Category: What is the Christian community?

There are four places in the New Testament that refer to the “holy kiss”—Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In each instance, the Greek words denote a kiss which is sacred—physically pure and morally blameless. It was a common custom in most nations for people to kiss each other at meeting or parting to display their love, sincere affection, and friendship for each other. The kiss is called “holy” to distinguish it from a sexual one and from a hypocritical and deceitful one, such as Joab gave to Amasa (2 Samuel 20:9) or such as Judas gave to Jesus when he cried, “Hail Rabbi,” and betrayed Him into the hands of His enemies (Matthew 26:49).

In New Testament times, the holy kiss was a sign of greeting, much like the modern handshake. For Christians, it further expressed brotherly love and unity. The holy kiss was especially precious to the new believers during the early church years, because they were often outcasts from their own families because of their new faith. These new believers gloried in the new spiritual kinship they had found among other Christians. Furthermore, the holy kiss from a Jewish Christian to a Gentile believer was evidence that the Gentiles were accepted fully into Christian fellowship, despite the teachings of the Judaizers, those who would return to the Mosaic law as their source of justification. So prominent were these false teachers in the early church that they even temporarily drew such a prominent Christian as Peter into their web of deceit (Galatians 2:11-13). The holy kiss between the Jewish and Gentile believers was done righteously in recognition that all believers are brothers and sisters in the family of God.

Whether or not the holy kiss should be a tradition we carry on today is not clear in Scripture. Whether or not our salutations to our brothers and sisters in Christ include the holy kiss, the important thing is that our greetings spring from real love and friendship, be characterized by sincerity, and represent true Christian fellowship.

Acts 2:1-41

Mission work isn’t limited to foreign lands. Every church is surrounded by a community—a population of souls who need the Savior. As followers of Jesus, we are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). So we cannot justify sitting comfortably in a pew while our neighbors struggle without God. The local church is to be a lighthouse for the Lord, and four principles can help its efforts.
First, the church needs a shared vision for carrying out the Great Commission in the community. To be effective disciple-makers, the congregation must be willing to work together. If only the pastor or a small group of church members are interested in this mission, it cannot succeed. Second, proper motivation is necessary. In God’s eyes, right reasons for sharing the gospel include love for Him, love for people, and a desire to be obedient. Third, the appropriate methods must be employed. Every community and situation is different, so no one method works everywhere. The approach used must be based on scriptural principles and directed by the Holy Spirit. Fourth, the church must draw upon the best energy—only through God’s Spirit can members be equipped for effective long-term witnessing to neighbors.
Do you want to be part of a church that spreads the gospel in your community? Then start praying for the congregation and pastor to develop a shared vision and burden for the neighborhood. And commit yourself to getting involved in Scripture-based outreach. Be the spark that lights a fire in fellow Christians’ hearts.

People often refer to the “Christian community,” but what is it? When people  speak of the Christian community, they usually mean “Christians in general” or  “Christian leaders.” The term may be in reference to a formal network of  denominations, but is often simply an allusion to an informal group of  believers.

For some, “the Christian community” refers to networks of  churches or Christian organizations. When a particular event is jointly hosted  by several groups, or when several groups issue a joint statement, it is  considered an activity of the Christian community. This view of the Christian  community is probably the most accurate cultural view as it includes the  greatest number of people. However, it is also a rather subjective definition.  How many Christian groups must be involved for it to be considered “the  Christian community”? If Charismatics, Methodists, and Episcopalians attend an  event, but no Baptists or Presbyterians, is it still “the Christian community”?  Or if all denominations band together to issue a public statement, but 49  percent of their individual members are opposed to the statement, was the  statement truly affirmed by “the Christian community”?

Others consider  the Christian community to be the leaders of Christianity. When a megachurch  pastor, bestselling author, musician, or other Christian celebrity speaks, many  consider what is said to be the voice of the Christian community. The media  often promote this perspective. For example, a news program may interview one  pastor and then quote him as if he speaks for all Christians. When the  representative speaks well, many Christians will agree, and the view may  accurately represent the Christian community as a whole. However, media outlets  often select the “loudest” or most eccentric voices in order to gain attention,  and those who might truly speak for many Christians are overlooked.

Another view of the Christian community is that is comprises those in academia  who discuss the beliefs and practices of the Christian faith. When a Christian  topic is in the news, professors of religion are consulted, and they become the  “experts” regarding what the Christian community believes. Again, this practice  is often faulty, as scholars may or may not represent the beliefs and values of  the true Christian community.

Finally, the Christian community can also  be viewed biblically. The Bible’s original word for “church” is ekklesia,  Greek for “assembly” or “gathering.” This word took on the theological meaning  of “all Christians” in some contexts and of “local gatherings of believers” in  other places. Acts  2:42-47 reveals that the original “Christian community” was known primarily  for its devotion to Christ’s teachings and its love for one another. Viewed this  way, the Christian community is simply those who love Jesus and live in  fellowship with each other. When the world sees this in action, they will see  the true love of Jesus and perhaps find themselves attracted to Christ, too.

To answer this question, we must first differentiate between  denominations within the body of Christ and non-Christian cults and false  religions. Presbyterians and Lutherans are examples of Christian denominations.  Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are examples of cults (groups claiming to be  Christian but denying one or more of the essentials of the Christian faith).  Islam and Buddhism are entirely separate religions.

The rise of  denominations within the Christian faith can be traced back to the Protestant  Reformation, the movement to “reform” the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th  century, out of which four major divisions or traditions of Protestantism would  emerge: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Anglican. From these four, other  denominations grew over the centuries.

The Lutheran denomination was  named after Martin Luther and was based on his teachings. The Methodists got  their name because their founder, John Wesley, was famous for coming up with  “methods” for spiritual growth. Presbyterians are named for their view on church  leadership—the Greek word for elder is presbyteros. Baptists got their name  because they have always emphasized the importance of baptism. Each denomination  has a slightly different doctrine or emphasis from the others, such as the  method of baptism; the availability of the Lord’s Supper to all or just to those  whose testimonies can be verified by church leaders; the sovereignty of God vs.  free will in the matter of salvation; the future of Israel and the church;  pre-tribulation vs. post-tribulation rapture; the existence of the “sign” gifts  in the modern era, and so on. The point of these divisions is never Christ as  Lord and Savior, but rather honest differences of opinion by godly, albeit  flawed, people seeking to honor God and retain doctrinal purity according to  their consciences and their understanding of His Word.

Denominations  today are many and varied. The original “mainline” denominations mentioned above  have spawned numerous offshoots such as Assemblies of God, Christian and  Missionary Alliance, Nazarenes, Evangelical Free, independent Bible churches,  and others. Some denominations emphasize slight doctrinal differences, but more  often they simply offer different styles of worship to fit the differing tastes  and preferences of Christians. But make no mistake: as believers, we must be of  one mind on the essentials of the faith, but beyond that there is great deal of  latitude in how Christians should worship in a corporate setting. This latitude  is what causes so many different “flavors” of Christianity. A Presbyterian  church in Uganda will have a style of worship much different from a Presbyterian  church in Colorado, but their doctrinal stand will be, for the most part, the  same. Diversity is a good thing, but disunity is not. If two churches disagree  doctrinally, debate and dialogue over the Word may be called for. This type of  “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs  27:17) is beneficial to all. If they disagree on style and form, however, it  is fine for them to remain separate. This separation, though, does not lift the  responsibility Christians have to love one another (1 John  4:11-12) and ultimately be united as one in Christ (John  17:21-22).

The Downside of Christian  Denominations:

There seems to be at least two major problems  with denominationalism. First, nowhere in Scripture is there a mandate for  denominationalism; to the contrary the mandate is for union and connectivity.  Thus, the second problem is that history tells us that denominationalism is the  result of, or caused by, conflict and confrontation which leads to division and  separation. Jesus told us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. This  general principle can and should be applied to the church. We find an example of  this in the Corinthian church which was struggling with issues of division and  separation. There were those who thought that they should follow Paul and those  who thought they should follow the teaching of Apollos, 1 Corinthians 1:12,  “What I am saying is this: each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with  Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.” This alone should tell you  what Paul thought of denominations or anything else that separates and divides  the body. But let’s look further; in verse 13, Paul asks very pointed questions,  “Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized  in Paul’s name?” This makes clear how Paul feels, he (Paul) is not the Christ,  he is not the one crucified and his message has never been one that divides the  church or would lead someone to worship Paul instead of Christ. Obviously,  according to Paul, there is only one church and one body of believers and  anything that is different weakens and destroys the church (see verse  17). He  makes this point stronger in 3:4 by saying that anyone who says they are of Paul  or of Apollos is carnal.

Some of the problems we are faced with today as  we look at denominationalism and its more recent history:

1.  Denominations are based on disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture.  An example would be the meaning and purpose of baptism. Is baptism a requirement  for salvation or is it symbolic of the salvation process? There are  denominations on both sides of this issue and have used the issue to separate  and form  denominations.

2. Disagreements over the interpretation of  Scripture are taken personally and become points of contention. This leads to  arguments which can and have done much to destroy the witness of church.

3. The church should be able to resolves its differences inside the body, but  once again history tells us that this doesn’t happen. Today the media uses our  differences against us to demonstrate that we are not unified in thought or  purpose.

4. Denominations are used by man out of self-interest. There  are denominations today that are in a state of self-destruction as they are  being led into apostasy by those who are promoting their personal  agendas.

5. The value of unity is found in the ability to pool our gifts  and resources to promote the Kingdom to a lost world. This runs contrary to  divisions caused by denominationalism.

What is a believer to do? Should  we ignore denominations, should we just not go to church and worship on our own  at home? The answer to both questions is no. What we should be seeking is a body  of believers where the Gospel of Christ is preached, where you as an individual  can have a personal relationship with the Lord, where you can join in Biblical  ministries that are spreading the Gospel and glorifying God. Church is important  and all believers need to belong to a body that fits the above criteria. We need  relationships that can only be found in the body of believers, we need the  support that only the church can offer, and we need to serve God in community as  well as individually. Pick a church on the basis of its relationship to Christ,  how well it is serving the community. Pick a church where the pastor is  preaching the Gospel without fear and is encouraged to do so. Christ and His  church is all about your relationship to Him and to each other. As believers,  there are certain basic doctrines that we must believe, but beyond that there is  latitude on how we can serve and worship; it is this latitude that is the only  good reason for denominations. This is diversity and not disunity. The first  allows us to be individuals in Christ, the latter divides and destroys.