I continue to follow and enjoy the husband and wife blogs of Heidi (a.k.a. Boudicca) and Copernicus. I find their spiritual journeys and self analyses fascinating and thought provoking. In the last 24 hours both posted something that ended up triggering the following comments. First was Copernicus's latest post on his path away from organized church, with his take on the problems with modern church hierarchy and structure. Second was Heidi's post about traveling to see friends and family, but also with a link to Tina Gasperson's blog. Thank you, Heidi! I spent an hour this morning devouring Tina's blog, and her latest entry, Church Marketing 2007, contributed to the following. Thanks to all three of you for your blogs and wonderful insights!
"If (de)nominated, I will not accept."I have purposefully kept the denomination of the church I go to out of this blog. That has caused for some awkward postings, but I do it to not cause controversy for the church I attend (which is full of people I love and respect), since some of my ramblings here fall far outside their denomination's positions. Note that I do not do it to protect the denomination. Not because I have a problem with that particular denomination, per se (although I do have some issues), but more because I have a problem with all denominations.
(with apologies to William Tecumseh Sherman)
Denominations are unbiblical. Try as I might, I can find no reference to Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics or Episcopalians in the Bible. In the Bible I read of the church as the bride of Christ and as the body of Christ. One bride. One body. Singular. We are so far from that now. Denominations are not about Jesus, who was so good at loving us all and teaching us to love each other. Denominations are a human institution; they are all about "us vs. them". Denominations are about exclusion, not inclusion. I have mentioned in a few other places that I have heard "good Christians" mention other denomination's names in a way that is hateful and prejudiced, showing a real divisive and superior attitude. "By their fruits ye shall know them." In some very real sense I believe denominations are Satan's work - divide and conquer is almost always a sign of his spiritual warfare.
I believe that Jesus is my direct intercessor to God, and that I can call on Him directly. That in the Biblical view, God's entire organizational structure is "flat", i.e., there's God the Father, Son and Spirit, and then there's all of us, each with a direct communication and communion with the very top. I am God's "direct report". His child. Yet denominations are all about hierarchy, usurping authority that is God's and God's alone. Denominations rule, they do not lead. Forget about all the strife caused by inter-denominational sniping and just look at the heartache happening within denominations today. Look at the conflicts in the Southern Baptists and the Anglican Communion as two examples (I do not pick on them here or want to dive into their issues - there are many other examples I could have chosen). When denominations have member churches with stances they don't like, they discipline or even disown those congregations, which presumably are made up of groups of thinking, praying adults with their own relationships with Christ and yet are treated as petulant children. In all this disharmony denominations are suing local churches and vice versa, which in my opinion one of the most shameful things going on in the church today, especially since it is all about the Bride's property (the church buildings and such), and not about the Bride.
Denominations are about numbers. Tina rightly points out that many churches are about getting people inside the walls of their specific church building as a zero-sum game with all the other churches in town. But it doesn't stop there, because those churches are typically part of a denomination, and those denominations are driving the member churches to grow because the big hierarchical money machine needs fuel. Worse than just church growth for growth's sake, the denominations are then taking a cut based on the count of members ("butts in the pews"), that money lost then restricting what that local church could have done with it. And denominations keep taking their per-member cut from a church even after a person has left that church until their membership is "officially" transferred elsewhere, which is one reason some churches pursue keeping members so doggedly. It isn't about their soul - it's about revenue streams.
Much of the pressure for tithing comes from feeding this beast as well. Some of us may be disturbed by our churches concentrating on church buildings instead of building the Church, but how much worse is it to have that money siphoned off to the denomination to build their buildings and staff their empires? In my volunteering at the local food bank I get an earful about the local members of that denomination being hit up with over-and-above-tithe requests (shakedowns is what it sounds like - really high-pressure tactics are used) for a new local rectory plus help for a new high school in another city nearby plus a diocese-wide drive. This does not sound like the Kingdom of God but the kingdom of man. We are always building our little empires.
Denominations are pure overhead. Almost all their resources - offices, directors of this-or-that, colleges, schools, seminars, programs - go to growing the denomination, the money machine, not to growing Christ's body at large. Even their mission efforts are about making sure that the new believers are brought not just into the fold, but into the "correct" denomination. Increasing the number of Christ-followers takes a far back seat to increasing the number of Christians of that denominational stripe. In fact, some denominations claim a soteriological monopoly that if the people gained aren't in their denomination, well, then they aren't really saved Christians at all. As if somehow that denomination has become the sole judge of God's will and are seated on the right hand of the Father to make those decisions! Harrumph!
I find it ironic and telling that the word "denomination" is used to describe both money and the church. Consider the following definition:
- a group of religious congregations having its own organization and a distinctive faith
- a class of one kind of unit in a system of numbers or measures or weights or money; "he flashed a fistful of bills of large denominations"
- appellation: identifying word or words by which someone or something is called and classified or distinguished from others
Denominations are brands, and as such they dilute the main brand, which is Jesus Christ. The root word in denomination goes back to "nomen" (name), and the only name any of us should accept being called by is Christ's, because we belong to Him. He owns us, not the denomination. Perhaps the next time someone asks which church we go to or which denomination we belong to, we should all just commit to answer, "Christ's".
Here's to seeing each and every one of you in heaven, where we will all be singing praise in one choir.