Unity and Denominations

I began my last post with “I left all the denominations.” Although that is clearly a Protestant-type comment, for Protestants are the only one who have denominations and gladly belong to them, I got a couple Catholic responses.

One of those responses included the following:

If I allow my personal attempts toward holiness and obedience to the Word to determine what the Body of Christ should be, then I basically end up in my back yard with a handful of others calling it “church” (believe me, I know)… I would argue that this is the end result of Protestantism, even if we avoid Protestant terms.

Ah, right here is the difference between those who read the early Christian writings and wind up in an Orthodox or Roman Catholic Church and me. I don’t care about anything in this paragraph. All of it is completely irrelevant to me.

I only care about one thing. On the last day, I want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” For that to happen, I need help.

Exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:13)

Honestly, I don’t think attending a meeting with a speech about the Bible once per week is much help to anyone, no matter what sort of reverence accompanies it. I think the only way we really help each other is by devoting ourselves, together, to fellowship, the apostles’ teaching, and the breaking of bread.

I’ve never been in a denomination that does that.

Show me people who are doing that, whether in a back yard or in a building, whether called a church or not called a church, and I will run not walk to wherever they are getting together in order to be a part of what they’re doing.

Not much else matters to me than that. We have our own little “backyard” church, and it’s exactly what I’m looking for. They seek God together with me. We know each other, help each other, and we exhort each other.

We would be glad to do that with any other Christian that wants to do that with us, but most of them are busy attending meetings with Christian speeches and holding Bible studies with people who are trained to absent-mindedly ignore any correction the Bible might have for their novel traditions.

Show me a LOCAL Catholic or Orthodox congregation that lives like the family of God and that doesn’t require me to do things I can’t conscientiously do, and I’ll stop what we’re doing, and we’ll all go there. Everyone I’ve talked to locally, though, is quite prepared to admit that their congregation is mostly nominal, just like Protestant denominations are.

Thanks, but no thanks. That’s of no use to me. I tried it for years, and after years I see that I’m no use to them, either.

I wrote a booklet once called How to Make a Church Fail. It’s my least popular book, still available on Amazon. No one has reviewed it that doesn’t already know me well. In fact, only my mom and one other person have reviewed it. (Thanks, mom!)

In it, I suggest that adding “the national religion” as an element in bringing people into the church ensured the division, not of the organization, but of the Christians in the organization. The sons of God now spent as much or more time with sons of the devil than with each other.

The organization known as the church has never stopped that practice, except in rare circumstances, so what the Scriptures portray as a church has been absent, except in relatively rare circumstances.

I know that one of the objections I will hear to this is something to the effect of, “You sure are confident of your own opinions that you would dare to suggest that all these denominations and organizations aren’t churches as described in the Bible.”

Yeah, I am. Sorry, I just can’t pretend that the local Baptist, Catholic, or Orthodox congregation even faintly resembles what I read about in the New Testament. It seem silly for me to say, “Yeah, I know that I read the New Testament, and these churches look nothing like what I read, but I guess I’ll just doubt myself, ignore the obvious, and go join one of them.”

Sorry, no. I’ve attended denominations for years, but only to find people who are willing to leave them like I and many others have.

This entry was posted in Church, Modern Doctrines, Protestants, Roman Catholic & Orthodox and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Unity and Denominations

  1. Ben says:

    My concern is that at the end of the day too many people seem to be falling back on saying “I don’t care” as their ultimate reasoning to avoid re-uniting with other Christians in the Catholic Church. After honestly considering the Catholic arguments, I could never go back to assuming that my utopian dreams of backyard churches are God’s intention. Isn’t God’s intention supposed to be our ultimate goal as Christians? I’ve been seeing too many Christians apparently embracing relativism as they use their personal interpretation of Scripture and personal determination of what true church should look like as a way to basically do what they want to do. It’s too easy to stack up the reasons you might not like the Catholic Church and mistake those reasons for evidence that God has abandoned His Church (or redefined it).

    If the Catholic Church lacks outgoing fellowship in your opinion, why don’t you offer your God-given gifts? Even though the Catholic Church has the Truth, I’m quite sure that the Catholic Church can greatly benefit from the spiritual gifts that Protestants are withholding for themselves and their small groups. The Catholic Church will live regardless, as Protestant denominations continue to drop like flies all around it and even smaller “non-denom” versions spring up and then die from their inherent culture of division.

    I actually thought of you, Paul, the other day when I was in Mass. As I looked around at the smiling faces of families in our wonderful building with all of its Rocky Mountain character built into it, and we listened to the (typically) large amount of Scripture and an extremely interesting and substantive (yet short!) homily, and saw the happy fellowship going on around me, I had to wonder what it would take to convince you of the legitimacy of Catholicism. And don’t even get me started on how the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist brings people even during the week to worship their Lord with serious dedication and sincere passion. The singing is wonderful, the giving is generous, the community outreach is substantive, and after I get home I can get online and see that other Catholics around the world are discussing the same Scriptures. Getting together with other Catholics is fun and enriching, and all the while we can feel honored and humbled to be a part of something that can literally be traced back 2,000 years with Christ as the beginning.

    -Ben

    • Ben says:

      As time goes by since my comment I wonder if perhaps my perspective might be a bit too far outside the scope of this blog, true or not 🙂

      Perhaps I should be taking the advice that Maurice Baring once gave to Hilaire Belloc, which Belloc obviously didn’t follow: “never, never, never talk theology or discuss the Church with those outside it. People simply do not understand what you are talking about and they merely (a) get angry and (b) come to the conclusion that one doesn’t believe in the thing oneself and that one is simply doing it to annoy.”

      -Ben

      • paulfpavao says:

        I won’t give you advice on that. I understand why Belloc would say that. Personally, however, I am neither annoyed nor angry. I am convinced we are going different enough directions that communication will only be more difficult, not less.

        • Ben says:

          Paul,
          I’m sorry for my condescending attitude. Amidst my thrill at discovering the Catholic Church I’m afraid I’ve fallen into a bit of triumphalism. You are indeed my brother in Christ, and I don’t want my apologetics to ever lose sight of the grace and love that are at the core of our faith.
          I spent a large part of today coming up with excuses, but apparently the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let my conscience off easy… so here I am, and I hope you’ll forgive me.
          Peace be with you brother.
          -Ben

          • paulfpavao says:

            I could tell you that you didn’t offend me and don’t owe me an apology for being pushy, but don’t let me get in the way of God. Thank you for your apology. I hope it brings you a lot of peace. I may have convictions as firm as yours about “the right way,” but first and foremost, we all must choose to please our Father in heaven. It’s encouraging to see someone respond to the conviction of God. Encourages the rest of us.

  2. paulfpavao says:

    Hi RP. It is fair to say that the Catholic/Orthodox churches have a different goal than the Protestants in their meetings, especially including the celebration of the sacraments. I do see the Eucharist, as a meal, as part of the gathering of the church, regarded with the highest importance in the early Christian writings. So is the reading and explanation of Scripture by leaders. So is the ministering to one another of psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, admonishments, exortations, and encouragements (Tertullian’s Apology 39).

    Granted, most Christians agree that the kind of fellowship described in Acts 2 is desirable, much as most Americans would judge a brand new BMW/Lexus/Corvette/etc. as desirable, but never pay the price to obtain one. There is a cost to that fellowship, which includes making time for it, that the vast majority of American Christians are unwilling to pay, no matter the danger to their spiritual life.

    What I’ve found lacking in almost every congregation I’ve been in, not all, is the knowledge of one another’s weaknesses, prayer for one another, fellowship, that crises drive them to the family of God rather than to their biological families.

    Among the primary things I cannot conscienciously do are the things related to the term “venerate,”

    As for the term denomination, you can apply that to us if you want. One of the devil’s weapons is that thought. If you come out of a denomination, then you have created a new one. Okay, fine. I’m not going to let that stop me from telling those in the denominations–and in Catholic and Orthodox congregations–that they are under no obligation to remain in fellowship with the sons of Belial, nominal “Christians,” most of whom have never even considered, and probably not heard about, hating their own life in order to become Jesus’ disciple.

    We need to give them something to follow, and that is not going to happen in a congregation where the majority of the members are demonstrating the falsehood that Christianity is a relatively normal life with no cussing, no sexual immorality, morning and evening prayers, and occasionally being spiritual at a big meeting where almost no one is required to participate except as listener.

    • Restless Pilgrim says:

      > There is a cost to that fellowship, which includes making time for it, that the vast majority of American Christians are unwilling to pay, no matter the danger to their spiritual life.

      Agreed.

      > What I’ve found lacking in almost every congregation I’ve been in, not all, is the knowledge of one another’s weaknesses, prayer for one another, fellowship, that crises drive them to the family of God rather than to their biological families.

      I think you’ve hit on a really bit issue here. I was talking to a JW a couple of weeks ago and a lot of our (very delightful) conversation focussed around this issue. I’ll try and do a blog post soon on “church size”, I think it’s the driving factor when it comes to these kinds of dynamics.

      > Among the primary things I cannot conscienciously do are the things related to the term “venerate,”

      I don’t want to divert the topic, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts some time on the subject of “Sub tuum praesidium”, the Marian hymn used in pre-Constantinian Christianity.

      > As for the term denomination, you can apply that to us if you want. One of the devil’s weapons is that thought.

      I’m a little surprised you put it that way, particularly given what you’ve written before about the sin of schism.

      > I’m not going to let that stop me from telling those in the denominations–and in Catholic and Orthodox congregations–that they are under no obligation to remain in fellowship with the sons of Belial, nominal “Christians,” most of whom have never even considered, and probably not heard about, hating their own life in order to become Jesus’ disciple.

      I can’t help but be reminded of the Donatists by this comment. I find it hard to believe that St. Paul or Clement would tell the more committed Corinthian Christians to form a new congregation without the half-hearted slackers.

  3. Restless Pilgrim says:

    > Honestly, I don’t think attending a meeting with a speech about the Bible once per week is much help to anyone, no matter what sort of reverence accompanies it.

    Well, Catholic/Orthodox etc. don’t just think that’s what the meeting is for – it’s to worship the Lord and to receive grace from the Sacraments/Mysteries. You’ve read the Fathers – don’t you see the same thing there?

    > I think the only way we really help each other is by devoting ourselves, together, to fellowship, the apostles’ teaching, and the breaking of bread.

    If you removed the “only”, I think most Christians would agree with you there.

    > I’ve never been in a denomination that does that.

    What specifically have you found lacking? I’m guessing “fellowship”?

    > Show me a LOCAL Catholic or Orthodox congregation that lives like the family of God and that doesn’t require me to do things I can’t conscientiously do, and I’ll stop what we’re doing, and we’ll all go there.

    Well, that depends, what can’t you do?

    > Sorry, no. I’ve attended denominations for years, but only to find people who are willing to leave them like I and many others have.

    Isn’t the new community you join basically a denomination, albeit a loosely defined one?

Comments are closed.