There is a popular sentiment within Christianity that goes something like this: as long as Jesus Christ is being preached, it doesn’t matter what particular denomination is preaching Him, nor does it matter which of those denominations is growing in size. Jesus, as the center of all Christian faiths, is what is most important.
This isn’t a new sentiment, of course, but as ecumenism grows and gains momentum, I come across this attitude more and more.
Recently, I was lamenting to a few friends how my particular version of Christianity seems to hardly be making a dent in the overall American population (even though it is the fastest-growing denomination in the United States). This map betrays that reality in a very graphic way, showing how in much of the United States we either make up less than 1% of the population, or there are so few of us that we don’t register at all.
Once again, however, I had individuals who were quick to remind me that it is not about denominationalism. As long as Jesus is being preached – be it from Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, non-denoms, whomever – we should celebrate. After all, what makes each denomination peculiar is not what is important. Such minor and side issues should not prevent us from celebrating the spreading of the gospel – and, in fact, emphasizing these differences handicaps us when it comes to witnessing because it displays a lack of unity to those we are trying to convince.
I won’t be the first person to ever say this, nor will I be the last, but if truth and doctrine were simply propositional, then I would agree. But truth is not simply propositional; it is personal. That is, the truth we share with the world is not simply some dry, intellectual, objective information that borders on the arbitrary or irrelevant. We are sharing about a Person. And, as such, what we say about that Person matters, no matter how “insignificant” each claim may appear to our human eyes.
Let me illustrate.
One of my favorite people in the world is my dad. He’s a genuinely loveable and likeable person. But what if others who knew him didn’t quite see him the same way and they decided to share false information about my dad around town. Do you think I would sit back, shrug my shoulders, and say, “Well, at least they’re talking about my dad”?
To extend the illustration even further, though, what if the overall “picture” of my dad was fairly positive that these people were giving, but there were seemingly-minor issues that somewhat undermined the overall premise of their message? Would I not still be concerned with setting the record straight?
This, I think, is what happens within Christianity. We give various messages about who God is, yet we shrug our shoulders, saying these diverging messages are minor and unimportant. But truth, as I already mentioned, is about a Person – a Person who has thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions; who longs to have people come into a fully-trusting relationship with Himself. If some of the so-called “truths” that are shared about Him undermine the overall premise of His trustworthiness, however, it certainly stunts the effectiveness of that reconciling message.
The most succinct – yet beautiful – explanation of God in the Bible is simply, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Every doctrine any denomination holds either supports or contradicts this claim. Subsequently, any doctrine that contradicts this premise should be rapidly expunged, and any denomination that refuses to do so, in reality, takes itself outside the bounds of being a truly Christian denomination. This is why it does not make sense to subscribe to the idea that so long as Jesus is being preached, we shouldn’t squabble about denominationalism. The truth is, we all preach slightly different versions of Jesus in varying degrees of loveliness and attractiveness.
One example of this is the teaching that God is going to burn the wicked in hell forever and ever for a finite lifetime of sinning. This teaching either enhances or contradicts the overall premise that God is love and, therefore, should either be wholeheartedly subscribed to or immediately annihilated. It is not simply a minor side-issue, as if it had no bearing on what people think of God; whether they think He is truly love or a cold-blooded monster (as popular atheists so often like to portray Him).
Do you think God cares about whether He is viewed by people as “love” or a “monster”? If our hearts are truly reconciled to Him, we will be jealous for His reputation and how He is perceived. This does not mean we simply reject true biblical teachings because from our perspective they don’t align with our man-made perceptions of God’s love; it does mean, however, that we study the Bible with God’s love as our hermeneutic (ie., the lens through which we see everything in Scripture) and are chiefly concerned with demonstrating Him to be trustworthy.
This is why I care about distinctives within Christianity.