Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In defense of denominations

As previously noted, God knew full well that denominations would arise, just as he knew a monarchy would arise. I'm going to sketch an argument for denominations.

To begin with, the monarchy wasn't the problem; the motivation was. It's always bad when someone depends on someone or something other than God, and that's how the Israelite monarchy began. What about denominations?

Have you noticed that in 1 Cor 1:12, Paul mentions factions--early denominations--with disquiet and even disgust, but one of the groups claims to follow Christ? It's obvious that someone following Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (Peter) has a problem, but apparently so did the "Christ-followers." Why?

While following Paul is here a bad sign, Paul himself urged others to follow his example (1 Cor 11:1, Php 3:17). The difference is that it's good to follow the example of godly people, but it's bad to follow just one person and ignore all others. This is why the "Christ-followers" were a problem: just as the Paul-followers ignored Apollos and Peter, the "Christ-followers" would have ignored any merely human teacher, including Paul. But Christ sent Paul--and Apollos, Peter, and many others. Ignoring the ones Christ sent meant ignoring Christ. But following Christ in the right way, in humility, means following the ones he has sent as well.

The danger in movements and denominations comes when they have our devotion. Are you a Christian first or a member of your denomination? If your denomination comes first, it has become an idol. Also, you are probably rejecting out of hand some people God has sent to teach you, simply because they aren't from the right group. That's one of the main reasons the Jewish religious establishment rejected Jesus!

The proper use of denominations involves humbly following God's path for you without rejecting others, and in part this means knowing why denominations exist.

Paul told the Corinthians that different groups had to exist among them to show who God approved (1 Cor 11:19). I think we've misunderstood this. He isn't saying that the idea is to find the one group that is completely correct: given human sinfulness, there won't be one. Even if there were for a brief moment, human perversity would misdirect it--and a good thing, too, or we'd begin to worship and rely on it, not God.

This is what Paul was talking about: Christianity involves living out God's love in community, and nothing shows God's love more powerfully than getting along with people when you disagree with them. The existence of different groups should be an opportunity to love fellow Christians who are unlike us. If we do so, well and good; if not, it's really our fault, not the fault of the other groups.

And there will be different groups because we are individually different. Some denominations emphasize quiet contemplation, others loud, energetic worship. Some emphasize individual responsibility, others corporate worship. And so on. Just as no one has all the spiritual gifts, so no one lives out all these facets of the faith in perfect balance. In a given congregation, this leads to the "many parts, one body" phenomenon: no one has to do everything; we each do what we were called to do. And denominationally, there is no one perfect group; each has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own place in the Body. The trick is to carry out your function without demeaning the others. As long as we do that, denominations will be a blessing, not a curse.


Anders Branderud said...

You wrote: “While following Paul is here a bad sign, Paul himself urged others to follow his example (1 Cor 11:1, Php 3:17). The difference is that it's good to follow the example of godly people, but it's bad to follow just one person and ignore all others.”

According to Torah one should follow the Creator and not people.

The definition of righteousness according to the first-century teacher Ribi Yehoshua (ha-Mashiakh; the Messiah) from Nazareth (You can find Ribi Yehoshuas teachings here: Netzarim), is the same definition found in Torah (included in Tan’’kh, the Jewish Bible); and that is to follow the instructions of the Creator found in Torah.

It is written in Torah, Devarim (“Deuteronomy”) 13:1-6, that it is forbidden to add or remove mitzwot (commandments) from Torah. For example one mitzwah is that one shouldn’t eat pork and another one is that one should celebrate Shabat. Thus if a person said that meat, which is tâ•reiph′ (= not kosher) is okay to eat, then he is a false prophet according to the passage in Devarim 13:1-6.

Thus, one cannot both follow the Creator by following His instructions in Torah, and follow the teachings of Paul.

Anders Branderud

Steve said...

This one will evidently require yet another post, which is a bit annoying, considering that I originally intended to finish the "Dvorak Manor" arc of Dark World this month as well as get in several reviews. But the issues here are too important to ignore: this amounts to nothing less than an attempt to destroy the Gospel in a way first tried in the First Century.

I probably won't get to a proper response until tomorrow, so I'll sketch the argument and post a link here to the full response when I've finished it.

According to Torah one should follow the Creator and not people.

But Moses was a mere human, not the Creator, yet most of the commandments came through Moses. He said that they originated with the Creator, but we mostly just have his word on that. There were corroborating miracles, but Paul had those, too. If we can't follow Paul, we can't follow Moses either, and the whole argument fails. One might suggest that it's always right to follow the Creator as he speaks and acts through people, which is what happened with Moses--and with Paul.

The "Netzarim" business is too involved to address here; I'll only note that

1. Jesus wasn't officially a rabbi; that's why the regular rabbis wanted to know about where he got his "authority": they wanted to know about his teaching and his teacher. Since he had no human teacher, they considered him invalid.

2. While he did call people to evince the righteousness that the Law models, still he forgave sins as a matter of grace: he would tell people their sins were forgiven regardless of their keeping the Law.

3. In respect of dietary laws, he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), so Jesus himself was out of order. But then, so was God himself (assuming that Jesus wasn't God incarnate, and I say he was): if you look at Ezekiel 45-46, for example, you'll see rules that differ from those in the Torah, so apparently either God goofed up or Ezekiel was a false prophet.

4. As a general rule, if you encounter someone gratuitously using a lot of Greek or Hebrew, you can be confident that you are dealing with a quack or a sciolist.

Powered by WebRing.