Friday, March 5, 2010

Denominational Division and Legalism

Denominations, Unity and Acceptance.

Denominations has always been a big issue for me, I grew up in a church that described themselves as "the only way", priding themselves in being separated from "worldly religion like mainstream Christianity"

However it has been my experience and observation that God finds us wherever we are and meets us there. Just old hymn declares "just as I am" there is something powerful in that unconditional love, that limitless grace that we are unable to hide from. It has become increasingly clear to me that Abba is not limited to or stopped by any one denominations perspectives or theological restraints.

In many denominations there are theologies and doctrines that I would say don't resonate with my interpretation of scripture, nor my experience of God. Yet I see God meet those believers with grace and love and lead them on their journey through life with Him. I too am on a pilgrimage that is not finished and so while I may disagree with some of their viewpoints I also don't have the final word or corner on truth. However, I believe that where there is a heart to seek the Father, He will meet that person, that is what He does. Who we have fellowship with becomes a choice - not a salvation issue. The form we choose should be the one that fits us best. We should naturally be drawn to where we are sharpened, challenged and encouraged.

However, if our institution or denomination becomes the definition of "our faith" we end up worshiping the institution or even a set of beliefs - instead of God. When this happens, we will want to either defend or attack the institution or denomination and in turn will feel threatened by others forms of worship. By reacting this way we often miss out on getting to know the Father better through the diversity of His people and the value of their variety of testimony with Him. What is true in my experience, does not discount the alternative experience of others, it is not a case of being right, God moves diversely.

He certainly moves through the gathering of His people, blessing and challenging us through community. He left us two commands, love God and love each other. Check that out for theology! It is so incredibly simple. Yet by labeling, defining and ultimately dividing we highlight out differences and make it all too easy to not engage with those whose beliefs challenge ours. I recently was reading the profound musings and writings of trappist monk, Thomas Merton, he stated The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Imagine if all flowers we daisies, the beauty that we would miss in not having the lilies or roses.

There is power in meeting together to praise and pray but if we make it only about tradition and staunch unmovable doctrinal statements we can miss out on the personal levels of breakthrough that God wants to bring us into. It would be a sad thing to come to the end of life and still have the same view of God (whichever that maybe) after walking your whole life with Him. Our theology should be organic, grow and develop with our experiences. How ridiculous it would be for a husband who has been married many years to say he still doesn't know his wife any better than the day he met her.

Denomination have been formed and reformed, divided and redivided over doctrinal issues and definitions of faith. However, by limiting the movements of God into what we can define, within a set grid of understanding, we can hinder our walk from experiencing the new things that He may be doing. How often a church loses half their congregation because a revival arrives or God starts moving in a way that was not expected. We must reject the fear surrounding new moves of the Holy Spirit, because we are afraid of being misled or deceived. He always moved in ways that He had never done before, who else did He appear to as a burning bush, but Moses, who else got tongues of fire upon their heads but the disciples? Who decided that after the bible was canonized that God stopped moving in new ways?

Legalism the graceless executor

Often staunch denominational loyalty goes hand in hand with legalism, ironically regardless of the denomination represented. There are some unbelievers that I know that when I mention I am Christian they literally flinch. Why would a faith based on grace and love cause someone to flinch at the mention of its name? Legalism hurts people, legalism has a tendency to deny the humanness of that person and uniqueness of their situation. Legalism demands an eye for an eye a tooth for tooth, and devalues a persons encounters with a Holy God and intimate Father. People have been hurt by those who follow Jesus under the banner of love and grace, but every religion has hurt, damaged and destroyed, every religion has groups of people within that use it to control and manipulate.

Here's the things though, just as legalism dehumanizes so does taring everyone with the brush if they are within the same religious frame, it denies the uniqueness of their experience with God. I have met missionaries and pastors who are indeed from conservative backgrounds, yet filled with the fruit of Spirit and walking in closer intimacy with the Father. I have also met legalistic conservative pastors and missionaries who are so illogical, insensitive and unreasonable that they drag the name of the Jesus through the dirt. I have met charismatics who are true mystics, walking in daily encounters with a limitless God, and charismatics who are so pushy and forceful that I want to run from their presence rather than spend time talking with them or having to endure a sensationalist, emotion train wreck of a meeting. I'm not calling anyone salvation into question - its not a salvation issue. Simply an observation that swinging to either extreme is not the answer

A lot of spiritual development also comes from how willing we are to search and seek out with an open mind the heart of God. We mustn't judge by someone's place of gathering or the denomination that they fall under, but instead from the light in their eyes when they talk about Him and the passion with which they seek new revelation and truth, which comes from spending time, real time, united and abiding in Him.