Bear with me for a moment. I have not consulted the biblical commentaries nor even my ESV Study Bible notes, and I haven’t searched the Christian blogosphere for other opinions. I’m going to toss this out there and see what comes back. In John 9 Jesus was talking about the least and greatest, and then…
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50, ESV)
Could one possible application of this scripture be to protestant denominations? Can Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians share the Gospel and build the kingdom without resolving each and every petty difference that divides them? If I’m sitting in an SBC church and see independent Baptists across the street are we both on our way to the same heaven? I’m saying yes to all of the above.
Some Christians are deeply offended by the application of labels, and some even try to avoid them completely. “Non-denominational” simply becomes yet another label. At the other end of the spectrum are those who answer “Baptist” if the question asks “What religion are you?” For better or worse we use labels to identify things, and in the case of church denominations they help us find those we most closely identify with. Labels such as Reformed, pre-millennial, Calvinist or charismatic do not name specific denominations but group Christians according to particular beliefs. They help us find a church home at which we can be in fellowship with other like-minded believers. The simple fact is that many issues exist on which we as believers will not agree. I think of denominations not in terms of right or wrong but necessary. If you choose to consider them necessary evils so be it.
Yet despite some apparent differences we are collectively the body of Christ. The disciples of Jesus encountered other believers that were not part of their little group. Let us conclude with these two quotes from the Apostle Paul:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)