It hit me forcibly in 2016 and so I prepared a public lecture about it. I sent it to a few groups but no one seemed interested enough even to acknowledge receipt of my email.
Ponder one challenging, indeed embarrassing thought from the prayer life of Jesus in John 17.21. With reference to His present and future followers he prayed: “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…”
This is a prayer for unity, togetherness among Christians, a prayer that continues to be an embarrassment and a challenge for the multitude of denominations locally, regionally and globally.
Let’s focus on Jamaica alone just now. How, except for rank carnality and obsession with group power plays can anyone explain why each of the various groupings (JCC, Jamaica Council of Churches; JEA, Jamaica Evangelical Alliance; FGF, Full Gospel Fellowship, etc.) could/should not be each 1 denomination?
If they apparently have so much in common to be under a common umbrella what is still so distinctive to justify separateness as individual denominations?
In a deep spiritual sense, the Church of Jesus Christ is in fact one despite us, in our exclusive denominational camps and in spite of us in our rugged individualism within our local churches. This is what one can call the essential reality of Christian unity.
In another sense, at the level of functional reality the Church of Jesus Christ needs to be one, i.e., to behave as one and that depends on all of us within local churches and within denominations.
I believe God is asking us to rethink our doctrinal distinctives.
Historically, denominations have mushroomed here and elsewhere because individuals and groups wish to emphasize or specialize in certain things or ‘truths’ that we regard as our denominational distinctives. That’s not a problem, so long as we do not allow distinctives to lead to divisiveness, where we sit in our camps and look down on others or speak unkindly against each other without even an intention of talking to or with one another.
The approach to distinctives which I would ask us to reject lovingly or surrender willingly is that approach which views our denominational distinctives, objectively, as ‘what ought to be prized and thus what is prescriptive for all Christians’.
Even if this approach was correct and defensible there could still be far fewer denominations within Christendom and more Church mergers and there should be greater togetherness between and among churches because much or most of what many of us prize as distinctives of us is held in the same way by others.
The problem is that, denominationally, we do not talk to each other enough to know that we share common distinctives or we might not be as humble, honest and sensible as the Disciples of Christ and the Presbyterian Church brethren in Jamaica who merged as one denomination the United Church several years ago.
The approach to distinctives which I recommend is that which views denominational distinctives, subjectively, as ‘what we prize and thus what is simply descriptive of us.’ The other approach I remind, views our denominational distinctives, objectively, as ‘what ought to be prized and thus what is prescriptive for all Christians’.
But you might say to me ‘come now Chisholm, surely you know that what we prize and thus what is descriptive of us could be what God commands or expects of all of us and therefore ought to be what all Christians prize and regard as prescriptive.’
My answer, you are dead right, it could be, operative word, could. But you must bear in mind that some things are possible, or probable or likely or certain if we have the evidence to move it along the spectrum.
Have we as churches created a stumblingblock for seekers after God and a scandal by our denominationalism?