“Ultimately, you and I are not Christians by the denomination and abomination we belong to. We are Christians by becoming followers... I hear this all the time, what's this, Methodist, what's this, the story was told about a man who said, 'Jesus healed two people['s eyesight], with one he used mud and with the other he didn't use mud,' he said, 'Thank God it didn't happen in our day, we'd have two denominations, the Muddites and the Anti-Muddites.' ...It's true, there are many of these sects, but you know what is so beautiful about that possibility? Unity doesn't have to be uniformity. What ultimately defines whether you're a Christian or not, is not what denomination you belong to, but whether you know Jesus Christ in your heart or not. And that, you can come to know, too. ”—Ravi Zacharias [x]
‘Your faith depends on your presuppositions about the Bible. The implications of this realization are all encompassing. Any statement that begins with, “The Bible says …” is actually a statement about what the speaker believes. This is equally true whether you are Rob Bell or John MacArthur. You are all working from the same source material here. The chant of Joel Osteen, waving the Bible above his head and pledging allegiance to the words therein, is ultimately no different from an exegesis of Jesus’ compassion by Shane Claiborne, in that both are rooted in individual interpretations and assumptions about what the Bible is, generated by their prior presuppositions, ideals, experiences and connections.
When you argue about Scripture, you are arguing your biases. If Mark Driscoll and Marcus Borg sat down to discuss their differences, underneath all the banter is nothing but two different presuppositions about the Bible. Who is “right” and who is “wrong” is ultimately a question of who has the “correct” interpretation about the bible. But since both parties judge their own interpretations about the Bible by their own presuppositions of the Bible, both are ultimately appealing first and foremost to their own presuppositions. Dear Church, at some point you must recognize and name your camps and denominations for what they truly are: self-affirming cloisters of people who are happily comfortable with their self-validating presuppositions about Scripture.
Your next reformation comes when you abandon your arguments about what the Bible says, and invest your energy into investigating what the Bible is. Stop arguing about how to “apply the Word of God” and start formulating truly informed thoughts about church history, the nature of the canon, and the doctrine of inspiration. Even if there were something concrete about these convictions explicit in the pages of Scripture itself, you would still have to account for your personal belief in those words. You must unearth and examine all these unchecked assumptions. You must delve deep into the matrix of your own assumptions about textual authority.
Herein will be the most painful and honest declaration of Christianity yet, for only when you seek to honestly address the beliefs you most desperately cherish can you genuinely declare your faith to be honest—honest to your own heart, mind and soul, and to God.’
Quote posted at request of Lukey Poo
On Joining the Orthodox Church
Often one hears from converts after some years of seemingly unfruitful struggles that ‘I didnt know what I was getting into when I became Orthodox.’ Some sense this when they are first exposed to the Orthodox Faith, and this can cause them to postpone their encounter with Orthodoxy or even run away from it entirely… this is a result of the deep commitment required of those who are serious about the Orthodox Faith a commitment that is quite different in kind from that of those who merely join a new denomination… but only One Church of Christ which lives the true life in Christ and the unchanged teaching and practice of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church.
- Fr. Seraphim Rose, 20th Century American Convert and Theologian
I don’t care if you’re Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, AOG, Anglican, or from any other denomination of Christianity. If you love God, if you believe what the Bible says, then I’m standing along side you in this walk of life. If you ever need anything, I’m more than happy to help out. I don’t want to fight to take people from your denominational Church to mine. I celebrate when you see a soul won, because that soul is being given the gift of eternal life, regardless of what Church it’s at. We’re all children of God, and I’m sure it pains him to see us bickering over little meaningless things. So what if some of us sing hymns in worship and some of us sing rock songs? So what if some lift their hands and dance and clap, and some kneel quietly? So what if we do things differently? We’re worshiping the same God, we’re just doing it in our own way, because each of us is different. God loves us all regardless of the way we do things, because we’re praising him anyway. We need to love each other in the same way, because we are all brothers and sisters.
I love each and every one of you, regardless of what way you do things.
I just emailed 24 churches in the area
to ask about their thoughts on the transgender community for a paper I’m writing. It was pretty exciting. I wonder how many people will email me back and if I’ll get any angry responses. It should be interesting. I emailed:
- Seventh Day Adventist
- Unitarian Universalist
- Evangelical Presbyterian
- Southern Baptist
- A church that claims to be orthodox, reformed, holiness, evangelical, charismatic, and apostolic
- LDS (Mormon)
“I realized the family of God isn’t represented by a denomination. No denomination is completely right. Calvinism isn’t completely right. It’s just not. No human being has crammed all the right theology into their head. I stay away from people who claim they have. It just makes life easier. The truth is God’s church, as seen by God, is mixed and mingled with the church as man sees it, but is very, very different. I consider myself part of God’s church, not man’s church. And while I certainly believe right theology is important, I don’t believe God will conduct an entrance exam to get into heaven. I think He’s just going to say, 'hey, you, I know you!'”—Donald Miller
Hi Father Shane, I grew up Catholic but am beginning to refer to myself as merely a Christian because I have found some biblical falsehoods that the Catholic church presents, such as purgatory and praying to the saints.. among others. I'd really like to have total faith in the Catholic church.. just why you personally have found truth within the Catholic church?
Well, I call myself a Christian too… no problem with that!
Actually, the argument for purgatory and the argument for praying to the saints are both quite Biblical. Both of them seem reasonable enough to me, and the fact that they’re solidly rooted in tradition (as in, I believe what the first Christians believed) makes them even more reasonable.
There’s a premise that gets circulated a lot in apologetics discussions… that “If it isn’t in the Bible, it isn’t God’s true message to us.” But that’s self-evidently false:
- There is no list of books of the Bible in the Bible, so the Bible doesn’t even tell us what it consists in, exactly. If I decide to add the Didache (another 1st-century Christian work) to the Bible, you can’t stop me based on what the Bible itself says.
- The Bible doesn’t say that the Bible is the exclusive source of truth because it never uses the word “Bible.”
- It never uses the word “Trinity” either.
- Plus all these questions.
So simply because the Bible doesn’t use the word “purgatory” or discuss praying to the saints in the terms we do (there really weren’t a whole lot of them in Heaven yet when St. Paul was writing his letters anyway!) doesn’t invalidate the concepts per se.
Instead, the fact of the Church as the Body of Christ vivified by the Holy Spirit’s constant presence and guidance should be what gives us most confidence. If the Church proposes something for my belief, and it has good reasons to do so, I would have to be awfully intelligent/inspired/brilliant to tell the Church that I’ve got a much more interesting doctrine about God and salvation.
So even if an isolated point of doctrine doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, I’m simply going to say, “Well, I guess that my measly human brain can’t wrap itself around this one, but I’m quite obviously not the Arbiter of All Truth and I can’t even figure out string theory, so it shouldn’t surprise me or worry me.” (Note: This only applies to things which are “above” reason, not “against” reason. The Eucharist’s truth surpasses reason; the Flying Spaghetti Monster is clearly irrational and silly. There’s a difference.)
Finally, the Church has a whole lot going in its favor, too, even if I find a point or two that perplexes me. (This is true both in theory/doctrine and in morality/praxis.) What about the Sacraments? If I find a denomination that agrees with my conclusions about purgatory, will they give me Jesus in the Eucharist, etc.?
I got to know some very fervent and exemplary Protestants very well in college, but as much as they talked about their particular beliefs, I could always find (not always by my own mental powers, but always at least in books by authors like Karl Keating, Steve Ray, Scott Hahn, Jimmy Akin, etc.) answers to the questions about Catholicism they raised.
Just some thoughts. Feel free to continue the conversation if that isn’t satisfying or if there are other points you’re concerned about…
God bless you!
- Father Shane
What's Good and What's Not So Good in a Few Christian Traditions
Not an exhaustive list at all, but a few of my thoughts on a number of ways Christianity expresses itself, emphasizing certain aspects of itself.
Now, this list doesn’t mean I’d favor the foundation of a denomination that takes the good stuff I mention and leaves out the bad. More denominations are not the answer. But every denomination could learn something from some of the others.
For sake of full disclosure, I identify myself as a Presbyterian with sympathies toward aspects of conservative Anglicanism, in terms of meeting styles and ecclesiology especially.
Denominations/elements under consideration are theologically conservative unless otherwise noted.
Good: High view of the Church as object of faith, a position she deserves as the Body of Christ (as opposed to Church-as-vehicle-of-faith as most Protestants would put it). Sturdy Church government structure. Comprehensive Magisterium. Emphasis on sacraments. Willingness to modify when necessary (Vatican II, evolution).
Bad: Making stuff up (extra sacraments, Mariology, deuterocanon, purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation, etc). Salvific grace merited by works, “treasury of merit.” Papal infallibility. Ex opere operando - sacraments aren’t magic, they’re sacraments. Worshipping stuff that’s not God.
Good: High view of Church, sacraments. Appropriate emphasis on the organizational principle of salvation being union with Christ. Really cool practices (e.g. hesychasm). Experiential religion without making things up or dismissing traditions.
Bad: Emphasis on national lines. Dualism/whole lotta synergism, which leads to the denial of the penal-substitution component of the atonement. Kind of a weird economic Trinity that leads them to deny the filioque. Meriting filling with the Holy Spirit by works.
Good: Liturgy and appropriate collective view of church, sacraments, informed view of mission of the Church/new creation.
Bad: Little to no church discipline, vulnerability to liberalizing forces.
Good: Monergism, right canon, sola fide (where true faith is always accompanied by works), still pretty high view of sacraments.
Bad: Single predestination (how does this make any sense?), unlimited atonement, weird kind of view of the (ir?)resistibility of grace that I can’t make sense of.
Good: Rejection of dogmatic Popery, benefits of a simpler life (Amish, Mennonnites).
Bad: Re-baptizing/denial of infant baptism, thinking sacraments don’t do anything, refusing to modernize in certain ways that aren’t harmful, too much individualism, reducing the mission of the church to teaching/transmission of knowledge.
Good: 5 points of Calvinism, infant baptism, appropriately in-the-middle stance on a lot of things (spiritual gifts, kinda the sacraments, new vs old music), government structure that actually does things, covenant theology and rational/systematic efforts at doing theology in general, lots of postmillennialism.
Bad: Unwillingness to tolerate sufficiently collectivist views of the Church (Federal Vision). Often a not quite high enough view of the sacraments. Some interpretations of Calvinism deny the reality of apostasy.
Good: Emphasis on love.
Bad: Arminianism, weird views of sanctification that tend to perfectionism.
Good: Some of them are Reformed. There is an aspect of salvation that is individual.
Bad: Lots of Arminianism, too much individualism, wrong kind of emphasis on experience, sacraments don’t do anything, waaaaaay too interested in individual/congregational autonomy, deny ecclesial authority.
Church of Christ
Good: Attempt to emulate the good aspects of the early Church, concern for social justice.
Bad: Liberalism (esp. on revelation), weird restrictions like a capella music, no authority.
Good: Recognizing importance/power of the Holy Spirit, pursuing spiritual gifts, affirmation of the sovereignty of God and the reality of spiritual warfare.
Bad: Disdain for theology, presumptiveness (word-of-faith, etc), disdain for tradition, subsequent propensity to fall into heresies (Oneness), emphasis on individual experience over grounded knowledge and too much consequent individualism, primacy of the conversion experience, tendency to see too many spirits in everything.
Good: There is a sense in which God’s Law is important and normative for us.
Bad: It is not the sense in which the Adventists intend it. Also, not accepting that Miller was wrong, leading to a bunch of weird conclusions about the eternality of God (an eternal God started an investigative judgment in 1844?) Too much Judaizing. Teaching that souls aren’t real.