There is one thing that I have had a hard time understanding this side of evangelicalism, and that is denominational favoritism. Now, if was simply the idea that someone really likes a particular brand of church, that would be fine. However, the prevailing attitude that I sense is that brand x church is the ONLY church who has their act together. They are the ONLY church who has their doctrines correct. If you are not part of their brand, you are inferior.
They approach it as God playing the shell game. He has several hundred walnut shells on the table but under one–and only one–is the correct church. Our mission is to seek out and find that one faithful church in the midst of imposters.
Some have gone so far, if you read between the lines of what they are saying, that you cannot be a Christian if you are not part of their denomination.
Right now I have good friends who believe that; the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Catholic Chruch, Wisconsin Synd Lutheran Church, Eastern Orthodox, Mennonite Church or the Southern Baptist Church is the ONLY correct church.
I think about this and, as I always do, try to figure out what is the psychological force behind this thinking. I think it is a lack of understanding of the brokenness of humanity and seeking a higher feeling of self-worth, knowing that you are one of the few who are smart enough or moral enough to have discovered the one true church. Broken humans cannot produce perfect church organizations. This is not to be a bummer, as is all is hopeless. It is liberating. We don’t have to look to a particular church as our one savior. We can enjoy a variety of traditions without guilt, keeping one eye open for mischief within that brand.
I’m also not saying that theological truth is relative. It is not. But each person in these particular groups above thinks that they have a corner on theological certainty. This is not possible. We should seek theological purity, but we never arrive.
So what is the problem with this ecclesiological branding? The problem is, I have noticed with these friends:
- When they live in places where their church brand doesn’t exist, they half-heartedly join other “inferior” brands and stand as a perpetual critic from the inside.
- They don’t support important ecumenical projects in the community so they can avoid mixing with those outside the “right church.”
- They, while not admitting it, look down their noses at people outside of their brand. They may not notice it, but those on the other end of that long nose get it.
I am often accused of being anti-denominational (or like I said above, seeing theology as relative). I am not. I favor the true, simple gospel and I adore all life that God has created.
Related to this, I will close with a quote from my book, Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar, about this issue:
Even champion thoroughbreds require constant shoveling or their stalls will fill with shit. We are ALL wrong on some points but that should not stop us from meeting. However, this plasticity should never be an excuse for trivializing important theological doctrines or attempting to revise the corrupt history of our particular church movement to make us feel better. We often worry that we—or worse, our friends—might be wrong on some important theological point. However, what really should keep us awake at night, is the fear of becoming certain about a view that is absolutely wrong. As long as we know there is a chance we might be in fault . . . we are safe.