My weekly theological discussion witn Meng Pu this week was about a difficult subject both to pronounce and to explain: Denominations. Let me preface this by saying that in my experience and opinion, "denominations" are highly overrated, and have in modern history done more harm than good to the unity of the body of Christ. I understand that people have different ways of worshipping, and different views on hierarchy and leadership, and emphasize different minor aspects of theology, and I see the value in associating yourself with a specific church family, but when labels other than "disciples of Christ" become people's primary identity, we lose the thing Jesus prayed for in John 17. So, with this as my beginning point, here's how our conversation unfolded...
Meng Pu asked me the name of my home church, which I told him is Triad Christian Fellowship. He wondered what denomination it belongs to, and if there are other "Christian Fellowships" around the country, like there are Assemblies of God, Baptist, and Episcopalian. I smiled as I considered all the Christian fellowships I have been connected with in some way and thanked God for each one. Then I explained that we say that my church is non-denominational - that the people who come have backgrounds in various denominations, and that we just try to keep our focus on the way the New Testament church lived, and we read Acts 2:42-47 together. Meng Pu nodded and said thoughtfully, "I think this is very good..."
He asked about our view on the Holy Spirit and Pentacost, among other things that sadly seem to divide so many Christians. I said that while our church body doesn't often respond charismatically to the movement of the Holy Spirit, that we are not opposed to it, and we very much believe he is active and present among us, and the evidence of that is through the ways we learn and grow, and the changes we see in people's lives. Again he nodded and repeated, "I think this is very good..."
His next question was how TCF could connect with other churches if we aren't part of a denominational family. I thought about the times we've worked with other community churches through Operation Christmas Child, Vacation Bible School, Child Evangelism Fellowship, and the Rescue Mission, and how beautiful it is that it doesn't matter what church buildings or names we have, we can still fellowship and serve in love because of our common hope in Christ Jesus. Once more, Meng Pu was amazed.
Then he said, "This is not like my country. In my country, missionaries come from different denominations and plant churches in their denomination. We become members of a church and do not worship with others." Even now in the states, he has not thought before about the possibility of visiting a church outside of his denomination. He said that as a child, he met a missionary from a different denomination from his own, who told Meng Pu that because of a difference of opinion regarding the Holy Spirit's role in believer's lives, he was not truly a Christian. Other divisions came up among missionaries in the area, concerning baptism and Old Testament laws and church government. So this information about how the body of Christ could work together as one in the name of our Saviour was very exciting to him. It's like he wished and prayed that the Church could be like that but didn't realize that in many places it is.
I was saddened and angered by the experiences that Meng Pu and his people (and probably many people around the world) have had with Christian missionaries. Why are churches sending out people who are only promoting and expanding a denomination? Why is anything at all being preached besides salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ? Isn't that the point - isn't that the message all disciples of Christ have been given - isn't it the only message in all the world that matters? Don't we believe that if people surrender their lives to Him that He can change hearts and make the difference? Don't we believe that the Holy Spirit still has the power to convict and reconcile and council? Who cares how we worship, as long as we are worshipping the one and only God in Spirit and in Truth? Why do we carry any other name or title but Jesus, when his life is the one we are to be devoted to following and living out?
Followers of Jesus, Disciples of Christ, Members of the Way - I pray that we remember that we have in common the forgiveness of sins, freedom from the laws of sin and death, and the hope of eternal life, and that we commit ourselves to sharing these things with those around us.