There’s a sort of patriotism that floats around modern churches…a loyalty that’s born of a sense of aligning oneself with an institution, of belonging to something greater than yourself. That sort of institutional loyalty brings with it a “we’re right about this and you’re wrong because you go about it the wrong way” mentality. Like one person has God’s ear and the others are recipients of His dirty looks because they’re pursuing their methodology incorrectly.
I really hate that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that post-modern relativity reign in our communities of faith. There is a right and a wrong, and there are right ways and wrong ways to do things. I just think that the definitions are a lot broader than we think they are. Preferences are taught at the level of Scriptural mandate all over the country, becoming tradition. Generations of people exist in those traditions, never bothering to check them against Scripture to see what might actually be accurate and what may not be. Like we’re not permitted critical thinking as Believers.
I really, really hate that.
I grew up in an independent church that was still denominationally affiliated. I learned as a child that we were right and the other churches around us were wrong, were incorrect in the way they pursued God. Upon entering seminary, I stayed within that denomination, but moved into a church affiliated with a major conference within that denomination. I recognize that this was part of the journey I had to take (although I kick myself for taking so long to act upon what I knew even then to be true). When I resigned my position at that church and left that denomination, knowing that I had lost sight of God and was desperate to re-focus on Him, I was ostracized. I was looked upon with a pity that I had somehow fallen away, that because I had moved away from that tradition and system of preferences I somehow wasn’t a Believer any longer. At one point, someone actually walked by me without even speaking, without acknowledging that I was there. Conversation with friends from that part of my life even now are often strained when they occur, as though they really shouldn’t be talking to me. As though I’m a heretic, misled, and misleading.
I really, really, really hate that.
I hate it because it hurts, and that seems to be what most of American Christianity is good at. Hurting. This is the danger I see in institutional loyalties, a “my church is right and yours is wrong” mindset among Christian churches. This is the danger I see in denominations. I see no denominations in Scripture. I can’t conclude that God likes them, because they teach us to hate and distrust one another in very subtle ways. I think that Christ-followers are all members of communities of faith, not churches, because all Christ-followers around the world are members of the same Church, and therefore called away from loyalties to institutions. As part of the same Church, we manifest different communities to exercise different preferences, but most importantly to serve different needs in different locations. I think that, if we woke up and realized that, that we would join forces more readily, and accomplish such enormous work for Him…impact so many lives. Each community of faith has something they do very well, something God has gifted them in. No community of faith does everything well. Why can’t we offer assistance in our strengths and accept it in our weaknesses? Why do have to constantly walk around with this suspicion that God looks down on the people around the block because they’re too loud, or too liturgical? Why are we so busy bickering and causing discord among ourselves that we fail to see the effectiveness we could have in fulfilling the commission of the Church if we would just hold hands, accept each other (as Scripture tells us to do) as brothers and sisters, and agree to disagree on minor things? Why are so divided when we have so much reason to be united? Why do we see our precious institutions as bigger than God?
Far be it from me to presume, but I think God really, really, really hates that, too.