14 July, 2010

Who Gets To Decide?

Over the years since I became a Christian, I have found few subjects more intriguing or uncomfortable than the issue of denominations in the church. Perhaps it's the anthropologist in me. Denominational churches pose a problem for many people seeking faith, after all, if two different Christians believe two different ways of interpreting the Bible, one of them must be wrong, right? So why should either of them be trusted?

This isn't a post, however, about how we can reconcile the denominations or about how great it would be if there was just one big church. That's both too obvious and too complicated! I think it is safe to say that nobody's faith is perfectly formed and we are all trying to muddle through the best we can. The thing I have never really understood though, is the strength of feeling against people of a different denomination. Like many things in life, it has become an "us and them" situation. I find it a particularly strong sentiment in people of non-denominational churches. There appears to be a sort of snobbery that makes people link denominational church with forced or fake religion and wants to claim the movement of the Spirit is with non-denoms only. (And, by the way, what is a denomination really? Do lots of churches belonging to a network that have their own conferences, traditions and style of service get to be "non-denominational" because they say they are?)

It's not that I think all denominations are the same or that we don't have to be on the look out for false prophets amongst us, but there just seems to be an awful lack of grace involved. I happen to believe that while training in leadership is a good thing, nobody should have to have certain academic qualifications or say certain words to become the leader of a church. I think robes and incense and formal liturgy can be a huge barrier to faith. But does this mean that I don't think Anglican vicars can be good, holy men and women who live in the Spirit, serving God? Of course not. I am horrified by how often I hear comments like, "as long as Catholic's know that they're not really Christians then they can do what they like." Sure, I too disagree very strongly with some of the Roman Catholic theology, but it never for one moment occurred to me that I got to decide who was Christian and who wasn't. I thought Christianity was to do with your relationship with Jesus - something that only you and He can truly know about.

It's the same with many other denominations, especially those that are so far from the "mainstream" they usually get referred to as a separate religion - such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. I do not think that "anything goes" or, like I said, that false prophets are not a problem in our times - we can only teach what we believe to be the truth to counteract it - but I do think that salvation is up to Jesus not up to what we and our friends think when we are locked comfortably in our own circle. At the end of it all, isn't it Him who truly knows who loves Him? To paraphrase the famous line: I might not agree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to call yourself a child of God.