Denominations and Division

"What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" - 1 Corinthians 1:12-13

Last week I was with some friends of mine and a good buddy who is a Lutheran minister (only mildly relevent), pressed me to tell him with whom would most identify if I HAD to be put in to one camp—or denomination if you will—as it pertains to my theology. Typically I will not respond to this kind of questioning. But this time I regret that I answered.

But the truth is, the question is loaded for a number of reasons. If you identify yourself as a Pentecostal you're most likely emphasizing you have one specific view about the supernatural gifts. If you identify yourself as a Lutheran you're probably talking about your views on baptism and the Lord's supper. If you identify as a Calvinist you're probably most expressing your views on predestination. But what you identify as is often just as much related to who you don't want to be identified with.

This is to say, when we align ourselves with one group we begin to see certain theological issues as the driving issues. Dispensationalists spend more time talking about biblical interpretation philosophy than, say, baptism. Calvinists tend to spend more time worrying about predestination or sovereignty and taking issue with Arminian views on the two issues than they do worrying about biblical interpretation philosophy. This isn't to say the dispensationalists don't care about baptism, or predestination, just that the emphasis is put in certain places because of their identification.

This is over-simplified, and may even miss the mark with some folks. But my point is, when someone identifies as Calvinist, or even Lutheran, how is this possibly different from what Paul is talking about in the above verse? Is Christ divided?

My very first class in seminary, and I'll never forget this, included a lecture where the professor encouraged us to find a denomination we can adhere to and then lean on them to keep us accountable. But the issue I took with this then, and still do today, is that then we're essentially asking for accountability to secondary issues. They are important issues, don't get me wrong. But if your view about baptism changes from infant to believer's baptism, are you therefore a heretic? No. Some may even think your view is wrong, but that doesn't mean they should kick out of fellowship or start to think you're failing in character.

Now this is different from asking about specific issues. "What do you think about predestination?" You can say you like Calvin's view on that, but you weren't baptised in to Calvin. You can disagree with pentacostal theology and still identify as a believer, but you don't need to identify as a "non-pentacostal."

This is one of the things that I've grown to appreciate most about working for an inter-denominational organization. We've got baptists, calvinists, wesleyans, and lutherans (intentionally lower-cased in this instance), and we all agree to disagree on things if they aren't essential to the gospel or the advancement of it. Because we believe we are in some sense still the Church, still the body of Christ. We are united in Christ, not divided because of theology. Yes, we may disagree with each other on certain things, but my organization keeps me accountable to the non-negotiable truths of the gospel. Not to one specific theological perspective. I love having people I've aligned myself to for the sake of accountability, but I also love that what I'm being held accountable to is the gospel. Within reason I can fluxuate in other areas without anyone losing their cool.

On my own team (the 7 people I work closest with) there are charismatics, and former-charismatics. There are reformed folks and some who definitely have a problem with reformed theology. It makes for an interesting dynamic. One which I believe better proves Christ and His love for us (and our differing theological views).

One example is worth mentioning from a night training about 10 church pastors from one of the more well known charismatic churches in town. The truth is, they're barely charismatic, but they define themselves as such because they don't want to be associated with the "reformed churches" in the city. They don't hardly know anything about reformed theology, but they know they don't like it. Anyhow, that evening we were teaching from a passage of scripture which has been used to be rather divisive. They asked my teammate what he thought of the verse. He responded by asking what they thought. They pressed harder wanting the "teacher" to tell them what the "right" answer was. I was sitting next to my teammate at the time, and he pointed at me and said this was a verse the two of us disagreed on vehemently. This shocked the whole group of pastors. "How you can disagree on this and still teach together?"

"Well, we both love the Lord, and we love you. So we can disagree on this and still sit here and do our best to use this scripture to build you up."

Yes, my friend handled that rather well. Probably better than I could have. But the sheer shock shows just how much we've been willing to be divided. And my friend's words I think well demonstrated the love Christ to them.

I don't know that I think you need to leave your denomination. But next time someone asks you what you believe, ask them what specifically they're asking about. It's easier to have useful discussion about one specific topic than it is to draw your lines in the sand and say, "Well, I guess then we'll never get along." It can be more loving for those around you for you to have a specific view on predestination, even one that aligns with Calvin's, than it is for you to just be a calvinist. You weren't baptized into Calvin!

I've written this before, but I'll do it again:

"What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Wesley," or "I follow Calvin," or "I follow Scoffield," or "I follow Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Wesley crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Wesley?" - New Roger Mugs Version.

Why do we read this verse and the condemnation Paul issues therein, and think it doesn't apply to us today?