Denominations are silly...

Denominations are silly, really. You wouldn’t know this until you’ve been a part of more than one. Things that you once thought were fundamental to the faith, you come to realize didn’t amount to a hill of dill.

I once was a Baptist. A Baptist cares a lot about baptism…by immersion. So much so that they decided to make sure everyone immediately thought of baptism the minute they drove up to the church property and saw it on the sign. It’s really funny. I think baptism is nice, but it’s not the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about God. It’s not even a close second. I would tell someone to get baptized, but I wouldn’t fight about it as a primary doctrinal virtue.

Baptists are really Calvinists. They don’t name their denomination after Calvin because he’s kind of embarrassing to them in my opinion. I’ve read some of his stuff…he seems pretty dogmatic, even angry in his approach to life and God. But boy is he smart. He’s one of the smartest stupid people I know. I use the word stupid because we all are really stupid compared to God. Any take on God that we have is going to be stupid on some level, because He’s monolithic and we are puny. I don’t like it when a man comes up with a paradigm, a grid, and then people bow down to it more than what the grid is trying desperately explain—I emphasis “desperately”. In this case, God.

I am growing more and more angry with Calvinism. It seems quite fatalistic to me. It believes that everything has been previously arranged and that we have little to no part to play in making any changes to that arrangement. Armenians on the other hand think that everything depends on them and that God is waiting around to see what our next move is. That’s hilarious when you really think about it, because God doesn’t live inside the dimensions of time or space. I feel bad for God having to try to explain life in our language, which is limited when compared to his. I think I’m a “Carmenian”. I believe that God knows the future and I have a part in creating it. I don’t know where the lines blur in between these two ends of the spectrum; I just know that when I wake up in the morning, I have to believe something like this to get out of bed. If I wake up thinking Calvinisticly, I want to stay in bed because I’m unmotivated by the idea of not affecting the future. Being a predetermined pawn in this epic table game just doesn’t arouse me to action. If I wake up thinking Armenianally, I want to stay in bed for fear that I’m the big deal and if I don’t make something happen, everything will fall apart in the world. I like to think of God as Sovereign just because the Bible says he is. That means he knows what’s going on and that he’s got it going on all at the same time.

When I wake up I like to think that God and I are joining together to make things happen. It’s like he can’t change the world without me and I can’t change the world without him. If I don’t do it, it won’t happen because I’m one of the human beings that he left behind to represent him and take action on his behalf…I’m his body. If I don’t move, the world doesn’t get to see God move. That’s scary when you think about it.

Paul told the Colossians that the mystery was this: Christ in me, the hope of glory. I don’t know what to call that theology, but I’m that. I like to think of it as “Christ –n- Me, the hope of glory.” Together, we can affect change and in so doing alter the future by seizing opportunities in the present. I think I’m going to call this doctrine, Carmenian theology. Or how about Armalvinistic Theology. Or how about this, let’s just leave it alone as the mystery it is. Then we won’t screw it up like we do whenever we extrapolate a piece of God’s word and immortalize it as the end all doctrine of the faith. I just know whatever this verse is saying makes sense to me. It brings together two camps that have expended far too much energy fighting each other as bitter rivals and forgetting Jesus somewhere in the whole war.

Being a Baptist also meant it was important to know exactly when Jesus was coming back. Even though Jesus tried to make it as clear as day that “no man would know the day or hour”, we wanted to prove him wrong by setting dates and keeping one eye on the middle east and the other one on the church constitution. (I’m just joking…kinda!) I’ve met so many intelligent theologians that are coming to different conclusions on this subject. That’s confusing since it seems to me that Jesus would make the things clear that are important and leave the things vague that aren’t. The only logical conclusion is that maybe, just maybe, Jesus didn’t want us to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the exact time of the rapture. I don’t mean to trivialize the countless hours that have been invested in this subject over the years by well meaning people, oh wait, yes I do. They could have been loving people instead of hiding in a study parsing verbs and piecing together abstract metaphors into books as thick as a Webster’s dictionary. Nobody reads these books anyway, except people that have time to care about such frivolity. Academiacs are the only subgroup that I know that expend so much time on something that the Bible refuses to divulge with fluid simplicity. Again, I don’t know where I stand on the Second coming of our Lord. My belief is as follows, I’m a “Pre-He’s coming back before I thought He would” or a “Post-He’s coming back after I wished He did.” Either way, it doesn’t affect how I live up to that moment. I think a lot of people just want to make sure they aren’t going to go through anything hard or hurtful in the future since that is what they base their faith on in the first place.

Baptists are funny people.

Now I’m what is formally known as a Wesleyan. I’ve been one of these for nearly two and a half years. Interestingly enough, Baptists make fun of Wesleyans for being eternally insecure, what with their whole belief in losing your salvation and all. I was led to believe that Wesleyans lived in fear every day that they were going to sin and then going to hell in a hand basket. I thought they constantly were preaching on how important it is to “stay saved” and how vital it is that Wesleyans believe they can lose their salvation. I imagined that they orbited around this one doctrine as the sun in their doctrinal universe. I have heard nothing about it in two and a half years. It’s funny what other denominations make up in their heads about rival denominations in order to feel better about what they believe.

But over on this side, the Wesleyan camp, they think Baptists are quacks. They have these pictures of people wearing suit coats to bed and having altar calls for family devotions. They think of them as the “faith only” camp that believes you pray a prayer and then live a life of self-indulgence until the rapture. They view eternally security as a free ride to glory with little to no effort needed on the part of recipient. From what it sounds like, they scoff the idea that you just “ask Jesus into your heart” and then live the way you want to knowing that there’s absolutely nothing that can “snatch you from the Father’s hand”. I think they think Baptists just talk about “eternally security” every week and have altar calls whenever they have a free moment in their day. Wesleyans are so misled…but I can’t blame them, just like their Baptist brothers, they don’t ever go over to the other side to see if their ideas are actually true. Neither side has pegged the other one correctly….but they think they have and that’s all that matters to them.

Wesleyans believe in something called “Entire Sanctification” or “Christian Perfection”. It’s this nebulous, ambiguous doctrine that hardly anyone in the denomination knows how to explain. Wesley wanted to be Holy. You can’t knock a guy for that. But in desiring this virtue, he came to believe that a Christian could attain absolute holiness with deeper dedication and fuller consecration.

Heidi’s uncle was a Wesleyan. He often would share with the rest of his family that he was completely sanctified. Heidi laughed as she shared this with me. Anyone that is holy won’t tell you that they are…that seems to be a conflict of interest to me. She said to me that he clearly wasn’t, but she didn’t want to tell him that.

I went to a week long class on “Holiness”. We debated “entire sanctification” in class for two days. We were all more confused at the end of the dialogue. We decided as a class to continue to pursue righteousness, but not ever think in our wildest dreams that we would ever arrive. We called it “Directional Sanctification” meaning that we wanted to be pointing toward God and continually moving toward his image. We agreed that the Bible was full of verses that said essentially, “Be holy because I am holy.”, but allowed for verses that also said, “Not that I have attained or have been made perfect but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me”. I love that the Bible continually contradicts itself in order to keep us on our toes, refraining from extremes. It makes me want to read all of it and not just the parts I like. I’m prone to do that. Wesleyans are prone to do that. Baptists are prone to do that. Let’s not do that.

Wesleyans wouldn’t let their congregants wear any jewelry only 40 years ago. No wedding bands, no ear rings, nothing. They have lists of rules that guide people toward Christian perfection. Mind you, things like anger, gluttony, gossip, lust and other inner battles aren’t specified, only stuff like not frequenting theaters, drinking liquor, and playing Texas Holy ‘Em. I don’t know who determined what got in the little blue book and what got axed, but someone did. I wouldn’t have wanted to be that person or grouping of people. That would be a huge burden to bear, to pick and choose what list the rest of the denomination has to follow in order to be part of the fold, the inside group, the family of God. It’s sad when we feel that we have to clarify what we feel the Bible doesn’t state as strongly as it should have by making majors out of minors and, as the story goes, minors out of majors.

Wesleyans are silly. Baptists are goofy. And yet, these two traditions are the lump sum of who I am. I’m a “Waptist”. And though there are things that I’m not proud of about both of these denominations, there are tons of things that I’m thankful for. Sometimes the only way for me to cathartically heal from both of their silly belief systems is to find humor in them. If you can’t laugh at denominations, you’ll probably cry. And today, I felt like laughing.

Denominations are silly, really.


Jecca said…
Hm. I used to be a Waptist...Grew up Wesleyan, got incredibly frustrated by the "show" in my church (or obvious outward striving for perfection, from my POV) and started attending a Baptist church. I was drawn to the realness of it and lack of show (at least at this church), as well as the firm grounding in Scripture. However, I have now ended up at a non-denominational church led by a pastor who loves God with all his heart. I imagine I'll probably stay there for a long time, if not the rest of my life. ( Once we start getting into doctrines and man-made rules, relationship seems to become religion, and I'm just not okay with that....I agree with your post 100%. Thanks for sharing.
David Cortner said…
I totally agree - denominations are not only silly, but man-made and...even stupid! In fact, "Calvinism" and "Armenianism" are also man-made and silly as well. It's another one of those times we would be better off "keeping the main thing the main thing".

However, I guess I would be careful about using a blanket statement like "A Baptist", when maybe it should have been "The Baptist's that I grew up around", or "The Baptist's where I went to school", or "The Baptist's in Ohio", etc. The reason I say that is I know our Baptist Church and I know a lot of others like ours, is not all hung up on "baptism" nor having to know "exactly when Jesus is coming back". I just preached on baptism a few weeks ago and emphasized that the mode is NOT the issue, even saying that a lot of followers of Jesus from around the world would come to our church and look at our baptistry and marvel that we have a puppet stage! Also, in a recent message on the return of Christ, I mentioned that many fine, scholarly people hold a different view of the "timing" of the return of Christ, and emphasized that timing is "not the issue" - the issue is that it is a "purifying hope", no matter when it happens, therefore it should impact how we live.

Maybe I and a lot of my friends are WAPTISTS too!
DanielSon said…
Hahaha... I can't help but think of the different conversations we have had on the subject and now you've blogged it, I agree 100% only Ive never been to the "other side" born and raised "perfect," like Mr. Armenian himself. They really are silly, God scattered the world for trying to reach heaven their way (tower of Babel) now we are scattered once more (into denominations) for building a man made religion in attempts to reach God, once again our own way. God has His own way we just like trying to find our own, His way is too simple for our complex theologies. Haha, denominations are silly
jeff willetts said…
I have to agree with david cortner when he said, "be careful about a blanket statement like 'a Baptist."

Jason, we are the last Baptsit church of which you were a member and staff person. You have to know that your staments on baptims and Christ's return are not true at Calvary. Our goal is to help people come to know about Christ and to love Him more. I realize that you did not name Calvary but you were here most recently and I felt they were in part were directed at us.

If we have offended you we are sorry. If we have hurt you we want to help correct this. I love you Jason.

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