You may have heard the old joke about the guy on the bridge who is about to jump off into the river. Another guy comes along and begins to try to connect with him to try to convince him to come off of the ledge. They find out that they both are Christian and the joke picks up from there:
“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
He said: “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”
I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.
It is a joke obviously but it does demonstrate how some people of the church today view other people from different denominations – as heretics and not worthy of the unmerited grace of Jesus. We are all saved by Jesus, except the people who wear suits with red ties, we know blue ties are beloved of the Lord. Obviously, this is not how we should respond to the large number of different denominations and types of churches that are in the world today.
God makes the very clear point in His Word that if we don’t love our brothers and sisters in Christ in the World and say that we love God, we are a liar. Varieties of church music, clothing, buildings and other trappings just show how wonderfully inclusive and different the people of God are in the world. So no matter they call themselves by a different denominational name and are rocking out to electric guitars in worship, if they are following Christ then they are our brother or sister.
The extreme opposite approach to church diversity though is equally as dangerous. The blanket position that if they call themselves a church and have Christ in their name, who am I to judge approach. We are the Body of Christ who according to 1 Corinthians 6 is going to judge the world and the angels, that is who we are to judge.
There are groups in the world today that call themselves Christian, reference the name of Jesus and may even identify with a familiar denomination but in actuality have nothing to do with the actual Jesus set out in the Bible. They may even look shiney and happy, wear three piece suits and come to your door talking about Jesus but not actually mean the same Jesus as the one in the Bible. They may even make the news on a regular as a “Christian Church” but not actually be Christian — Westboro Baptist Church, neither a church nor baptist- I am looking at you!.
It is important to know the difference between churches that are following Jesus but doing it in a different style or fashion that you are comfortable with and those who have left their first love. We as Christians can call a member of a denomination that has significant problems and we disagree with politically but still attempt to follow the biblical Jesus but can never fellowship with those that deny the Risen Lord.
Do we know the difference among the many that claim to be churches today?
Jesus Himself covers this issue in Matthew 7:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Take note of the fact that those who are appealing to Jesus have the trappings of religion surrounding them – specifically they claim to follow Jesus….Lord, Lord they appeal. They look like sheep on the outside. They allege that they have prophesied, cast out demons and done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus, a claim that Jesus does not specifically refute. They may have done lots of things that they claim are for Jesus and that look religious.
Jesus also frames the section as a discussion of false prophets, those who claim to be prophets from God but are not. On the outside they claim to be doing God’s work but on the inside they are doing the work of Satan, prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Jesus does not get down in the weeds with these guys, He is the Truth after all and absolute truth is just that.
I also believe that everyone involved in this discussion, the many who are appealing to Jesus and Jesus Himself know very clearly that they are not in fact followers of His – they are just grasping at straws. Jesus simply focuses their attention back on the heart of the issue, I never knew you.
There are churches that simple don’t know Jesus either from being heretical from the start or from drifting so far that Jesus is outside the church knocking to enter and they refuse to let him in. We as believers have to know which is which, who is our brother, who is our sister and who belongs to the world. Not from a spirit of condemnation or sin sniffing, every single church has messiness, simply so we can know who is part of our family and who needs the Gospel.
Jesus takes the purity of His church very seriously, He died for the sheep that are being saved into it and wants them to be in a safe place. We as the church, the called out ones individually need to inspect those who call themselves other sheep and see whether they are telling the truth or else we are letting wolves loose among the flock. Wolves are reportedly the only animal that kills just to kill – they are killers of sheep, it is what they do.