We are what we like about our brand of church experience. We look in the mirror and see what we would call the picture of a Christ follower. It’s not that we feel we have got it perfect, it’s that we see someone on the right track. This means there will be denominations that [will or] will not fit our version of living our lives as Christ followers.
Those Pentecostals, they’re just too happy clappy.
Those Baptists have too many rules.
Those Church of England (Episcopalian) people are far too traditional.
Those Pentecostals sure are passionate about their worship.
Those Baptist make it easy to figure out what Christians are allowed and not allowed to do.
Those Church of England (Episcopalian) people make me feel like I am in a holy place, meeting with God because of the deep history and tradition.
We look in the mirror and depending on our personality and life experience, decide what version of Christ following is closest to or farthest from ours. Most people never know what they miss out on when choosing a church because the number of churches that are in the running are narrowed down by a little knowledge and a mirror.*
Imagine growing up as a Church of England (Episcopalian) – Pentecostal.
I didn’t know when to put my hands in my pockets and when to raise them. Sunday morning liturgy with its reverence and sense of orderly worship gave way to the Monday night prayer meeting with its unscheduled and unscripted outbursts of praise and prophesy. Communion in the traditional setting used a communal cup which made wine (real alcohol) necessary to stop the passing on of infectious diseases. The bread was like thin cardboard cut into a perfect circle. It stuck to the roof of your mouth requiring an extra big gulp of the wine to dislodge it. You may leave the traditional service a little tipsy but at the less traditional Pentecostal prayer meetings we were all drunk in the Spirit and even sometimes falling down. Anything could happen. Someone could get healed or speak in tongues. Someone could speak into your life with a word from God or an overwhelming feeling of warmth could fill the room as their participants raised the voices in spontaneous praise.
A little confused and a lot captivated.
It may look like I spent my childhood and youth in a state of religious confusion. In some ways that is true but not for the reasons you may suspect. My confusion did not stem from a desire to find the style of faith expression that most matched how I believed God intended Christ followers to worship. My confusion came from the fact that people wanted just one form of faith expression and even worse, often believed that other forms somehow lacked legitimacy in God’s eyes. I heard the talking points (we didn’t call them that back then) that each side had to back up their form of doing church but none could ever see the good in the other. More importantly, none could ever see God in the other. Blinded by a commitment to their comfort zone and a fear that they may find themselves overrun by the other ways of doing church, no one seemed to want to admit that the other had something that could apply to them. I could never understand this preoccupation with defending manmade formats and doctrines rather than seeking new ways to draw closer to God.
We are in this together, all equal at the foot of the cross.
In the last while it has become easier to eliminate denominations based on their replacement of sound biblical practices with worldly morality in the name of grace and mercy. While some have chosen to depart from the Bible, or at least manipulate the words to better fit their world view, most others still share a strong biblical foundation with common ground in most areas of Christian faith. Some may explore areas of their faith more extensively than you are used to. Others may have a view of worship or God that doesn’t quite fit your version of following Christ but is this a good reason to view their version of Christ following as further from the cross than yours? It’s time we looked beyond the “mirror” (what we think following Christ looks like based on us) and discover that just because they don’t look like us in their expression of faith doesn’t mean they are not like us at their core – true followers of Christ.
… looking in the “mirror” may, on the surface, work well, but it does pose two problems. The first is how limiting this form of decision making can be. If you only choose what you know works for you, you will become bored. If you only participate in activities or organizations that match what you see in the “mirror”, you will only be what you have always been… The second problem is complacency. As long as everything looks the same it must be fine. The “mirror” reflects the surface, the appearance, unable to see past what things look like.*
* Italicized sections taken from the book Blueprint by J David Peever (currently seeking publisher)