He built on that rock of faith that Peter received upon which he confessed. Our grandiose ideas don’t mean a hill of beans. 

We need to start breaking down all the man-made divisions of churchianity and rebuilding on the rock. It doesn’t matter what the name of your church is, the only thing that matters is your faith in Jesus Christ. That is essential!

I imagine there will be some disappointed people in heaven when we see people in heaven who were not a part of our denomination, sub-group, or division. I can also imagine there will be people who will not be there who have trusted in their church, denomination, their infallible tenants of doctrine, and their stubborn divisive ideas.  Like John said, “I must decrease, and He must increase.”[6]

My dear friends, labels are divisive. Labels are often simply marketing tools. Automobiles, refrigerators, computers, and underwear have labels to divide other items of the same kind to market their wares.

In my lifetime I’ve moved from one destination to another with a Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Buick, Cadillac, and now in a Honda. I have been transported on a horse, a buggy, and a hay wagon. The important thing is that we get to the destination.  The idea is that no matter the brand name of the automobile is, if it transports me from one place to another, it is a transporter.

Church labels are also simply marketing tools, too.  I am sure I will reunite some of my good friends from the Baptist church, some from the Methodist church, some from the Presbyterian church, some from the Catholic church, some from the Church of God, some from the United Pentecostal church, some from the non-denominational church when I get to heaven.  And I will probably miss some friends who were banking on their denominations to get them there, will not not there.

Only if I build on the rock (a sincere confession of faith in Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God and follow Him) am I the church.  We need to get together and sincerely pray about breaking our divisions and build some strong bridges to our unity in the body of Christ. 

We do have joint services in some communities like Thanksgiving, or other special days, but have we tried to build a bridge to span our differences? For the sake of lost humanity and to the glory of God, we need a prayerful concerted effort to build bridges to become the true church. 

I believe that our nation is going down the drain because we have no power to make a difference as a church.  One of the major problems is that we do not work together. That we do not have a unified spirit of Christ as Jesus established 2,000 years ago. I am so pleased that our town has a sign welcoming people into the town of Atlanta that says, “One City Under God.” Wow! If we could only have a church sign welcoming people saying, “One Body in Christ.”

Hey guys, it’s up to us.  We are God’s only plan.  He has no plan B. 

JB 081721

[1] Matthew 16:13-20

[2] Matthew 7:24-27

[3] Romans 8:14

[4] Galatians 3:26-28

[5] Hebrews 12:2

[6] John 3:30

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