It never ceases to amaze me that, within the church, one can so easily be judged based on the congregation he or she belongs to. Now, before you read to much further, it seems to me that this is a problem pretty specific to the church of Christ, so if you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon I am describing, then you may move along. There is nothing to see here.
Let me use myself as an example. In recent months I have chosen to fellowship with the South Boone Church of Christ in central Indiana. This is a church I was excited to join and am still excited to belong to. It’s a fresh work with idealism and motivation behind its members. However, it is also a name that can bring a dismissive or even indignant attitude from others when they ask, “Where do you attend?”
Do to various reasons, people tend to have grudges against individuals at particular congregations. Sometimes, the association can grow so strong that people will categorize an entire congregation based on the actions of a few individuals. It doesn’t matter if those events happened yesterday or thirty years ago. The stereotype exists.
In I Corinthians 1:12-17, Paul reminds us that we are not defined by the individuals we worship with. Often, we will use this passage to condemn denominational leanings, and while that is a valid point, we cannot ignore other implications when it suits us. “Oh, you go to the church where (fill in the blank) is a/an (preacher/elder/attendee/groundskeeper/etc. You guys are nothing but trouble.” This is not how we are to identify our brothers and sisters. Regardless of what congregation I belong to of the church, I am Christ’s. I rest my salvation on no man.
Consider Revelation 3:1-6. Jesus has some pretty harsh things to say about Sardis here, but the real point for consideration here is that he recognizes a select few who are still acceptable in His sight. This is a dying congregation, but Christ does not judge His people by the congregation. He judges by the person. Individuals are brought before God, and we need to see members of the church in the same way – as individuals.
We must never assume to judge another Christian based on experiences we have had with other individuals from the same congregation. We cannot condemn them for decisions others have made. In I Corinthians 13:7, we are told that Christian love “hopes all things.” Christians need to be slow to judge, and we need to be ready to assume the best about our brothers and sisters in the faith. The Lord’s church can only gain the unity Christ prayed for in John 17:20-23 when we learn to put away our prejudices and self-righteousness for the common goal of helping each other each reach Heaven.