Archived episode originally posted on March 4, 2014
In this episode Jonathan is joined by Tim Rich the rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Greenwich, RI.
The topic is for the day is denominations; why are they needed and all that. Here is the spoiler – they are important and are needed.
If one were to surmise an argument against the relevance and reality of Christianity the multiplicity of denominations and traditions might be a good one. After all, if God was real and if Christ was the real thing, then why would Christians disagree with each other over what it means to worship and follow Christ? The division, disagreement, and factions can speak to a human creation of the divine and a human need to control that manufactured deity. This would be a fairly good argument to make, so atheists… you’re welcome.
On the other hand one could look at denominations and claim that they speak to God’s mercy, God richness, God’s depth, and God’s freedom. We have denominations because God does not say to us that we must worship in one particular way or another. We have denominations because God does not tell us exactly how we are to understand the revelation of Jesus Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, or the divine love that began the movements of the cosmos. We have denominations because we are free to try to understand and learn and grow in our faith. Perhaps the diversity of denominations and movements and traditions speak to the nature of God and the call of Christ in a different way. So take that, atheists!
I don’t want to over-glamorize the historical emergence of denominations. Very rarely have denominations emerged out of a gentlemen’s agreement that “you will worship you way and I will worship my way and we shall respect each other.” Instead they tended to emerge out of truth claims made strongly and violently. The diversity of denominations comes out of a history of human pride, selfishness, and violence and this is not something to be proud of.
This is not to say that denominations are bad. In the episode Jonathan and Tim make the point that today denominations are something to celebrate and embrace. Yes, they have a difficult past and that is not something to ignore, but they offer a history and heritage and a culture to being Christian. Each movement of Christianity has its gifts and particular part of its story. Just as different countries and ethnicities have different cultures and traditions so do denominations and that is something to celebrate but not at the exclusion of others. It is important to embrace the differences and the gifts and then to engage in a great exchange of stories. In the stories are markers that separate one group of people from the other and we can learn from those markers. The Baptist centrality of scripture may inform and lift up the Anglican just as the importance that an Anglican gives to the liturgy may deepen the spirituality of the Baptist.
To summarize – it is good to be different. It is important to know why you are different and to embrace those differences. It is good to learn about other people’s difference. It is good to share and learn.
Denominations can be good, as long as we no longer practice exclusion let go of the demand to be right we can do great things with each other.
FYI – the book that Tim mentioned is: People of the Way by Dwight Zscheile (whose last name neither Tim nor Jonathan can pronounce).
Jonathan is not happy (no surprise) with the American BibleSociety and Barna Group’s study that concluded that Providence, RI is the leastBiblically minded city in America. He is not happy because it is a weak study that does not really offer much to work with. Yet… it is very true that we are in a post-Christian culture and it is likely that many people do not read the Bible on a regular basis or engage in any Christian practices or embrace Christian tenants or doctrines (like those concerning the accuracy of the Bible).
Tim is a more profound thinker – he is angry at a billboard that encourages the idea of “more.” It is not the billboard that Tim is angry about but the cultural notion that what we have is not enough and that we need and deserve more. This approach to life is not going to end well because we will always want more and will never be satisfied even when we have all that we can.
Opening the word – Isaiah 58:1-9a – Since we are just about at Lent it seems appropriate to look at this passage and thing about what you can give up for the season. Try giving up something that will deepen your relationship with God and might be something that you can offer to someone in need.
Watcha Into? –
Tim watched the Olympics, or at least we are presuming that he did since he said he would. Go team USA!
Jonathan is reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. It is a good book about relationships, humanity, and living