Names (2) — nondenominationalism everywhere?

I once delivered a full-length sermon on the topic “the denominationalism within us”—to the horror of several siblings who had some wool shreds near their chins and noses (the wool’s having been pulled down from above).  Born ‘n bred as nondenominational Christians, they were more than offended to be accused of being denominational.

Now, most church groups don’t fear denominationalism at all and in fact find the denomination “nest” quite homey.  Leaving alone the issue of that false comfort for now, I merely want to say that the Church of Christ has for decades employed a set of terminologies that discourage honesty about structure and identity.  Disingenuously, it has in some circles used a lower-case “c” on “church,” as if to say, “we’re not a denomination,” all the while using the oddly fashioned term “church of Christ” in precisely the same way as the Methodists use the initials “UMC,” Baptists use the term “Baptist,” and Catholics use the pretentious label “The Church.”

Yes, Virginia, there is denominationalism within the Church of Christ.  There is no doubt about this.  Despite not having an earthly headquarters (a plus in many respects), any real system of ordination (a plus in most respects), a general conference (a plus in all respects), etc., “we” are a Yellow-pages-identifiable religious group that has a name.  That makes us a denomination, period.

Leroy Garrett tells of the early concerns with naming in the Restoration Movement:

Once the Stone and Campbell movements united and became one church, a story I shall be relating, they settled the name issue by calling themselves by both names, Christians and Disciples, and their congregations were variously known as Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches, and Churches of Christ. It was unusual — a church with three names! The cruel irony is that once this unity movement betrayed its own heritage and divided into three churches, a sad story that I will also relate, each of the churches ended up wearing one of the three names, and for the most part only that name.

I still heartily reject “Methodist,” “Catholic,” “Baptist,” “Lutheran,” etc., as having anything to do with anything eternally significant (although they are in some contexts valid, helpful descriptors).  In the last case:  I find it patently irreverent to name with a human’s name a group that purports to claim allegiance to Jesus as Messiah, so “Lutheran” and “Wesleyan” and “Swedenborgian” are right out.  The epithet “Methodist” speaks of a way of Christian living, and as many believe to have been the case with the first use of the term “Christian,” it was originally derogatory.  “Baptist” is much more biblically based but also belies a sectarian, human philosophy or set of practices.  “Catholic” is, etymologically speaking, less provincial than all the rest in this paragraph, but that label, of course, carries with it centuries of apostasy, strongly suggests the Roman hierarchy, and gathers with it whole nationalities, ethnicities, perversities of both living and doctrine, not to mention weird habits like Bingo nights.  A trunk full of junk like this represents major baggage that no one should carry.  Better never to use the common adjective “catholic” without clearly explaining it as meaning “universal.”

I perpetually find myself with mouth agape when I see evidence that human allegiance can still be paid to these human labels, or to any like them.  Although denominational loyalties seem far weaker than they were years ago, they are still with us.  People consider themselves “Methodists” and “Episcopals” and “Assembly of God” more than “Christians.”  Not being one for mob mentalities, I don’t get it.

But again:  what is it to be Christian?  I grew up thinking it meant “Christ-like.”  I don’t think that’s as helpful a definition anymore, though.  In the sermon referred to above, I defined “Christian” as I would define “Bostonian”:  the suffix “-ian” designates one who is of something, possessed by something, belongs to something.  A Bostonian is of Boston and in some sense belongs to Boston.  A Christian, likewise, is of Christ, possessed by Christ.

The definition of “Christian” is infinitely more important than affiliation with any denominated subgroup within Christendom.

Next:  ecumenism

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4 thoughts on “Names (2) — nondenominationalism everywhere?

  1. David 04/22/2011 / 10:32 am

    Brian, the one Church that describes what Jesus created when he said ‘on this rock I will build my church’ is the Catholic Church. To be Protestant is to call Jesus a liar when he said ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’. Besides all that, we know that God cannot be subdivided. The Catholic Church is the only religion that is from God, and undivided. Sure, groups have branched off, but that’s their fault, not the teaching of the Catholic Church.

    There is no apostasy in the Catholic Church with regard to faith and morals. And most parishes do not conduct Bingo any longer.

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    • Brian Casey 04/22/2011 / 11:09 am

      David, thank you for writing your strong opinion without harsh words or apparent ill will.

      I’m not sure what you mean when you say God cannot be subdivided, but I guess I’d agree, unless you mean to be implying something along the lines of conventional Unitarianism (which I doubt you are).

      The Catholic Church as an institution and as a haven of religious thought is most decidedly, definitively NOT from God, and on that truth I expect to stand until Jesus returns. Apostasy is not exclusively Roman; it seems to have begun as early as the 40s and 50s, as documented in the letters to the Galatian churches and to the Christians in Corinth. Yet the Roman apostasy prevailed for so many centuries and continues to cause so much darkness and misunderstanding that I won’t shrink from singling out the RCC.

      That the gates of hell will not prevail against the faith-rock of Cephas/Peter has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic institution, nor with the misguided, though presumably sincere, opinion that Peter was a “pope.” Peter didn’t think of himself as anything more than a “fellow bishop” alongside others of the time, so why should any who came after him set him up as a pope. Infallible popery is but one of the irreverent apostasies of Romanism and would be laughable if it weren’t so eternally, significantly apostatic. Other doctrines of the Roman institution such as priestly hierarchy, infant sprinkling, confession and absolution by men, and continuing revelation are perversions of God’s intent. Notions of Mary’s mother’s virginity and Mary’s own “perpetual virginity” don’t seem as significant to me but are rather silly.

      Frankly, I’d have to add that the very idea of *religion, *as so many think of it and practice it today, is not from God. This goes for Methodism and Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism and Lutheranism as much as it goes for Roman Catholicism and so many other -isms. The Christian Way was meant to be organic, not institutional.

      With all these very strong things said, I’ll add with all sincerity that it is *God’s *prerogative alone to decide who ends up with Him eternally. In no way am I suggesting that all individual Catholics are damned. It’s the system and the institution that are so damnable, not necessarily the people within. All sects, and all humans, are fallible–including you and me. All have fallen short. Blind allegiance to any religious group is bound to mislead.

      I’ll continue to be a neo-Protestant, protesting not only Roman Catholicism, but also other Protestants, insofar as any of these do not take their cues from scripture as written by the inspired men of God. God, help me stand where You want me to stand, showing me where I may be off-base. And help David in the very same way.

      His eternally,

      Brian

      P.S. Not that I want to make you mad, but if you want to read more–perhaps to decide whether you want to dialogue more or just ignore me because we will just continue digging our respective trenches deeper, go here: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/osb-at-it-3-times-already-this-year/

      “When each of us hears the voice of “the great Shepherd of the flock” rather than the cries of party leaders, we will be one flock, one church.” – Leroy Garrett, 2011

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  2. David 04/22/2011 / 2:22 pm

    First off, it’s Easter Triduum, and I’m in preparation for the meaning of the weekend, secondly, I try not to be combattive. We don’t convert like that. So, blessed Easter weekend to you!
    Secondly, no, I don’t agree with unitarianism. What I’m saying is that we worship one God, who can never and will never change. It seems like there’s so many flavors of Protestants, it confused me growing up, to the extent that I was paying attention then. God wants worship His way!
    Third, yes, Jesus created one Church, and the Catholic Church is the only one that meets the criteria He set forth. It started at Pentecost, and will continue through the day He returns. The Holy Spirit protects the Catholic Church from straying away from Christ’s teaching.
    Fourth, you’re right, Peter considered himself to be leader among equals-the apostles were equal in rank, but Peter was the first, as Scripture shows us. This is as it is today-the Pope is a bishop among bishops, but carries the charism of Peter, the first among equals.
    You mention ‘infallibility’, I’d like to know what you mean by that, and then apply it to how it doesn’t fit the pope?
    Priestly hierarchy is biblical, infant sprinkling is inferrable from scripture, confession and absolution come from Christ through the priest, not from the priest, and there’s nothing anywhere about Mary’s mother’s virginity. But Mary was a virgin always and forever will be.
    I would agree with you that many do not practice worshipping God very well, many Catholics included.
    Regarding the system, yes, it is flawed. But so was the original one. The apostles were human, after all. James and John argued about who should sit at the right hand of Christ, Peter denied Jesus three times, Thomas had his doubts, and Judas betrayed our Lord. What we believe is what Jesus said-that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles, and their successors (See 1 Timothy for a description of apostolic succession) to keep what He taught pure. My Catholic faith depends first on Jesus, not any priest, bishop or the Pope. The Pope, with his gift of infallibility, leads us down the right path in matters of faith and morals.
    I personally don’t care if you support any one or none of our many Catholic Charities. But if you’re interested in what they do with your money, most of it is used to do corporal and spiritual works of mercy as Jesus asked in Matthew 5-7. Some of it is used for maintenance of the monastery and some to put some food in their stomachs, and some for education. But there’s too many to count, so we can’t support them all without going broke ourselves. If you tithe, then you do God’s will. Most Catholics don’t, and so they assuage their guilt by sending a buck or two to the abbot, who is simply the head of the monastery.
    I would love to hear more about the apostasy you claim, though. Faith and morals is what the Catholic Church teaches and stands for, even when some of the priests, and many of the laity don’t follow, because the Church only proposes, it doesn’t impose.
    As long as we’re discussing Christianity and not attacking each other, I’m happy to dialogue.

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    • Brian Casey 04/22/2011 / 5:50 pm

      David, I have no idea what the Triduum is, and I trust you’ll allow me off the hook on that one since it’s not in scripture. 🙂 I’m guessing it’s a reference to anniversary of the approximately three days beginning sometime within a few hours of right now.

      As it seems neither of us is bent on ad hominem attacks–rather, we both are rather convinced of opposing positions–I’ll respond to a few points. First, I find it even more sad than it is preposterous when a single, Yellow-pages-identifiable denomination (whether Roman Catholic, Baptist, the Church of Christ from which I trace my spiritual roots, or any other) claims to BE the church Jesus died to establish. My nondenominational denomination 🙂 claims the same thing as yours, and they are both wrong. No human organization is the church. I want you to know that I’ve shook my head in disgust when viewing cornerstones on “our” buildings that claim the Church of Christ was established 33 A.D. The desire to be part of the true church is admirable, but it crosses the line to presumption to think that a human organization is equivalent to that church.

      There’s no reason to want Mary to have been a perpetual virgin (presumably moving toward thinking “brothers” could be translated “cousins” when referring to our Lord’s brothers) if one takes a more biblical view of her place in God’s history and not a Roman one. I suppose she could have been a perpetual virgin, and that would be OK with me, but there’s no reason to think that needed to have been the case.

      Tithing is not a New Covenant principle since there is no New Covenant Levitical priesthood to support. I lament our financial condition, owing in large part to the terrible tax structure in our state, and wish we could give more, but not feeling that we should do this at this point in our lives leaves us with a minimum of guilt since tithing is an Old Covenant requirement.

      And it’s not the morals of lapsed priests that I decry here, although that trend throughout history is horrible and lamentable (and, of course, arises not only from sinful human nature but also from a nonbiblical insistence on celibacy). I may be ignorant here, but I’ve never heard apostasy discussed in connection with morals. Faith, as I understand it, is something that sincere, devout, Bible-reading Catholics probably hold much in common with other Bible-believing Christians. It is in such areas as church organization, church practice, and theological doctrine that the apostasies occurred … and continue to occur, I hasten to add–not only with Catholicism, but with all who pay more heed to traditions of men than to the message of scripture.

      If one presumes infallibility of a man, one may more readily accept all manner of developments that were not intended in original scripture. 1) There’s nothing in scripture that predicts infallibility of a succession of men to come later, and 2) what I see in human nature leads me not to believe that infallibility is possible, so I naturally reject the presupposition. I imagine I would agree with most of the pope’s morals, but that likelihood is no more significant than the likelihood of my agreeing with most of your morals.

      I’m genuinely glad you feel your faith depends first on Jesus, and that God wants worship His way. (In the latter case, I just wish he’d described corporate worship in more detail so that we could feel more confident in doing it “His way”!)

      Father God, please hold us both to these ideals. And may realization of the atoning sacrifice and hope-giving resurrectiion lead us to understand more deeply following Jesus in everything–symbolically dying with Him in immersion, as the early Christians did, and seeking to live in His Way in all things.

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