I confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of Christian denominationalism – the alphabet soup of RC, SBC, AG, AoG, PAOC, UC, PCA, PCUSA, NDP (okay the NDP are a mildly socialist Canadian Political Party) – you get the drift. (I apologize if I’ve left out the initials of your favourite denomination – but there are easily over 30,000 of them, so I beg your forgiveness.) In John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father that we would be one just as he and the Father are one. Hmmmm.
But this post isn’t about condemning denominations, it’s about praising them. Well, sort of. It’s really about me wondering about the plethora of independent churches. A new one seems to pop up weekly.
Some time ago, I sat in a meeting where a pastor told me he was removing his church from the denomination they’d been a part of for ever. In fact, he’d been removing all “encumbrances” from the church – breaking all the external relationships they had had. “We need to be able to do our own thing. We don’t want them taking credit for us and we certainly don’t want anyone telling us how to run our church.” And that would seem to be The Declaration of Independents.
To the best of my limited understanding (fallible human that I am), Christ followers are all about relationships – both vertical and horizontal. Our calling is to build relationships – not break them. As annoying as all of us can be, aren’t we still supposed to be working our relationships out – letting love cover a multitude of sins. Of course, that’s probably just my limited understanding. My Hebrew and Greek are rather weak.
When you ask the people who attend the independent church about their independence you normally hear something like;“Well, our pastor hears directly from God.” To which I irreverently want to respond; “Wow. That’s cool. Does he have a burning bush, or is it like the tablet thing. Maybe he’s got a talking donkey, you know, kinda like Balaam’s ass.” (The Balaam’s ass routine would definitely get my vote for a lot of these folk.)
Now, I need to pause here and say that I do believe that God speaks – to all of us. It’s just that we all have hearing problems and we need each other to be able to hear clearly. “Did He really say we needed to reach the poor?” “Yah, that’s what I heard man.” “You sure He didn’t say Porsche?” “No man, I’m pretty sure He said ‘poor’”. “Shoot. Well I guess we better get to it then, eh!”
Independents are cast in the spirit of the Great American Western Hero – the solitary man. Going it alone, able to accomplish just about anything through the sheer force of will and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. (Woops, that last part is actually Superman.) North American culture celebrates the individual. But as Don Henley and Glenn Frey say in Desperado – “Your prison is walking through this world all alone.”
We are called to be in relationships. There are no independents. There is no “doing our own thing.” Jesus wasn’t joking in John 17 and I really don’t want to stand before him one day him trying to explain how “I wasn’t really sure about what you were saying there.” I trust you don’t either.