Feelings of sorrow were replaced with feelings of rage. Who were these people and had they any clue what they just did? In the face of tragedy, time stood still, racism ceased, sexual orientation didn't matter. All that mattered was that we were Americans, brothers and sisters bound together by nationality and history. No atheists or agnostics dared bemoan the constant expressions of our need for God. Speeches were given and prayers were sent up pleading for God's mercy, forgiveness, help, and defense. There were no SNL skits making fun of Jesus. We were united. We heard the phrase, "United we stand. Divided we fall" on a continual basis. It was understood that whatever our differences were, they would have to take a backseat as we faced our enemy. Congress moved quickly to declare war and there wasn't a sound heard against going to war. No doubt there were those against it, but they either thought better of saying anything or were washed out by the push of those ready to defend the country and the loss of life.
Churches were flooded as people received Christ and rededicated their lives to Him. Church attendance spiked around the country in every denomination. An awakening began to take place in the spiritual realm of our country. Church denominations quit fighting each other for a short time. Doctrinal issues were overlooked as churches sought to unite to show solidarity and to provide shelter to the many souls looking for answers and salvation.
But something happened. As the war drudged forward and as victory seemed out of reach, we forgot the cost and we begin to split apart again. We suddenly didn't want to allow people to pray to Christ at reoccurring memorials at Ground Zero. A Muslim mosque began being talked about in efforts to have it built right down the block from Ground Zero. Racism resurfaced. Liberalism versus conservatism became normal political wars again and the church attendance declined. Churches began squabbling again and doctrinal issues that divide took precedent over what we had in common. This has continued to where we are today in America. Christianity on a national level across denomination lines is declining as a whole while other religions (Islam, Mormonism) are on the rise. Nationally, more churches are closing than opening and the average congregation sits around 75 plus or minus 25.
While I could certainly continue writing of the problems with American culture in the face of 9-11, the point I want to make is that of the church. The church faces her own 9-11 and has been doing so from the beginning of time. Satan invaded the Garden of Eden and caused death, in fact, mass death. Adam's sin brought death to all of humanity. The original sin brought disease, pain, toiling, sorrow, and death to all mankind. From that time since, God has been raising up men and women to preach His Gospel message and to proclaim the day of the Lord. The greatest example ever set was that of Jesus Christ who left Heaven to come to earth to be born in a manger, hunted, detested, ridiculed, rejected, and ultimately killed to show the way, the truth, and the life. His resurrection sealed Satan's defeat and He empowered His disciples and those early church founders in Acts to take the world by storm. The church of Acts blew up to over 5000 plus in just a few weeks' time and has been growing ever since. However, Christianity's history hasn't always been so kind as the Bible was used to excuse gross negligence and hatred. Some of this has come back to bite Christianity and we see some of the backlash even today. The famous Ghandi said of Christianity, "I very much like and could believe in Jesus Christ. It's His followers that I have issue with."
I'm proud to be part of a community that has a very active Ministerial Association. It's the first such community that I've been a part of that has this entity in operation. The PMA is made up of three Pentecostal churches, two Baptist churches, two Methodist churches, one Lutheran church, one Presbyterian church, and one Catholic church. Others attend from time to time, but overall this is the faithful few. Now one doesn't need a theological degree to know that the three Pentecostal pastors differ in a few things with the two Baptist pastors. It's also very obvious to anyone who knows history that the Catholic pastor and Lutheran pastor certainly have odds theologically (Martin Luther and the Reformation anyone). But in almost four and a half years of pastoring in Perry and being a part of this group, I've watched as we have all formed a bond of friendship and camaraderie. We certainly wouldn't be able to completely agree on our doctrinal and theological points, but as it was said in our meeting today, the important thing is our group has been built around what we agree on, not what we disagree with. And this is vitally important.
If it is true that a divided front will always falter in war, then it is no wonder why Christianity is faltering in face of our enemy. Matthew 16 tells us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church and in knowing that we know the church will ultimately be victorious, but this doesn't mean we aren't taking our unnecessary lumps and bruises. In fact what we do find is a command to be like Christ and do the ministry of Christ. There is only so much one church can do, but a group of nine churches can do infinitely more. I believe we must start celebrating what we have in common in Christianity and stop focusing on where we are different. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting churches stop preaching their doctrines for the sake of a kumbaya feeling. On the contrary, God didn't make us robots to all think alike. Many of the New Testament scriptures are very open to interpretation and as such, we all have to walk out our own salvation with fear and trembling and in context with the whole Bible. I've learned that just because I completely believe something to be one way, it doesn't mean it's complete truth. In fact the Word of God is too powerful, too mighty, too great to truly be completely 100% understood by any mortal man. When any man or denomination draws a line in the sand and claims they are the only ones with the truth, they are inevitably claiming that everyone else is a liar. Just in my 31 years of living, there are things I once thought of as absolute truth that I've since found out I was wrong about. There have been a few other things that I thought were certainly up for grabs only to find out in my own study that I believe them to be absolute. So no denomination or Christian has the market cornered on truth. Jesus is the way, TRUTH, and life. Jesus is God. If any man thinks He has God figured out, scripture says that man is a fool.
Again, I'm not suggesting we stop teaching and preaching our doctrines. Indeed some great men have went before us that truly believe 100% in a certain interpretation of the Bible. I'm proud to be Church of God because I believe it to be the most correct interpretation of the Bible in terms of doctrine and theology. Other good Christian people are part of the Baptist church and they believe the doctrine and theology of John Calvin and others to be the most correct version of scripture. The truth is we have to be true to our convictions and to ourselves. I would be a liar if I claimed to believe in the doctrine of the Church of God and that of Pentecost and preached something different. The problem you see is not our preaching of our doctrines as much as it is our preaching of exclusiveness which alienates and demonizes everyone, including other Christians, who do not believe the Bible the same way we do. In doing so, we inevitably cut off the reinforcements God may have just lined up to help us in our time of need. The truth is there will be Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, and other Christian denominations in Heaven. I'm convinced we may just be shocked at who makes it and who doesn't if we could ultimately know. On the flip side, there will Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, and other "Christians" in hell for eternity as well.
You see the thing that binds us together is our belief in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God, the only begotten of the Father, the sacrifice for sin, the Suffering Servant and the Redeeming Savior. We believe He was born of a virgin, never sinned, died, and was resurrected. We believe He ascended to the Father and that He's coming back again. We have all of that in common and according to scripture and the church of Acts, this all we must have down to make it to Heaven. We must believe in Jesus Christ and accept Him. If that is the case, why do we fight so much against each other? If all of Christianity truly had a united front on issues like abortion, gay marriage, child abuse, teen pregnancy, importance of the family, and community revival, don't you think we could turn the tide? There are no shortages of atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers who find themselves "offended" at the mention of Christ or at the possibility of their "right" being infringed upon. They successfully have mounted attacks against our Biblical beliefs and our great country's Biblical foundations. They are winning many of these wars. Meanwhile Pentecostals don't want to be around Baptists and Methodists are offended by Presbyterians.
Like the rabbit and turtle pictured above couldn't be more different, the church is much the same. One thing both the rabbit and the turtle have in common is their desire to eat lettuce. That one desire brought those two animals together to share a meal. What would happen . . . what could happen if churches across local communities would set aside their doctrinal differences, focus on what they have in common, and promote Jesus Christ? I believe we would see revival like our country has never known. If it's ever needed it's now! With the influx of false religions in America today and liberalism on the rise threatening to snuff out what made America great, churches can't afford to sit behind their doctrinal commitments and pray. We must unite.
That scripture in Matthew 16? You know the one about the gates of hell not prevailing against the church? Before Jesus finishes His discourse, He tells Peter and ultimately the church that whatever is loosed and bound in heaven will be reciprocated on earth. So here's a call for the church, the bride of Christ, to unite as one body (1 Cor. 12) and tackle and confront these battles coming against God's people and His creation. Don't let go of your doctrines which make you distinct. Be true to your convictions and beliefs. But by all means, be truer still to the reason and rationale of Christianity: the Son of God, Jesus Christ.