All the believers were together and had everything in common. (Acts 2:44)
In the early days of the Christian church there were no denominations. People were either believers or not. Most of the towns or cities where there were disciples of Jesus had single congregations. There was no picking and choosing which fellowship to belong to. Divisions first began to set in when the gospel reached the Gentiles and there was sometimes friction with the Jewish believers. But even where this was the case they were not divided into separate churches.
The Luxury of Diversity
Today in Britain we have a plethora of Christian denominations. You can visit just about any town or village and choose where to worship from a choice of congregations - Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Brethren, Pentecostal, Traditional Evangelical ... the list goes on and on. This means that people with a particular theological leaning or a desire to worship in a particular manner can congregate together.
This has its advantages. Where differences between people are minimised, harmony should be greater. For example, someone who practices speaking in tongues will not have to keep justifying their belief within a Pentecostal church but may have a lot of explaining to do within a Methodist congregation. Someone else who prefers a contemplative style of worship may feel at home in a Brethren assembly but completely out of place in a Charismatic fellowship.
So we have the luxury of finding a church we can feel comfortable in, where our theology is not questioned and our style of worship is considered acceptable. In some ways this is a positive thing because it fosters acceptance and unity.
Diversity in Unity
However, this also creates problems because it tends to lead towards imbalance. We are in danger of segregating different personality types in different Christian ghettos.
I wonder if Paul could have used his analogy of the body (1 Cor 12) in many of our modern churches for, it seems to me, that different parts of the body have ended up in different congregations. There are some churches full of exuberant teens-and-twenties, while others soldier on with an average age in the sixties.
Some churches are filled with people whose focus is on evangelism while others are concerned with social justice. Some encourage congregational participation while others limit ministry to a few. Some place Scripture and hearing God's word at the heart of their services while others consider the focus should be on ministering to God in worship.
So the extroverts go to the Pentecostal church, the introverts kneel quietly in the Church of England pews, the scholars pore over Scripture in the Brethren assembly and the artistic types feel liberated in Charismatic meetings.
The church body has been carved up into bits and strewn across the community. In many places there are attempts to get churches of different denominations working together. But they are rarely successful because there is not a complete understanding of one another. There is a natural distrust because we do not realise that apparent differences in emphasis or worship style are simply down to our God-given differences in personality and gifting.
The local church is supposed to contain all the different members of the body - those who are energised by lively worship and those who are refreshed through quiet contemplation, the vitality and enthusiasm of the young together with the wisdom and maturity that come with age, the iconoclasts and the traditionalists, the pastors and the evangelists, the strong and the weak, the babes in Christ and the fathers in the faith.
Diversity in Prayer
All of these things impact the way we pray, whether it be posture, language or emotional content. Prayer should not be affected in this way but it is. I feel comfortable kneeling in an Anglican church, but not in my own fellowship where I've never seen anyone else kneel. In a Charismatic service I may sing in tongues when other people do, but would feel uncomfortable doing the same in a Brethren assembly. I am happy reciting the beautiful words of some liturgical prayers which express my heart, but would only use extempore prayers in my church.
Perhaps all this simply reflects my own weakness and my lack of integrity before God in my worship, but I'm not so sure. I think all these expressions of prayer have their value and their place. Though if we spend our Christian lives in one congregation or denomination chances are that we will only experience the blessings of some of these modes of prayer and miss out on others.
Prayer College Assignment
If you get the opportunity to visit a church from a different tradition to your own or to meet to pray with believers of other denominations, why not take the risk and step out of your comfort zone. You can start to knit the body back together and, while you gain a deeper understanding of other brothers and sisters, you might even discover new ways of praying which bring you closer to God.