Something I read recently started the wheels spinning in my head and I need to talk it out, so bear with me. The article was pointing out that the local church should be "big enough," meaning open enough, to accept and embrace "Christians" of all different lifestyles and beliefs as long as they are saved. It put forth that the only really important thing is to believe in Jesus as your personal Savior. It said that we should "not allow doctrine to divide us." I've been pondering that thesis.
On the one hand I believe that there is only one requirement for salvation and that is our trust in, and absolute submission to, the person of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. To enter into God's family is uncomplicated--"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). However, after that things can start to get a little bit sticky in the local church.
If a Christian holds his doctrinal beliefs very loosely then he can feel at home in any congregation. For example, if we determine that whether or not we baptize infants is merely a matter of taste and preference then it's all good. No problems, mate. And if we conclude that it's of no great theological importance whether or not a Christian can lose his/her salvation, then we will feel equally at home in a Nazarene church or a Presbyterian church. Some would say, "Let's just major on the majors and choose to disagree agreeably." Sounds good, right?
It sounds good until somebody like me comes along and thinks that it is important whether or not the Church has supplanted and replaced Israel as God's chosen people. It sounds good until somebody like me points out that there is not one single case of infant baptism in scripture or in the first few centuries of the church. Or how about a boatload of other issues? Here are a few more that come to mind:
- Did revelation cease with the completion of the canon or is it continuing?
- Is the Bible to be interpreted literally or merely figuratively?
- Does the mode of baptism have any importance or is it a multiple choice issue, one way being as good as the others?
- Does the Bible allow for both genders to serve in the church equally and in the same ways or is there such a thing as biblical polity and practice?
- Do we get all of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation or is there a second dose to be received later on?
- Does God really give Christians a personal prayer language?
- Is speaking in an unknown tongue a sign of the Spirit's presence in a believer's life?
- Is the Lord's Table a memorial or a sacrament?
One of the things I've observed since returning from Brazil in 1991 is the number of American churches that are changing their names to be more generic, more politically correct, more user-friendly, less denominational, etc. Check it out for yourself in the DEX church pages. What used to be called "Such-'n-such Baptist Church" is now "LifePointe Happy Fellowship." What does that name mean, for crying out loud? Or "Here-'n-there Assembly of God" is now "Friendship Community Founded on the Rock." "ThisTown Methodist" is now "Red Sea LifeGate" or something equally nebulous. I see these weird names all over the city and wonder, "Who in the heck are they, and what do they teach?"
In my humble opinion there is something to be said for a church being honest and courageous enough to fly its flag and let people know who they are and what they stand for. I may not agree with them on every point but I can respect them for taking a stand based on their honest interpretation of scripture. If I'm new in town and looking for a church to attend or join I don't want to have to waste my time going to a local church meeting only to find out that they hold to and support women preachers, baptizing infants, the National Gay Christian Alliance [made up name], or Arminian theology. They may have a gifted orator for a preacher, a beautiful building, a killer worship team, a missions ministry going in every direction, and the best nursery in town but those things don't matter much to me. I'm a doctrine guy.
I have worked across denominational lines for years in evangelistic efforts and I actually enjoy it. I can fellowship with people who hold very different theological views from mine, at least in certain settings. However, in the local church where we work to educate believers in what the Bible teaches it eventually gets to the point where lines have to be drawn and issues clarified according to our understanding of the scriptures. As a preacher and teacher of God's Word I cannot say that the issues I have brought up here as examples are of little importance.
For example, when the question arises in the congregation concerning the ordination of women to the pastorate I am not going to remain silent and just go with the flow, no matter how many other churches think it is OK. When an adult Sunday School teacher suddenly decides to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation I'm not going to merely smile at him and say, "Well, that's your opinion." For me, doctrine is very important, even though some of you might think that I'm obsessing over things that aren't all that crucial.
There are local congregations of good Christian folks who love Jesus and are going to Heaven who wouldn't be comfortable for very long with me in their church, because I wouldn't be able to go along with a bunch of the stuff they believe and teach, and wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut about it. I would be miserable and would make other people miserable, sooner or later.
Until we all get to Heaven and can sort all this stuff out in Remedial Theology 101 Class taught by King Jesus I think that we are stuck with having different flavors of Christianity reflected in the various different denominational groups. Denominations are not of the devil, per se. They are the natural outcome of humans grouping themselves around their particular understanding of important truths. Even though we attend different churches we can still love one another, respect one another, work with one another, and fellowship with one another.
That works for me. How about you? Feel free to comment.