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

21 March 2018

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

Not necessarily America’s liberal churches.

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.)

27 October 2017

Reformation Day.

When the western church split between Catholics and Protestants.

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, some of us observe the day as a regular holiday. Others just remember it when it’s a big deal. Namely the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg in the Holy Roman Empire (now Germany) posted 95 propositions, or theses, which he wanted to discuss with his students—specifically about certain practices in the Catholic church to which he objected.

Technically not quite the 500th anniversary. Y’see, they were still using the Julian calendar in 1517, and the calendar was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days, so once we correct for that, it was really 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

At the time, Luther didn’t realize it was as big a deal as all that. He’s dramatically described as nailing the theses to the school’s Castle Church door, as if an act of defiance. 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 his 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.

But he did send a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he answered to them; and from there they spread all over Europe. In January 1518, Luther’s friends translated the theses from Latin to German, printed them for the general public, and made ’em controversial not only to church leaders, but everyone.

06 September 2016

Coming together. Or not.

Jesus wants his followers to be one. Let’s not make excuses for not obeying him.

Ecumenical /ɛk.jʊ'mɛn.ə.kəl/ adj. 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/ n.]

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.

29 March 2016

“Why do you write all that Catholic stuff?”

Too many people confuse ancient Christianity with Catholicism—and need to get over their anti-Catholic prejudices.

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.)

23 February 2016

Denominations: When churches network.

Official groupings, unofficial affiliations, and those bodies who go it alone.

Denomination /di.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃən/ n. Organized network of affiliated churches.
2. Autonomous branch of a religion.
[Denominational /də.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]

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.)

17 November 2015

…Don’t we all have some fundamental beliefs?

Fundies are all about our core beliefs. Unfortunately some of ’em insist on too many core beliefs.

Fundamentalist /fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪst/ adj. 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/ n., Fundie /'fən.di/ adj.]

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. If you’re a Fundie, you mean conservative like you are. If you’re not, you just mean more conservative than you: You may believe women can minister, but Fundies sure don’t. You may believe Jesus can save anyone and everyone, but Fundies sure don’t. Or conversely, you may not believe miracles still happen, but Fundies sure do. It’s not all that consistent a definition.

But properly, a fundamentalist is someone who believes Christianity has fundamentals—non-negotiable beliefs which we have to adhere to in order to still call ourselves Christian.

Wait, don’t we all do that?

You’d assume so. But capital-F Fundamentalists are pretty sure we don’t. They believe there are some churches who don’t recognize Jesus is 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 earn salvation by being good. You know, the basics. Stuff which defines orthodox Christianity. But Fundamentalist worry these ground-floor ideas have been compromised, and 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’m pointing 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.

14 October 2015

There’s evangelicals, and there’s Evangelicals.

It doesn’t just mean “religious Protestant.”

Evangelical /i.væn'ʤɛl.ə.kəl/ adj. 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/ n.]

I once heard a pagan define Evangelical as “somebody who actually believes in all that [synonym for doo-doo].”

I like it, but technically that’s not quite it. She was confusing the lowercase-E with the uppercase-E: She got her evangelicals and Evangelicals mixed up. And every Christian is the lowercase kind of evangelical: We all believe in this [dooky]. We may not agree about miracles, worship styles, how to interpret the bible, and whether electric guitars are of God (and I say they totally are). But we all 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 judge and rule the world. Those who don’t believe the gospel are, by definition, not Christian. They might go through the motions because they like the trappings. But they’re closer to those girls who wear yoga pants yet never do yoga—much less practice Hinduism.

The uppercase Evangelical is a whole different animal. This is a Protestant movement which emphasizes individual conversion. In other words, you aren’t Christian because you were born one: Born into a Christian family or country, baptized as a baby, assimilated into your Christian culture. You’re Christian because you came to Christ, on your own. You confessed him as Lord, of your own free will. You’re responsible for being in this religion. It wasn’t just dropped on you.

Ironically the movement was started by John Calvin. Calvinists believe ultimately we’re not responsible for being in this religion: God put us here. We only think we chose him with our free will, but that’s only because he’s been working us without our knowledge. I could start ranting about the many unbiblical problems of Calvinist determinism, but let’s not go there today. I’ll just say they’re right about how our salvation isn’t up to our community or state. My parents can’t do it for me. My government either. Each of us has to decide for Jesus for ourselves.