My current project is the establishment of First Century Bible College here in the heart of the Bible Belt in Memphis, Tennessee. I think the last days are upon us, and our focus as Christians should be on unifying believers on the essentials of the faith as they were understood from the Hebrew cultural perspective of the Apostles, and on preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. On the other hand, if I'm wrong and the Lord tarries, the best action we can take for reclaiming America from the God-haters and reprobates is to rebuild the foundations of our Judeo-Christian heritage, which means first strengthening our spiritual/cultural/political base. In truth, the Bible Belt has been capitulating to humanism and the progressive agenda nearly as fast as the rest of the nation – disintegrating more slowly only because of its historically larger bulwark of conservatism.
The signs suggest we have entered or are fast approaching the age of apostasy and that things will unravel quickly from here. If so, we should be mindful of God's warning that the last chapter of the Age of the Gentiles will be like the first one, and persecution will be heavy against faithful Yahweh worshipers (both Bible-faithful Christians and Torah-faithful Jews). I think it was primarily their common persecution that kept the early Christian believers unified, and prophecy warns that will be the case again in the last days.
It is far better for us to pro-actively seek unity out of love for Christ than to be forced to unify for mutual self-preservation, and that is the task the Holy Spirit has prompted me to pursue.
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The greatest impediment to Christian unity is the phenomenon of denominationalism, which I characterize as a form of tribalism in which people who might never have come to the same conclusions on their own, coalesce around a slate of doctrines and practices, embracing them as dogma.
Had it not been for persecution-driven unity, the problem of denominationalism would have emerged much sooner in Christendom. We see the seeds of it in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul writing: "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed … that there are quarrels among you … one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' and 'I of Apollos,' and 'I of Cephas,' and "I of Christ.'" A simple change of names highlights the timelessness of the rebuke: "I am of Calvin," and "I of Luther," and "I of Wesley." But today there are hundreds if not thousands of denominational figureheads to choose from – and many of their loyal team members fight like cats and dogs over relatively petty differences.
Roman Catholicism attempted to impose unity on Christendom, first by political consensus of theological elites and later by force of arms (and instruments of torture) until the Reformation broke their stranglehold (some of its early "reformed" denominational branches adopting a similar pattern of religious totalitarianism and coercion). Schisms along the road to the Reformation produced counter-claimants to the political/religious throne, the most powerful being the Orthodox Church, which in turn produced numerous conflicting denominational branches. There were also Christian "rebels" along the way, such as the Waldensians (claimed by modern Baptists as their theological progenitors), who declared independence from the state church.
After technological and social advances made the Bible available to everyone, the power of the political church model slowly waned (century by century), and the Bible-based concept of individual sovereignty in Christ grounded in personal study of the Bible steadily transformed the religious landscape. That concept was fleshed out as formal theory of social order by John Locke in his Two Treatises of Government (1690) – which heavily influenced Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence, and the political philosophy of America's founders generally. (Locke's first treatise was a point by point refutation of Sir Robert Filmer's biblically "creative" defense of the Divine Right of Kings, in which Locke brilliantly articulated a Bible-based view of individual freedom and equality. His second treatise modified Rousseau's "Social Contract" theory of government to re-ground the contract upon the individual rights implicit in Christian sovereignty that he had expounded in the first treatise).
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Denominationism did not end in that process but changed in character. The new denominations were created by followers of charismatic or influential leaders seeking to set in stone whatever package of perspectives and practices he/they taught them: essentially creating perpetual human institutions from what I believe God intended to be "seasonal" dispensations. This phenomenon of "create your own church" theology led to an explosion of new denominations in America, which spread throughout the world, along with the idea that no specific denomination perfectly represented the church on earth (notwithstanding the fierce loyalty of religious tribalists to their chosen institutions, some of which who still claim that salvation is exclusive only to their group).
Today, more than any time in history since the earliest days of Christianity, the true small "c" catholic (universal) church recognizes its freedom from denominationalism. As has always been true, Christ's church is made up of individual sheep from across the denominational spectrum whom He knows and preserves in His sheepfold. But today, especially in the evangelical movement, there is a growing rejection of denominationalism philosophically, if not always practically. For many "non-denominational" churches, the label is a marketing ploy to attract unaffiliated Christians seeking a new church home, when in practice there is no real change from the church's denominational roots. Nevertheless, we have entered a new era of (relative) freedom in Christ, just in time (I believe) for the in-gathering of His Bride.
However, in the bigger picture, denominationalism remains the overwhelming dominant factor in the global culture of Christendom – and the chief barrier to Christian unity. That truth is evident in many areas, but especially in the seminary systems. Almost universally, seminaries are denominational training centers, grooming students to adopt and embrace denominational perspectives and practices. The best of them educate students about alternative views, but ensure that their own views are shown to be correct in the comparison.
The mission of First Century Bible College is to pursue post-denominational unity on the essentials of the faith and to promote charitable tolerance for differences of opinion on the non-essentials. Our approach is to emphasize and facilitate the mastery of advanced critical thinking skills within the parameters of an authentic biblical worldview grounded in presuppositional apologetics. We want our students to achieve the maximum biblical literacy of which they are capable – by studying the Bible itself, with minimal reliance on the opinions of others, no matter how esteemed they may be. Students should know what various theologians have concluded on the various topics, but trust their own reasoning power, subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, on every non-essential issue.
Our philosophy of education is that every student should design their own degree program consistent with their unique calling and spiritual gifts, and that our best service is to provide them with a full menu of options and assistance in choosing among them as needed – with options from across the denominational spectrum (so long as faculty members abide by our statement of essentials). For both students and teachers, our approach to credentialing is the biblical maxim: "By their fruit you shall know them." We discourage emphasis on formal credentials and instead encourage the use of documentable proof of mastery of the topics and training in question from practical application in the real world.
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Space constraints limit what I can add here, but anyone interested in our vision statement may request it by email. I will conclude with the exhortation to all my readers to endeavor to break free from denominationalism and seek your own understanding of Bible truth from the Bible, and not from the opinions of other people about the Bible. And to always remember how Jesus defined "murder" in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:21-22) when we interact with those whose opinions on non-essentials we reject. Those two things will go a long way toward meeting our duty to seek Christian unity.