Friday, July 24, 2009
Yes, I have become emotionally attached to the churches I join. But it is an emotional attachment rooted in a theological conviction that I'm supposed to gather with other believers, formally commit to them, and dig into that community for the glory of God, the good of myself and my family, and the good of the community in which we serve.There are a lot of ways to experience community, the local church being only one of them, but it is the lack of any sense thereof that makes the whole mega-church thing problematic to me. They talk about small groups which is great, but that makes the small group "the church" as far as I am concerned. My point is that the need for community is not an argument for denominationalism - but denominationalism should be argued for and with that small deviation Menikoff is on the right track.
Though I have no intention of removing the name "Baptist" from the church's title, I have no strong conviction that it has to be there. However, I no longer see denominationalism as staid--I've seen too much robust Christianity dwelling in the midst of congregations that identify themselves with a denomination. Those who take Scripture seriously end up disagreeing over matters that are not central to the gospel but that remain important to congregational life. Nonetheless, my prayer is not that a particular denomination would grow but that individuals would be saved by God into a community of believers eager to follow Jesus together.
Two trends make a robust commitment to local church membership more difficult. The first is the reality that American evangelicals are increasingly eager to identify themselves as "followers of Jesus" rather than members of Christ's church. The second is the continued growth of the mega-church movement that makes anonymous Christianity (in the non-Rahner sense) possible. In the face of both these trends, I pray that the theological substance of my experience--a commitment to and love for the local church--will not fade away.
Being a part of a denomination provides two incredibly important things - clerical accountability and breadth of religious perspective. Too many pastors turn in too many wrong directions and while in theory it is possible for the congregation to provide correction, such can as easily tear a congregation apart as it can provide a corrective to the pastor. Formal authority system provide a means by which a corrective can be applied without forcing the laity of the congregation into "choosing sides."
But breadth of religious perspective is where I really want to spend my mental energy in this post. The more I mature as a Christians the more I come to understand that being a good Christian is a pretty diverse thing. It is not about having the "proper" devotional life, or mastering theology, or even "holy" behavior. There is a consumptive totality to it - a remaking of the whole - that is going to going to look different for every individual because every individual is created uniquely.
Congregations, naturally end up being relatively similar people. But to develop into a Christian in that whole and consumptive sense one needs experience and knowledge from a vast array of sources and examples. Only something large and diverse like a denomination can supply that.
This is why I find it interesting that Menikoff seems to be moving in such a direction as he grows and matures. Such certainly parallels my path.