I’ve asked myself that question many times. I mean, as long as we believe that Jesus died for our sins and the Bible is God’s word, does the little stuff really matter? When it comes to church denominations, who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares?
Eddie Kaufholz is a counselor and writer living in Orlando, Fla. and can be heard on the RELEVANT Podcast. He answers questions people submit to AskRELEVANT@relevantmediagroup.com. Below is a question he got from Brittany and his attempt at answering her question.
I’m a little bit confused. I’m a Christian; I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins; I believe that the Bible is God’s word, and I know I cannot live a day without Him. Additionally, I am happy with my Church, and I love my job (I work full-time in missions).
Here’s the thing though, I have a brother who is studying to become a pastor. Through him, I have seen and heard of so much pain over which denomination is “best.” My question is: Why does it matter if I belong to a different denomination (we’re all going to heaven right?) and why does it apply to me?
Thanks for your time,
Oh Brittany, we are not making any friends today. Because while we can talk about God, baby Jesus and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, depending on your denomination)—you DO NOT mess with the real sacred cow: Thy Denomination.
But you went there, and I’m going there with you. So, let’s go on a little denom. romp together and see what kind of trouble we can get into.
Out of the gate, I’m going to disappoint you by admitting that I won’t be answering the question, “which denomination is best.” And I’m not answering the question because in discussing topics like this, we have a choice: Do we focus on what we have in common, or the differences that divide us?
In some situations, it’s productive to have a chat about what’s not the same. But this is not one of those cases, as those who are seeking answers are a mere Google query away from discovering the greatest hits of any denomination, while those who are firmly rooted in their denominations won’t be swayed by this article. Not to mention the fact that zillions of people (actual stat) have no denominational affiliation and still manage to love Jesus—imagine that!
Having dodged that landmine, I would now like to use this time that we have together to launch you on a process of God/self/church discovery. Because the truth is Brittany, while your question is great, the answer of what matters about denominations has little to do with what they believe and more to do with how God is shaping and wiring you. Let’s talk about that.
What’s Core to God?
So often, when we’re picking apart churches, denominations or even different religions, we make our first point of debate about the expressions of faith of those institutions—which is completely backward. The conversation must start with God. More specifically, what do we know about God, and what is core to being in a right relationship with Him? Notice what I said there—core Brittany, core. I would contend that this sums it up nicely:
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6).
To put it another way: “I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I believe that the Bible is God’s word, and I know I cannot live a day without Him.” (Brittany)
And that’s step one: Knowing, fundamentally, what God cares about and if your church agrees with that. Now, some are rightly reading this and going, “Wait wait wait, you’re saying that all God cares about is us having a relationship with Jesus? What about _______?” Yes, God probably has an opinion on whatever you just wrote in the blank (maybe), and He gave us over 1,000 chapters of biblical wisdom (give or take an apocrypha) to allow us to discover those opinions. But in a conversation like this, it’s important to compare what is at the core (our belief in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection), and not that which is on the periphery and debatable (________).
What’s Core to You?
Which leads us to the next question: What is core to Brittany? Put another way by a wise friend of mine: What hills are you willing to die on? This is step two: Discovering what’s imperative for a church to adhere to in order for you to be a part of that community. And this is where it gets tricky—and personal.
Because while we’d all like to believe that our cares are absolutely in line with what God cares about, the truth of the matter is that in Heaven, we’re going to be rubbing shoulders with people who interpreted this whole life in significantly different ways than we did.
Let’s take it out of the theoretical for moment and journey into example land: What are your thoughts on baptism? Is it supernatural, symbolic, both, neither? Moreover, do you care about the answer to that question? What about the institution of marriage, the sacrament of communion, Arminianism vs. Calvinism vs. Universalism vs. Other, pets going to heaven, etcetera, etcetera. What of these—and the countless other examples—are issues that if there were a stark disagreement between you and a church, it would keep you from participating in that community?
Brittany, I can’t answer that question for you, but you must answer it for yourself. And in answering that, I would encourage you to be both bold in your beliefs, yet malleable in your willingness to learn and change.
By way of personal example, I’ve spent a lot of time considering women’s roles in the church. To me, it’s important that where I engage in community maintains a gender-inclusive stance in regard to how God calls His people to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Put more succinctly and offensively, I’m cool with Lady Pastors. And so for me to be able to pour my life into a church, I need that church to either be in agreement with that, or at least be brave enough to say “We don’t really know, but we’re working on figuring it out.” If they say no, that’s their prerogative, and I’m glad we’ll all meet up in heaven to see who was right.
Back to you, Brittany…
What hills are you willing to die on? As you consider this, I would do all you can to make informed, prayerful, scripturally researched decisions based not on inherited beliefs. Additionally, I would take special caution to make sure that you differentiate between that which is important versus that which is critical for your church involvement. For me, women in ministry is critical. Pets going to heaven? Who cares. You get the idea.
What’s Core to the Church?
Finally, once you’ve listened to God and done some serious soul-searching, it’s time to finally get to your question and examine the denominations (or non-denominations). This is actually the easiest part of the whole process, and requires an almost surgical look at what they profess, as well as the fruits of that profession.
As a word of caution about this though, I would not consider all churches (even if they share a denomination) as equal. There are currently, and have always been, divisions within the church as they walk in obedience. If I were you, I’d treat each community as unique, talk to someone who actually goes there, and be open to learning and growing—even if you don’t fully agree.
Brittany, I would contend that the process of denominational discovery has less to do with discovering what’s “right,” and more to do with what God may be teaching you. Lean into that. Remember what’s absolutely core (Jesus), what’s secondary (your stuff), and that what matters in this search is that we as a Body of believers are of one accord. We may go to different buildings and have different expressions of obedience, but God sees us as His, and the fewer labels we put on ourselves, the more united we’ll be in that reality.