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Why So Many Churches
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:13
Track 10 of 17 in the Living in the Light of His Coming series
Running time: 29 minutes, 42 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, November 7, 2004
10th sermon in a 17 part series
"Why So Many Churches?"
"Being in Him Means Being His Church"
(1 Corinthians 12:13)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

For some reason you pulled into 4700 Broadway this morning. I'm glad you did, but you had eighty other choices, at least, according to the yellow pages. There are eighty other choices in this community. You chose to come to this particular place as opposed to some other place. I assume, for some reason. At least that is the question my daughter was posing to me earlier this week while we were running. I was talking to her about this sermon and she said, "well, I'd really like to know why people go where they go, as opposed to someplace else." And I wondered that same kind of question. Why do we choose where we are?

I want to spend, actually, a couple of weeks talking about this. See, the dilemma is, as the text you heard read says, we are one body and yet there are literally thousands of expressions of that body.

If I told you that a colleague of mine grabbed his dictionary off the shelf this week and looked this up, he discovered that there are twenty-thousand different denominations worldwide and two-thousand different denominations in the United States alone. Having said that, I thought, boy that sounds like a bunch. That dictionary was 1980, twenty years ago, those were the numbers. And someone has since estimated that we form a new denomination at the rate of about one per day. I think that's a bit of overstatement. Let me rephrase that. I hope that's overstatement. I don't know why that would surprise us however. That's been anticipated ever since the beginning of the church.

Just come back a couple of texts to 1Corinthians 1 for example. You heard this text in 1Corinthians 12 read, that we are one body, but listen the way Paul starts this letter to the Corinthians. 1Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Or come over to 1Timothy 4, late in Paul's life. He's beginning to make observations about the church and how Christian people sometimes respond.

1Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

Or one more book over, 2Timothy, probably the last book that Paul wrote. The last letter that he penned.

2Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Herein is the dilemma. We are one body and yet we recognize that we live in a situation where men tend to divide the body into different shapes.

As I was thinking about this series of sermons over 1Corinthians specifically talking a lot about the church, ah, last spring I was in a conversation with a friend of mine whose been preaching about the same length of time I have. He lives up near Chicago and he does a series of sermons every year or two on the history of the church.

And so frankly, I just wanted to steal his idea, so I want him to know I stole it. I want you to know that I stole it. I can't blame him for the content. I can only blame him for the idea, but if it's really bad, I'm going to blame him for both.

What I'd really like to do is simply give you just a brief time line and this is history lesson 101 and it's going to go by really fast. For that I apologize. We're going to cover 2100 years of history here in a breath or two.

We start in Acts 2, that's the easy place. Acts 2 is the beginning of the church. We've had the sudden arrival of the Holy Spirit after Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and has ascended back into heaven. Peter has preached that first opening day sermon there in the temple grounds. He has talked about the fact that the Jesus that they crucified, God has made to be both Lord and Christ. Their response is, ah we're in trouble. What do we do. His response is "Repent, be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ. You'll receive the forgiveness of your sins, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And here's the way that chapter or that paragraph closes.

Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

You come down to the middle of verse 47 after describing what those early days of the church were like, you get this statement. The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. You get a few days later, there are now five thousand or more in the church. So in approximately 30 A.D. the church comes into existence and for the first seventy or eighty years we have a fairly good record of what happened. We close out the New Testament with the book of Revelation penned probably somewhere in the 90ties. But even in Revelation, we're beginning to get hints the churches are not staying faithful to those original teachings. They're attempting to deal with their culture. To adapt and to live in a cultural setting.

In 313 A.D. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which made Christianity the "state religion". It was now acceptable to be a Christian rather than being something for which you would be persecuted. Sounds like a good thing. Turned out to be not such a good thing after all because then Christianity became something that everybody took for granted.

At that particular period, the church is beginning to look a lot like its culture, a lot like its society. The Roman Empire has a hierarchical form of government. The church took on that same form. Local churches began to surface. Leaders they called Bishops, who out of a region would surface a leader whom they would call a Cardinal, whom out of a larger region would surface someone that they would call an Arch-Cardinal who would surface someone that they would call the pontifex maximus. You know him as the Pope. It simply was an adoption of Roman government brought over into the church to try to be effective. Unfortunately, in the process of adopting governmental hierarchy, they also adopted governmental power and politics and we ended up for about a thousand years in what is known historically as the "dark ages" because everything was under the government of the church. Not a particularly positive statement. I apologize for that. It's just the way it was.

Then you roll around to the 15th and 16th centuries. I remember walking down through the city of Prague with my translator. We came around the corner and there in the middle of Prague's downtown old city is a statue of John Hus being burned at the stake. Hus was one of those early reformers who said, this isn't the way the church is supposed to be. And in that era of about one hundred years or so, during the 15th and 16th centuries, John Hus in Prague; Luther in Germany; John Calvin in Geneva; all began about the same time to say, we need to bring some reformation to the church. The church has gotten off-track. Let's see if we can get it back on track. None of those people intended to start new churches. You need to understand that. They were simply trying to bring reformation within the walls of the church as they understood it.

Unfortunately, as we would all know, those things did develop into different kinds of churches which is the beginning, largely, of our denominational system.

About that same time Henry VIII in England, wanted to get divorced and remarried and the church wouldn't let him and so he decided to start his own church. We know it as the Anglican church. It's very much like what the church had been, but, allowed him some freedom. That Anglican church came to the United States in the late 1800. In 1873 the first Episcopalian church was established on American soil; the sister church to the Anglican church.

About that same time John Knox is in Scotland, in the late 1500. He established was is known as the Presbyterian church which came to the United States then in 1706 and the First Presbyterians settled in Philadelphia.

We move a hundred years or so into the 16th and 17th centuries and there is a reaction to the reformation. Not so much opposition to the fact that the church is being reformed from within, but dissatisfaction that the reformation is what it should be. That it's not everything it ought to be and so you have kind of a counter reformation. It becomes known as the Anabaptist movement. Menno Simons produces what becomes the Mennonite church and the Amish and a number of other kinds of denominations.

John Smyth brings that to Holland in 1610 where the Baptist church is formed which comes to the United States in its original form in 1639 with Roger Williams.

Alright, we're half way through the survey. Are you totally confused at this point? I am.

18th Century rolls around and in Great Britain there are two brothers who surface; John and Charles Wesley. They began a movement in England which spread to the United States which is eventually called Methodist because of the method that they used.

In the 19th Century, early 1800, there were a number of church bodies that reacted to the idea of the reformation and said, we don't need to try to change what's going on in the church. We need to restore the church to its original roots. Let's just bypass the last 1800 years and let's see if we can go back and start over.

That's where we come in. We'll talk about US next week. Christian churches/ Churches of Christ. We'll do us all by ourselves. I think that will be easier. But at that same time around the mid-1800, churches like the Church of God came into existence. Seventh Day Adventism, the Salvation Army, the Church of Christ Scientist, the entire holiness movement, the Wesleyans and the Pentecostal's came into existence about that same time frame, mid-to-late 1800.

Since then somebody estimated we produce a new denomination about one a day. I don't know if that's true. I do know this. There are 50 different denominations within the larger scope of the Baptist church in the United States alone.

Worldwide there are 250 different Lutheran denominations. So what started out to be reformation of the church became a new church which is not an unlikely kind of thing to do, which has since become lots of break-offs from all of those churches because we tend not to agree with each other and we try to do it better.

Now stay with me at least this long. None of those people did that out of bad motive. Please understand that. Nobody was trying to stir up a difficulty. All of those experiences were attempts to say, this isn't doing what we understand God needing to have done. Let's see if we can do it better. Nobody was trying to be antagonistic or

harsh or cruel or critical. They were simply trying to be the church the best way that they understood it. The difficulty is, anytime you get too many people in a room, we're going to disagree about something and unfortunately our human nature tends to cause us to go two separate directions rather than being able to figure out how to work together.

And of course all of you understand that each of us has our own particular bent towards our faith in which we sometimes become just a little bit entrenched. Now I'm probably the only person in the room who is completely objective about church. And you're all saying, HUH??? No, there's things that I think are really important and there are things I don't think are all that important and my guess is that I can talk to anyone of you and we would disagree on what those are.

See, one of the standard rules of thumb in church is, where we disagree, let's be loving to one another. In areas that don't matter let's grant a lot of freedom. But in areas that matter, let's be together. Well that sounds good. The trouble is, trying to define what matters.

Well, people weren't being harsh or cruel. They were just doing what came naturally to them.

Well, that's just a little brief time line. Let me try to give you a brief description of what that might end up looking like to help you put some framework around it. This is extremely generic and there are exceptions to everything I'm about to tell you.

Lyle Schaller has divided the church world into four basic categories and they're not bad categories. There are those churches that are what he would call God-centered churches. Not that the rest of us don't have God in mind. But they really focus on God. Liturgical worship is a big deal; organ music, the kind of pomp and circumstance that elevates God. It usually takes place in a cathedral-like building where everything about the architecture says God is grand and beyond us.

There are, what he calls, (oh, by the way, that would primarily be the Roman Catholic church, Episcopalian, Anglican churches and Lutheran) would fall into those categories.

Then there are Christ-centered churches. Not that those other churches aren't interested in Jesus, but there are some churches that really focus on Jesus, particularly. Very salvation oriented; the music is very gospel oriented. It's an attempt to be revivalistic in nature. The key term for them is let's get people saved. Let's talk about the grace of God. Let's get out and do evangelistic work. Let's get Jesus in the hands and hearts or people. The churches that most dominantly come to mind would be Baptist and the early Methodist churches and now lots and lots of non-denominational churches which have sprung up across the country. For example, Willow Creek in Chicago which averages 20,000 a Sunday or Saddleback out in southern California that averages somewhere around 20,000 and they're not connected with any particular denomination.

Then there are Spirit-centered churches whose emphasis is upon lively worship, the gifts of the Spirit. In some cases, physical and emotional and Spiritual healing and in some categories, a very strong emphasis on external methods of demonstrating holiness. Those churches would be primarily your Pentecostal, the Churches of God, the Nazarene, the Wesleyan's.

And then there are those Bible-centered churches whose primary emphasis is teaching and preaching; whose concern is the truth, who are very doctrine oriented. What they want to talk about is what does the Bible say. By the way, that's US! At least dominantly, that's where we fall in those four big categories. That's where for example, you would find John MacArthur's church out in California or the Bible churches that have sprung up to be called by that name.

Well, let me simplify a brief explanation by asking this question. So what separates all of us? I mean, obviously, something must because there are eighty different groups

of people, at least eighty different groups of people just in our own community meeting about this same time this morning.

What are some of the things that separate us. Well, one of the things that separate us is the way we govern the church. Some churches govern by having a board of Elders. Some churches have a Pastor driven kind of model. Some churches have a hierarchical structure where they are governed by someone outside of their area who tells them what to do. Other churches are governed by someone internationally. There are churches that are governed just simply locally. The decision is made by the congregation at large. There is always congregational vote. It's a variety of ways of trying to say, "How do we function in our world in an effective fashion? How can we work in a way that is useful?"

The denominations have headquarters. Those headquarters have varying degrees of control. Sometimes they completely control. Everything is determined by somebody someplace else. Other denominations have much less control.

Sometimes we are separated by church practice, the things that we do. For example, churches are separated by the day of the week in which they meet. There are churches who meet on Saturday and there are churches that meet on Sunday. That can be a fairly major difference. There are churches that. . . . . . . . . . . . . .celebrate the Lord's Supper. Some want to celebrate it with wine, some with grape juice. Some want to use one cup. Some want to use multiple cups. Some want to do it every Sunday. Some want to do it once a year, once a month, once a quarter. We separate over those kinds of issues.

We separate over worship styles. Do we want to have lots of traditional, classic Bach and Beethoven? Do we want to use contemporary music? Do we want to have a pipe organ and, or do we want to have drums? We separate over those kinds of practices.

We separate over dress code. Some churches are very particular about the way people dress. Some insist on a certain kind of clothing or certain kind of hair styles or the presence or absence of jewelry makes a difference. We separate over issues of practice.

Probably the major thing, however, that we separate over are the things that we believe, our church doctrines. And unfortunately, most of those revolve about two or three issues. Let me just use one that is close to home and is easy to illustrate with. There is a book that sits on my shelf that is called "The Waters that Divide" and it simply is an expression of how the practice of baptism in the church has separated churches and believers one from another. Some churches practice sprinkling. Some churches don't think that sprinkling is an adequate amount of water, so they pour water. Some people practice baptism by immersion. Some believe that, do it as an infant, others believe only do it as an adult. Some believe in doing it as an infant and then doing it later as an adult. Some believe in doing it once. Some believe in doing it three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some believe that when you baptize an infant, you immerse them. Others believe that you simply sprinkle water on them. There is an enormous amount of division over the way people believe we're supposed to go about doing the things that we do. Those fundamental classic doctrines.

Now if we had two or three or four hours we could probably sort through some of that and all I've done is muddy the water for you. But I wanted you to hear this. And if you don't hear anything else, would you please hear this. . . . . . Other churches are not our enemies! Please hear that.

Now that doesn't mean that we don't have some peculiar beliefs that are ours, that we would hold to and say, "Now these are really important and significant." We would see that even in the New Testament. When you roll around to Acts 17, there are some

disciples who don't understand the Biblical doctrine of baptism and so Paul explains to them something that they don't understand. You come to Acts 18 Apollos doesn't understand what he should understand so Priscilla and Aquila take the time and the text says, to teach him more perfectly the way of the Lord. Our responsibility as Christians is to do our best to understand what we believe to be the truth and to teach that. But just because somebody does not agree with you on the way we do church or the way we govern church does not make them our enemy. In fact, our enemy would love for us to treat each other as enemies, because if we're fighting with the church down the street, then we are not doing the thing that we are called to do. Which is fight against the influences of Satan in our world. We have a common enemy who has victimized all of us in one way or another. And when we begin focusing on those things that separate us, he simply victimizes us again.

Now don't hear me undermine truth. I believe in truth. I believe that there are churches that do a better job of getting at that than others. If I didn't believe that I wouldn't be at 4700 Broadway this morning. You probably wouldn't either.

But what I want you to hear, there is something far more important than what separates us and that's what unites us. And what unites us is our common faith in the person of Jesus Christ. We know and love Jesus, the Son of the living God. We have come to the place that we have confessed our faith in him. We believe that he is the Son. That he came in the flesh. That he came to bring salvation. That he was absolutely perfect. That his death and resurrection is what it takes for us to have a relationship with Jesus. We believe that. That's what unites us. That fundamental common faith in Christ and so some churches have this really strange thing that they do on Sunday morning. Some of you won't find this strange cause you've been doing it all your life. But for those of us who grew up outside of the church or outside of this particular practice, we're buffaloed the first time it happens. You walk into church and during the greeting time, instead of getting a great big bear hug or a "how are you" or "isn't the weather great", they say something like this. "The peace of Christ be with you." And you go, huh, ugh. . . . . . . .the response is: "and, with you". And it's a way of saying there is something that ties us together and that's our relationship with Jesus.

So here's this really strange invitation that we're about to offer you. We want you to use this as our greeting time. To just stand up and mingle and greet one another and if you want to give them a bear hug, give um a bear hug. If you want to say the weather's great, say the weather's great. If you want to say "the peace of Christ be with you" and they don't know what to say in return, that's okay. But let's express our unified sense of the grace of Jesus in our life. Just take a minute or two and greet one another.