By Shawn Patrick Williams
As I have traveled around the world to share my testimony, one of the most significant blessings has been seeing the amazing diversity in the Body of Christ. I grew up in a denominational setting and I praise God that I did, because it was a very evangelical environment. I attribute my passion for souls to the deposit that was given to me during that time. However, I have grown to appreciate all the amazing facets of Christ’s Kingdom on this earth.
”Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:10 (KJV)
The word kingdom in this verse introduces a new concept, as Christ was establishing the New Testament Church. The word means “Realm.” In this context, the word is referring to a royal heavenly realm. Jesus was laying a foundation for all His followers to continue in and that was bringing unity between Christ’s heavenly kingdom and this fallen earth. Denominations have done the opposite of that. Over two millennia the kingdom of Christ become extremely divided. Jesus established the Church, not denominationalism.
There have been seven major groups of denominations which have arisen from the Biblical historical Christian faith: Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and four Protestant families. No matter what Protestant belief you are it was a byproduct of one of these groups: Pre-Reformer, Lutheran, Anglican, or Reformed.
The doctrine of the Christian faith is universal, but the philosophies that carry that doctrine vary greatly. It is extremely significant to understand the difference between doctrine and philosophy. I belong to a denomination that very much mirrors the philosophy and understanding of how I demonstrate my faith in Christ. However my basic doctrine is the same as all followers of Jesus Christ in the global Christian church. I have been to 23 nations and preached in 26 different denominations of the Christian church without compromising what I believe to do so. I have learned to focus on their strength instead of their weakness, and the teachings, practices and protocols I have learned have been extremely beneficial to my ministry.
The Apostle Paul made some important statements in his letter to Philemon (a leader in the home church in the home church in Colossae) in order to establish how followers of Christ’s kingdom should view each other. Paul was writing to reconcile a converted slave name Onesimus, who is believed to have left Philemon, his wealthy owner and ran away for his freedom. Paul was trying to neutralize Philemon from looking at Onesimus as an investment and view him as a newly converted brother in the family of God. When Paul addresses Philemon, I believe God was speaking intentionally about how we are to perceive our brothers and sisters in the Kingdom, especially those who adhere to a different group or denomination.
“Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer” Philemon 1:1
Fellowlabourer means “coworker”. Paul was establishing that they were working toward the same cause. Christ kingdom being established on earth. At the end of the day their efforts and energy were going toward the same goal. The present day church must learn to work together much like the first century church did.
“And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house” Philemon 1:2
Paul used the term “fellow soldier” to address the believers helping Philemon in the house church. This word literally means, “co-campaigner”. Now the word campaign means, “A series of operations undertaken to achieve a set goal.” Paul was referencing the fact that they were promoting the same cause. When two opposing politicians get in a campaign fight they are promoting two opposite agendas. The outcome is a zero-sum game: one loses and one wins. In the Body of Christ we are supposed to have the same campaign and the same cause. Paul had to address this in a different situation with the church of Corinth.
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
Paul made it clear that in the functioning of the churches, we are one in God’s eyes. It’s not my ministry or your ministry. It’s Christ’s ministry, and He will judge us according to our heart’s attitude in the way we work together. The spirit of competition is killing the New Testament church in North America. I’ve seen jealousy and envy destroy and divide many churches at their appointed time of the Spirit visiting their church.
However, I have seen prayer, worship and youth pull a city together for the cause of Christ unlike anything else. If you can focus on these topics, almost any Christian group will come together and put their differences aside. If we don’t learn how to work together down here, we are in for a big surprise when we get to heaven.
“There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus” Philemon 1:23
Fellow prisoner means, “co-captive” and is a reference to the shared tribulations Christians face. Paul was not stranger to tribulation. He understood what the New Testament Church was facing ahead. John, author of the book of the Revelation, had a peek at this when the angel told him of the martyrs in the last days waiting on the rest of their brothers and sisters that would be killed in Revelation 6:10-11.
According to a 2013 report from the Vatican 237 Christians die a day for their faith. Todd Johnson, director of CSGC, told the BBC, “The truth is two thirds of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today live… in dangerous neighborhoods. They are often poor. They often belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities. And they are often at risk.”
Just recently a proposal was made to the United Nations to recognize the current global killing of Christians as this century’s new holocaust. I traveled to Pakistan this January and visited the site of churches burned by the Taliban. I have worked in Nigeria for a decade and heard pastors tell how their churches were burned. Some saw their families and church members martyred for their faith in Christ. As a global church we must stand together in prayer and support in times like this. In speaking to a bishop from Uganda he told me of the national persecution that actually brought the believers in his nation closer together. They learned to stand together to make it through the fire.
My encouragement to the Christian church today is that we lay aside the things that divide us and focus on the things that unite us. If we learn to die to our agendas and prejudices, the love of Christ will be what the world sees in us. We won’t have any problems cultivating healthy and successful churches.