Denominations are not the Will of God, and Yet…
If you’ve read some of my previous writings you may have been given the impression that I do not believe denominations to be a faithful expression of what it means to be the unified body of Christ. You’d be right to have that impression. I don’t believe God ever desired for them to be separate denominations in Christ’s church. Instead, these denominations are a result of numerous schisms throughout 2,000 years of Church History. Schisms that are heretical due to their tearing apart of the unity that is supposed to be the body of Christ. This, of course, grieves the heart of God, and we should be grieved that we have caused such grief. But more to the point of this article, if you follow me at all (Grandma, are you there?) you will know I joined a denomination. A bit hypocritical right?
So here’s my response as to why still affirming what I’ve said above I went against what my convictions seem to imply, not being part of a denomination.
There are three particular reasons. So let me explain.
The Incarnation and Its Implications:
The first reasoning for making this decision was the Incarnation of Christ. As I have begun to have a deeper level of conviction regarding the Incarnation I have realized that if Jesus is the full revelation of God and God through the second person of the Trinity became fully Human while retaining His Divinity in the person of Jesus, through what we call the Incarnation. Then God’s very nature is an Incarnational nature. God works in and through reality as it actually is, not how it should be, to accomplish the task of making things the way they should be. Because of who God is, God’s Grace is all-pervasive working and influencing in the good, the bad, and the ugly. This certainly doesn’t give us permission to continue the bad and the ugly, but it does show us that God is not above getting down into the ditch and working alongside us as we are. In fact, if God didn’t do this I don’t believe we could become what we should be. At the level of discerning whether or not to join a denomination, I came to see God working incarnationally in and through denominations. I felt the sense that God was calling me to follow in the footsteps of Christ as he did His work in and through denominations. I’m not necessarily convinced that this calling is for everyone. Or said in another way, while we are all called to imitate the nature of God, (that is, in this case, to be incarnational) as individuals we can be called to be incarnational in different ways.
A Home to Belong:
The second reason is that for the first time in a long time, maybe for the first time ever, I felt like I belonged. I felt I was at home. I’ve been in a lot of different churches, but very few where I could belong as I was, especially in regards to my different theological beliefs. For the most part, I could be completely open about my theological meanderings, and this was an experience of freedom for me that I had never really had. The church was welcoming to me as well as to my theological opinions because they didn’t feel like they had to agree with all my theology.
Which leads me to my third and last reason for joining not only a denomination but a specific one. The Episcopal (Anglican Communion) church is a diverse one. The on-going joke in our circles is, “Ask two Anglicans the same question and you’ll be given four answers.” When joining the denomination, what we call being confirmed, you recite and thus affirm the Apostles Creed. This is the only doctrinal affirmation that as an individual member you affirm. As a result, you find an incredible diversity within our church. We have Anglicans who are theologically Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox and everything in between! To hold all of these positions together within the same denomination requires a level of civility and an ability to disagree and still remain friends. Friends or maybe I should say family, who have a beer together (Episcopalians like to drink) and worship together. The great strength of ours is this ability to disagree and still love and accept one another. Or as Tom Dahlman has said, “If it’s not in the Creeds it’s debatable.” Anglicans at our worst fail to exercise this strength, which we have been known to do. Of course, we’re not perfect, nobody is, but for me, I needed a place where I could share a basic orthodoxy together, disagree on everything else, and still felt like I belonged. I found this sense of belonging among the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
So all in all while I don’t believe that God desires the existence of Denominations I have found a reason to be a part of one. While joining a denomination might not be for everybody, I found it to be the right call for me. While at times I find faults with the Anglican church, and I become frustrated with our own drama, it’s a denomination that I find worth being frustrated at. Before I got married someone told me, “Marry someone you can be angry with.” Well, I think I would give the same advice to someone looking for a denomination, join one you can be angry with.