Showing posts with label #Denominations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Denominations. Show all posts

There’s evangelicals, and there’s Evangelicals.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 June
EVANGELICAL i.væn'ʤɛl.ə.kəl adjective. Has to do with the evangel, i.e. the gospel.
2. [capitalized] Holds to the Protestant tradition of individual conversion to Christianity (i.e. being born again). Plus Jesus’s atonement, the bible’s authority, and an active Christian lifestyle.
[Evangelicalism i.væn'ʤɛl.ə.kəl.ɪz.əm noun.]

I once heard a pagan define Evangelical as “somebody who actually believes in all that doo-doo.” She didn’t use the word “doo-doo”; it was something less family-friendly, and an indication of her own unbelief in all our doo-doo. And while we do believe in it, that’s not quite the proper definition.

Over the past several decades another definition has cropped up in the press: A politically conservative Protestant. It’s also incorrect, but it’s totally understandable why people might jump to that conclusion. Evangelicals are Protestant, and in the United States most white Evangelicals are politically conservative. Sometimes more so than they are Christian; some conservative beliefs, and many conservative attitudes, are wholly incompatible with Jesus’s teachings. Not just a little incompatible, and with a little adjustment Jesus’ll be totally cool with it: Wholly incompatible. You likely know which views I mean, and if you don’t you need to read his Semon on the Mount again.

And quite often I see people in the press confuse Evangelical for evangelistic, evangelism, evangelist, and other terms which have to do with sharing the gospel. Understandable mixup, but the lowercase-E evangelical has to do with sharing the gospel, and the uppercase-E Evangelical has to do with a Christian religious movement.

Every Christian is the lowercase-E kind of evangelical. That is, we all believe—or are expected to believe, ’cause Jesus orders us to believe Mt 28.19-20 —in sharing Jesus and his gospel with the world. We all believe in this doo-doo. We may not agree about miracles, or worship styles, or how to interpret bible, or whether electric guitars are of God. (And they totally are. God likes his music loud.) But we all agree—or are expected to agree—Jesus is God the Son, our Lord, conceived by the Spirit, born of Mary, suffered under Pilate, crucified, died, buried, resurrected, ascended, coming back to personally inaugurate God’s kingdom of which he is King. By definition, those who don’t believe the gospel aren’t Christian. They might go through the motions because they love the trappings. But they’re like those women who wear yoga pants yet clearly never do yoga.

The uppercase Evangelical is a whole different animal. This term refers to a Protestant movement which emphasizes individual conversion. In other words, we aren’t Christian because we were born one. There are those who figure they were born into a Christian family or country, baptized as a baby, assimilated into a predominantly Christian culture, and they’re Christian by default. Evangelicals believe that’s rubbish: You’re Christian because you came to Christ, on your own, without your culture forcing it upon you, with your full consent and knowledge. You confessed him as Lord, of your own free will. You’re responsible for being in this religion. It might’ve been dropped on you, as it was me; but you took ownership of it.

Ironically the movement was started by John Calvin. I say “ironically” ’cause Calvin and Calvinists are really big fans of determinism, the belief God’s in such control of the cosmos, we’re actually not responsible for being in this religion: God put us here. We only think we chose him with our free will, but this is because he’s been working us without our knowledge. There are tons of moral problems with determinism, which I discuss in my article on it. But that’s not today’s subject; it’s Evangelicalism, and Evangelicals are correct about how religion isn’t up to our community or state. If it were, we’d get a state full of hypocrites, who are faking religion so they don’t get in trouble. (We got plenty enough of those as it is!) But my parents can’t determine my religion for me, nor my government. Each of us has to decide for Jesus for ourselves.

…Don’t we all have some fundamental beliefs?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 December
FUNDAMENTALIST fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪst adjective. Adheres to certain beliefs as necessary and foundational.
2. Theologically (and politically) conservative in their religion.
3. [capitalized] Has to do with the 20th-century movement which considers certain Christian beliefs mandatory.
[Fundamentalism fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪz.əm noun, Fundie 'fən.di adjective.]

I grew up Fundamentalist, and refer to Fundies from time to time. But I need to explain what I mean by the term. Too many people use it, and use it wrong.

For most folks fundamentalist is just another word for conservative. Not just sorta conservative; super conservative. If you’re a fundamentalist Christian—or fundamentalist Muslim, fundamentalist Jew, fundamentalist Mormon, fundamentalist Republican—they assume you’re extremely conservative, or at least more conservative than they are. “I may be conservative, but you’re fundamentalist.”

It picked up this definition for good reason: Fundies frequently are super conservative. Some of of ’em pride themselves in just how conservative they can get. Feels sometimes like they’re trying to play a game of conservative chicken: “You might claim to be prolife, but I’m willing to blow up clinics. How prolife is that?” Um, not at all. But let’s not go there today. (I wrote on the topic elsewhere.)

But Fundamentalist isn’t synonymous with conservative. Fr’instance my church has its Fundamentalists… who aren’t anywhere near as conservative as other Fundamentalists might demand. My church’s Fundies recognize women can minister. Recognize Jesus came to save everybody, not just Christians. Recognize miracles still happen, whereas other Fundamentalists are absolutely insistent they stopped. Yet they’re still Fundamentalist.

’Cause properly a fundamentalist is someone who believes there are fundamentals—non-negotiable doctrines which people have to adhere to. Christians who have no fundamentals, who think absolutely everything is open for debate, who even deny some of those things you’d reasonably expect a Christian to believe (like, say, in Christ!) can’t legitimately call themselves Christian.

Wait, don’t we all do that?

Well, most of us. There actually are some folks on the fringe who claim they’re Christian, but it turns out they don’t believe in Christ. Or they’ve mangled his teachings so bad, they’ve basically nullified them all. Or instead of Jesus, they believe in Historical Jesus, but ironically their idea of Historical Jesus is total fiction. Or they like Jesus a whole lot, but in practice they follow Deepak Chopra more. They assume they’re Christian because they were baptized Christian, but they’ve never really followed Jesus, and there are a lot of fake Christians out there.

Fundamentalism is meant to be the antidote. Capital-F Fundamentalists are pretty sure there are churches who don’t recognize Jesus as Lord and God. Don’t believe God’s a trinity. Can’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin, raised from the dead, or is coming back. Don’t trust the bible. Don’t really trust Jesus to save them; they gotta merit salvation with their good karma. In contrast, they have fundamental truths, and require them of all their members.

Which “fundamental truths?” You know, the basics. Stuff which defines orthodox Christianity. Stuff you find in the Apostles Creed, plus a few other things like the bible’s authority. Fundamentalists worry these ground-floor ideas have been compromised in too many churches, among too many Christians. They want no part of any Christianity which won’t defend ’em. Real Christians embrace the fundamentals.

So it’s not wrong to say fundamentalism is conservative. The very definition of conservatism is to point backwards to the tried-and-true as our objective standards.

Here’s the catch; here’s why Christians and pagans alike are confused as to what a Fundamentalist is: Not every conservative is pointing back to the same past.

Me, I point back to the first-century apostolic church of Christ Jesus. Or to the creeds which the ancient Christians sorted out. Sometimes to the beginnings of my own denomination.

And another is pointing back to “the way we’ve always done things.” Which really means the way they remember they’ve always done things; some of those traditions only go back 20 or 40 years. Or two generations. Or a century, like my denomination. The Pharisees’ “tradition of the elders” only extended back about 50 years before Jesus began to critique it. Hardly that ancient.

Way too many of these traditions date back… to the upper-class customs of the American South during the Jim Crow segregationist era. In other words, not pointing to Christianity at all, but a particularly heinous form of Christianism, which they remember fondly only because it wasn’t persecuting them.

That is the form of fundamentalism I object to. Not the folks who wanna keep Christianity orthodox, who wanna make sure we follow Jesus, know our bibles, believe the right things, and do good deeds for the right reasons. I’m all for that. I’m not for the false religion of conforming to a social standard which only appears moral, and is really patriarchy, racism, earthly power, control, greed, and hypocrisy.

Reformation Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, some of us observe the day as Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire (now Germany), posted 95 propositions he wanted to discuss with his students. Specifically, about certain practices in the Catholic church—in which, at the time, they were all members—to which he objected.

Technically it wasn’t 31 October. Y’see, in 1517 Europeans were still using the Julian calendar, which was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days. That’s why they updated it with the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Once we correct for that, it was really 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

Luther didn’t realize this was as big a deal as we make it out to be. It’s dramatically described as Luther, enraged as if he just found out about 95 problems in his church, nailing a defiant manifesto to the school’s Castle Church door. Really, the door was the school’s bulletin board, and Luther may not have personally thumbtacked ’em to the door at all; he might’ve had a teaching assistant do it.


Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, tacking up the theses. From the 2004 film Luther—not to be confused with the Idris Elba cop show Luther, which is… actually much better. I’m gonna watch that now.

He posted his propositions (or theses, as we tend to call ’em), then sent a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he did still answer to them you know. But in January 1518, Luther’s friends translated the theses from Latin to German, printed copies for the general public… and now they got controversial. Because instead of a controlled classroom discussion about whether these theses were true or false, now you had people in pubs throughout the Holy Roman Empire (I’m just gonna shorten it to HRE now) raging about how the bloody Church had no biblical basis for what they were up to. Now it wasn’t just an internal debate among clergy-in-training. It was everywhere.

The Orthodox/Catholic schism.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 June

History books tend to refer to the Orthodox/Catholic schism as “the Great Schism.” And history teachers have the bad habit of mispronouncing schism, which is 'sɪz.əm not 'skɪz.əm —as well as oversimplifying and underplaying what really happened.

So what really happened? Jesus’s church split. Not because one faction went heretic, so they needed to split: It’s over stupid, petty, political things.

I know: Both sides claim it was neither stupid nor petty, but vitally important. Of course it’s because they picked a side. They’re either pro-Orthodox or pro-Catholic, and wanna defend their team. But just like the Catholic/Protestant schism, there’s no defending the fruitless behavior both before and after the division. Both sides acted like power-hungry politicians, violated Jesus’s command to love one another, Jn 13.34 and seriously hindered the church’s growth in both maturity and ministry.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

As y’might know if you read Acts, Jesus’s church began with 120 people: The Twelve, Jesus’s family, and a few dozen other students. It rapidly grew to thousands, began to include gentiles, and spread all over the Roman Empire and beyond. Even though individual groups, or churches, met in homes throughout the Empire, it was all considered one body—Jesus’s body, one church, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Holy Spirit. One unit.

Of course other units began to crop up. Starting with the dispute between those who wanted the new gentile disciples to get circumcised before they could become Christian. The Council of Jerusalem was convened to sort this out, and ruled in favor of grace. Ac 15.1-31 Yet a number of pro-circumcision Christians felt the apostles went way too far, and persisted in teaching their legalist ideas. Which is why Paul had to write,

Galatians 1.6-9 KWL
6 I’m wondering at how you so quickly switched from your calling in Christ’s grace
to another “gospel”— 7 which isn’t another gospel.
Is it that someone’s bothering you, and wants to twist Christ’s gospel?
8 But even when we, or an angel from heaven, “evangelizes” you away
from what we evangelized you, you’re to ban them.
9 Like we said before, and I say again now: If anyone “evangelizes” you away
from what you received, you’re to ban them.

Banning turned into excommunication, the practice of removing disruptive or heretic people from your church. And if you can’t get to Jesus other than through his church (an ancient Christian belief which many of today’s Christians totally don’t believe—as demonstrated by how they don’t go to church) it’s sorta like they doomed you to hell… which is why heretics would usually start their own churches, and excommunicate their excommunicators right back.

So when Christians began to ban pro-circumcision legalists, d’you think these guys went off and started their own heretic churches? Knowing humans, probably so. That would be the very first church split.

And there were others.

Churches who wanna “restore” Christianity.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April
RESTORATIONIST rɛs.tə'reɪ.ʃən.ɪst adjective. Wants to return Christianity to what they consider the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians.
[Restorationism rɛs.tə'reɪ.ʃən.ɪz.əm noun.]

Humans really like to reboot things. Not just Spider-Man movies; there are lots of things we figure have broken, got too complicated, or run down; so maybe it’d be best if we take ’em back to the drawing board and start over. Maybe we can improve upon the original. Or maybe the original was best, so let’s go back to that.

And Christians keep trying to do it with Christianity. We look at all the traditions our culture has layered upon the church and think, “Well that’s not what the ancient Christians taught… and maybe we should never have taught that to begin with.” We wanna get back to basics. Reset the religion to its factory settings, like a phone—where it worked just fine until we started adding all these “useful” apps which just gummed things up.

So every so often, Christians will start a church and claim they’re running it the way Jesus’s first apostles did. They’ve “rediscovered” something which other Christians have left by the wayside. Like certain vital doctrines, or supernatural gifts, or leadership models other than the whole supervisor/elder Christians/congregation setup taught in 1 Timothy. (The fivefold ministry idea has become recently popular; whereas four centuries ago Protestants had decided to try democracy, i.e. congregationalism.) Or they claim they got whole new revelations from God which change everything: The Latter-day Saints claim angels pointed their prophet to extra books of the bible; the Watchtower decided to give Arianism another try; the Pentecostals (originally; few think this way anymore) figured the Holy Spirit turned the miracles back on for the very last dispensation; the Adventists (originally; again, few think this way anymore) figured they had correctly calculated what day Jesus was returning.

And of course there’s backlash: Plenty of Protestants, and people of other new Christian groups, individually decide their churches were wrong to chuck all their valuable traditions, so they quit their churches and join liturgical congregations like the Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, or Orthodox.

It’s all about rebooting their religion: What did Jesus originally teach, and how did the apostles originally worship? ’Cause whatever that was, they wanna do that.

Whenever they ask me about it, I point ’em to the Didache. ’Cause it is what the ancient Christians taught! But I remind them the Didache isn’t bible. Even though some ancient Christians totally wanted to include it in the New Testament, ultimately they didn’t. Because how we worship God is optional. We have freedom in Christ to follow our consciences, and decide for ourselves what’s gonna further our relationship with Jesus… and what isn’t. And if old practices help, great!—do them. And if old practices don’t—’cause sometimes they don’t—don’t do them; to you they’re gonna be dead religion, and we’re striving for living religion.

Those who wanna “restore” Christianity to the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians, likewise are striving for living religion. Which is great. But are they going about it the right way? There’s the real question. It’s not about re-adopting old practices; nor is it about adopting new practices which they’re pretty sure the Holy Spirit gave ’em to fix Christianity. It should always be about following Jesus more closely, and producing good fruit.

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 March

Mainline is a bit of Christianese in the United States. The adjective refers to the Protestant churches in the United States who were around since the 1700s—since before our constitutional freedom of religion made it possible for all sorts of new churches to crop up, and add to the thousands of Protestant denominations.

Some of these churches, like the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Unitarians, got their start here. Others, like the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, got their start in England and Scotland—but when the colonies declared independence from the UK in 1776, the churches reorganized their leadership to become distinct from their UK governing bodies.

So being “mainline” or a “mainliner” doesn’t refer to a belief system. They’re not mainliners by philosophy: Other than Jesus’s teachings and Protestant traditions, they don’t necessarily have a lot in common. (In the case of Unitarians, the rest of us figure they’re heretic.) They’re mainline because they’re older. They have a longer history. They were here when the United States began.

But for many politically and theologically conservative Christians, “mainliner” has become their shorthand for a politically progressive or theologically liberal Christian. Because a number of mainline churches are liberal in their beliefs. Not all of ’em, but just enough for “mainliner” to pick up another definition.

So when you hear Christians refer to certain churches as “mainline churches,” sometimes you gotta ask them: Do you mean old, or liberal? (Maybe both.)

Coming together. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September
ECUMENICAL ɛk.jʊ'mɛn.ə.kəl adjective. Representing multiple Christian churches or denominations.
2. Promoting unity among Christian churches, regardless of affiliation.
3. Representing all Christian churches, regardless of affiliation.
[Ecumenism ɛ'kjʊ.mɛ.nɪz.əm, ɛk.jə'mɛn.ɪz.əm noun.]

One of Jesus’s commands was that we Christians love one another, Jn 13.34, 15.12, 1Jn 3.23 and one of his prayers was that we be one, like he and his Father are one.

John 17.20-23 KWL
20 “I don’t only ask about these, but about those who believe in me by their word,
21 so they could be one—like you, Father, in me, and I in you.
So they also could be in us. So the world could believe you sent me.
22 The honor which you gave me, I gave them, so they could be one like we are one.
23 I in them, you in me, so they can be perfected as one,
so the world could know you sent me, and love them like you love me.”

Originally we Christians were one group. Or at least every Christian church was affiliated with every other Christian church. Didn’t take long for that to change; for individual Christians and church leaders to insist, “We’re real Christians, but they aren’t.” Happened among Jesus’s students; Mk 9.38-39 happened among the Corinthians; 1Co 1.11-13 happened throughout Christian history. The reason there are a thousand denominations is because we Christians don’t obey Jesus’s command to love one another.

Well, ecumenism is about undoing all that. It’s about overcoming our differences and recognizing we all share and follow the same Lord. It’s about loving one another, like Jesus ordered. Sometimes working together; certainly not working against one another.

Yet there are many Christians out there who insist ecumenism is devilish. (And they’re in every church, so don’t go blaming the Fundamentalists for this one.) Not only that, many of these isolationist Christians insist one of the tricks the Beast will try to pull off during the End Times is to get all the churches to recombine into some devilish one-world religion. It’s based on a profoundly out-of-context interpretation of Revelation 17-18, which you can read for yourself and notice it says no such thing.

In any event, these isolationists insist we’re not to overcome our differences. We’re not to love one another—’cause those other churches aren’t real churches, and the Christians they consist of aren’t real Christians. They’re phonies who’ll do nothing but corrupt us. So keep ’em at arm’s length. Interact with them only to try to win people away from their compromised, poisonous churches. Stay separate and independent and pure.

“Why do you write all that Catholic stuff?”

by K.W. Leslie, 29 March

In some of my posts about the stations of the cross, which I was writing about as Easter 2016 approached, I got trolled. Certain commenters (whom I’ve deleted and blacklisted, obviously) objected, profanely, to my writing about “Catholic stuff.”

I get this kind of pushback every so often. Because I write about Christianity, every so often I’m gonna write about medieval and ancient Christianity. The medieval stuff would be the Christianity which took place before Protestantism was invented in 1517. And the ancient stuff would be the Christianity which took place before Catholicism was invented—back when there was only one universal church, back before the Christians split into Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics by holding separate Fourth Councils of Constantinople in the 870s (and finalized in the Great Schism of 1054).

But your average person nowadays doesn’t know jack squat about history, much less Christian history. So as soon as I start writing about any Christian practices outside of their own particular denomination, some of ’em immediately assume I’m trying to push the denomination where those events took place. If it happened among Lutherans, they assume I’ve gone Lutheran; if it happened in the Church of England, they leap to the conclusion I’m a secret Episcopalian; and if among Catholics, I must be some kind of crypto-Catholic.

And they absolutely aren’t Catholic. On the contrary: They’re very, very anti-Catholic.

Usually they were raised to be. As was I. ’Member I mentioned I grew up Fundamentalist? I’d been baptized Catholic, but Mom left Catholicism for Protestantism when I was a preschooler. Well, we very quickly wound up in the sort of Fundie churches which were quick to warn us against the “dangers” and “evils” of the Roman church.

How their many customs were simply repurposed pagan rituals. How they did holy communion and baptism wrong. How they prayed rote prayers instead of real prayers. How they prayed to Mary and saints instead of Jesus and the Father. How they followed the pope instead of Jesus—and sometimes how the pope was destined to become the beast of Revelation 13. (Assuming the opposition party’s candidate for President didn’t turn out to be the beast instead.)

Denominations: When churches network.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 February
DENOMINATION di.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃən noun. Organized network of affiliated churches.
2. Autonomous branch of a religion.
[Denominational də.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃən.əl adjective.]

When Jesus began his church, it had a really basic organization: The Twelve, the apostles whom he hand-picked to lead his followers… and his followers.

Over time this evolved. As it kinda had to, ’cause the church spread. The Twelve didn’t stay in Jerusalem: Simon Peter went to Rome, Andrew to Greece, John to Ephesus, Jude and Simon to Syria, Bartholemew to Armenia, Thomas to India, and so forth. The followers spread out to different cities in the Roman Empire, and to the barbarians outside the Empire. They founded new groups.

All sorts of questions began to crop up about how connected these groups were with one another. Of course since power is always a stumbling-block for us humans, there was also concern about what authority various apostles and bishops in other groups had over the new congregations and their leadership.

The short version: The church remained one universal group for roughly a thousand years. I say “roughly” because it got pretty rough there near the end. Too many power struggles between bishops. Too many cultural and theological differences between Greek- and Latin- and Coptic- and barbarian-speaking churches. Too many hurt feelings. It all culminated in 1054 in the Great Schism: The bishops of Rome and Constantinople declared each another heretic. From that point on there were two official denominations: The eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Although the Orthodox and Catholics insist on calling themselves churches, not denominations. ’Cause their original attitude was they’re the real church, and any other “chuches” were heretic. (That’s largely still their attitude, though they’re a bit nicer towards the rest of us: They’re the real church, and the others are wayward, not necessarily heretic. ’Cause some of ’em are heretic.)

They’re not alone in shunning the word “denomination.” Two churches in my city insist on calling themselves “nondenominational”—yet both are heavily plugged into the “nondenominational” Bethel Church in Redding, Calif. Because Bethel hasn’t created a formal denomination, the many churches affiliated with it, and no other group, figure they’re nondenominational. But they’re far from independent of all other churches. (Which is good. Go-it-alone churches are like go-it-alone Christians: They tend to get all weird and cultlike and heretic.)

Sometimes churches prefer another word, like fellowship or alliance or assembly or network. My denomination, the Assemblies of God, is kinda partial to “movement.” And—as is the case with episcopal groups like the Orthodox and Catholics—some consider themselves the one same single church with many, many campuses, no matter how big they are.

But despite what they call themselves, whenever we got a network of churches—loose or tight, doesn’t matter—I’m gonna refer to them as denominations. Sometimes “denom” for short. (Not to be confused with “demon.” I’ll leave that for the anti-denominational folks.)