I talk a lot about intrachurch community here at Cerulean Sanctum, but not as much about the kind of community that spans denominations. Today’s post rectifies that lack.
Leonard Ravenhill, the great British revivalist (and one of the patron saints of this blog) was fond of wordplay. One of his favorite tricks follows:
“…that’s not the kind of message you’ll hear today in our religious abominations…er, denominations.”
As much as I love Ravenhill for his wit and spiritual depth, I’m not to the point of calling our denominations abominations. Fact is, I’ve learned a considerable amount from the denominations I’ve interacted with since coming to Christ.
- From the Lutherans, I learned about Jesus (for the first time), grace, and the priesthood of all believers.
- From the Assemblies of God, I learned about the power of the Holy Spirit for service.
- From the Presbyterians, I learned about the authority of the Scriptures.
- From the Disciples of Christ, I learned about holiness.
- From the Methodists, I learned about fellowship.
- From the Evangelical Free Church, I learned about the necessity of a Christian worldview.
- From the Vineyard, I learned about evangelism through service and how to listen to the Holy Spirit.
- From the Pentecostals, I am learning the depth and breadth of what Christ did for me through the cross and what that means for how I view myself and others.
If this makes me a “mongrel in the Faith,” then I’m a mongrel. In defense of mongrels, I’ll say this much: we aren’t prone to genetic diseases that afflict the purebreds, and we’re certainly not inbred to the point of weakness.
I learned all those different aspects of the faith from those different denominations largely because each denomination has found a handful of specific truths in the Scriptures that they latched onto and defended with tooth and nail. Such is the specialist aspect of Christianity today, but still. Someone defended truth and held it up as an example, even if it was just a small piece of a larger whole.
In truth, how can we not fall into these little groups? I’m not sure that such a division was inevitable when the Christian Church sprang to life, but I suppose the über-sovereigntist would argue that God planned it that way all along. We wouldn’t agree. I can see Ravenhill’s point. A fractured Body is a fractured Body.
Still, considering the tribal nature of human beings, I’m not surprised that we continue to fall into tribes of people who believe, look, and act like each other. That this also marks our churches should come as no surprise. We feel most comfortable in a community that looks like us. As for me, I’m thankful that I’ve been a part of enough Christian groups that don’t look exactly like me that I’m comfortable with a wide-variety of Christian experience. Even then, I’ll say that not every one is my exact cup of tea.
We need the proper perspective: heaven isn’t going to be tribal. I highly suspect that it won’t reflect our own idiosyncratic groups, but reflect the entirety of every tongue and every nation. The divisions won’t mean anything anymore.
All this brings me back to the great philosopher Rodney King who once said:
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”
Well, can we?
As someone coming from a charismatic perspective, it always hurts to see fellow believers absolutely foam at the mouth and lash out with every verbal weapon they possess when it comes to the whole issue of the charismata working today. The worst part of that is the anger and accusations get leveled at people as opposed to ideas.
In any theological battle royale, people lurk behind every idea. So even if an idea is wrong, there’s still a person who holds it. For us Christians, that should matter more than it seems to.
When I discuss things with people who have ideas different than mine, I do keep up a mental fence to screen out ideas that violate Scripture. The difference is I still try to listen. Too many Christians out there stick their fingers in their ears and start screaming, “Nah, nah, nah, I’m not listening.” And that’s a darned shame.
So the Nazarene guy and I are not going to agree on the charismata. It doesn’t mean I treat him like crap. It also means he may have insights into a portion of theology and the practice of the Faith that I lack. But if we start gouging out each other’s eyes because our theology doesn’t align perfectly in every minute detail, then we’ve lost the real battle and let Satan win. And Satan gets too many wins nowadays.
I can’t imagine what my faith would be like today if I never experienced those other denominations. I wish true Christianity wasn’t as fractured as we’ve made it, but what it is, it is this side of heaven. I don’t see a reversal of that trend until the Lord returns.
This isn’t a call to ecumenism. I don’t support the current incarnation of the ecumenical movement because it gives away the farm in order to get the cow. That’s not wisdom and right fellowship. Some things about our Faith are givens (like the divinity of Christ and His salvific uniqueness), but I’m willing to listen on some of the smaller points.
Most of all, I’m willing to love my neighbor. Love overcomes a great deal, even mistaken ideals.
The “other guys” in that Christian church across the street have something to teach us. Are we listening?
21 thoughts on “What the Other Guys Taught Me”
Dan, I haven’t had as broad an experience as you with various groups, but I have learned from the ones I have had contact with. Having grown up in circles that taught that “we are the only correct ones”, it took me awhile to realize that God had other people out there besides independent Baptists. We may have differences in worship styles, church government, etc., but as long as we agree on the things that God says are important, then we are part of the same Body and should work as a unit to do what Jesus told us to do.
In my catechism class in the Lutheran Church, we studied other denominations. That proved so liberating. I wish more people put some thought to that kind of understanding.
I am another person who God has led through several different denominations (Catholic, Baptist, AoG, Word of Faith, Foursquare, and now Vineyard in my case); and I have long recognized that my own understanding of God and what it means to be a Christian would be no where near as rich had God not taken me on the journey over the last 38 years. As you said, I learned different lessons from each church I have been a part of, and in many cases the lessons learned in earlier denominations helped guard me from some of the excesses of the later ones while allowing me to learn what was good from their point of view.
Welcome to mongrel-hood!
I’m not an über-sovereigntist, but I wonder how much 1Cor12:12-31 apply.
During afternoon breaks my two friends (a Catholic and a Emergent) and I used to sit and talk about God. I once joked that we had the whole of the Trinity present. Catholic seeming to metaphorically be related to the Father, me the “evangelical” protestant related to the Son and the Emergent the spirit. It was our personalities as much as our church affiliation in play.
I know old churches reject the invisible church along with the branch theory, but I can’t close my eyes to the fact that I see the Grace of God (and sin that needs that Grace) in every denomination that I’ve looked into. Maybe the Orthodox are right and it isn’t the “fullness” of that Grace, but even a mote of God’s Grace is more than is needed to redeem the world.
It’s a blessing to sit down with people who have a different view. How else can we learn from them and even learn more about ourselves?
What, Dan? Nothing learned from the Baptists? 🙂
Oh, Thabiti, I just knew I was going to hear from a Baptist sooner or later. It took about five hours, but here you are! 😉
Great post, brother.
My wife and I are actually compelled at this time to study up on Biblical charismata. I’ve been doing a lot of reading. And I’ve been compiling my own experiences and putting them down in writing for the first time. And it’s been very edifying.
I’m with you on how much we can learn from each other.
Lately my watchword has been “Love wins.” It’s from a bumper sticker that I picked up at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. And it is the subtitle to my website.
O for a teachable spirit.
Why does it end up being about who’s right and who’s wrong, while the world around us needs to see Jesus through us?
You can’t come at the Bible fresh and come away with a cessationist view. That’s how I look at it.
Also, you can’t come at the Bible fresh and not come away with the truth that Love trumps all other human thought and endeavor.
It’s who’s right and wrong because a mandate exists to prevent error. Our problem is that we’re filtering a lot of “error” through man-made preconceptions rather than what God says through the Scriptures and through His Holy Spirit.
I will also contend that we have this view that he who is right is the holder of truth, and truth is power. Unfortunately, our own sinfulness screws that up pretty severely. We equate earthly titles and power with spiritual titles and power, but the former is far inferior. The truly spiritual man is not interested in earthly power. One day we might actually learn this truth.
That is why I do not read books like “Why I am a Baptist”.
Actually, it might be eye-opening and soul-broadening to read a book like that. I find that in reading a wide range of books is best for me, at least.
Interesting talk thus far..:)
I am a Mongrel too- as much as my heritage would like to say the opposite. I have explored other faiths-and from that have aquired a foundation that I feel is frankily fairly strong- but still in progress of being formed.
The hardest part is overcoming the thought of Leaving my baptized faith- In the RC church- you are taught that you are considered a Heretic if you leave it..kind of a hard thing to overcome. In anycase, my family has been in that bucket for over two hundred years- the heretic one, and recently that “judgement” was overturned- of course by a large donation- which changed alot of views in Rome. Guess the Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree..so DNA must be right eh bene? LOL
Well, I do think its important that young people get the opportunity to learn about other faiths and how they work- whether its in the church or at school. Its a good thing to have knowledge such as that.
Studying the scriptures is also something that should become habit-daily that is, along with journalizing it. In my church- that is something that is part of the Sunday School- journalizing, and thought questions are provided. This week- its I Peter, IIPeter and Jude, and I am getting a slow start on it !:(
Great article, with great ideas.
“hear o Isreal, the Lord our God-is one God”
Leaving the Lutheran Church was very hard for me. I still have a soft spot for Lutheranism and my theology is still more Lutheran than anything else.
What exposure I have had of the Lutheran Church (roughly a year) was really very good. They are a good people-very warm and caring.
A lot more so than the church I am baptized in! ARGGHGHH.
Oh well…. The family faith.. wasn’t trusted in 1782, and still isn’t worth trusting.
I think, that perhaps I have found a place for myself now. And that is good. I won’t have to sneak around, due to my Theosophical viewpoints and beliefs, so that is cool.
Have a great Shabbat Dan!
I have read your blog for some months now and really enjoy your insight. I am a singer and during college I earned my living singing in various churches. I would be at the catholics on Friday/Saturday and the methodist and Disciples of Christ on Sunday. I grew up Baptists. It was really interseting to see the sameness, and to embrace the differences of each. I still find the high mass of the catholic church one of the most beautiful forms of worship, especially the midnight mass and the easter vigil. There should be a ‘visit a different church day’ movement.
One of my more interestisng experiences was in a church where the ‘pastor’ openly admitted he was not a christain. I found in this flock this wonderful couple who were amazing believers. I had to ask, why do you stay. They were missionaries in their own church. Can you imagine? They were teaching a small group on how to have a quiet time. Maybe if we actually got away from our comfort zone, we could also find ourselves as missionaries in our own churches, and start a great revival.
Thanks for all the great, inspiring thoughts.
Each of us has a soft spot for mystery, awe, and otherness. That’s why “high” church appeals to us at times. Our problem there is that sometimes we fall into loving the spectacle more than God Himself. This is rtly why the OT temple system would never have been a permanent solution to worship.
Thanks for being a reader!
Ah Dan- you hit that one on the head.
I must confess- as a choir director, composer and other such stuff, we referred to the Mass- as the show, and actually approached it that way. This was in a Cathedral nevertheless. What was sad- is th the people that lived there were not grateful for the effort that was put together for their edification. Most wouldn’t even dress like they were entering a Cathedral. I recall, doing the requiem one year, we actually had the Liturgy from the 1790’s to do with it, and people showed up for a high mass, in shorts and T-shirts. I found this rather appalling actually. It was a beautiful Mass- even though it was a Mass for the Dead, done in the Composers Honor on his Name day, but, I am sure, that many who attended, didn’t have the spiritual feeling that should have been there.
Oh well..My current Church-its chapels are bare. There is a beauty in that actually. Outside of the Chapel- there is beautiful Artwork to be seen. But not in the Chapel itself, where the sacrement takes place. The Temple is ornate- and considered very sacred.
Having been in very ornate Churches- all my life, you can imagine how this feels.
Even Sankt Stephens-with all its statues- some of them Masonic in origen, as big as it is- a Gothic Dom, still- is very ornate. The Reuger Orgel there is tiny in comparison to what I have played- but then, its works are in the high, Gothic roof top above the chor. Its really amazing.
Amen, Dan. Praise God for mongrels.
It’s a small point, but I wonder if you meant to do some Ravenhillish wordplay with these words: ” I’m thankful that I’ve been apart of enough Christian groups…” (emphasis mine).
Oh, Milton. You old redactor, you! 😉
I’ll fix it in the mix…
While Ravenhill provides some wise insights, “wordplay” like “religious abominations” is not among them. That just doesn’t help us to love one another. On the other hand, Dan, your openness to other and conflicting perceptions is a great encouragement to those of us who strive to take Christ seriously. As you are blessed, we are blessed as well.
No church, no denomination, no Christian will have a perfect theology. Everyone will have some erroneous understandings. If Paul admitted to seeing thru a darkened glass, we should be expected to mistake some concepts as well. But then, knowing and following Christ is more action than science.
While it may be important to rid the church of error, we should recognize first that the second greatest error is failure to love one another.