Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's your denomina-sin?

Some people watch television. I listen to podcasts. The other day I tried a new one, the first topic being how to get the various denominations of Christianity talking with and comfortable with one another. As I listened, I grew more and more appalled (an emotion I just don't feel all that often!)

I've found that one of the truths of the human (and demonic) world is that our answers are only as true as our willingness to start with the right questions. Even "genius" is just so much impressive garbage, if made from a mountain of garbage.

But considering if we are truly starting with the right questions is most often the last thing human beings do. We're too busy being:
  • pleased with ourselves (how smart we are, how much study we've done, what kinds of organizations we've built, etc), and
  • protective of our own interests (which most of us disguise as caring about others' interests, especially to ourselves)
I read the other day, for example, that a favorite thing to do in pharmaceutical new drug safety studies for the last 30 years or so is to exclude from the research data anyone whose body reacts badly to the new drug, or who get little benefit compared to the problem side effects. Then – scientific miracle of miracles! – the drug is "proven" safe and effective.

So while the researchers claim to be asking, "Is this new drug safe and effective?" they are actually asking, "How do I use my scientific authority to get this new product released into the marketplace as quickly as possible?"

But neither of those is the right question to start with. What would be the right one? How about:

"Am I trustworthy enough to remain unbiased about this new product, even if it costs me (present or future) prestige, money, position, or power to let the truth of it come through?"

And because that's not the question these researchers are asking (or having asked of them), flawed, pseudo-scientific, and biased "studies" continue to cause huge amounts of damage to the people who take these completely unscientific drugs.

Well, human beings have the same faults, whether those are expressed in the scientific world or the religious world or the sports world or the (you get the picture). So it shouldn't be surprising to us when Christian people fail in the same ways. Just like these folks discussing "fixing" denominations in the podcast.


They claimed to be discussing, "How do we unify the Body of Christ?" But what they were really talking about was, "How do we continue to get the emotional, psychological, and physical goodies we've built and maintained denominations to give us, while joining forces with other denominations we disagree with?"

Neither of those are the right question either. The right question would actually go something like this:

"Am I surrendered enough to the real Jesus Christ that I will release anything that pleases me more than it pleases Him, or that brings me more glory than it brings Him – even if it costs me my friends, my family, my job, my good standing in the community, my material wealth, and more?"

That's the question that would lead them to truth, and it should be the question all Christians ask of themselves at ever available opportunity.

See, denominations are beautiful failures – seeming to point us toward God, but actually tricking and leading us astray – for a number of reasons.

First – Denominations produce, encourage, and protect Good Religious People by the many, many millions – but the same kinds of Good Religious People who either:
  • Self-righteously hunted Jesus down for not being "godly" enough, or
  • Obediently walked away and did nothing when Jesus was slandered, tortured, and murdered.
Nothing changed over the last 2,000 years. "Catholic" or "protestant" or whatever, Good Religious People continue even today to do the same evil things to hundreds of millions of human beings, and their denomination – their "group-mind" – rewards and assures them of the "godliness" of each such action/inaction.

Second – Denominations are self-serving human institutions, whereby we convince ourselves that God's real work is only accomplished via human budgets, building and other programs, seminaries, social and doctrinal conformity, and mission trips to spread our denomination. Then we "lovingly" look down our noses at what we call the "primitive" church of 1,800 to 1,950 years ago, because they "only" had the testimony of their lives healed and saved through Jesus Christ, to spread and protect the Gospel. That's sinful arrogance, at best.

When we become melded within the "group-think" of a denomination, we even come to believe that the Gospel message the early church spread, and the denomination message we spread, is the same – and that's idolatry, at the least.

Third – Denominations grow from one or more human founders and their interpretation of Jesus Christ, usually in reaction to someone else's interpretation of Jesus Christ. There's nothing wrong with coming up with one's own interpretation of the Bible and so on. Being only human beings, we all have to do that (run screaming from the people who insist they don't interpret!).

The problem is that denominations interpret Jesus through their human founders and the ongoing traditions that followed them – rather than interpreting their human founders and traditions through Jesus and correcting their spiritual understanding as needed.

Fourth – Denominations squelch the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of God's people while encouraging them to continue seeing themselves through a religious spirit – and this is true even among so-called "Spirit-filled" denominations.

By creating and enforcing structure -- however "comforting" it may feel -- on how God's people act and interact with God, rather than letting the wind of the Holy Spirit blow where it may, people living within denominations become spiritually "stuck" within "church boxes". They lose opportunity to grow in the Lord according to how He would lead them, while gaining lots of opportunity to grow in how their denomination decides God wants to lead them. And again, people really into their denomination come to believe those two are the same thing.

Fifth – the Bible itself specifically prohibits denominations or anything like them. For example, Paul scolded the Corinthians:
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
Today people do even worse, not only wrapping themselves around an individual but also the human institution that sprang up from his or her interpretations. Today, people essentially say, "I am of Baptist", "I of Methodist", "I of Presbyterian", or even "I of Non-Denominational"!

But if we have such a mindset, we should realize we fall under Paul's scolding: Is Christ divided? Was Thomas Helwys crucified for us? How about John Wesley? John Calvin? Martin Luther? Last report I saw said there are now 38,000 Christian denominations in the world. Which of these 38,000 human founders died to bring salvation to a spiritually dead world?

None of them, obviously. And to the extent to which we allow the cliques we call "denominations" today to cloud that issue even to a tiny degree, is the extent to which we have sinned against the God of heaven and disrespected Jesus' true body of Christ.

So, how should we understand ourselves within the Body of Christ? And what do we do about disagreements, and about other people who call themselves Christians but seem to be anything but?

First of all, we must understand the Body of Christ from God's perspective. 

People often split into a new denomination because they disagree with something someone else believes. And indeed, we are told to stay away from people who cause problems for their own benefit in the church. However, that's a far cry from creating a false division between yourselves because you don't like the worship music! Find a group to worship with that fits your own "style", but continue to understand yourselves as still all part of the same church, and act like it! Because that is indeed what you are!

More, we have to remember always that the same God who created us to have hands that are different from eyes which are different from lungs, while all are required and respected parts of the whole, is the same God who created the Body of Christ to have "parts" which serve different functions, while remaining required and respected parts of the whole.

Does that mean "anything goes"? Obviously not. We are told not to judge – but we are told to discern, as when Jesus praised His church for testing those who claim to be apostles and not tolerating those who were found false. To prevent thinking we are going towards God when actually we are moving away from Him, we have to know God's Word, and we have to make decisions about our lives according to it.

That means:
  • Taking responsibility for ourselves. I'm sorry to those who want to lump all that onto other "leaders," but you're selling out the trust given you by Jesus if you do that. Am I saying leaders are bad? No. I am saying that almost all church "leaders" are self-deluded, at best. And deciding to just go along with them because you think you can escape responsibility for the work God wants from you by doing so, just isn't going to cut it. Check out the parable of the ten talents, if you don't agree.
  • Learning to release all the "church" rules, laws, doctrines, beliefs, traditions, and so on that we don't find any requirement for in the Bible, and learning to replace those with the one's we do find in the Bible – including all the ones our Western cultures teach us don't apply to us (like, "you can't serve God and money", and "turn the other cheek")
  • Really coming to understand that being a Christian is about belonging to Jesus, first and only. The only thing that's real is your relationship with Him, and your understanding of yourself and the world, and how the Holy Spirit prompts you to live, learn, and love. No denomination, no matter how "Christ-centered," will ever do anything more than water down and corrupt the pure Spirit God wants in and from your heart.
Abandon "denomina-sins" for the untainted love and life of Jesus Christ!

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