Have you ever seen two children, who are probably siblings, arguing over something that’s not worth their time? They just stand there in the middle of the aisle at Wal-Mart and yell at each other, “because Yogurt Burst Cheerios are better than Honey Nut Cheerios!” Meanwhile, their poor mother looks on and tries to calm them down because they’re making a scene and she’s getting stares from random customers. She’s not going to buy either of the oversized boxes of cereal, but the children argue nevertheless. I see this kind of interaction occasionally, and it makes me wonder if the world sees Christianity in the same way the customers see those bickering kids.
We talk all the time about “Christian values,” especially in politics. It’s a major point of discussion for hot-button topics like gay marriage, abortion, and capital punishment. That’s all well and good, but what about the homefront? What about the discussions that are taking place among local churches of different denominations? I’m often asked what denomination I follow, but my answer is and always has been the same: none. I am, as they say, a non-denominational Christian, in that I don’t adhere to one specific set of Christian beliefs and teachings. That’s not to say that I don’t have my own beliefs and opinions based on my faith, because anyone that’s read the blog in the past year and a half knows that I do. It just means that I don’t think choosing sides in a thumb war that dates back to the Protestant Reformation is going to accomplish anything.
Jefferson Bethke made this video, and it coincidentally speaks to the point that I’m making. I think that too often Christians try to put a “one size fits all” tag on faith. As Christians, we tend to outline a specific set of beliefs and attitudes and call it a denomination. Anyone that adheres to those beliefs is suddenly labeled a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a member of the Church of Christ. And with that label comes all the stereotypes associated with it. Church of Christ people are too judgmental, Baptists are hypocritical, Methodists are crazy. The list grows every day, just like the number of people that we’re alienating.
We’re so focused on our beliefs and our convictions, and how those crazy people in the church down the street aren’t as Christian as we are because they don’t have a choir, that we don’t see the damage it’s doing. Because when I see children bickering over cereal in the breakfast food aisle, my first thought is not that I like Frosted Cheerios more. My first thought is, “why are they fighting over their opinions?” When we start mini holy wars over what the Bible says about a particular issue, we’re not accomplishing any more than those siblings. We’re screaming and throwing boxes of cereal in a big group of people. If you think anyone takes us seriously when we do that, you’re delusional.
In talking to others about my faith, I try to emphasize that every person’s walk with Christ will be different. This is true of any denomination, because every person struggles with something different. In our zeal to be the best Christians we can be, I think we’ve forgotten that. We spend all this time and effort on getting nonbelievers into our church because it’s better than the rest of them, but we don’t stop to help that person in their own walk with Christ. After doing this for so long, every newcomer becomes just another number, and another cry of “shots fired” toward the other denominations. But what if one specific set of beliefs isn’t going to help them change their life? What if we’re hindering God’s work by serving selfish purposes? True, we’re still doing it in the name of God. Or are we? Our job as Christians is not to get as many people into the pews of a Baptist church or a Methodist church. Our job is to bring people closer to God in whatever way works best, and we’re defeating the purpose if nonbelievers only see us for the petty arguments we have amongst the denominations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we all have to suddenly agree on every little detail of the scriptures. We all know that isn’t going to happen. But we have to understand that we don’t know if our interpretation is the most accurate according to God. We can disagree on passages and how we should respond to the issues of today, but not at the expense of bringing people to Christ. We must, as the saying goes, agree to disagree. When someone asks why you believe what you believe, responding with “because the Baptist doctrine is the only true Christian doctrine” just sounds arrogant and judgmental. I’ve been asked this before, and my response is always, “because these beliefs have personally helped me in my journey with Christ.” That doesn’t mean the same doctrine will help whoever is asking me, and I have no right to assume that it will. Yet we do this every time we talk about the different denominations.
We act like we’re at war every day, but what are we fighting for? Are we trying to prove that our interpretation of this 2,000-year-old book is more accurate than yours? We keep up this trench warfare, as if it makes a difference to the alcoholic single mother who needs to see the love that Christ has for her before she drinks her life away. As if the homeless man who will sleep under a bridge tonight with only a cardboard box to keep him warm cares what the Church of Christ thinks about hymnals. As if a young Christian who is about to take his own life needs to hear a Baptist and a Methodist debate birth control. While we sit here and squabble over scriptures and “what God intended,” we’re missing the big picture. Because the reality is, one size doesn’t fit all. One God does. One denomination isn’t all-knowing. One God is. One slice of Christianity doesn’t have the monopoly on righteousness. One God does. And one set of beliefs doesn’t save every doomed soul from eternal damnation. One Jesus Christ does.