Undenominational Christianity (Part Two)
In his book, J.N. Armstrong takes a pretty hard stand on people who are in denominational churches. This is nothing new for Restoration Movement churches. We have never seemed to know how to feel about people of other denominations (often being quoted as referring to them as different “religions”).
In his short book he says that men who perpetuate denominationalism are going against Gods plan. He refers to all other churches as “man made” and says that a person is created a nondenominational Christian by the Holy Spirit. He points to the first church in Jerusalem where they were all baptized at Pentecost and were then a unified church body.
Now, as I have said before, I agree that the church was made to be one body with no divisions. I believe that denominations (including our own) sprung up and were created by men who disagreed with men in other denominations, therefore sure, these divisions amongst believers are brought about by mankind’s brokeness, but continual desire to serve God better.
Perhaps my concern is our over-zelousness in throwing out the baby with the bath water, or rather, the followers out with the denomination. We disagree with Baptist doctrine, therefore we also throw out its people. We don’t like who the Methodist let speak, so we don’t believe that anyone who attends church there is a Christian. It is this “only us, none of them” kind of attitude that makes our message so hard to give to others.
How do you think anyone who attends a denomination feels when hearing our suggestion for non-denominationalsim that is laced with the idea that they aren’t really Christians.
So I believe the first thing we have to do is recognize that there are Christ followers in every body of believers, no matter what sign is on the building. Realize too that they also would say that their loyalty to Christ is higher than to their denominational group. Finally, I think that they would also recognize and believe that a united church is better than a divided church. Already, we have overcome a lot of the things that J.N. Armstrong would say divides us. Perhaps religious climate was different in the 1930s, but I think it is clear that there are more things in common cross-denominationally than there are differences.
Okay now that we realize that all Christians want a unified body, what does that look like? Do ALL Christians in a geographic area come together to worship in one Mega-church? It seems like some people wouldn’t get as much out of a large gathering as they would their more personal small gatherings. Some would want vocal singing, others prefer to meditate to music. Some want places where they can raise their hands. Others would feel uncomfortable with that kind of charismatic activity happening in the pew behind them. None of these are doing what, J.N. Armstrong would agree, was the first century way: meeting in homes. So, what would happen is that we would meet in different places on Sunday based on some small preferences that they have.
Wow, that sounds a lot like church meetings today. We have 99% in common, but are split into different congregations based on small personal preferences and some disagreements of belief. So, in the end if everyone left their denominational churches, we would still be gathering in different places, they would all just be called Christian churches?
1) Jesus wants “one body” with “no divisions among [it]” just like in Jerusalem in the first church days
2) Over time however, divisions have brought about denominations
3) Loyalty to Jesus is more important than loyalty to your denomination
4) The Restoration movement calls for people to be more loyal to Jesus than to a denomination.
5) Any denominational person you ask would say that they are more loyal to Jesus than to their denomination.
6) If we became the church that the Restoration wants, we will still be meeting in different locations based on small preferences.
Okay, if this is all true (and I agree this is all a really big “if”) why don’t we just start thinking of all believers as the undivided Church that Jesus wanted? If the Restoration church is going to look a lot like the modern church with different gatherings based on preference, but ultimate loyalty to Christ, why can we not just start addressing each other as such? Why are the people down the road members of the Church who prefer to worship Baptist-style or Methodist-style.
I am a late-comer to the game. I did not believe in Jesus for a long time, so I spent a good amount of my life looking at “Christians” I did not care what church they went to, they were all in one big group in my mind. Perhaps that non-divisionist attitude is something that I brought with me to Christ. I think it is strange that my atheist view of Christians was more optimistic than the Christian view of Christians.
I think there is power in how we view things. If we continue to think of each other as “different”, or even more powerful “wrong,” we can never hope to re-achieve Christ’s vision. But if we just say that everyone is a brother or a sister though they choose to worship in a different fashion there is tremendous unifying power there. The “us and them,” “right and wrong,” “real Christians and Methodists,” attitudes have not gotten us any closer to being a unified Church in the past 100 years, just further from it. The same can be said for the past 400 years.
It seems to me that we need to be trying something new. There has to be a better approach to the unified Church that ALL Christians want.