You know you are hip when you categorize yourself as “post”-something. And, in my never-ending desire to be hip (sarcasm), I bring you the “post” group with which I most identify. I direct you to the title.
So what is post-denominationalism? To me, it is about making the most of what we have. It’s part realism—part idealism.
Notwithstanding God breaking up human language at the foundation of the unfinished tower of Babel, unity is a big, big deal to God. Now, I am tempted to throw out some neat metaphor to illustrate how important unity and cooperation are among various elements of the natural world. Unfortunately, pretty much every metaphor for that has become trite by now. So I’ll skip the flowery language and move on to the heart of the problem: Unity does not describe God’s believers and never has. Considering the fact that Jesus prayed for this right before he died, this has to be one of our foremost endeavors. If it isn’t, God’s enemy will find every way to use it to his advantage. This is the foundation of my idealistic bent. A purely idealistic approach, I would call “non-denominationalism” (though this often passes as it’s own denomination). I would love to see a day in which there are no denominations.
But I’m also a realist—denominations, at least in the short term, are going nowhere. I have nothing scientific with which to back this up, but a mixture of experience and intuition have lead me to this conclusion. After all, what are we going to do with all those buildings we’ve made? I remember driving from California into Arkansas—a state, proud of it’s southernness and it’s holiness—for the first time as an adult; all I could think was, “Wow, this place has a lot of church buildings.” I was not impressed.
So what do we do if we can’t get rid of denominations? I say we make them irrelevant. Even if they don’t immediately go away, they might later. And even if they don’t, no one will care. So how do we make them irrelevant? First, a foundation.
You and I on Sunday morning might sing songs and listen to a preacher in different buildings. You’re building might be hip (yes!) with cool lights and a rockin’ band; mine might be rather bland. I may have communion (or Eucharist, if you like) once a week, you once a month, and some really radical people might break bread in their homes together every day (where have I heard that?). You guys might believe “once saved, always saved”—a fair interpretation of Romans 8:38-39—and that continuing a life of sin means you were never saved in the first place; my people might believe that you can be given salvation and then lose it—a fair interpretation of Hebrews 10:26-27 and 2 Peter 1:5-10.
But these are hardly the things that Jesus spent his time addressing. Imagine going to Jesus today and asking him whether we should baptize by full immersion or by sprinkling? A Jesus who would actually dignify that question would seem to fly in the face of the Jesus in Matthew 12, among other scriptures. My guess is he would say, “Haven’t you read Romans 14 and 15? Get baptized and when you’re done, come do my work.”
Romans 14 and 15 are groundbreaking yet tragically neglected. When Paul wrote this, Christians of a Jewish, Hebrew background were clashing with the Christians of a pagan, Greek or Roman background. The Hebrew Christians had grown up their whole life observing an astoundingly complicated set of laws handed down from God through Moses on Mount Sinai. This law was the foundation of all Hebrew culture. It was their identity. So when the law forbids the eating of various foods and now, by the law losing it’s force after Jesus’s resurrection, those foods have been made okay, what was a Hebrew Christian to do at the sight of a Greek Christian eating a BBQ pull pork sandwich at Whole Hog Cafe?
In Romans 14 and 15, Paul is essentially saying: “Look guys, there are some things that are disputable. You guys need to keep these things from getting in the way of the real work of God.” Paul specifically mentions three things in these chapters: eating meat, drinking wine, and observing special days. I believe these are specific examples of the general principle laid out in verse one: do not quarrel over disputable matters. Also, let’s be clear, the belief that it is wrong to eat meat is not right. This is made explicitly clear in Acts 10. So, is it kosher (pun absolutely intended) to say that Paul is allowing people to cling to certain beliefs, even when they are wrong? I don’t know how you could read Romans 14 and conclude otherwise. Therefore, I’m going to submit to you that there are very few indisputable matters. Of course, it is crucial to identify them, but most matters are subject to differing, yet reasonable interpretations.
So where does that leave us? Post-denominationalism. Post-denominationalism has two parts, both of which serve a common purpose. First, we should restrict things that divide us to our time within our church buildings. If I believe that worshipping with instruments is a sin—a reasonable interpretation of Ephesians 5:18-19—then I’ll sing in a building with people that believe the same thing. However, and second, when we get out of those buildings, we need to leave the things of our consciences that divide us and focus on the indisputable things that unite us, even when we strongly believe the other side is wrong (Romans 14:3 is a double command: both sides, the incorrect and the correct must accept each other). Therefore, we should be united in service with all Christians who share in common the things that are indisputable: the power of sin to destroy, Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins, God’s supremacy, living according to the Holy Spirit (whether or not you believe He allows you to speak in tongues) and doing for others what we would have them do for ourselves.
Church buildings serve few productive purposes but I believe allowing us to briefly and temporarily separate according to our impossible differences is one of them. Many people are going to freak out by this and say that I’m sanctioning any and all belief and behavior. Trust me, there are things that are indisputably sinful and there are beliefs that are indisputably at odds with God. However, we must accept that even God knew we would disagree over many issues. Yet, the Bible seems much more concerned with our ability to live in true harmony with one another, despite those differences. Ultimately, the purpose of post-denominationalism is just that.
To make post-denominationalism work, we must be willing to get outside of the people group with whom we sing “Victory in Jesus” each Sunday morning. We must forge relationships with people of different congregations. And we really owe it to ourselves and to God to hear each other out. Perhaps the divisions we thought were there really aren’t! Perhaps we are wrong! I know I’ve been wrong about many things and no doubt continue to be wrong about others.
Try it. All of you. And tell your friends.