Jesus didn’t say anything about how he wanted us, his followers, to organize ourselves. He didn’t tell us what structures we should have or what we should do in our services. Perhaps he didn’t do these things because he wanted to leave room for each group of his followers to organize themselves in ways that were appropriate to their own cultures and their own times.
Even though he didn’t tell us how to organize ourselves, he did say a lot about how he wants us to treat each other. Most importantly, he said that he wants us to love each other. He said that it is by our love for each other that the world will know that we are his disciples (John 13:35).
Jesus said that if we love him we will keep his commands. The Greek text makes it clear that Jesus is not saying that if we love him we should obey his commands. He is saying that if we love him we will obey his commands. To put it another way; if we love him we will find ourselves obeying his commands. To put it yet another way; obedience to his commands is an inevitable consequence of our love for him.
So, if we love him we will find ourselves loving each other and this will convince the world that we are his disciples.
All we have to do, if we want to make the church a different place, is to obey Jesus’ commands and the church will change. It’s been changing ever since it began because God’s servants obeyed his commands. We have made mistakes, sometimes big ones, but God never stopped loving us, the Holy Spirit never stopped working in us, and the Kingdom of God never stopped its advance. Praise God – the church is changing today because Christians, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, are following the teachings of Jesus.
We are all aware of the many, many divisions within the universal Christian church to which we belong. One way we can start healing those divisions is to get rid of the rules that divide the church. I talk about Jesus’ teachings on these human rules in the article “Do modern churches follow the teachings of Jesus?”. These human rules were introduced by people and people can get rid of them. Perhaps it would be good if every Christian church, denomination and organization examined its rules every few years to see whether they encourage unity or division. If any rule is found to encourage division – get rid of it.
Or, perhaps, there is a simpler solution to the problem; we throw out all rules except the rules instituted by our loving Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. There are two rules that we need to follow – “Love God” (with everything you’ve got) and “Love others the same way you love yourself”. Everything else depends on these two. Jesus said so. (Matthew 22:40). OK, Jesus also left us with a short list of commands that he said should be taught to new disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), but I reckon that every one of those commands just gives us practical detail on how we are to obey the two, most important, commands. In the 21st Century, the practices and language of many Christian denominations seem very strange to outsiders, but the commands of our Lord and Savior do not seem strange. Indeed they seem very logical and right (You will find a list of Jesus’ commands on the homepage.)
The truth is, of course, that achieving real change in denominations that are bound by centuries of human traditions and rules will be extremely difficult and may not be possible. Today, many Christians are leaving mainstream denominations. They are developing simpler ways of expressing their love for God. Their witness to non-Christians may, therefore, be simpler, clearer and more effective.
If we believe that God wants us to be part of a mainstream denomination, then we must work for change within that denomination. If, on the other hand, we believe that God wants us to be part of a group of his followers outside mainstream denominations, then we have the privilege of serving him, and others, free from the rules that have been layered upon the church over the centuries. In either case we must continue to recognize one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. And we must respect and listen to each other.
“Therefore, …let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)