Faith musings from the seat of a forklift.
Shipping companies. There are really quite a few of them out there. Why is that? Aren’t they all the same? Not really. Yes, at the most basic level, all shipping companies ship freight. However, that is about as far as it goes. Some companies specialize in certain types of freight. There are companies that only specialize in Hawaii bound freight. Other companies only specialize in over-sized freight. Still other companies deal primarily in trans-continental rail freight. Sometimes shipping companies with varying markets do work together when shipping from one market to another. However, I would be hard pressed to think that there should only be one shipping company, as that would be a monopoly, and it would be illegal.
What about churches? There really are quite a few churches out there. We have Lutheran, Baptist, Adventist, Mormon, and Pentecostal, just to name a few. Why do we have so many different types of churches? Don’t they all say the same thing? Aren’t they all the same? Not really.
Let’s back up a couple of steps. A couple weeks ago I discussed how some people, who do not identify as Christians, excuse themselves for rejecting the Christian faith. However, I did not discuss why some who do identify as Christians reject either going to church or reject affirming membership with any specific church body. Alas, the primary excuse given is that all churches are, or at least should be, the same. Honestly, they aren’t.
Laying down my hand, I have been affiliated with diverse selection of church bodies over the decades. I have been a member of two Baptist congregations, a non-denominational, and a confirmed member of four Lutheran congregations across three different branches of the Lutheran church, as well as attending services for Pentecostal, Adventist, and Roman Catholic services from time to time. Such being the case, I have seen first hand how different these churches can be, even within a denomination.
Time and space do not permit for me to post every possible difference within every denomination existing today. However, there are a few things that are common to the Lutheran faith that I am in full agreement with, thus my being Lutheran.
1. Hearing that my sins are forgiven. This is huge to me. I am a sinner in constant need of forgiveness. When the pastor declares to the congregation that their sins are forgiven, is based upon the authority of Christ as written in John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them”, not withstanding that forgiveness can be withheld, especially if it is unrepentant sin.
2. Taking the Bible at its word. I know that this is a claim many churches make. However, I do not see it that way. There are several places in scripture in which most churches tend to reduce the language of the Bible to mere symbolism. No where is this more prevalent than in baptism and Holy Communion. I know that I have written on these before, but I am going to post two of the most relevant verses:
1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
Note that it does not say baptism is an outward sign. That is nowhere in the Bible. There are 22 references to baptism in the English Standard Version of the Bible, and say anything about an outward sign of an inward change, contrary to both Baptist and Pentecostal teachings.
When it comes Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, too many churches get stuck on the words “in remembrance of me”. Problem! In getting stuck on those words, they completely ignore what Christ Jesus was doing and what the mean of it was. Here is one of the verses:
Luke Luke 22:17~20 ” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
You may see also Matthew 26 and Mark 14, but the short and skinny is that Christ did not say that the bread and wine symbolize anything. He explicitly stated that it was his body and blood. What we are to remember is that he has given us his body. By faith, we receive it not as some memorial thing that is nice to do, rather we receive it as he has declared it, his body and blood. It does not symbolize nor transubstantiate into, it just is.
I get irritated with modern Christian music. Why? It is mostly empty, meaningless fluff that is repeated over and over. Some of the most popular contemporary Christian songs are so ambiguous (Nicole Nordman’s “Brave” comes to mind) that they are popular on contemporary soft rock stations. This should not be. If a song does not proclaim God’s majesty and the gospel, it is not Christian.
Additionally, most non-liturgical services I have attended tend towards being self-serving, with the music saying we are somehow doing something for God, when it is God who is doing something, that we don’t deserve, for us. In fact, many such churches, their worship service bears little difference from a rock concert or a bar. In fact, I have actually spoken to atheists who attend such churches simply to enjoy the “weekly concert”.
4. Scripturally sound sermons:
Again, I know that many Christians think that their pastors preach sermons that are in accordance with scripture. However, if your pastor is preaching about how much God wants you to be happy or give you material blessings, you are not actually in a Christian church. God never promised us an easy life with material blessings. He actually promises us hardship and trials.
John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Oddly, this verse comes as Christ Jesus warns them that they will soon scatter. it is also at this point that the disciples (briefly) start to get it. However, just two chapters later we see Christ being take before Caiaphas. This leads to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, though the disciples really didn’t understand it and would later be found hiding for fear. However, is there anyone who does go through some struggle or another? Yes, we all have tribulation in our lives. Incidentally, this is the same chapter where we read “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Let that sink in. Christ Jesus warns his disciples that people will want to kill them, and it will be on his account. Nope, Christians might have nice right now, but we are not promised a nice comfortable life. Any church claiming otherwise is not Christian and you should flee.
Indeed, any church that fails to call out sin, regardless of the sin, for what it truly is, that church is guilty of heresy, leading people astray, even willfully so. I have often encountered preachers who openly acknowledged to me that what they teach is not necessarily what the Bible really says, rather it is what their religious body tells them to teach. This is not so with the Lutheran church, and particularly with most Missouri Synod churches.
No, all churches are not the same. I have merely glossed over some of the differences that I have personally seen. I am not going to get into other issues, such as prophecy and tongues. However, too often such things seem to cause confusion, division, and heresy (many are the prophets who do not speak that which is spoken in scripture, rather denying scripture). I will say that someday all of this will be brought to an end and those who did these things will be made to give an account.
Should there be one single, universal church? Yes. Is there? Yes. It is what we in the Lutheran church call “the church triumphant”. This church is made up of those who believed and have gone on to rest in the Lord as we who are left behind continue to live in this sin sick world. Will there ever be an earthly church in which all hold the same doctrine? Not so long as humans run it. The very existence of denominations is evidence of how humans can get things messes up, especially when we fail to talk about and take into consideration the whole totality of scripture.
So what then? This is largely an opinion piece. It is my opinion that the opinion of all churches being the same is ludicrous. Practical experience proves otherwise. Should they be they same? Insofar as all churches use the same Bible, regardless of translation, yes. However, that is not humanly possible. This does not excuse anyone from church attendance or membership, it just points out that not all churches are the same.
Should all shipping companies be the same? No. However, I do not see any good reason that they can not work together as needed. In fact, I prefer there being multiple shipping companies. It actually helps to keep us working hard to provide the best possible service to our customers.
There are many shipping companies, and that is fine. There may appear to be many churches, but there is really only one church, and it is made up of every church that exists and has ever existed or will exist. It is the church triumphant and it is eternal.