There have been some thoughts rambling around my mind for the last few weeks. It started when my son asked me one day, “Why are there so many different churches if we all love Jesus?” Hmm…how should I answer this one? I thought for a minute and had a conversation with him about the difference between using his name and following him and how many in the world today will say they’re Christian but their life does not demonstrate that they do. Then I told him that people worship and come to the Lord in many different ways. Some churches are quiet and reserved and others are booming with music and choirs and dynamic speakers and people who like it one way or the other typically get together and over time different churches have come about simply because of preferences.
At that time this answer was enough, but his question really got me thinking and reading and watching. There must be some larger reason why there are so many different churches. I think his real concern was not why churches are so different, but why do they seem to be so against each other if they each claim to love the same Lord; “Why can’t we all just get along?” So I read about church history and the reformation, about Calvinism vs. Arminianism; I watched shows about the Roman Empire and the early church and the crusades and the flight to America in order to worship freely. I read and re-read my Bible. All presented and defended their positions well and often used the same scriptures to back up their beliefs and explain why the others were wrong. All of this reading and watching was really getting me nowhere.
I don’t know if I’ve fully answered the question for myself yet but I do believe it all boils down to the simple answer I gave my son – preferences. Each one of us is a unique creation. We each have talents and abilities and personalities. I like things to be in order and to follow a process where others may prefer the free flow, open-ended worship service. I like being able to understand the words I’m singing and for those words to mean something while others prefer the repetition of a chorus with lots of instruments and booming sound systems. Some like to dance and jump while I just don’t see the point, (maybe I will someday, but right now this Finn don’t dance!) None of these are wrong if they are bringing glory to the Lord, but the flip-side is these preferences often cause divisions where there ought not be. These roots of preference dig deep and reach far demanding conformity where there should be freedom. Rather than celebrating uniqueness, denominations begin to point fingers and look down noses. We begin to think our way is the right way and then go and find scripture to back up our position. David danced and Jubal played his harp. Elijah called down fire from heaven and John wrote from a prison on Patmos. Daniel prayed alone in his room. Peter thundered and Thomas doubted. Three disciples slept as Jesus prayed alone.
We cannot go around judging others based on our preferences. The Good Lord created each of us differently to serve a different purpose and we are all needed to advance his kingdom. The real questions are: do our preferences bringing glory to the Lord or not – and are they drawing the lost closer to the one who can save?