Denominational barriers, in my opinion, are a bit like a certain proposed wall between USA and Mexico; we build the wall, and the other side pays. We’re in; they’re out. It’s a divisive ‘us v/s them’ mentality, when ‘denomination-as-an identity’ is what we focus on, rather than focusing on Jesus, and rather than blessing our neighbours who also focus on Jesus, but do it differently. That said, I’ve read several strong ‘anti-denomination’ articles and comments ranging from general anti-denominational rants to calling all use of denomination identifiers demonic, to healthy questioning. (Observation would tell me that those who are totally anti-denomination, are very ‘pro-my-belief-system’ and create the same barriers without the denomination name associated.) And it all made me think below the surface of this problem.
Isn’t the real issue from Whom/whom, or what we draw our spiritual identity? Is it from a denomination? From a leader? (dead or alive) Or from any other person or thing other than Christ? To whom do we look for validation and affirmation? Denominations are an unnecessary thing in and of themselves, granted, but I’d hesitate to call them demonic, as there’s no biblical evidence, nor current evidence that they are. But there’s plenty of evidence that they can be problematic. And that problem is old as the idea of Christianity and church. “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos…” they said in Corinthians, and Paul corrected them, to bring it back to Christ, and that is something that popularly ‘followed’ or ‘idolized’ spiritual leaders sometimes fail to do, as they watch their ‘tribe’ grow in strength in support of them, lifting them up rather than bringing it back to the simple gospel of Jesus. Good spiritual leaders will turn that ‘lifting up’ back to Jesus, not in false humility, but humbly accepting thanks and redirecting glory to God. Less than stellar spiritual leaders will absorb that ‘idolatry’, and as their name grows, the shift happens from Jesus to a person. (I would know… I’m “MENNOnite” by cultural birth, which wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t a spiritual identity.) And as that name grows and if the identity becomes about a person or a set of beliefs held by that person, rather than about Jesus, divisions are inevitable. But the problem isn’t about the name, it’s about the position it is given, and the division it causes in the body of Christ.
That divisiveness is not good. But it goes deeper than denominational name, doesn’t it? Is the root not a baser thing than that? A thing of selfish ambition and fear of losing position if we don’t feed and absorb that place of being held high, or having our beliefs held high… even higher than Christ? We forget that the ‘positions’ we are given in spiritual leadership are sacred callings, and they are servant-hood; an invitation by God to do His work, and when He has called, He preserves our calling if we trust Him and humbly turn the hearts of people to Him. This is gracious spiritual leadership, honouring ‘the Christ’, whether with denominational ‘titles’ or not. And I have known men and women of great ‘position’, wealth, and wisdom, who have walked humbly with their God, and whose names hold significant ‘presence’ when referenced, yet always they hold their hands up, redirecting to Jesus, the worship, as did Peter and Paul on the streets, as told in Acts 14. These are men and women of various denominations, or no denominations at all, but they are true heroes of faith, and true spiritual leaders. Because spiritual leaders always lead the way to God; they are never an end in themselves.
I will grant it, I don’t like the whole ‘denominations’ thing much, and find it particularly unnecessary as a frame of reference as to what ‘kind’ of Christian I am. I’m either the Jesus kind, or I’m not one at all. But I can extend grace for the idea of it, because it dates back to the beginning of the church, from what I can tell, though often associated with cities, and now associated with beliefs. I don’t think it will keep people out of heaven, so I come back to the argument that strong labeling or condemnation of denominations seems a bit over zealous.
Revelation addresses unique church identities well, pointing out that each has something to offer, but with areas of deep need for transformation. So I question whether ‘ridding the world of denominations’ is the answer, or even possible. Rather, tearing down the invisible divides we create by holding high our own positions, or this person or that one, rather than lifting Jesus high… now that’s a mission I’m into. Because when Jesus is lifted high, people are drawn to Him. And when He is invited in, the demonic flees and people are made whole and the body of Christ is made whole, not divided. We humans tend to focus on solving a problem so the Christ can be portrayed accurately and we try to rid ourselves (or each other) of the demonic to invite Jesus in, but the reverse is the answer most times; when Jesus is invited in, the darkness scatters. Darkness cannot exist in the light. And Jesus does not fear that darkness. In His darkest hour, He opened His arms wide, welcoming the whole world into grace.
And that’s the problem with us… We tend to cross our arms and close our hearts, but Jesus opened His arms wide, and His heart wider. If we stop ‘fixing the problem’, and rather invite a broad shift in focus away from the denominations that exist, and away from the people who lead them, and collectively lift Jesus high, and walk in the way of His love, transformation will come. Barriers will come down. Walls will crumble.
~ T ~