Denominational Confusion

I had planned on taking a vacation from this, but too many thoughts have captured my attention for such a vacation to occur.

Though this blog primarily exists to promote reading, the majority of my readings (in case you didn’t notice) are theological in nature. I studied tons of theology in college, and I still read mountains and mountains of the stuff today from a wide range of traditions, from the ancient traditions of Catholicism and (recently) Orthodoxy, to the newly formed and openly heretical (read: different) radical theologians (e.g. Peter Rollins). It’s amazing what I’ve learned just in the last two years from reading the different authors I’ve picked up in different places.

What’s difficult about the whole thing is that it’s left me feeling homeless, denominationally speaking. Because I’ve read such a wide variety of traditions, I find myself in strong agreement with one area of a church and in sharp disagreement with others. Take this and apply it to any denomination, and I find myself at a loss.

I concern myself with such things because I think that it’s important to belong to a church body.  Christianity is not solitary; it is communal.  The Christian not a part of a church community (in whatever form) will quickly lose touch with his faith.  (Further clarification on this matter: I’m also seeking pastoral work, and since most church plants tend to die within two years of starting, I’d rather attach myself to a denomination and work from within it).

However, whatever community you find, you find its own set of rules and beliefs (no matter what they tell you)…

I find Catholicism to be a church rich with beautiful philosophy, mysticism, and reverence for the divine…but I can’t accept papal infallibility in good conscience.

I find Eastern Orthodoxy to be driven by direct experience with the divine, and I love their church polity… but the labeling of anything outside the church with the ambiguous adjective of “heterodoxy” bothers me greatly.

I think the Quaker doctrine of a universal priesthood is spot on biblical, and I’m also a pacifist…but I can’t sit that still for very long.

I admire the Reformed dedication to scholarship, and its desire to uphold truth…but I feel like it often subjects “truth” to its own creeds and confessions, and reject anything that involves honest inquiry into the scriptures and theology.

I love how Emergents are so focused on loving their neighbors and effecting social change…but I really hate how anything involving divinity is treated so flippantly in an effort to be inclusive.

Then there’s Anglicanism….yeah, the idea of a state-sanctioned church is a little strange to me.

What’s a man to do when he’s denominationally confused?


7 thoughts on “Denominational Confusion

  1. May I recommend that you explore some of the church groups that are in the Anabaptist tradition. Most of them are “non-resistant” (more-or-less pacifist). They teach a priesthood of all believers.. In addition, their central theology is somewhere between Roman Catholic and Reformed. Try reading some books by John Howard Yoder or J.C. Wenger for an introduction to their thinking (although both of those are distinctly Mennonite, they give an introduction to the way the various groups in the Anabaptist tradition approach theology).

    There are a great variety of distinct groups in the Anabaptist tradition, so there is likely one that suits your understanding. However, they are a relatively small tradition, so there may not be any groups in your area.

    • I already have, actually (kinda hard to avoid as a supporter of nonviolence). There’s quite a few Anabaptist groups where I’m from (Central PA is full of Mennonite and Amish, and the BIC has Messiah College out here as well), and I have to admit, I admire many of them. However, I find many of them to be a little TOO conservative in practice, many of them more inclined to complimentarianism (another thing I reject out of Reformed theology). The BIC churches around here are nice, but often are more evangelical in nature. Thank you, though, for the suggestion. Yoder’s a HUGE favorite of mine.

      I should clarify that this post is a bit more of a gripe, though I gather from many people that American Christians are beginning to feel similarly. Many of us don’t feel the need to be divisive along denominational lines, and churches are becoming more syncretic with different Christian traditions (evangelicals practicing lectio divina, Catholics having contemporary worship, etc.). Certainly no church has it all together, but I don’t see that as a bad thing, either.

      What my wife and I decided a long time ago was that whatever church we went to, if its focus wasn’t outward, as in they weren’t heavily active as a community working in the community around them, we didn’t want to be there. Beyond that, we’re a little divided on styles of worship, but we felt that community focus was something we couldn’t compromise on. The group we volunteer with meets in a Church of God in Middletown and definitely meets that criteria, as well as being very innovative and interactive in its liturgy.

  2. I do not have answers to your confusion but I think what you have written highlights why there are so many denominations, so many churches. I think the only one that will agree with all of your theology will be the Church of Patrick Frownfelter:) And as you have pointed out, Christianity is not a solo experience – so I am not sure that is enough. However, people within a church – as in a marriage – should be able to “agree to disgree” about some issues. And in fact, sometimes a different view within an established denomination can be very refreshing, and force ourselves to rethink what we believe and why we believe it. That kind of individual can have a profound effect on a congregation.

  3. I have the same problem. The worship style of Anglicism and Catholicism appeals to me, but the Anglican Church is still under the spell of 18th Century Rationalism (at least the one I tried was) Later I mentioned this to a Baptist Pastor and he agreed, and said it is strange they accept overly liberal Christology without much complaint, and raise a big fuss about sex stuff. So not all conservative Baptists are prudes!

    Too bad the Catholic Church has so much baggage, as it does have good points. Thomas Merton discribed an experience in a Catholic Church before he converted, where he was impressed everybody seemed totally focussed on worship.

    After reading this I saw an example played out in real life. I was at a service in a Large Catholic Cathederal, and during a quiet part of the service somebody sitting near the back started “horking loogies” and spitting them on the floor. Not one person so much as looked back to see who it was (maybe I did, I can’t remember) I was pretty impressed, but not impressed enough to live with the baggage.

  4. I am not going to try to “sell” you on any of them, because I believe a consumer/product relationship with any church will also leave one with a homeless feeling. As a communicant in 15 different Christian confessions before becoming Orthodox 20 years ago, I can honestly say I did not feel at home, nor was I able to make sense out of all the rest before coming to the Orthodox Church. I am not going to try to argue anyone else’s heterodoxy, for in some way, all of those 15 experiences told me something about Christ. But only in His Church did I find him complete.

    Take it or leave it, but that’s been my own personal experience.

  5. “What’s a man to do when he’s denominationally confused?” Much of the blame lies upon our very human inability to agree. (Talk about proof that we are all flawed!) I’m a former Pentecostal who is now at home with Reformed folks, and frankly feel the Church would be better off if we were all some version of Reformed.

    But! — The Reformation + Enlightenment + western self-autonomy brought us a bunch-o-baggage. And today Protestantism is a mess. I wrote about my sadness over this on my blog if you’re interested:

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