Some years ago, I sat in a workshop at the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) convention in Kansas City. The workshop was about integrating both grace and truth in our communities and schools.
At one point, the instructor used a Venn diagram to illustrate what she thought was a healthy balance. On one side was the works-heavy, law-based, truth-oriented community. On the other side was the worship-heavy, acceptance-based, grace-oriented community. In the middle was the perfect blend of the best of both worlds.
To take her illustration further, the instructor asked her listeners to split up into three groups. “If your group is works-oriented, please stand on the right side of the room. If you are part of a grace-focused community, stand on the left side of the room. If your school and church community is a good balance of both, please stand in the middle.”
For some reason, the instructor wasn’t my style, and I was feeling snotty, so I just stayed in my seat and watched the action.
Soon, I started to laugh quietly. The people in the room were a hugely diverse group, even though they all were connected in some way to a Christian school. But all but two or three people had gathered in the middle.
“How wonderful!” the instructor exclaimed. “Almost all of you come from very balanced communities!”
“Lady!” I wanted to say. “You just illustrated something totally different from what you meant to illustrate! Of course nearly everyone thinks they have the right balance, whether or not they actually do!”
I admit, I was feeling a little jeering, which was pride and I am ashamed of that. However, in the end, the illustration did teach me something valuable, even if it wasn’t what the instructor intended.
I thought of this scenario recently while engaging in a discussion regarding church denominations.
Any of us that are dedicated to studying and obeying Scripture have to weigh the passages and attempt to interpret them rightly. Disagreement over what exactly the Bible means in certain cases has existed about as long as the Church has, even though many Christ followers are deeply devoted to finding and following the truth. We yearn toward wholeness while experiencing the inner tension of: “what is the right path to follow in my life today, what does the church say, and how does God see this situation?”
However we’ve answered the questions about what the Bible means, most of us think that our specific church denomination has achieved the right balance, or at least is closer to it than anyone else, whether it’s in areas of personal purity, social justice, gender roles, or any number of other controversial topics.
This assurance quickly turns into denominational pride, which is just as quickly excused, because after all, we know that our denomination does the best job of listening to God and following Scripture. Sure, we readily admit we aren’t perfect, but our mistakes don’t look as bad as the mistakes of the church group down the street. We obey this Scripture and they don’t (never mind that we don’t obey everything, either).
I believe that as long as we harbor pride in our denomination, we cannot fully experience God or His church.
Regardless what local group we are a part of, we are only a very tiny element of the whole body of Christ. It is tragic and arrogant to think that our sense of balance is inherently better than the rest of the body, and that we have no need to work together with other Christian communities.
Recently I have been sorely convicted of this in my own life. It’s easy to either idolize the way I was raised, or to idolize a reaction to the way I was raised. But as long as I cast a judging eye on other church groups and think I have just the right balance, I block myself off from a flow of blessing.
Assuming that I am perfectly balanced means I am almost certainly off-kilter. This doesn’t mean I need to be unwise and accept anything anyone with the “Christian” label says or does. I need the guidance of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word on a personal level. But I do need to acknowledge that neither I, nor my local church body, can possibly walk alone and be healthy.
In fact, I believe that only as I listen to other Christians in a variety of settings will I be able to come anywhere close to a good balance. This means listening not only to the church present in our world today, but also listening to the church throughout history.
In our home town, I’ve been blessed to witness the varying strengths of the different local denominations. The Methodist church is a warm, welcoming church with more liturgical-style services. They do a weekly children’s ministry and food bank. The Assembly of God church is a place of lively energy, and they do well with throwing community suppers or movie nights. The Christian church cares about addictions, and hosts a weekly Celebrate Recovery group. They also sponsor kids’ camps in the summer. The Community Bible church is a friendly, family-oriented church that’s quick to serve. Go to one of their services, and they will feed you royally!
Put the gifts of all these groups together, and you have a potential powerhouse!
I can either plug into and enjoy these riches, adding in my own Mennonite traits such as peacemaking and living a simple life, or I can sit at home and box off my little Mennonite self.
Church and following Jesus is not about competition, it’s about working together. The task to bring light and love to a bleak world is not something any of us can accomplish singlehandedly.
Maybe all of us Christians need to lay down our denominational pride. Maybe we need to see life as being less about achieving and defending balance, and more about humbly growing together into the likeness of Christ.
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
What have you learned from Christians of other denominations?