We live in the age of the individual. Let’s face it, in our culture we are encouraged to be tremendously self-centered. With this self-focus comes competition. When a culture has its only focus as the individual,  community inevitably becomes very difficult to attain. The American church in many ways has bought into this individualistic notion; the American church has been held captive to this aspect by the culture. One can clearly see this by all of our denominations. Just open a telephone book and you will see plainly on those yellow pages the individualism of the American church: Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Full Gospel, Assemblies of God, Reformed, Lutheran, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, Wesleyan, etc. etc etc. The list is nearly endless.

I recall of few years back being at a conference in which the speaker was Mike Pilavachi. He pastors a church in England; he is a very engaging speaker, very light-hearted and was a joy to listen to during those days I was in Nashville (if you have heard of Matt Redman, Mike Pilavachi is the pastor of the church he serves). He said hard things at times, but again with a lightness and humor to them. I had never heard him before and what he said really spoke to me.

When on the final night he came out to speak, his countenance was different; he was not smiling as usual and his step was not as vigorous. I will never forget the words he spoke to us that night. He opened by saying that he really felt like the Lord wanted him to share something with us. Again, his tone was very serious. He acknowledged that he really did not want to give this message—he confided, it would be hard to speak.

Essentially, he said one thing; he said that God hated the denominationalism in the American church. He spoke passionately for a good 10-15 minutes speaking to us on this issue. He was fiery and passionate as any hell and brimstone preacher. As a comparison, he explained that in England there are so few Christians that as believers they just don’t have the time to get enraged about doctrinal disputes or legal ways of living that we typically do. There, Christians from all different denominations often work hand-in-hand in proclaiming the gospel through word and deed, because they are so out-numbered. They typically don’t get bogged down by issues such as baptism, versions of the Bible, sacraments, etc.

That was all he had to say; when he left the stage, you could have heard a pin drop. With our jaws dropped open, I don’t think that there was anyone there that did not hear the seriousness of his words. It was deeply convicting. Since that time, over nine years ago, I have thought of lot about unity and disunity in the church. H. Richard Niebuhr calls the “evil of denominationalism” the true “moral failure of Christianity.” In essence, denominationalism, at its heart, is divisiveness. But the church is called toward unity.

Since that talk nearly ten years ago, I don’t think much has changed in the American church with regards to reconciling our differences. The question then becomes, how can we as the American church be more unified? What are the ways that we need to change?

In: Christian Faith
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