Denominations & Unity

It's common for students to attend a church in a particular denomination for several years and NEVER understand, or much less hear, about what/why that church believes what it does; and how those beliefs are both similar and different from churches in other denominations.

For instance, ask a student (or an adult, for that matter) why he or she attends your church instead of another one. Their first response will probably be something related to the people - "they're nice," "I feel accepted here," "I like the pastor, " etc.

That's fine, and the alternative would not be good for them or your church! But I insist there should be more to it than that. If there's not, then there's nothing stopping those same people from leaving your church when they have a spat with another member (usually over something petty) and joining up with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) because they seem to have some nice, accepting people over there.

Some denominational distinctions can surely be chalked up to preference - music styles, preaching styles, schedule of events, etc. But the reasons that denominations were formed are more complicated, important, and profound than can be attributed to mere personal preference. Men and women listened to the beliefs and watched the behaviors that were being offered and performed, and they concluded that there was a more faithful way to believe and behave.

To be part of a Presbyterian church is not to be part of a Baptist church.
To be part of a Methodist church is not to be part of an Episcopal church.
To be part of a Lutheran church is not to be part of a Catholic church.
And, further, there are plenty of particular distinctions that could be made within those broad denominations. There are differences churches in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the American Baptist Association (ABA). There are differences between the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). And so it goes.

Of course, plenty of churches try to escape these distinctions today by calling themselves "non-denominational," but that is rarely an accurate description of who they are. If you look at the "What We Believe" portion of their website, you'll find out quickly that they are very-much in line with a particular denomination...even if they choose not to pay their dues to the national office or include the denomination in their church name.

You can't escape denominationalism. Calling it a "network," "association," "conference," or whatever doesn't change the fact that there are certain beliefs that you hold and behaviors you practice that are not the same as the beliefs and behaviors that other churches hold and practice.

Students should be taught what our churches believe, how we practice our faith (especially in the context of the worship gathering), and why it's different than the way the church up the street believes and practices. That last piece will usually involve a trip through the halls of church history, which I've found to be fascinating for students who crave the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves anyway.

The final points of emphasis, however, must always be unity and love. There may be differences between denominations, but they are differences that have risen out of the same family who worships the same God and is surrendered to the same Lord. In his book Coffeehouse Theology, Ed Cyzewski says, "When we celebrate the work of Jesus and the coming of God's kingdom, the divisions brought about by denominations melt away under our one Lord....We can unite even with believers who hold vastly different doctrinal views because of our love for our Lord." (206, 208).

When there are disagreements in our personal families, we know we can always come together around a table to share a meal and talk things over. That's a working example of the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper, communion). We don't have to agree on all the specifics; and we don't need to push them aside as if they don't matter. Instead we establish unity (which is far greater than mere "tolerance") by passing and receiving the body (bread) and blood (wine) of Christ from one to another.

Related Posts:
The Household of God
Elements of a STICKY Sermon: Challenge


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