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Chapter 7 - Denominational errors
Most people think of denominations as sort of franchise brands of Christianity. While some denominations may have doctrines that are closer to or further from truth, they are usually structured in a way that keeps their members from obtaining Christian maturity.
Some denominations make use of catechisms that members are expected to accept as truth. The idea being that smart people in the past made these conclusions for you so that you do not have to be burdened with thinking for yourself. Some denominations hold classes to teach their doctrines expecting that everyone will accept the conclusions that have already been made by others.
Denominations usually form because someone wanted to do something different to “get it right”. Being “right” (especially in opposition to those that are “wrong”) creates static forces that bind one. Growing to maturity in Christ almost requires one to be free enough to explore, question and even be mistaken. Denominations cannot help but present their doctrine as final, complete, and absolutely correct. To do otherwise would be to admit that there is more to learn. They might more accurately represent themselves as a starting point rather than a final destination.
Another problem denominations have is that they are usually run as organizational systems. Francis Chan once described a former gang member that became a Christian and then dropped out. He said that he was under the impression that becoming a Christian was like joining a gang (by which he meant becoming part of a family). He said he didn’t understand that it was simply something that people did on Sunday mornings.
Organizational systems are antithetical to relationships. Christianity was always supposed to be about relationships (us with God and each other). An organizational system can be attractive because it can provide assurance that one is going to heaven by having met whatever criteria is put forth and not making too burdensome demands on time or pocketbook. No one has to know anyone well enough to even be aware of their needs much less be burdened with trying to meet them. For all their cold efficiency, organizational systems often leave one disconnected from that which is human like Harlow’s “wire mother”.
By inhibiting Christian growth, members often are not in a position to have helpful Christian relationships with each other. In addition, organizational systems operate by control. Activities, programs, events, and classes can be scripted to provide mechanical efficiency. Often the result is a full schedule and little relational connection between members.
The selfishness of childhood is well known;
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child” - Shakespeare
Since we all start off as selfish children, it should be expected that a denominational church that inhibits growth will have a membership that is less likely to show the real love that Christian maturity brings. It is this love that should be a Christian testimony.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. - John 13:35
In most churches people do not even know each other. Even if they did, it would be unlikely that they would even feel fond affection (the worldly idea of love) for each other much less show real selfless love. Denominations contribute to a sort of Christian arrested development or retardation by which the individual, the church, the community, and God are disadvantaged.
Often a denomination will promote its distinctive characteristics in the marketplace in competition for members. Conservative churches may require the KJV bible only and have dress and behavior codes. Those who find this attractive will be drawn to it. A more liberal church might appeal to the emotional sensations that can be experienced. Both may find that self-righteousness can be fostered for “being right”.
One advantage denominations have might be seen as generational legacy inertia. Many denominations had survived centuries on legacy alone. Given the fracturing of families today, one might now expect some denominations to completely disappear in the near future.
For many raised in a particular denomination such as being a Lutheran (for example) it can be more definitive than being a Christian. To many being a Christian is a simple matter of baptism and getting a “ticket to heaven”. Being a Lutheran often has more definition for them.
Perhaps the greatest failing of denominations is not even knowing how to live the Christian life and thus being unable to teach it to their members or the members children. My parents had been raised to have the smug satisfaction that their denomination had “gotten it right”. Not having humility causes a lack of clarity. Having pride can almost produce a blindness. It is sad for a church to blind the children in its care and then send them out into a hostile world.
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