I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]
The Apostle Paul knew that many of the early church’s disagreements were inconsequential—the important thing was the gospel message of Christ. Today, we still get bogged down in issues of dogma, canons, and hierarchy. Christians argue over purgatory, denomination or synod, women in the clergy, the calendar we use and even the day the Sabbath should be celebrated. Whether or not we have open or closed communion, are “high” or “low” church, observe Lent or saints’ days, or our pastors wear clerical collars, vestments or street clothes are of no real significance. If we attend traditional or contemporary services, drink wine or grape juice, use thin wafers, matzo or Wonder bread, or we kneel, sit or stand to pray are of no consequence to God. He just wants our praise and thanksgiving, our love and obedience, our faith and our prayers.
The Christian church with its three groups (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) and their various divisions into even more denominations and sub-groups reminds me of the flowers in the Fabaceae family. Better known as the pea or bean family, this plant family, with over 17,000 different species, is split into three sub-families that are distinguished by their distinct flower types. In spite of their diverse appearance, all of the flowers in today’s message are Fabaceae. Although they bear little resemblance to one another, they all are descendants of the same first pea flower God made millions of years ago. Like the plants in the pea family, all Christians can trace their beginnings to the same seed: Jesus. The Fabaceae take root in the soil and, as Christians, we are rooted in the Word of God. In spite of their outward differences, these diverse plants all bear similar fruit in pods. Like them, no matter how diverse our churches and worship style, as members of the Christian family we all bear similar fruit. Ours just aren’t beans and peas—they’re the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
When a girl, I mistakenly believed one’s church affiliation defined one’s faith. I thought we had to identify ourselves as Baptist, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist or some other denomination. Older and wiser, I no longer define myself by my sub-family; while I may attend one church or another, I am simply a follower of Christ. Moreover, like the Fabaceae, I hope I am recognizable by my fruit.
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. … So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. [Romans 14:1,10,12-13 (NLT)]
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