There are probably dozens of factors that work against unity of application in matters of church order. I’ll just mention some of the more important ones:
First, there are different views about the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. Since practices flow from beliefs, it is clear that there are many who view the Bible as primarily history. Some believe in the idea of development; that is, the Bible gives us a place to start but we are left to develop systems according to current needs and thinking in society. Conservative Christians hold to the complete inspiration and authority of Scripture, but even among these, there are differences of interpretation which give rise to differing forms of church government, and different practices.
Second, there is the power of tradition. Great grandfather was godly, renowned, and endured tremendous hardships for the things that have become distinctives of our group. How can we not defend these noble traditions? Doesn’t Paul even mention the blessedness of those who keep the traditions…….? And so, many questions are decided using the two hallowed rules: “We’ve never done it that way before,” or “We’ve always done it that way before.”
Third, there is the sad but true fact mentioned repeatedly in Scripture that some see an opportunity to control people or to make a gain through religion. Without being judgmental, we must realize that denominations are about the control of members and material assets. Professionalism such as the clergy is about authority, salaries, and benefits. None of these are described in Scripture, and by common consent none will be found in heaven. Yet they are obstacles to the coming together of all believers everywhere.
Fourth, there are always some who don’t even care that there are differences. Several times I have heard the analogy presented that the USA has the army, the navy, the air force, etc., but they are all Americans; just different departments that all work together to protect our country. Problem is, this attempts to compare an organization with an organism! The church has one Head, one Spirit, one body of which all believers are members, and (according to the Head), blessing depends upon sacrificial love and practical unity. Very little of this pertains to corporations and governments .
Many more obstacles could be cited; but behind them all is one spiritual adversary glad to use whatever works in the battle against unity, for therein lies the key to evangelism as the Lord revealed in John 17. The world looks at all the different camps, each with its own flag and traditions and doctrines, and silently thinks: “If they can’t decide where the truth is, and they are Christians, what chance do I have to figure it out?” And so sadly, rejects it all.
What can the concerned believer do in the face of such odds? Thankfully, the answer is not beyond us. The Lord has forewarned us that these things would occur and increase toward the close of the age. We cannot solve all the world’s problems. But we can bring glory to the Lord and make the greatest difference by obedience to His word in our own small sphere. I am responsible for my own choices and the conduct of those under my own roof. To neglect these while trying to change others, is surely misguided. Every church that is seeking to follow the instructions of the New Testament becomes a force for God in its own area, with influence that expands into other parts of the world as godliness and faith continue. Only eternity will reveal the impact that a few souls gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus have had on the world of their times.