I have to admit that I stole the idea for the following story, and I do not remember where:The church rejoiced when the Jones and the Martins decided to join the fellowship. Both families were drawn by the friendliness of the people, the magnificence of the choir, and the churches involvement in mission. Another reason they joined the Newtonville Community Church was because it was the only church in town.
Newtonville was a small town the average traveler missed; all it took was one blink, and you could drive from city limit to city limit; and the only building you could see from the highway was the church.You may be surprised to know that of the 273 people who lived in Newtonville, only 64 of them were members of the church, but on Sunday morning the church was full, for when you include the children, the church could have as many as 110 of God’s people present.
All was well in the Newtonville Community Church until the adult Sunday School class had a lesson on the end times. As the teacher talked about how difficult it is to understand what the Bible says about the final judgment, one of the members interrupted, “It’s no problem at all. I just read that book ‘Left Behind,’ and it clearly uses what the Bible says to outline what the ends time will be like. The Lord will return at the trumpet sound and reign on earth for 1000 years.”Another class member was of the opinion that the 1000 years spoken of in the Bible was symbolic, “Imagine 1000 years, that’s a long time, it represents the fact that Jesus is ruling now and will rule for eternity.”
Well debate turned into raised voices, and raised voices turned into yelling, and people said things they shouldn’t have, until one elder said, “Well if that is the way you feel about it, I’m going to start my own church,” and he did, and 32 of the members went with him.They started the Newtonville Premillennial Community Church. Now there are two churches in town. The choirs were about half as good as when there was one church, and it seems that the two churches combined only did about half as much mission as the original church.
A year passed when both churches started having a fight over the idea of predestination. Can you believe it? You could hear the Calvinist saying, “If you read Romans it says that we are predestined. God chooses us before we could possible choose God.”“No, no, no, ‘whosoever will,’ that’s what the Bible says. Whosoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Well you guessed it, voices were raised, tempers lost, and before you knew it, there was a split in both churches.
Now there were four churches in Newtonville and each had 16 members. There was the Newtonville Pre-millennial Providence Community Church and the Newtonville Pre-millennial Free-will Community Church, the Newtonville A-millennial Providence Community Church, and the Newtonville Pre-millennial Free-will Community church. The choirs in the four churches were about one-fourth as good as the choir when they all went to church together, and with so much money going to pay the light bill in four buildings, there was not much left over for mission.Well it didn’t stop there. There was a funeral of a dear man who did not belong to any of the churches, but the pastors of all four churches spoke at the funeral. The first pastor said, “We will miss old Zeak, but he is in a better place. You know the Lord said to the thief on the cross, today, today you will be with me in paradise. Well today, Old Zeak is in paradise.”
The second pastor to speak said, “I too will miss Zeak, but what the Bible teaches is that Zeak will be raised at the last trumpet when the dead in Christ will rise.”Most everyone at the funeral was civil enough not to extend the debate, that was until the next Sunday during Sunday School. There debate broke out and tempers flared and some said, “Well just start a new church that believes like we do. And you know there are now eight churches in Newtonville: There is the Newtonville A-millennial, Providence, Wait until Jesus Comes Resurrection Community Church and the Newtonville Pre-millennial, Free Will, Immediate Resurrection Community Church. Well you get the point without me giving the names of all eight churches. Each church now had eight members.
During the presidential election year there were more splits over politics, which gave rise to eight new churches, now a total of sixteen churches in Newtonville with each church having four members, with no choirs, and no money to do mission. Can I give you the name of two of the churches: The Newtonville Pre-millennial, Free-will, Wait until Jesus Comes Resurrection, Democratic Community Church, and the Newtonville Pre-millennial, Providence, Wait Until Jesus Comes Resurrection, Republican Community Church.Once people start to split, it’s hard to stop. About a year later there were people in the churches who said the only way to interpret the Bible was to be literal, and others who wanted to leave room for deeper study of the various forms of literature in the Bible. You can only guess how difficult that debate was. But the debate led to folks leaving their churches and starting new churches.
Now in Newtonville there were 32 churches with two members in each church. Actually, most of the churches consisted of a husband and his wife. All was well until the husbands read in First Timothy 2: “I Do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”Whew, 64 churches with one member in each church, no choir, no community mission, but 64 different people who all believe they are the one perfect church. Everybody in each of the 64 churches now had a church that believed exactly the way they believed, and the church practice was exactly the way they wanted it. They sang only the hymns they liked and celebrated Communion as often as it pleased them. Each of the one-member church’s requirements for ordination was exactly as all the members believe it should be; that is, as the one-member wanted it. Some like going to church for two hours and they could do so now, I think only 2 of the 64 one member churches worshipped for two hours; the other 62 one-member churches took advantage of the church-of-one concept and kept worship down to ten minutes.
So which church are you going to join, The Newtonville Amillennial, Free Will, Wait Until Jesus Comes Resurrection, Democratic, Literal Bible, Quiet Women Community Church. Or the Newtonville, Pre-millennial, Providence, Wait Until Jesus Comes Resurrection, Republican, Bible Study, Let the Women Talk Community Church. Or the imperfect church of which you are a member, that has other members with whom you may disagree, but you do everything in your power together to honor Jesus Church through worship and participating in his mission and upholding the unity of this diverse church. Jesus’ only recorded prayer for today’s church is this, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one,” which church will you join? Amen.
I have a dear cousin who in some ways has a different theological perspective than my own. We are both Christian, no doubt about that; however she is not a Presbyterian. This is not to say that Presbyterians are right and her church is wrong, it’s just we have different understandings. I hope that neither one of us is so presumptuous as to think that we are always right and other denominations are wrong. It would be an expression of elitism for us to believe that of the thousands of Christian denominations that my church says it best. My church’s theology is right – always right. The practice of my church is the only one truly based upon the teachings of the Apostles.
Some churches worship on Saturday, most on Sunday. Some churches only baptize by immersion, others pouring, and still others by sprinkling, and then there are those who will baptize by any of these modes for what matters to them is that water is used. Some churches baptize children and others only baptize those who make a personal profession of faith. Some churches celebrate the Sacrament of Communion every time they meet others only four times per year. Some churches welcome the leadership of women and others will not allow women to even speak in church. Some churches allow leadership to gay and lesbian Christians and others consider the sin of homosexuality such a sin that all gay and lesbian people are condemned to hell. Some churches believe the Bible is literal throughout, thus for example the world was created in six twenty-four hour periods. While other churches understand that the Bible is an ancient book written by ancient people to an ancient church, thus the Bible must be studied within this context, all the while understanding that the Bible is inspired by God and through its pages God still speaks to the church. There are Pre-millennial believers, Post-millennial believers and A-millennial believers. I could go on.I think we have to admit that the church of Jesus Christ is very diverse, and rather than condemn what would be most of the church to hell, or believe they are in some way inferior because they do not believe the way we do, does great damage to our ability as the church to spread the good news that God has come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Maybe a better way is to never stop the discussions. Never stop listening to what others understand to be the truth and maybe we can learn from each other.
I know the temptation to say, “The Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it.” But, the problem is that the ancient book we call the Bible is interpreted in so many different ways. Who is right? Only God knows, and the best way for us to know is to discuss and learn from each other rather than argue.