Thursday, January 31, 2008

Do Denominations Count for Anything?

Some years ago there was a move afoot, at least locally, to dismiss denominational differences as essentially irrelevant and to encourage us to all worship together as one in the body of Christ. But what sounded like a wonderful invitation to ecumenism had another agenda that was driving it. Dismissing denominational differences meant to dismiss the traditions, theologies and practices of some churches in favor of consolidation with those of others, and those others were non-liturgical, conservative Evangelical, bordering on fundamentalist churches. I recall preaching several sermons on the theme that for us to engage fully with other traditions as brothers and sisters in Christ we had to be fully aware of who we are as Episcopalians in the Anglican traditions of our shared faith. That was not well received by some who had, in good faith I think, done their best to stock the church library and Christian education programs with almost everything published by Dobson, Falwell & Co. For them, to be real ecumenical Christians meant to cease to be Anglican, and to become conservative Evangelicals in Episcopal dress. It wasn’t a move toward non-denominationalism but a move toward another well defined denomination that held beliefs, perhaps appropriate to them, that were violently inconsistent with how Episcopalians believe. That is not unimportant. It is very important. It is not a matter of one being right and the other wrong. It is a matter of how we define the very core of what it means to be a Christian, what tools we use to become disciples and how we pass both on to the next generation.

The whole argument can be put into one brief paragraph. I believe that denominational differences are important. They express very different ways of apprehending and comprehending scripture, the sacraments, the meaning of ministry and the central doctrines of Christianity. These different ways form Christian identity and illuminate the disciplines and knowledge needed to grow in discipleship. They allow us to enrich one another through the sharing of our traditions. They provide a variety of places in which variety of people with a variety of needs can be more fully nourished with God’s word.

In a day or two I’ll share something of my own experience with what I call “Generic Christianity.”

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