Last year I picked up and read “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren. I really liked the book for the reason that it explored the beauty of our differences. I appreciated listening to different traditions than my own. It helped me process the beauty in other ways of thinking.
My formative years were spent in a very loving but small Baptist church. It had the small chapel with the hard pews and the stained glass windows. From junior high through high school I went to a non-denominational church (which is a code word for we don’t want you to realize we really are a denomination) that was located in a former computer technology complex. The church was deeply influence by the Baptists but never said so. In college, I floated attending several high profile mega-churches in Southern California. I couldn’t remember what they were? Nothing really stood out to me other than they were really, really big and had 67,000 different programs that were entertaining.
After marriage, my wife and I chose to specifically find a small church, settling on a church that was from the RCA (Reformed Church of America). It was here that I got my first introduction to a true, distinct denominational mindset. It forced us to wrestle with issues of child baptism and women in leadership, etc. Loved the process. We visited a Lutheran church once for a Christmas Eve service and had to stand for the entire 90 minutes. My wife attended a Greek orthodox church with a friend and also had to stand for 2 hours while she suffocated under the potent fumes of the incense. (No slam intended). I went with the youth group to a Catholic church and appreciated the beauty of the building but don’t remember anything else. When my family moved, we found ourselves attending a small CRC (Christian Reformed Church), which is split from the RCA over the question of the masons. Then we chose to leave and attend a covenant church. I really like the evangelical covenant church. They have found a way to agree to disagree.
Which brings me back to McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy. In each of the churches I attended, I found people who strongly believed they were right. They believed that their way was the correct way to believe. In a lot of cases the differences were minor (RCA/CRC). And in reading the book I began to ask, “What denomination would Jesus attend?” Would Jesus choose the Catholic church, with it’s strong emphasis on liturgy and reverence? Would he choose a protestant church with its strong emphasis on grace? Would he choose a charismatic church, with its strong emphasis on words of knowledge and communicating with God? Would he choose the Methodist church, hoping to find Wesley’s strong emphasis on going to the people and building leaders? Would he choose the Baptist church for its strong emphasis on salvation and baptism? Would he choose the Lutheran church with its rich historical protestant background? Would he choose from one of the other 30,000 denomination for their unique distinctives?
Which begs a couple of questions. How would he have the time to visit all 30,000 different denominations? If he visited every one on every Sunday, that would take 82 years. And would visiting one more than once validate that denomination above the other ones that he either visited once or never visited? Would it invalidate a denomination if he chose to leave the service early because he had to catch an early flight to the next location? Or would he choose to skip the big churches all together and worship in a house church?
And then I began to realize that maybe form is a product of our own need for validation? Maybe we separate ourselves into smaller and smaller camps to validate what we believe? Maybe we find the smallest of differences to argue about so that we can be right and others can be wrong, which elevates the individual above the other, at least in one’s own mind.
I keep thinking of how God chooses to identify himself. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” (Deut 6:4) (emphasis mine) How do we find our way back to a shared community that is one, living with a sense of wholeness and togetherness, celebrating our differences yet working together? How do we find a way past our differences to His church?
Your insights are appreciated?