One of the most puzzling things about following Jesus in the Bible belt is noticing all the different churches that have sprouted up over the years. Drive through your average Southern city or town and you’ll pass a dozen church buildings…all with different signs.
There are the Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Church of Christ, First Baptist, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Baptists (they’re the same as the earlier ones, they just didn’t get there first) the Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and many more.
Now I get the beautiful mosaic that can happen with these different tribes. And I understand how each one contributes a different strength to the universal body of Christ. (Unfortunately, we can break down into sectarianism and start thinking that we are the best or only tribe God approves of). But the thing that bothers me the most isn’t these different denominations but the way that people separate within the denominations. We separate by races, or socio-economic groups, or preferences.
Which is kind of human nature isn’t it? Think about the stuff that we argue about these days. Democrat/Republican, Rich/Poor, Team Jacob/Team Edward.Our bent is to split. And what happens too often is that following Jesus doesn’t change that, we just baptize that too.
Did you know that when Alexander the Great was coming to power, one of the primary signifiers that he was the ruler of all the know world was His ability to bring together “barbarians” and Greeks? Almost every Roman Emperor attempted to lay claim to being “Lord.” And they primary way they did that was by showing that they had unified a variety of nations and people groups. Now of course, this was always a very shaky unity. A unity that was held together by the brute force of Pax Romana. And eventually, it failed.
Did you ever notice that when Paul talks about unity in Ephesians, he ties it into the Lordship of Jesus? It’s because he knows what that means, and he also knows just who else is trying to claim it. Look at what Paul actually says:
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
He’s telling the churches of the area that what God is doing in Jesus, bringing Jew and Gentile together, is more than just a pet project. It is a sign to the powers of this age that Jesus is Lord…and not Caesar, or Alexander, or any other parody.
Last night I went to Freedom Fellowship for the first time. It’s an outreach ministry of the Highland Church of Christ, and since it’s my first week on staff, I wanted to see what it was. I thought I was going to check out a ministry, what I found was church.
There were somewhere around 70-80 people there to watch the children of the neighborhood put on a musical. But what I noticed was who was there. The dominant demographic of the Freedom Fellowship was…human. There were people from every different background there last night, and everyone had a voice.
I watched Natalie, a girl with Cerebral Palsy, sing a song about being made in God’s image from her wheelchair, while people from a variety of backgrounds clapped and sang along. And at the end they gave her a standing ovation. Now maybe it was because she was singing out of her struggles, maybe it was because they knew and loved her, or maybe it was because she was singing the raw truth that we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
That every single one of us is made in God’s image. And nothing can separate us again, because Jesus is Lord.