God appointed His son Jesus to be the shepherd of His church. The sheep belong to Jesus alone.
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. John 10:11 (NASB)
The sheep are one flock.
“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. John 10:16 (NASB)
The “sheep of this fold” refers to the Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah and the “other sheep” are the non Jews, which means most of us.
- Think about it. One flock means unrestricted fellowship between all believers in one undivided community.
The Apostle Paul wrote of the unity and equality of all believers.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)
God said there must be no distinction or restriction of fellowship between Jews, Greeks, slaves or free men, men or women.
How can we read this text and yet isolate ourselves as we do into factions or denominations, with only limited fellowship between different brands of believers?
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he clearly saw all believers in that city as one church.
- They met in different houses yet Paul addressed them as one church. The same is true for Paul’s letters to other cities. Yet when the church in Corinth was still quite new, believers had begun to form factions.
Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 (NLT)
The same is true today.
We believe we are all members of body of Christ on earth, NOT THE BODIES of Christ.
- Yet in practice we think and speak and behave as if Christ had a Baptist body, a Methodist body, an Assemblies of God body, a Lutheran body and a Catholic Charismatic body.
Nearly 500 years ago, the Christians of Western Europe were ruled by a single church organisation directed by the Pope in Rome. There was a kind of unity imposed by force. The Pope was like an Emperor and High Priest who dominated Europe and decreed who could go to heaven or hell.
When the Reformation came, Catholic priests like Luther and Zwingli declared independence from Rome. They translated the Bible into German, so everyone could read the Word of God. This lead to a rapid chain reaction. Within a generation, the Bible translations were available in English and several other West European languages.
At that time, only a small percentage of Europeans could read. The availability of the Bible encouraged many people to learn to read.
- Nevertheless, the a great many believers remained illiterate and dependant on preachers.
- Why is it that so many modern Christians are still over dependent on preachers, since nearly everyone can now read the Bible?
Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and other leaders formed new churches, independent from Rome but still strongly under the control of priests, now called Pastors.
In addition, the new churches depended on political patronage and protection from German princes, Swiss provincial governments and later English kings.
- Why? Because the alternative was a brutal invasion by Catholic armies, leading to widespread massacres of Protestant believers. This actually happened several times in the centuries leading up to the Reformation.
The Reformers also argued over theology, so Lutherans and Calvinists could not enjoy fellowship with each other.
- Luther and Zwingli brutally persecuted Baptists who “rebaptised” believers and declared independence from the new Protestant church empires.
- Since then, Protestants have split and split and split until we have thousands of churches.
We do not have to go on being victims of church history.