Q: Do we worship a church brand more than the one who is Head of His Church? –Kevin W.
A: The potential exists for this to be true. We must acknowledge that the danger of sectarianism is at least as great as the danger of denominationalism.
I pause to define terms. “Denominationalism” is the idea that all churches are only component parts of the Church as a whole, like the hundred, the twenty, the ten, the five, and the one are denominations of the U.S. currency. Denominationalism ignores doctrinal and operational differences between churches, claiming that these differences don’t matter much to God; He accepts us all where we are doing what we do, as long as we are sincere.
“Sectarianism” is the idea that only our group is the Church. Everyone else is lost and must join our group to be saved. Rather than minimizing doctrinal and operational differences, sectarians maximize them with the assumption that only one doctrine among many alternatives can be right and only one practice can have God’s sanction. Sectarians tend to use biblical terms such as “church of Christ” as if it is a brand rather than a description.
Recognizing that denominationalism and sectarianism are dangers at both extremes of a continuum, we must seek the “Golden Mean,” namely that of being “Christians only,” and “not the only Christians.” In other words, our mission is to understand that God’s Church is greater than our little group.
Christ’s church, as God sees it, includes all of those who have truly been born again, and it is His decision, not ours, whom He includes and excludes. At the same time, we must recognize that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” enters God’s kingdom (Matt. 7:21-23). Doctrine is fundamentally important, even as faithful practice matters to our Lord.
To avoid the brand-mentality, we should think of the biblical terms for the church, its leaders and servants, and what we do as its members in terms of descriptions, not names or titles. It is the church of Christ because it belongs to Him, not because of the sign out front. It is also the church (or assembly) of God because God calls its members out of the world.
The church’s leaders are called pastors because they shepherd the flock. They are also called overseers, because they supervise the Lord’s Work, and elders because they lead by example and settle disputes. Deacons are servants of the church, evangelists share the Good News, and teachers guide people to a better understanding of God’s Word. If people who have these labels are not performing these functions, then the descriptions are contentless and become mere titles.
It is up to our Lord who’s in and who’s out. It is up to us to be faithful to Him, striving to please Him, and depending on Him for our salvation, our assurance, and the spiritual power to change into the image of His Son and to encourage others to change with us.