Are Christian denominations good or bad?


luther-95theses-humor-memeI’m currently in a Church History class going through the Reformation period of Christianity. During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s partner in crime (literally) was Philipp Melanchthon. After Luther’s death, Melanchthon carried the torch as a leader of the movement spreading throughout the Medieval world. In the years following the start of the Reformation, there were several different strains of non-Catholic Christianity that popped up.

To withstand the Catholic majorities at the time, these non-Catholic groups started talking about what it would look like to unify under one banner. Believe it or not, even though all these movements were really young and were reacting to the same problems they saw in Catholicism, these groups had really big differences between them that were hard to overcome.

In these conversations, an aging Melanchthon used an old Greek philosophical phrase to suggest a way forward: Adiaphora. Greek for “indifferent things”, he used it to describe how he felt that some beliefs and practices could be considered adiaphora (non-essentials), and could be compromised on for the same of unity. He argued with his fellow Lutherans that some beliefs were more essential to Christianity than others and didn’t require so much division. The others around him, of course, disagreed.

This got me thinking about the trajectory this set for us today. We now feel perfectly free to think a whole host of different things and still call others Christians. And yet still, much of Christianity’s most bitter judgmentalism and cries of heresy, unfaithfulness, sin, and arrogance are directed towards other who are also trying to follow the God of Jesus best they can. This has caused rifts, schisms, splits, and divisions into a huge number of Church denominations. Is this healthy for us? What does Christian “unity” look like? Do we all need to look the same?
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Love your neighbor…even other denominations | Matthew 22:34-40


When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34:40

I find it fascinating that this opens with the fact that the Pharisees were only respecting Jesus and calling him Teacher because he had smacked down their fellow Jews who happened to be in a different “denomination”. How often do we do this? How often do we latch on to a teacher not because God meets us in their  proclamation, but because they reaffirm our beliefs and/or put down those we disagree with? Fellow family members in the people of God, no less! How dare we?

This is why I find it brilliant that Jesus stresses the vertical in the greatest commandment, but he also throws in the necessity of loving our neighbors as well. Don’t miss this. He essentially adds a human-relational dimension to the Shema, one of the most beloved of Jewish texts! And so he incorporates how we treat others as just as essential as how we love God. When we don’t love those around us-especially the fellow people of God that we disagree with-we break the most important of commandments and fall short in loving our God.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Welcome to Ash Wednesday. Lent begins.


ash-wednesday-pew-lentToday is Ash Wednesday. In just under two months from today we’ll come to the highest point in the Christian Church calendar, Easter. That is where we’ll celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and how God’s perfect world broke into the present and our greatest enemies–sin and death–were conquered and shown to have no more dominion over us and the rest of the world. It’s meant to be the most effusive, overflowing, even ridiculous time of joy.

And yet, when we look at Jesus’ Resurrection, we see that before it ever took place, there was Death. And before that, there was an entire lifetime of loneliness, pain, suffering weakness, and isolation. We see that it was a life surrounded by evil forces and whispers that haunt and hurt Jesus and the people he loved.

And so, our early Church Mothers and Father thought it would be wise to have this time before Easter to prepare, so we might end up celebrating during Easter all the more.

Resurrection was itself a statement against our two greatest enemies: Sin and Death. And so to participate in Resurrection, we take the time of Lent to meditate and press into those things to which Resurrection was the response. We do this not out of morbidity, but out of anticipation.

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Some Protestant Saint-Praying Clarifications & Responses


Wow. Last week’s post about praying to saints really brought out more passion in people than I thought it would. Both here on the blog and on Facebook, here were some clarifying comments I left. By the way, this was the best comment on that post that challenged my thinking. I hope this helps.

First, here is my final, quick summary clarification of my position and why Evangelicals need not be freaked out about all this. If you read nothing else on this post, let it be this:

I really wish there was a different and better word than “prayer” for this. I agree that what most of us Protestants think of when we think of prayer really should only be directed at God.

Further, I’m simply advocating for this to be one more optional means of grace a Christian can participate in, depending on how they are wired. This shouldn’t take away from anyone’s participation in union with Christ or praying to him anymore than Bible memorization, fasting, listening to sacred music, or reading a devotional book does.

Everything everyone on the comments has said they think should only be reserved for God, I absolutely agree with. I am certainly not suggesting we turn our affections, praise, adoration, or even our hearts towards those that have died. I just think we can talk to them, and they can intercede for us to God. I don’t think they talk back, that we experience their presence, or that they magically impart any more of God’s favor than asking a friend to pray with us would.

As Paul said, our outer selves are wasting away, while inwardly we’re being renewed day by day. Those that have died are, in a very real sense, just as “alive” as we are now, albeit absent from the body. All I think is (1) they can see and know what’s going on down here, and (2) they talk to God. If those two things are true, then I don’t see the inherent evil, harm, or soul-destroying error it might be to simply “talk” to those that have gone before–not “commune with”, “worship”, or any of the other dimensions of “Godward prayer”. Just sending up some prayer requests to the part of the Body of Christ that is absent from the body, but present with the Lord.

What’s the harm in that?
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And….We All Have a New Pope! (Catholics Aren’t Crazy)


pope-funny-bigMere minutes ago, a new Pope emerged from the conclave in Rome after Pope Benedict’s surprising resignation several weeks ago. The new Pope is the cardinal formerly-known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

But now, he is Pope Francis.

Now, I am fully and securely a Protestant, as most of the readers of this blog are. But for those of us that find ourselves in that Protestant tradition, we often forget a little detail of that name: Protestant.

It means, literally, “the protesting ones”. We are “protest-ant” about many of the practices and teachings of the Catholic Church. But to “protest” something does not necessarily mean you are no longer a part of it.

This is why I describe myself, denominationally, as a “Protesting Catholic”. (Okay, I stole that from Austin Ricketts.)

And you should to.
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Let the Female Pastor Reformation begin!


luther-95theses-humor-memeOn this blog, I currently have two running series I’m doing: “Reflections on Repentance” and “Women & the Church“. For these series, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on those topics.

For the Women in Ministry series, I’ve been researching what, for me, is the biggest thing that gives me pause in my own egalitarian view in support of female pastors: the complete dearth of women leaders throughout the history of the whole Christian church. With a couple thousand years now of godly men (and women) looking at the same Scriptures I am, why have the vast majority of them come to the same view limiting women’s role?

Well, that’s another post for another time, but rest assured, as I’ve been researching this, I feel I’ve satisfied my concerns in this area. But that’s not what this (mostly tongue-in-cheek) post is about.

For my research for the repentance series, I keep ending up at the Reformation and its leaders. This got me thinking, and doing some math…

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Some Protestant Leftovers on Scripture & Inerrancy


The other day I posted an article on how Roman Catholics look at Scripture. When I originally wrote it, it was far too long to post online in its entirety. Therefore, I cut out some chunks, that I’d like to post now. They are mainly on how I believe the current landscape is in typical Evangelicalism in America. I know I’m using broad strokes to talk about these things, but I assure you, this mindset is still very strong, especially in the South. Here it is:

Oh, the Bible. It’s the lifeblood of the Church. It’s our backbone. Why? Well, the logic goes like this: there’s a God who’s so far beyond our understanding that we can know nothing of Him unless He reveals it to us. That’s what Christian believe the Bible is–the revelation of God. This may sound fairly simple–and it is, in one sense–but in some areas, this truth of Scripture sometimes brings more confusion and disagreement than clarity and insight. Because, let’s face it, it’s difficult to grasp that the God that is SOOOO beyond our understanding revealed himself through–of all mediums–a book? And what’s more: this book? It’s tough to read many (most?) parts of the Bible and think “this is the revelation of GOD.”

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Catholics on Scripture and Inerrancy


Oh, the Bible. It’s the lifeblood of the Church. It’s our backbone. But there’s so much we don’t get, and the culture both within and without the Protestant Church hasn’t helped. In its response to the Enlightenment, Evangelicals adopted the ground rules and assumptions that undergird modernism, namely, that Truth must be something that has a one-to-one correlation to things in created reality (as opposed to Ultimate Reality–God Himself), therefore making science and history the only vehicles for this Truth. This has caused so many problems with the rest of the world when talking about a little doctrine: Inerrancy which means, at its simplest level, that the Bible contains no “errors”. What does that mean?

Catholics can help us answer this. I fear that Evangelicalism is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the current discussion on nearly every front because of these improper assumptions about Scripture.   Catholics, though, were having these discussions in the Middle Ages! They have largely already dealt with the things that we Protestant are only now encountering issues with. This gave them a foundation that let them maintain intellectual and biblical credibility in light of the Enlightenment and now modernism. Here’s what they say about Scripture in the Catholic Catechism:

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Catholics Aren’t Crazy (New Series)


As some of you may have noticed, weekends are pretty quiet here on the blog. In an ideal world, I would post every day during the week and then take weekends off (as I’m not too sure people are surfing much on the weekends. Am I wrong?).  Anyway, I want to try something.  Beginning yesterday, I’m trying to start a little tradition where on Saturdays I’ll post a more personal, meditative post and Sundays I’ll do the series I’m kicking off today.

I was raised in the Bible Belt as a Southern Baptist where there is absolutely no diversity in Christian denominations: there are only Baptists and Catholics — nothing else. This was, at least, my exposure growing up in Dallas, Texas. Throughout my years as a “good ol’ boy” Southern Baptist, I was regularly taught by my Sunday School teachers that Catholics aren’t actually Christians. Let me unpack this briefly.

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Some writing news . . .


I just wanted to plug a new website that I am now contributing to.  It’s a site from the newest fellow Westminster dropout I’ve met, Allison Quient.  It’s a site called “By Whose Authority?” and it’s an ecumenical blog where people from varying theological perspectives write and discuss their respective views.  From the site:

This blog is devoted to addressing questions of Church authority and other doctrinal issues surrounding the Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Our hope is to foster a charitable and winsome dialog in the pursuit of God’s truth.

I haven’t written anything yet, but I’ll try to put up a post on the site in the next couple of days.  You can be sure I’ll let it be known here on this blog when that happens.  But in the meantime, please go and read some of the posts that have been put up so far.  They are pretty phenomenal.