Saturday, September 24, 2011

One Church

Over the course of the past several weeks I've been catching up on the weekly video podcast from The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario. Their summer series, entitled One Church, has looked at the similarities and differences among a variety of Christian denominations. The great thing about the series is that they didn't just talk about the other traditions behind their backs so to speak, but they actually invited representatives from each denomination to have a discussion about their history and distinctive interpretations of scripture, as well as an opportunity to share a short message with the congregation. Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House, introduces each session by focusing on the need for us to learn from one another, to take a "learning posture" as he puts it, so we can understand where our distinctives lie without becoming hostile or defensive about our own positions. Not only have I learned more about church history than I ever did in BIble College, but I have gained a far greater love for my brothers and sisters in other church traditions.

It has long troubled me how easy it is for we in the church to say I'm right and you're wrong, therefore I can dismiss you and your traditions outright. What an incredibly arrogant position to find yourself in! And yet, it's not that many years ago I found myself in the same place. I grew up in a conservative evangelical church which I am incredibly thankful for, because they pointed me toward Jesus and His saving sacrifice to bring me into right relationship with God. That being said, they also instilled a sense that any other denomination was not to be entirely trusted or perhaps even avoided altogether for fear of falling prey to their "heresy". As a result, I spent most of my life suspicious of everyone from Catholics on one end of the spectrum to Pentecostals on the other, believing they somehow were so misguided in their ways as to be dangerous for those of us who were pursuing the true way of Christ. Were I living in Biblical times I would repent in sackcloth and ashes for my pride, but since this is 2011, I'll simply say "sorry dudes, I was wrong."

As you will soon discover if you listen to the conversations from the One Church series, there are far more similarities than differences between Christians and those points on which we disagree are, for the most part, not central to the core beliefs of the faith. For example, as a relatively new anabaptist I take an egalitarian view of women in leadership while the more traditional evangelical denominations would ascribe to a complementarian view. I believe I am right based on my reading of scripture while a more conservative believer would say I am wrong based on their reading of scripture. We can agree to disagree on a point like this while still loving each other because at the core, we both believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Besides, as Bruxy says in one of the podcasts, "I believe I'm right and you're wrong...but I could be wrong." That is the proper position to take when it comes to the non-essentails of the faith.

While I attend a Mennonite Brethren church, I've come to realize over the past few years, that I am a Christian first and foremost. I quite admire the Catholic focus on liturgy and reverence for God, while at the same time, I have come to love the vibrancy and freedom that my Pentecostal friends bring to their faith. I've had my mind challenged by some incredible Anglican scholars and I've had some powerful supernatural encounters with God that only my Charismatic friends would appreciate. Right now, the Anabaptist tradition seems to fit me best, but ultimately, I want to be known as one who follows Christ above all else, regardless of which particular Christian stream I happen to be swimming in at a particular moment. As long as Jesus is at the very centre, then I'm all in.

If you have ever wondered why there are so many denominations or perhaps you can't figure out why us church folks can't get along, I'd highly recommend you take a listen to this series. Like me, you might discover we're not that different after all. The denominations addressed, in order are:

1. Anglican
2. Brethren in Christ
3. Salvation Army
4. Presbyterian
5. Catholic
6. Pentecostal
7. United Church
8. Harvest Bible Fellowship

Click here to go to the Meeting House teaching page or The Meeting House VideoCast for the iTunes page.


Mark Miller said...

Great post Brad. I'll take a listen to the podcasts.


Pete and Cindi Olsen said...

I was born and baptised a Roman Catholic and even served at the mass as an altar boy when the mass was in latin, eventually became a lapsed and bored agnostic, crashed and burned and discovered Jesus...attended an Anglican Church, got tossed from a Pentecostal Church, served in a Presbyterian Church, attended and graduated from an Evangelical Missionary Church and now serve in a Mennonite Brethren church. I'm with you buddy. I'm a follower of Jesus and frankly I think denominationalism borders on sinfulness...just sayin

Brad said...

Wow Pete, you've probably seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of all of them. Congratulations on surviving! I'm not convinced that denominations are sinful in and of themselves (even Paul and Barnabas split up in order for the Kingdom to advance), but denominationalism I have no time for whatsoever. Good call my friend.