Okay, so I gave very little thought to this, and a lot of it is going to come out sounding garbled and confusing. I shall do my best not to completely throw you off.
In one of my comments, I said that groups of people meeting in houses isn’t church; it’s splinter sects. I’d like to modify that statement a little bit: groups of people meeting in houses isn’t church if it isn’t tied to an already existing body. Small groups of that nature need a body to connect to for guidance and doctrinal foundation, even if it only means that the lead individual has training in the doctrine and practice of a particular denomination.
Why be so picky? Because I’m tired of seeing new denominations sprout up every time I turn around. My first experience with church when I went to Valley Forge was a group of people who had broken off from a previous church, and tensions regarding leadership in that old church still persisted there. People were bitter at the old church for numerous reasons (I never learned of them, as I opted not to stick around). I find it to be detrimental to the church the continuous breaking off and forming of new churches as a result of doctrinal difference and disagreement. If a group were to break off and form a new church as a result of growth and expansion, maintaining their ties with the original church (similar to that of Mars Hill Bible Church out in Seattle), then this makes sense. Dissension in the church does not serve it well in any way.
I feel as though we’ve presented to the outside world a complete inability to agree on anything as a universal church. The majority of church history consists of disagreements, dissension, and schisms, and it shows today. Perhaps the American spirit of rebellion (whatever that means) has filtered into the amount of denominations we have today. If your leader says something you don’t like, you leave, and that’s your right as an American. You can have church YOUR way.
Frankly, this has made many American Christians into little selfish brats.
This sort of attitude may not be what church leaders are espousing, I realize, but it is the trend of the layperson that exists today that I am calling into account. The disagreement of leaders over petty doctrine and method has left congregants confused and lost in the world of Christianity, so we’ve effectively created a way where Christianity can be whatever you want it to be. Strains of Christianity exist purely as hobby in some peoples lives, and even the ones that push for greater involvement from their members find themselves pushing against the American individualism that doesn’t mesh well with Christian community. I’ve heard it said before that the pastor who truly preaches scripture shouldn’t be surprised by low attendance, and I understand that now. People will come for what they want; not for what they need.
OK, I’m doing a lot of complaining and not presenting a solution. That’s the hard part for me. I firmly believe that each denomination in existence carries elements of truth in its understanding of God. Catholics,
Orthodox, and certain protestant denominations defined as “high church” understand God in a more mystical fashion that astounds and amazes me. Christian mysticism, though not practiced by many, has much to teach Christians about God and learning to love Him despite their inability to understand him. Their pure reverence for God is something Christians today have forgotten, who have taken up God as a casual acquaintance.
The Anabaptist traditions have taught us much in regard to dedication to doctrine and to that of human life, among many other wonderful things. They also demonstrate how God needs to rule the church, not the state.
Reformed traditions have made Scripture accessible to the masses, instead of controlled by the elite few. They’ve formulated a more systematic theology, showing that, though God isn’t fully comprehensible, some things CAN and SHOULD be known and accepted about Him.
Evangelicals have shown a heart for spreading the Gospel throughout the world, to every tribe and tongue, making sure no one goes without knowing the name of Jesus, and have invented new ways of reaching peoples we thought we couldn’t, as well as creating dialogue with other groups to demonstrate the logic and reason behind Christianity.
The emerging church (which, from what I’ve heard, has largely been pronounced dead) demonstrated the disconnect that exists between the church and the world, how we’ve excluded many by our close-knit groups averse to outsiders, and how our rigidity of doctrine has turned many off to Christ.
I know I’m missing quite a bit here, I’m sure, but we each have rich traditions and something to bring to the table. The problem is, the table has not been built. There’s no meeting to speak of our traditions and combining them to make one unified body. Too many are stuck in their own ways, I fear. If I ever discover what this church looks like, the one that combines our traditions, I’ll let you know.
Until then…I have no clue.