Comedian Emo Philips came up with this joke around 30 years ago. It was voted funniest religious joke of all time by…I’m not sure who:
“Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!” Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.”
It’s hilarious. And Jesus says “Ow, my side.”
This story actually happened: I met a young man my age a year or so ago who said that God would forgive me for attending the denomination I do. Of course he was joking. I didn’t laugh.
“Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13)
The name “Christian” was first used, as recorded in the book of Acts (11:26), in Antioch. An ancient city in Syria. Since then, the name has come to cover thousands of denominations and billions of people. Yet, if I had to list the one thing that true Christians have in common with one another, it would be a white-hot fervent love for Jesus, and subsequently, a desire to live out and express that love to others, both Christian and non. This is the essence of Christianity, and when denominations (even non-denominational denominations) infight and bicker and exclude and condemn–even silently–we are regressing as a cohesive body. During the early days of the church, it says that they were “together and had all things common” (Acts 4:32).
I recently read a line in a book that said humor is funny because there’s an element of truth in the absurdity. The jokes on us in this case though, because the central theme of Jesus’ work in beginning His church, was to have us be as one. “That they may be one even as we (Jesus and His Father) are one” (John 17:22).
For me, one of the greatest hinderances to church unity is a lack of expressed compassion. Reach out and touch someone–literally if you have to–and make them feel like they belong. No one should be attending any church and feel like an outsider. This is abhorrent to me. I’m sure Jesus doesn’t like it either. Then again, if someone’s not resonant with the heart of Jesus, will they even be sensitive to others’ feelings–even unexpressed, hidden feelings?
I don’t know if the denominational barriers in Christendom will ever fade and dissolve. We’re dealing with rich traditions that span generation upon generation and centuries. And know that there are prejudices (in my opinion) inherent in each one that will need to be overcome in order for this to happen. Any slight–however small, however imperceptible–is done unto Jesus. “If you’ve done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) However these differences are overcome, they need to be overcome with love: “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
It’s the Body of Christ. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12
God’s love is the glue that holds us together.