Why Are We So Divided? What Can We Do About it?

A Reader Asks: I’m confused. Why are there so many churches, all with different  labels such as, Denominational. Non-denominational, Catholic, Independent, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, Baptist, Orthodox, on and on?  Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there such a thing as one true church?

What did Jesus intend for his church? If we can get a hold of this single idea, we may be able to untangle this webWhen Jesus declared to Peter, “I will build my church,” did he have a non-profit institution in mind or was his intent to build a community of faithful, active disciples?  Well, let’s look at what a non-profit requires: (1) A name (label); (2) By-laws (Polity–how it’s run); (3) Articles of Incorporation (Statements of  Faith); (4) Money; (tithes and offerings); (5) Leadership (professional clergy to run it) and a Constituency (laity). Does this sound like the community of faith Jesus had in mind? In other words…

Is the church an institution?  A wag once said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to be in an institution?”  Indeed! We realize marriage isn’t an institution, but  a committed relationship between two individuals—a “we” not an “it.”  Is the church more like marriage or more like a non profit?  

Did Jesus love and die for a people or an institution? What does the Bible say? When we gather or dispersed, are we called to be a living community or an organization? Notice how biblical synonyms for Christ’s church stress the personal over the impersonal.

  • Bride of Christ ”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved [agape] the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of the word, to present her to himself as a radiant church. Eph. 5:25- 26 (FYI: NIV accurately uses “her.”  Many translations mistakenly refer to the bride as “it.”
  • Eklesia, the Greek word Jesus uses for church, means “a gathering of people.” Certainly a community not an  “it.” (BTW: Synagogue has exactly the same meaning.)
  • Body of Christ. ”so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one of us members of one another. (Romans 5: 12). (BTW: When Jesus asked Paul, “Why are you persecuting me, he meant, his church body. Is this where Paul arrived at the revelation of the church being Christ’s body on earth?)
  • God’s Temple isn’t a thing either, as Paul explains, ”Don’t you know you all (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (Romans 3:16)

These are the Questions we must ask: Is God’s house a building or the people inside? Does He live in things or believers? Does He inhabit institutions or does he dwell and empower the believing community within [and sometimes without] those institutions?

How did the living Church become Institutional? In the third century, church leaders began to assume special titles of rank and position for themselves. Today we call them  “clergy.” Over time they expanded their role to one of authority and learning above and apart from rank and file believers— called “laity.” (BTW: The terms laity and clergy are not found in the Bible)

Today many so called laity find they are relegated to the role of pew sitters. Like fans at a football game, they are spectators who support the team, but unlike clergy professionals, are not active participants. Was this Jesus’ dream for his church? Was this how early Christians were regarded?

Just the Opposite: Paul stressed, ”faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other.” (Col. 3: 11. See also Eph. 4)  Ironically Peter, who was promoted to a Roman pope posthumously, wrote that all believers are “royal, holy priests (1 Peter 2: 5, 9). Moreover, in the Bible. we find every member had an important function in the body. (I Cor 12 and Romans 12) True, certain individuals were gifted by the Spirit to lead as prophets, apostles, pastors, episcopoi (bishops), and presbyteroi (elders). But these gifts were not seen in any way as creating a superior class of Christian.

Over the years the church became more and more identified with her leaders not the people. An extensive hierarchy developed. To accommodate elaborate and often extravagant systems, measures were required to organize into complex and well-funded institutions. Massive building projects followed. Today tourists are wowed by these hundreds of spectacular cathedrals all over Europe, but with hardly any worshippers.

The Reformation was supposed to cure this, but sadly did not. The same division between “clergy” and “laity” prevailed. Moreover, there was a strong emphasis on the  doctrine of “freedom of conscience.” This justified various leaders who had differing ideas, often about Communion and Baptism, to form denominations and sects, following their own doctrines and ethnicity. In America, those division have multiplied exponentially far beyond anything we find in Europe.

Our next post will address the difficult question” What can we do about it?

Your comments are important to us.

8 thoughts on “Why Are We So Divided? What Can We Do About it?

  1. Wade,

    I like the post. Did you answer your question: “Why are we so Divided?”

    Hope to see you at McDs at 6pm.


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    • I believe part of the reason stems from the fact that the Church has not only become an institution, but has divided into many institutions (denominations), many thinking they are the sole keepers of the truth. Even within churches, people have a counterfeit sense of fellowship/communion, keeping one another at arm’s length while depending on the pastor to tell them what God wants.


  2. To further my comment…just touching on the idea of the institution, which has led to certain hierarchies and building expenses…it has been disturbing me, for some time, now. Having read that the US average church budget has seventy percent spent on buildings and salaries and having observed the exaltation of leaders, complete with titles and high esteem. In many cases, leaders also have unilateral command over their congregations.

    I believe that part of the reason we are divided is because the Church is run in such manners. These reasons have led to the watering down of things like, fellowship/communion, outreach/serving others, just to name a couple.

    I could go on, but I am not about to write a whole post in a comment box.


    • I feel and absolutely share your frustration, TB. Take a look at Ezekiel 34 which describes our dilemma in the US church, but offers hope as well.

      Say, how about praying about a first person guest post for us, somewhat along those lines. However, try to keep it as positive and personal as you can. Include your frustration but focus on how you cope and deal with being benched rather than equipped and used by your church. In a similiar vein you might take a look at the Debby’s comment above and reply.


  3. Hopefully, the mindset of clergy and laity is evolving. Some churches now call their pastors, “lead-catalyzers” to indicate that their role is to encourage and spur the laity to be “ministers in the community.”


    • Thank you, Debby. I haven’t visited any, but believers in congregations with spiritual leaders equipping them are fortunate. The church is sadly in bondage to past, deep-rooted traditions, not Jesus’ model. [Seven Last Words of the Church: We’ve never done it that way before.]

      As a retired “clergy,” I admit we are an insecure bunch–find it difficult to share real leadership. In Africa the church is growing rapidly, largely because there are very few professionals running things. Every believer is expected to disciple (mentor/train) others believers. Pending posts will give some biblical nuts and bolts on how we in the US may begin healing our many divisions.

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