Whenever anyone asks about my “religious affiliation,” I always say I’m nondenominational. Always. Mostly because I haven’t been to church regularly in years, so I wouldn’t even know which denomination best fits my, shall we say, unique religious point of view. But truthfully, I say I’m nondenominational, because this whole “which denomination are you?” question has become too much of a mess. I don’t even want to try and navigate the rules, theology, and political correctness unique to each Christian sect. Honestly, I just don’t care enough.
The irony? I never went to a truly nondenominational church while growing up. (And can I just take a moment to say that we REALLY need to come up with another word or some sort of abbreviation for the word “nondenominational.” Too many letters.) Up through high school, I attended a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. And while they may have claimed they were nondenominational, any religious organization with a headquarters, colleges, and nation-wide youth conferences is a denomination in my book. So that’s what I grew up with; with that doctrine, those rules, that mission.
In college, I attended a school affiliated with the Church of God and was introduced to a new set of rules. They held a few slightly different beliefs that I was left to make sense of as I took the required religious studies courses.
Now, I occasionally attend a Foursquare church. Once again, I encounter new teachings, new ways of looking at the Gospel of Christ, a new approach to worship.
(I’ve also attended a Coptic Christian service, an Armenian Orthodox service, a Greek Orthodox service, a Southern Baptist service, and Roman Catholic service, and perhaps a few others in between.)
I’ve gone from a church that places priority on missions, to a Christian school that holds the belief that women can be pastors in any and every sense, to a church that just last night preached on the speaking tongues and prayer language in a way I can legitimately say I’ve never heard before. Each church, each place brought something different to my religious outlook. Each place opened my eyes in a new way. None of them are more right than the other, but each set themselves apart from each other.
It’s so very easy to let those differences create divisions. Almost effortlessly, we can allow our denominational distinctions to create a sense of superiority. Our church, we tell ourselves, has the right way; Jesus’ way. We preach the truth. We talk about theology like it’s fact. We hold opinions we’ve conjured like they are truth. But not just truth… Truth. We go back and forth knowing we are right. Forget God, forget Jesus, forget the Bible, forget love, grace, and salvation. No, we focus on the little, inconsequential details, and we let them define us. We let them divide. We’ve been split apart by our dialogue based on the teachings of a God who preached unity in the body of Christ.
Our problem is what we’ve let our religion become, what we’ve let it turn into. We have encouraged lines of division rather than trying to erase them. We have become comfortable with the infinite number of Christian sects, with the distance between us, with the separation. We have perpetuated it, allowed to blossom into something that was never intended. We have separated the body of Christ into pieces, not allowing it to function as one. We cut ourselves off from our fellow brothers and sisters, but we tell ourselves that’s okay; it’s better this way. As long as we love God, believe in God, and have faith in Christ Jesus, then we’re doing alright.
But that’s not how it works. That’s only half of what God called us to do. We are supposed to love Him, glorify Him, and display our faith, yes. But we’re supposed to love people – everyone, believer or not. We are supposed to display our faith through our love of others. How can we even begin to attempt that love when we’ve divided ourselves from parts of our Church body?
How can we love those outside the Church when we haven’t learned to love and respect those within it?
The truth is denominations aren’t important. The different theologies, declarations of faith, and rules are meaningless. They have nothing to do with God and everything to do with our human desire to control – to make sense of something that quite frankly we’ll never completely understand. Every denomination is an example of human selfishness and superiority. Every sect only serves to showcase that we can never simply accept something without picking it to pieces. We need to leave our mark. We’ve made religion all about us when honestly, our faith has nothing to do with our opinions. It is about God first and always. It’s about what He wants from us and for us.
He wants us to be one.
He wants us to work together as a unified body.
He wants us to love each other with a Christlike love.
He wants us to encourage each other.
He wants nonbelievers to know who we are based on the love that emanates from us.
He wants us to respect each other; respect our differences and past experiences.
He wants us to grow from the relationships we build with each other.
He wants us to fellowship.
He wants us for once to stop doing what we want and ask what He wants.
And He wants us to show the world what unity can do, what the body of Christ can do, what people filled with His Spirit can do.
We can’t do anything when we separate ourselves, create distance between each other. God created the Church (not religion, mind you) to work as one. We are each given gifts, talents, callings to work to benefit the body as a whole. I’m not given a calling to benefit the CMA church or the Church of God or the Foursquare church. No, I’m given a calling to benefit the Church. When we focus too much on how we are different, we lose the ability to work together to carry out God’s mission for us on earth – to spread His love, His message, and His hope of salvation. We’ve let our differences eclipse our purpose as the body of Christ. Until we are willing to look past them, to truly see and love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of our religious affiliation, we will never be able to share that love with the world.
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