At a Bible study class I attend, this week one of the class members bemoaned the existence of denominations. Her sentiment caught my attention, partly I’m sure because I was already thinking about the topic for this week’s Spiritual Journey Thursday. But partly too because I don’t agree.
Yes, I know we can look at denominations as a bad thing–a sign of disunity in the church. However, I think of denominations as another example of the diversity in the body of Christ. Just like individuals are parts of the body of their congregations, with each member having its body counterpart role to play, so church denominations, with their various emphases, priorities and projects, play different roles in their communities and in the universal church.
I myself have benefited from three denominations.
I grew up in a Mennonite home (Mennonite Brethren to be precise). It was a rich culture of faith rooted in the Bible that expressed itself in foreign and home missions, with a strong emphasis on knowing what and why we believed as we did. Music was important. I studied piano and was part of many choirs. Social justice was a value. All our churches supported the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee), the relief arm of various brands of Mennonite churches. The MCC raised money to help in natural disasters around the world and aided third world entrepreneurs. My Mennonite community was also big on peace. Only one of my uncles participated in WWII and that as a medic. My dad and the rest were conscientious objectors.
Through many years as an adult, our family attended Christian and Missionary Alliance churches. Again we were enriched by being part of vibrant congregations. Community outreach included wonderful Christmas and Easter choir productions. Sunday School and Awana programs were great for the kids. A missions conference was the highlight of each year with slide shows and displays of mementos from snake skins and ebony carvings to Bibles printed in illegible scripts.
For the last fifteen years, my husband and I have attended a Pentecostal church. We were attracted by the sense that the Holy Spirit was at work in this particular assembly. These years have built on all that I’ve learned and experienced in the denominations I was part of in my youth and middle age.
There are practices of other denominations I’d love to explore. The three I’ve been a part of do not use liturgy. In my minimal exposure to it, I’ve been impressed with the richness of its readings, creeds, and prayers, and the value of yearly reliving the cycle of my faith’s holy days.
I’ve also wondered what it would be like to live in community–as in having all things in common like the first Christians in the New Testament churches did.
When Christian denominations compete and tear each other down they can be a bad thing for sure. But when we view each other as partners, family members, even members of the same body with different gifts and roles, denominations are surely an asset to the gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven.
This post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday – hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning. The topic this week is DIVERSITY IN DENOMINATIONS.