I’ve spent most of my life within walking distance of one of earth’s largest rivers – the Mighty Mississippi. Yearly, I’ve watched it swell beyond its banks, covering the flood plain into Arkansas to only be held back by the levee system erected to protect the flat inland areas from flooding. It’s an obvious geographical divider between east and west in North America. A quick glance at a topographical map shows the numerous streams and smaller rivers that are the tributary system that eventually feed into “the big river.” The Colorado, the Arkansas, Ohio, and the Tennessee Rivers are all great river examples but none compare to “Ole Man River” – the Mississippi. They all contribute to something MUCH larger than any of them alone will ever be.
The scripture clearly gives us the principle of “first the natural, then afterward that which is spiritual.” I see the same thing happening in the River of God. Notice it says, there is a RIVER (singular) whose STREAMS (plural) make glad the city of God. There are many streams of wonderful water that bring refreshing to different people and areas. There are Baptist streams, Presbyterian and Anglican streams, Methodist and Pentecostal streams to name just a few. Problems arise when folk start declaring that their stream is “THE RIVER.” The truth is that not one group has a corner on the truth. We each need the other and the contributing flow that is fed into the larger RIVER of the body of Christ. This concept is actually all over the Word – it’s referred to as the “one and the many.”
Jesus said, “I am the VINE (singular), You are the BRANCHES (plural). All the branches make up the whole, but find their identity in their connection to the VINE, which is Christ alone. “Apart from Him, we can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5) Thank God for the historical vine to which all of the orthodox denominational branches find some connection.
Paul said, “We being many are one body. . .” (Romans 12:4-5) We are individual members in particular, each with a specific, much-needed function. The head cannot say to the feet, nor the eye to the ear, “I do not need you.” (1 Corinthians 12) As long as everything is working, all systems go, we tend to take for granted the general sense of well being in our physical bodies. Let something not work properly, even down to a swollen, “stumped little toe” and the whole body is affected. It’s very easy to flip this and see the members functioning and working together in our own individual local churches and that local church itself being seen as a whole body. We need to take it a step further in our understanding and see our local churches as individual members in the universal body, as branches connected into the vine of Christ and as streams emptying into the larger river of God. The City of God, (the people of God) needs a refreshing drink and God intends it to be a special blend.