These things also belong to the wise, It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment. (Proverbs 24:23)
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shown no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. (James 2:8-10, 13)
Denominations can be very useful. They can provide different perspectives and emphases on Scripture, and have different liturgies that accommodate the varying spiritual sensibilities of many different types of Christians.
Some Christians like the emphasis on sacramental worship as occur in such denominations as the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church; others prefer less formal ways of worshipping God, such as usually occur in Pentecostal and Baptist churches. Like in life, in Christianity, one size doesn’t fit all!
However, denominations can also have destructive consequences! Bound by tradition that make void the Word of God (Matthew 15:3), they usually have laws, doctrines and creeds that may well make them immune, and act as stumbling blocks, to the Holy Spirit’s working in their lives, the life of the Church, and the life of the society in which they live.
As the famed comedian, Gracie Allen, said, “Don’t place a period where God has placed a comma.” We frequently tend to place periods to God’s Word and, erroneously thinking that we are being true to the Bible, we admit no other biblical insights, save those borne of tradition, lest we fear being unfaithful to God and His Word.
What many people don’t understand is that although the Bible is the Word of God, it must be seen in a number of ways, not all of which are the literal translation of biblical practices to contemporary society. For example, the Bible contains such injunctions as stoning to death adulterers, stoning to death those who work on the Sabbath, not wearing mixed fibers in our clothing, not having women wear short hair, women keeping silent in the church, and women not being allowed to teach men.
Are such injunctions “the inerrant Word of God?” If so, why not practice them today? Clearly, most reasonable people wouldn’t think of bringing back these cultural practices, any more than they would want to bring back slavery, an institution that was also justified by appeal to the Bible. When struggling to survive in the harsh environment in which Israel lived, and being surrounded by enemies whose land they were required to conquer; when both Jewish and Christian groups were seeking to define themselves as separate from surrounding cultures, many of these rules were deemed to have made sense as necessary for survival.
However, today, we are no longer in such situations and are privileged to allow the Holy Spirit to continue to work in our day as He did in biblical times. God hasn’t stopped working; His revelations to us didn’t stop with the Book of Revelation. God still speaks to us but, unfortunately, tradition-bound people and denominations frequently hamper His will for His people, the Church, and for the world He created.
The excellent Bible expositor, Watchman Nee, in his book, What Shall This Man Do? wrote, “The spiritual testimony of believers is to be heavenly, not earthly. Everything to do with the Church must be up-to-date and living, meeting the present-one could even say the passing-needs of the hour. Never must it become fixed, static.” (p. 87)
In the May 8, 2004 edition of the Chico Enterprise Record I read a front-page article entitled, “National Methodist schism mirrored in Chico.” It details the split within that denomination concerning perceived biblical injunctions concerning homosexuality. One of the pastors, David Moss, whom I know and for whom I have great respect, is erroneously called a “liberal,” because he see in the Bible a call for inclusiveness for all of God’s children. No! David Moss is being biblical! The other pastor, Neal Neuenburg, is quoted as saying, “I see homosexuality as a destructive, addictive behavior,” which is comparable to alcoholism or addiction to pornography. He is quoted as saying, “People can leave the gay lifestyle.” I didn’t see any biblical reference for the assertion that being gay was a life style choice or an addiction.
Having been a student of sociology for over 40 years, and studying homosexuality from a biblical and sociological perspective for many of those years, I know that the pastor who sees homosexuality as a life style choice and an addiction is dead wrong. However, perception becomes reality and, as Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)
In the Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote, when asked why he does what he does, answers, “To add some measure of grace to the world.” That’s what we as Christians are obligated to do.
If denominations can’t fulfill that Godly mandate, let them cease to exist!
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights and the website Radical Christianity.