As the recent Presbymeme revealed, I have little idea of what it means to really be Presbyterian.
I mean, I know Presbyterians hail from the Reformed tradition (Calvin, in particular), practice infant baptism, and love order and polity. I also know that they value scholarship, wrestle with inclusiveness, and appreciate (really appreciate) tradition. They value scholarship and speak highly of God, but in my observation, less of Jesus and even less of the Holy Spirit. Not a bad thing, just an emphasis noted. No mention of the devil here though, so you charismaniacs can move right along.
And I appreciate the seminary community of which I am a part of, which is associated with the PCUSA. But I have yet to really be convinced that I should commit to this denomination or any other, for that matter. Oh sure, I understand that denomination matters when it comes to benefits, ordination, licensing, financing, accountability, resources, networking, and all that. But I just don’t understand how denomination really matters. (disclaimer: I say this openly, not dismissively. I also stand to be corrected and educated. so I do acknowledge my ignorance and humbly ask that you be gentle and clear if you want to blast me in the comments.)
In a conversation one day, I heard Tommy Yi, a friend here in seminary with me, say to someone else, “If the denomination makes it so I minimize my personal risks so that I can serve in a church (of their denomination) by giving me benefits and resources and whatnot, how do I know that I’m really following Jesus?” This could be said of any denomination. And Tommy’s right – as much as I want to believe that the institution is seeking and acting according to God’s will at every instance, there are times where we must ask, am I following a man-made thing to protect or serve myself? or am I really following God?
Which makes it a little hard to commit, because as much as we like to work things out in our (Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, UCC, Pentecostal…fill in the blank) ways, the starting point should be that God is God and God does what God wants and we can’t know or stop or predict what God can, should, or will do. Even when we have prophecies in the Bible, we aren’t sure. So how in the world do you select a denomination to be a part of? I think it was Peter Rollins (in How (Not) To Speak of God – which if you don’t have, you should go out and buy right this very minute) who mentioned that the origin of denominations prove that God worked in the past among that community, but the continued existence of that denomination doesn’t prove that God is still present. Even if you criticize post-denominationalists for being slippery in their commitment, you have to admit, the denomination does place a degree of separation between us and God, which seems to me one of the very liberating facets of the Christian faith to begin with.
And I understand the argument for authority, community, and tradition, but I also want to create space for a Moses, an Elijah, an Amos, or even Jesus in our midst! There must be some consensus that consensus is not always required. I understand its danger, but it is a necessary one.
I realize this may be too loosey-goosey, but in my mind, it sounds every bit as logical as love. Love is extremely vulnerable to betrayal and disappointment, because it involves trust – trust that is open to another denomination that claims our God of love. I believe that often we prevent love from arising because our denominational ties and agenda inclines us to operate from a deficit of love, in order to protect ourselves or our loved ones from leaving us. We assume that other denominations are not as trustworthy as we might be. But I do not see that fear reflected in the heart of God. I do not see how freedom given to others threatens God and I do not see how it should threaten God’s children on earth. Denominations are great connections and windows into what God has done, but are they good lenses to see what God can and will do in our churches?
I will not give any denomination more allegiance than that I have for Christ. And if none of them are against him, and they all for him, then I am for them all. I do not wish to be remembered as a good Baptist or a reformed Presbyterian, a devout Catholic or a hardworking Methodist – only as a faithful follower of Christ. He is my lowest common denomination.