This is an old joke by Emo Philips, once ranked as the funniest religious joke of all time:
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.
Like most good jokes, it has more than an ounce of truth. One of the most important questions Christians should be asking is this: “When I think that the Church is wrong on doctrine, what should I do?”
The Reformation has provided an answer: leave. Find or form a new church. Perhaps you don’t leave right away, perhaps you give the Church time to see that you (the individual) are the one who possesses the Truth, but ultimately, if they don’t come around, you’re outta there. The joke above is a reflection of the immense pain that this answer has caused Christianity. There are countless separate religious bodies acting as independent representatives of Christ’s Gospel, while vehemently disagreeing with one another. Somewhat startlingly, the stock Reformation answer isn’t in the Bible. That is, the Bible doesn’t give leave as an answer, or even as an option. Instead, we’re fed this strong brew (Hebrews 13:17-18):
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.
If someone wants to point to where Scripture advises (or permits) cutting off Communion from other Christians, or forming a separate Church, etc., I’d love to hear it. Until then, how about some more strong brew? Matthew 18:15-17, setting the Church up as the final earthly arbiter of disputes:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.