My Visit to Another Congregation
Hello dear friends,
I wanted to take a few minutes and let you all know about a wonderful experience that I had this week. As some of you are aware, I am currently in the Master of Divinity program at Abilene Christian University. As part of my Church History II course, I was required to conduct a visit with a congregation that I have (1) Never been to (2) know very little about, and afterwards I was to meet with the senior minister or leader. The final part of my assignment was to come up with a tangible solution on how we might bridge the gap of denominationalism.
I am member of the church of Christ and have never explored much outside of the congregational practices held within them. I chose to visit with a local Presbyterian congregation called New Hope. In a word, they were welcoming. I was afforded the opportunity to have breakfast with the senior pastor of the congregation the following morning, and what an awesome conversation it was! I wanted to share a bit of what I learned with you in hopes that you may consider doing something similar.
We Certainly Do Not Agree on Everything
Our differences are obvious. We each hold different perspectives as it pertains to worship and salvation. What is far better, though, is the fact that this was a pure, genuine conversation. The point was not to condemn one another, but to hear one another out. For example, the Presbyterian congregation I visited observes infant baptism, they have instrumental music in worship, only take the communion every other week, and have women involved with prayer and leading of songs. They have a structured eldership at the congregational level, the regional level (called the presbytery) and the national level (called the general assembly). They are also currently under the conversation of being able to move to an ability to officially ordain women deacons. Though we disagree on these things, we were still able to hold a respectful conversation. Obviously, he believes what he does because he thinks that is the truth, and it is the same for me. This, however, was not the focus of our conversation. I know the immediate objections. If you find yourself shunning this congregation or my participation in the visit, there is a little red box in the upper right hand corner of your screen with an "x." Please click it now and close the browser.
If you are familiar with the churches of Christ, the majority hold to an a capella form of worship, women are generally not permitted to be deacons, elders or be involved with the leading of any part of worship (to include passing out trays for communion, reading scripture, or praying). We do not observe infant baptism and hold that each church should be autonomous in regulating its practices. The differences are many, there is no denying it. Far more, even, than I have listed here; however, what makes the experience so rewarding is the receptivity of the senior leader to joint-congregational ministry and fellowship.
The leader took time in explaining much of the history of the congregation and the denomination. This part, I particularly enjoyed as they have their roots all the way back to the Protestant Reformation. He took time to respectfully explain his position (and the position of the denomination) regarding worship practices and the things they consider "non-negotiable." Even more surprising was the fact that the members did not have to accept the entirety of the Westminster confession or the Larger Catechism; things that would seemingly divide folks who did not agree on all. One example he provided was that "One should not create an image of the Deity." He mentioned, while this is probably a decent thing to try, it is unlikely that most people are able to not--at some point--picture what Jesus looked like. Thus, they could disagree with this and still be able to place membership.
We Had More In Common Than We Would Have Known
This is the highlight of my visitation with them. If I had never gone to visit with this group of believers, I would have never known the similarities that we hold mutually. It turns out, they hold the inerrancy of the scripture in an extremely high regard. They take very seriously that God provided instruction for righteous living to his followers. In fact, the congregation that I visited was part of a split that happened in the last century due to the more "liberal" perspective of the Bible. They decided that the route the denomination was on was not something they agreed with, so they split and held the scripture to the perspective of inerrancy of God's word. He also explained that there is not much that they would say that they would truly care to argue about. In fact, his thoughts were that if people disagreed on what the meaning of scripture is, they are welcome to formulate that ideology--just in a way that would not cause divisions to the existing body. The disagreements, he would say (and I'm paraphrasing), show exactly the nature of the discipleship that happened with the apostles. He referenced Peter being devoted to the Jews, and Paul being devoted to the Gentiles.
We finished with talks of a potential church collaboration in which we had a day of fellowship with one another. A day that we could come together and pray, sing, eat, and possibly compete in a day designed to show a greater unity within the body of Christ. This would be truly amazing. If we hope to bring in those who do not follow Jesus, how could we expect them to when all they see is the fact that the current followers can't even share a meal together. We don't sing together. We don't help one another. We don't pray together. We don't recognize that Christ is the common denominator. Instead, denominationalism has taken its toll on Christianity altogether. It is my hope that we can start small, and eventually build to where there is no division within the body of Christ. After all, that is how it was always supposed to be.
I'll close with this, I hope you decide to take matters into your own hands. Speak with other believers. Visit another congregation, not to impose your will, but to unite the body in some way. You may have more in common than you expect. Don't be so wrapped up in differing theologies. Just spend time with another human and talk a bit. We have to be bigger than the division represented within our culture. We will not last if we are divided.
"Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Matthew 12:25).
If there is anything I can do to encourage you or help you, please let me know.
Until next time...