Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Where's My Denomination?

I never knew I liked denominations until now.

In my observations of folks my age, I think this love for denomination places me in the minority - or at the very least, in a majority which makes far less noise than the minority.

I liken church denominations to political parties, something else which seems to have fallen out of favor these days. People often claim that parties divide us and make us hate one another. 'Tis not the parties which divide us but the issues around which parties form; these divisive issues would remain with us whether parties went the way of the woolly mammoth or not. As far as not liking each other, we do such a fantastic job of that in most realms of life that certainly we cannot blame our relational discord on such constructions as political parties. They simply organize our dislike which could actually make it easier to quench.

Parties do a fantastic job of relaying to the public a general political ideology to which a candidate subscribes. This can then clue us in to where this person stands on specific issues. Certainly politicians do not line up rank and file on all issues, and they often cross party lines. Even then, the line crossing creates such a stir as to alert us very forcefully to the person's stance on said issue. Thus, we become informed. For the job of informing the public, parties perform adequately.

Denominations perform a similar task, articulating where certain groups of the body of Christ stand on certain issues. Disagreements within the body exist as a simple reality. This should not surprise, as the perspective of a big toe would stand quite different from that of the elbow joint.

Denominations have taken much heat for causing these dreaded (cue dark, haunting voice) "divisions in the body." I often find this phrase hyperbolized, as generally denominations differ on tertiary issues unrelated to the heart of the Gospel, that Christ died for sinners among whom I am foremost. Using such harsh diction as "divisions," we often make mountains out of molehills, divisions out of differences when really we stand more on the same page than not. What's more, these disagreements would exist irrespective of the existence of denominations. We would simply disagree in a less organized fashion which could prove even more disastrous.

What I find particularly useful about denominations lies in the accountability which the concept provides. Forgive my use of the cultural curse word, but stereotypes do exist in our world and often ground themselves in much truth. Denominations carry stereotypes, but the fact that they do provides constant opportunity to ensure that we combat the negative aspects of these stereotypes.

For example, the denomination to which I subscribe often stands accused of being too academic at the expense of the relational and of caring too little about social causes. Whether fair or not, this reputation forces us to make sure we do focus on the fact that God very really LOVES us and that we very really love the people in the world whom he also loves. If we avoid becoming defensive, the very existence of denominations can help ensure that the main thing is that we keep the main thing the main thing - or something like that.

I have found that the New Hampshire (and I suspect the New England) church does not deal in denominations as heavily as the church in the South does. Perhaps this emerges from the fewer amount of churches here in the Northeast or from the desperate need for unity in an environment overtly disinterested, and often hostile, to Jesus Christ. I stand certain that good, godly, biblical reasons explain this lack of denomination.

However, it makes it darn hard for a new person, namely me, to find a church. Without denominations, I have no clue where to start my search, as I know nothing about any church I visit save for what their website may articulate - which is to say, not much. I imagine I could visit a church for several weeks without knowing rather important beliefs like whether it thinks the resurrection is metaphor or reality or whether it believes all religions follow the same God or not. Without denominations, it makes it difficult to ensure orthodoxy.

I do believe the lack of denomination a good thing for the church in New Hampshire if for no other reason than the people here have obviously decided it so. It merely makes it inconvenient for me, and so I whine. I'm impatient! I want a church!! And I want it now!!! [insert whiny, 3 year old in the grocery store tantrum now] The lack of denomination has slowed that process down.

I never knew that I like denominations until now.

11 comments:

Brad said...

Bravo, Mr. Humphries, bravo! You pegged the heart of the issue when you said that "without denominations, it makes it difficult to ensure orthodoxy." This is increasingly true as a whole slew of "Christian" churches drift into pluralism.

I shed a little tear over this post.

Jeff said...

Ben, I certainly understand your point. But if they are trivial issues then why are we making a mountain out of them? Or even a molehill?

I like the way that pluralism is viewed as a slur in the comment above. I don't understand exactly what he means by that.

I would say that the churches that he accuses of "pluralism" are not pluralists in the way his slur intends. They simply believe that there are some things that we can maintain some mystery about. We don't need to explain every detail of faith, that's why we call it faith. Even within the holy roman denominations, there is not uniform belief on how communion works or any number of issues.

How can we possibly pretend that every denomination is equally valid or equally correct? It's just silliness.

It's the same with political parties. I think everyone has just realized the idea of dividing ourselves into camps is craziness and is more about belonging to the club. Instead we should be acknowledging our differences, laughing at the fact that we can't possibly all be right, and trusting God that thru the communication of a diverse community we can find some measure of truth.

Jenn Pappa said...

Hey Ben

Interesting thoughts. I think you have a really good point.

I also wanted to just side note that a lot of the "issues" I have with political parties and denominations aren't with the groups themselves. But over history people have started to group themselves blindly to political parties and denominations based on emotion or tradition instead of how the party is changing and swaying over issues. It's become another way for Americans to be lazy instead of doing their homework and making sure they are setting up tent in a place that isn't going to be flooded with rain.

I'm agreeing that denominations are good but helpful, but just adding a sidenote that we should be careful not to just "go with the flow" but to research what groups you claim to be a part of.

Ok, stepping off the negative train now.

Jenn

ps- I lived!!!! Thank you for praying. It is SOO much better to be on this side of viral meningitis.

Jeff said...

Very glad to hear that about ms. pappalardo. Welcome back.

Brad said...

A great number of churches claiming to be Christian in the States--perhaps even a majority--do not hold that faith in Christ is the only way to salvation. A few years ago, a survey indicated that 91% of PCUSA pastors did not belief in salvation by grace alone, and 76% of United Methodist pastors fell into the same category. That's what I mean by "pluralism"--the belief that there are multiple ways to get into heaven. This directly contradicts the Gospel as it is presented in Scripture, and is much more than simply acknowledging that there are mysteries that we cannot explain in our faith. If God has explained an issue, as He has salvation, then we ought to place our faith in what He says, rather than in faith itself.

Jeff said...

I think that would actually be a comment that supports denominations NOT maintaining orthodoxy :)

Ben said...

My statement did not mean to imply that simply grouping people together ensure orthodoxy. History attests that simply massing folks together does not often produce desired results. Grouping people together does help me to understand where particular churches stand on this question of orthodoxy though. In short, the groups help to inform the seeker. By researching a particular denomination, I can discover their stances and know that most churches with this denomination will take similar ones. If not, they would, by definition, not remain in the denomination.

Perhaps I more aptly should have written that denominations help me to know a church's orthodoxy as I search for one (though I still do think denominations help ensure orthodoxy in general, though that would take another post to argue).

The numbers provided by Brad and even the last statement made by Jeff both inform me about certain churches and help me know where to begin my search - which was my overall thesis concerning denominations to begin with. This is lacking when denominations do not play a large role in the culture, as I have found so far in New Hampshire.

Jeff said...

I'm enjoying this discussion. My question to you and Brad would be...what about the seeker then? How do they decide what church they want to attend if they know nothing of theology?

Brad said...

The answer to that question depends on your understanding of how God relates to seekers--if He is truly pulling on the heart of the seeker, then I believe that they will ultimately be led to a church [or a portion of the church, at any rate] that professes true faith in Christ. If you tend toward the free will end of the spectrum, then I'd imagine that this question is much harder to answer, and that ultimately the answer would have to revolve around folks from Gospel-based churches nabbing people before they go elsewhere.

My personal opinion is that people who are really dealing with the kind of conviction over sin or curiosity about sin that leads seekers to church will not be content with human perversions of the Gospel--compromised versions of the Gospel are almost always permissive and self-centered, while the authentic Gospel is God-centered. Folks can tell the difference, and the ones who aren't content in themselves will keep seeking until they find a message that they see isn't about them.

Jeff said...

well said! that was a fantastic answer.

During my class tonight, we were talking about some of the church relation with higher education. It had some of the same theme that you are talking about there...

People are drawn to what's true, and they know it when they see it.

It's usually only "church people" that get caught up in all the silliness.

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