But I really am against churches trying to be distinctive from each other to the point that they will not share in the fellowship of Christ with each other, or make arbitrary matters of distinction a test for that fellowship.
A commenter recently wondered why I do not leave the churches in the heritage we share because I don’t believe they should strive to be “distinctive.” I think it’s a legitimate question, and it deserves an answer.
This commenter felt I was rejecting 2000 years of church history. The fact is, the last 200 years of church history in our fellowship – churches of Christ – began with the re-founders’ desire (expressed in The Last Will and Testament of Springfield Presbytery)
“We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large: for there is but one body and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”
I do not at all reject the fact that for a couple thousand years before that, and after, churches of all hues, colors, faiths, beliefs and practices have divvied up the “Body of Christ at large” in order to be distinctive from each other, but I do not believe those instances to be examples that should be imitated.
Churches sometimes look for distinctiveness in all the wrong places … for instance, in arcane practices and beliefs that have no real basis in scripture.
And for some reason incomprehensible to me, the members of those churches feel that God wants that.
“Come out from them, says the Lord” is an encouragement to not associate with idolators, not believers.
And I think it’s worth noting that a word translated “distinctive” is not found in any of the major translations of the Bible.
As a general rule, I find that churches and fellowships who insist on being distinctive do so because of a mindset that believes that they are doing all the right things in all the right ways according to scripture.
A cursory examination of Romans 3 will put the lie to that perception.
As a general rule, I also find that an insistence on being distinctive results in an exclusionary mindset that can become judgmental, accusatory, condemnatory, and divisive.
A quick perusal of John 17 will prove that is not at all what Jesus prayed for His followers.
So how can Christians be distinctive?
By imitating Christ, to begin with. By proclaiming good news to the poor. By living simply and giving sacrificially. By accepting others as He has accepted us.
That will be sufficiently distinctive from the rest of the world as to cause people to take notice.
And, hopefully, for them to be drawn closer to God through His Son.