The Church is Not a Jelly Doughnut


The title of this article may seem rather strange, but there is an explanation.  Recently I was given the opportunity to speak at our local middle school at their annual Career Day.  Following my remarks concerning the work of preaching there was some time for the children to ask questions.  Among the questions that were asked, one stood out.  A young lady asked why there are so many different churches with so many different beliefs and why can’t everyone just be in one church.

I maintained that in fact this is a worthwhile desire.  I further suggested that we should simply follow the New Testament in matters pertaining to religion.  The result from this would be that we would be just like the church in the first century.  At that time there was in fact only one church and all of God’s people were united.  I finished my remarks by suggesting that this has long been the plea of churches of Christ.

Apparently the teacher of the class in which I was speaking did not agree with my answer, because she proceeded to “further explain” the answer to this young lady.  She compared our present religious situation to people’s preference for different kinds of doughnuts.  We all understand that not everyone likes the same kind of doughnuts.  You may like glazed doughnuts while I may like chocolate-covered doughnuts.  Someone else may like jelly doughnuts.  But  these different kinds of doughnuts exist because of our different tastes.

Her application of this principle to religion is rather obvious.  Just as people have different preferences when it comes to doughnuts, people have different preferences concerning religion.  And differing denominations accommodate all of those different ideas.  If, for example, you like the sound of an instrument with your singing, there is a church to accommodate you.  Or, if you would rather have a choir do your singing for you, there is a church that will accommodate that also.  Just like all those different kinds of doughnuts, there is a church for just about every preference.
Of course, the problem with this kind of thinking is that the church is not a jelly doughnut.  The church is the blood-bought body of Christ – it is His kingdom.  As a result, it is Jesus, and not any of us who has all authority over the church.  We can choose the type of doughnut that we like best – or decide not to eat doughnuts at all.  But in those matters that have to do with what is at the very heart of the church, the decision is not ours to make.

Those who celebrate religious division certainly did not get that idea out of the Bible.  Through the pen of David, God extolled the virtue of unity.  “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)  The Lord could not have been any clearer in his teaching concerning unity among his followers.  “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17).  Paul emphasized the priority of unity among the people of God.  “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

As long as mankind gives greater respect to his preferences than to following God’s word, there will be differing denominations to cater to those preferences.  May the day be hastened when more people raise questions as this young lady and recognize the disparity between our present religious situation and the prayer of Jesus for the unity of his followers.

Thomas W. Larkin