are one of natures most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they
stick together." - Vesta M. Kelly
First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida was ready to move into its
beautiful new 5,000-seat sanctuary. The date for the dedication was set. The church was
excited! But among those thousands of enthusiastic Baptists were many staff members and
volunteers who couldnt go to the dedication. Nursery attendants, childrens
church staff, teachers, parking lot attendants, and others would have to be at their
service posts, not in the auditorium.
Then another Orlando-area church, Calvary Assembly, heard about First
Baptists problem. Calvary offered to send enough volunteers to take over all of
First Baptists service positions on dedication day. First Baptist accepted. And all
of First Baptists staff were free to attend their dedication!
A few years later, Calvary Assemblys own new sanctuary was nearly
complete. Can you guess what First Baptist did? Yes! They sent enough Baptist volunteers
so that all of Calvarys staff could go to its dedication!
It was a heartwarming example of two different churches with two
different styles of worship loving and helping each other.
When you saw this chapters title, did you say "How can the
Bible talk about loving people from other churches? In Bible times there werent
The answer is both "no, it cant" and "yes, it
"No," because todays formal denominations didnt
But "yes," because the New Testament does talk about
loving Christians whose beliefs and practices differ from our own, or who follow different
Christian leaders. And thoughtfully reading those passages can help us deal with
our differences today.
We are supposed to love those from other churches (and not stop
"But concerning the pure brotherly love that there should be
among Gods people ... God himself is teaching you to love one another. Indeed, your
love is already strong toward all the Christian brothers throughout your whole nation.
Even so, dear friends, we beg you to love them more and more" (1 Thess. 4:9-10).
More Scriptures: John 13:34-35; 15:9-13; 15:17-18; Eph. 1:15-16; 1 John
3:14-16; 2 John v. 5-6.
Why should we love members of other churches?
Because were part of one body, the body of Christ!
"Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with
Christs body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it
complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each
needs all the others" (Rom. 12:4-5).
Also read: Rom. 15:1-2; 15:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:3-7;
4:12-16; Col. 1:18; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Pet. 4:10; 1 John 3:14-19.
Scripture tells us to edify (build up) all of the body. Is that just
Methodists? Catholics? Baptists? Lutherans?
No. The body of Christ includes people from all denominations.
Building up other Christians starts in our own churches, but doesnt end there.
Do we act as if were one body? Not always. We even lived in one
town where the ministerial association disbanded. Few ministers wanted to work together.
Those who did couldnt agree on how to do it. And those who honestly tried kept
Do people from other churches even know God?
In my teens, few church members in our little town seemed to
live Godly lives. But eventually I learned, to my surprise, that God loved and accepted
people from each of those churches, and that many of them genuinely loved him.
I especially learned from the "charismatic renewal" in both
the Protestant and Catholic churches (I even visited, and thoroughly enjoyed, one Jewish
group it had reached). For many of us, it repeated the same lesson the early Church
learned in Acts 10 and 11.
The earliest church believed that only Jews could be Christians. They
wouldnt even visit with non-Jews ("Gentiles"). Then God, in a vision, told
Cornelius (a non-Jew) to invite Peter (a Jew) to his home. Through another vision, he
instructed Peter to say "yes." (Acts 10:1-6; 9-20). Peter went.
But God barely let him start speaking. Then he interrupted Peter by
pouring out the Holy Spirit on his audience. They began praising God in languages
theyd never learned (Acts 10:28-48). Since that was exactly what had
happened to Peter himself on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), it left him
no doubt that God had accepted his Gentile listeners as Christians.
But church headquarters wasnt happy! They called Peter on the
carpet. (Acts 11:1-3). Peters defense was: "since it was God
who gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us ... who was I to argue? That
made sense. "When the others heard this, all their objections were answered ...
Yes, they said, God has given to the Gentiles, too, the privilege of
turning to him and receiving eternal life" (Acts 11:15-18).
Beginning around the 1950s, God repeated that same lesson by
pouring out his Spirit widely among Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and some Jews. We
learned to honor what we saw God doing in each others lives. We said of each
other: "Look! God has accepted them!"
When we turn to God, we dont all use the same prayer or ritual.
Some of us kneel at an altar and repeat a sinners prayer. Others lift up a heartfelt
prayer during the Mass. And many pray informally, like my wife, who became a Christian
with an earnest prayer on her grandmothers basement landing. God reaches past the
details, words, and methods. He meets us when we honestly cry out to him. Joel 2:32
says: "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be
Paul says God has adopted us (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5).
Lets think about that. then we adopt children, must they learn
all about us before they join our family? No! Theyre adopted because we loved them.
We chose them. We paid the price. And we made the transaction legal and complete.
Just so, we become Gods sons and daughters when we accept his
love. It doesnt matter much whether we learn about him before or afterwards.
Were his children. And were brothers and sisters. Squabbling ones, perhaps,
but still siblings.
At times, weve visited other churches in our community
with our pastors knowledge and permission - just to meet more of the Body of Christ
and to build bridges between congregations. As we did, we saw the fruit of the Holy Spirit
in people from all denominations. It was enriching and humbling!
Did the early Church accept just anyone as a Christian?
The church tried to distinguish between vital and trivial. It
took firm stands against false teachers:
"Please ... try to stop the men who are teaching such wrong
doctrine. Put an end to their myths and fables, and their idea of being saved by finding
favor with an endless chain of angels leading up to God wild ideas that stir up
questions and arguments instead of helping people accept Gods plan of faith" (1
Also read: Matt. 7:15-20; 2 John v. 7-11; Jude v. 4; Rev. 2:20;
The early Church was also cautious of "Christians" who said
one thing but lived another:
"There are many who walk along the Christian road who are
really enemies of the cross of Christ ... their god is their appetite: they are proud of
what they should be ashamed of; and all they think about is this life here on earth"
When one church member did "something so evil that even the
heathen dont do it" ("living in sin" with his fathers
wife), Paul asked, "Why arent you mourning in sorrow and shame and seeing to
it that this man is removed from your membership? ... you are boasting about your purity
and yet you let this sort of thing go on ... Remove this ... wicked person from among you,
so that you can stay pure.
"When ... I said not to mix with evil people ... what I meant was
that you are not to keep company with anyone who claims to be a brother Christian but
indulges in sexual sins, or is greedy, or is a swindler, or worships idols, or is a
drunkard, or abusive. Dont even eat lunch with such a person.
"It isnt our job to judge outsiders. But it certainly is our
job to judge and deal strongly with those who are members of the church and are sinning in
these ways. God alone is the judge of those on the outside. But you yourselves must deal
with this man" (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
God asks "How can we walk together with your sins between
us?" (Amos 3:3.). But those who honestly tried to mirror the Gospel were welcomed
Also read: Ps. 119:63; Matt. 7:21-27; Mark 9:38-40; 1
Cor.1:2; 1 John 1:6-7; 2:4-6; 3:3-10; 3:20; 5:18.
What if other Christians dont believe as we do?
"For God has accepted them to be his children. They are
Gods servants, not yours. They are responsible to him, not to you. Let him tell them
whether they are right or wrong. And God is able to make them do as they should"
More Scriptures: Rom. 14: 1; 14:6-13; 15: 6-7.
Which should be harder? Loving our enemies, or loving Christians
who partially disagree with us?
How can we do it?
Focus on what we have in common.
The heart of the message is the same in most Christian churches,
Protestant and Catholic. It is that Christ died for our sins, and was resurrected. It is
that we should love God, love our neighbors, and help them. On those central beliefs, few
And when we love God personally, our differences shrink still farther.
Catholic nun Sister Francis Clare put it this way:
"Once we put more stress on the who we believe in rather
than the whats, a lot of the whats that have separated us become so-whats ... So
what if you believe in immersion and I believe in pouring. It is not so much how we get it
as long as we are born again into the family of God, and who we walk with after we are in
... and in what measure of Gods power.
"Perhaps the greatest shift all denominations need to make is that
shift of emphasis from the whats we believe in to the who we believe in.
"What we have made so complicated can be so simple when we allow
God to reveal Himself not only to our minds but also to our hearts. As some mathematician
computed it, it is possible to miss heaven by seventeen inches the difference
between the mind and the heart, the difference between the what and the who"
(Francis Clare, Wow, God, Resurrection Press, Mineola, NY, 1998, p. 179).
Out of all todays denominations and independent churches, what are the
odds ours understands everything best?
Consider Pauls words in Philippians 3:12: "I havent
learned all I should even yet."
If Paul didnt claim to know all the answers, how can we?
He stressed humility: "Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making
allowance for each others faults because of your love. Try always to be led along
together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another" (Eph. 4:2-3; also 1
Keep our love fresh and alive.
One church we attended was so much in love with God that we had to
arrive 20 minutes early to get seats anywhere near the front! Later, we visited a church
of the same denomination in another state. Nearly everyone was sitting in a large
"U" at the rear and along both walls. My first thought was "Oh, oh!"
We lived there long enough to learn that those were wonderful,
friendly, caring people who still loved God. But now they were resting in how good God had
been 20 years before! Their God was the same, but their love had cooled.
Is our "first love" for God and others still fresh? (Rev.
Dont argue about differences.
Pauls words to two "sisters" from Philippi strike
"I want to plead with those two dear women, Euodias and
Syntyche. Please, please, with the Lords help, quarrel no more be friends
again" (Phil. 4:2).
He emphasized it:
"Remind your people ... and command them in the name of the
Lord not to argue over unimportant things. Such arguments are confusing and useless and
even harmful" (2 Tim. 2:14).
More verses: Phil. 2:14; 1 Tim. 6:4-5; 2 Tim. 2:16-17;
2:23-25; Titus 3:9-10; Heb 12:14-15.
Treat differences in beliefs with a mature, caring spirit.
"I hope all of you who are mature Christians will see eye-to-eye with me on
these things, and if you disagree on some point, I believe that God will make it plain to
you if you fully obey the truth you have" (Phil. 3:5-16).
Also read: Rom. 14:13-23; Col. 2:16-18.
How can we love Christians with other styles of worship?
Husbands, may I ask you a question? Do you always agree with your
wifes tastes or she with yours? No? Then why do you stay married? Isnt
it because you love each other and have much in common despite your differences?
We can all learn from that.
Small differences can become severe "thorns in the flesh."
Friends of ours attended a church that split in two over styles of music. It had been one
of the citys leading places of worship. Now neither half of that split
church exists. Does that honor God? Cant we learn to love those with different
tastes, appreciate the good in each others preferences, and "take delight in
honoring each other" (Rom. 12:7)?
Understand how each others traditions developed.
Libraries and the Internet are marvelous sources of information about
each others histories. We can also borrow books or videos from local pastors. As we
learn, traditions and styles of worship take on new meaning. We can understand,
appreciate, and honor without criticizing.
Appreciate how denominations "fit" different people.
Our preferences in worship come from many sources: how we
grew up, our personalities, our pastors, our experiences.
When we eat out, do we ask "which restaurant is right?"
Dont we ask what style it is? How good the food is? How varied the menu? Whether
its Oriental? Mexican? French? A health-food restaurant? A fast-food outlet? Casual?
Elegant? Costly? Economical?
Varied Christian traditions also fit distinct tastes. Most offer
similar menu items. But they are cooked differently, the spices vary, and each has
its own "house specialty."
Each of my six children has a distinct personality. Does that
make me love them less? No. My youngest son and daughter are near-opposites. Shes
quiet, intellectual, and sensitive. Hes outgoing. Yet theyre close friends.
They both love God in ways that reflect their own personalities. Shouldnt we respect
that in all of Gods children?
When Christian writers and speakers John and Elizabeth Sherrill began
seeking a church home, they visited a dozen local congregations. Elizabeth said in her
book All The Way To Heaven that "What we were looking for we didnt know,
just that we werent finding it." Finally, two years later, they decided to look
for an unfriendly church. There, Elizabeth mused, "people would leave you
alone. Let you have your own experience, if youre going to have one."
Thats not how most of us would choose a church! But, for
them, it worked. There they grew and matured marvelously as Christians.
The motto of the National Association of Evangelicals says it
beautifully: "In essentials unity, in distinctives liberty, in all things
Give credit for each others strengths.
The Christian life is like a multi-faceted diamond. The facets include
love (for both God and our neighbors); joy; peace; faith; prayer; worship, miracles,
God-honoring lives; the fruit and gifts of the Spirit; Christian education; missions,
disaster relief, medicine, and more. Almost every church Ive visited was more
"polished" than its neighbors in some facet. Each deserves credit for what it
So, instead of belittling each other, why not honestly acknowledge each
others strengths? Why not learn from each other?
What happens when we dont? Jesus told the Pharisees "A
divided kingdom ends in ruin. A city or home divided against itself cannot stand" (Matt.
When we "put down" other churches, arent we making
Jesus cast out Jesus? How, then, do we expect his kingdom to stand?
Paul had a forceful, sobering view of early Christianitys
"Dear brothers, I beg you in the name of the Lord Jesus
Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so that there
wont be splits in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought
and purpose ... Some of you are saying, "I am a follower of Paul"; and others
say that they are for Apollos or for Peter; and some that they alone are the true
followers of Christ. And so, in effect, you have broken Christ into many pieces" (1
What would Paul think of how much more splintered we are today?
In his words, "When you ... divide up into quarreling groups, doesnt that
prove you are still babies, wanting your own way? In fact, you are acting like people who
dont belong to the Lord at all ... Doesnt this show how little you have grown
in the Lord? (1 Cor. 3:3-9; compare 1 Cor. 4:6).
When we take sides among competing Christian leaders like Peter,
Luther, Calvin, Knox, or Wesley who all deserve honor arent we, too, "breaking
Christ into many pieces?" Doesnt that just break Gods heart all over
The comic strip character Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and
he is us!" Isnt it time we matured?
Acknowledging whats good in other churches, rather than
disparaging them, may seem radical. It is radical! It takes maturity and courage.
But I have to believe it pleases God.
When my family hunts minerals, we use the individual gifts and
abilities Gods given each of us. I use logic, reasoning, and planning. My wife and
daughter? Sensitivity to Gods leading. My son? Observation and interpretation.
But when we combine those talents, and work together as a team, we
achieve much more than any of us could alone.
Some of our individual abilities are natural, some spiritual, and some
come from study, experience, and growth. But we all have them. We value them. When
combined, those "gifts" multiply our successes. That can also be true when our
communities churches recognize each others strengths and learn effective ways
to minister together.
"Love each other with brotherly affection and take
delight in honoring each other" (Rom. 12:10).
More Scriptures: Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 13:7; Eph. 4:1; Phil. 4:8;
James 4:11-12; 1 Pet. 4 10.
How does loving each other affect our communities?
What reasons do people give you for not attending church?
There are many answers. One young woman told my youngest son she
didnt believe in God because shed never seen anything "real" happen
in church. No answers to prayer, no miracles, no love. A lady told me she and her husband
"never felt part of the family" in a church theyd attended for six years.
Others think churches just want money.
Our own children tell us their faith didnt come from any
of the excellent churches weve attended, but from seeing us live consistent lives at
home, and from the miracles and answers to prayer they saw in our own family.
And often we dont love and help each other as we should.
Were all close to our own churches. We see the people who come,
but not the many who dont. We see the small battles we win, but not the larger war
were losing. Are more people forgetting God? Are there more single mothers? More
poverty? More drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, suicide, spouse and child abuse, and
How much of that is because we dont love and help each other?
Some certainly is. Were amazed at the enthusiastic reactions we get from non-Christians
about "loving our neighbors". When the fast food outlet my son managed
decided that all tips would help a local family pay for their sons kidney
transplant, one unchurched worker said "Oooooh, were helping somebody? That
makes me happy inside!"
Helping neighbors draws people to church. Leaders of two large "help"
organizations told us that all their partner churches grew after they chose to
cooperate to "love their neighbors."
Are any churches today moving toward loving and helping each other?
There are encouraging examples. One thriving church in the shadow of
Wyomings Teton Mountains, Jackson Hole Christian Center, was formed through the
merger of four local churches.
Our close friends include a pastor and his wife from the Worldwide
Church of God, a former cult thats turned back to mainstream Christianity. After
founder J. Herbert Armstrongs death, the churchs leadership determined to make
the Bible their standard of belief, and studied it. The result? The church swung sharply
back into agreement with most Christians. J. Michael Feazell tells the story in The
Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God (Zondervan, © 2001).
Feazell says: "The gospel broke into our hearts like a clear,
fresh, bubbling mountain brook after an exhausting, seemingly endless climb over burning
rocks and parched soil on a blistering day. It was everything our souls craved and longed
for. It was the power of God for salvation bursting upon us like the light of day and like
shouts of rescue to hopeless souls, beaten, starved, and imprisoned in darkness."
How can we show we love people from other churches?
- Accept members of other churches as brothers and sisters, especially when their
"fruit" tells you its true.
- Pray for all of your citys churches to grow.
- Work together on special events (like World Visions "30 hour famine").
- Be alert to the needs of other churches, like Orlandos First Baptist and Calvary
- Join interchurch committees. Work on emergency shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens,
or clothes closets.
- Volunteer your mens group to help erect a new building for another
- Give pastors "no-strings-attached" friendship. When one of my colleagues
became a church leader, he lost his former friends. When he tried to keep up their
friendship, he told me he could "see" them thinking "what does the Bishop
- Mention noteworthy activities at other churches in your announcements.
- Join other churches for events like an African Childrens Choir concert.
- Forgive snubs and slights. We know one man whos still very hurt, years later,
because his non-denominational church was excluded from a joint crusade. "Watch
out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble,
hurting many in their spiritual lives" (Heb. 12:15).
- Recognize our responsibility to not further "break Christ into many
pieces." Instead, help heal the breaks that exist. Communicate lovingly with
brothers and sisters in other denominations.
- Remember, God does want us all to become one in Christ.
"I am giving a new commandment to you now love each
other just as much as I love you. Your strong love for each other will prove to the world
that you are my disciples" (John 13:34-35).
More Scriptures: Rom. 15:6; Eph. 2:16; 2:20-22.
Russ Taffs song sums it up it beautifully:
. . .But I dont care what label you may wear
If you believe in Jesus, you belong with me ...
Youre my brother, youre my sister, so take me by the hand
Together we will work until He comes
Theres no foe that can defeat us when were walking side by
As long as there is love, we will stand.
"The days are too short even for love; how can there be enough time