Sunday, June 1, 2008

So... who do you follow?

Hmm... I've spent a lot of time the last couple of weeks reading a lot of different blogs - a very broad spectrum of religious beliefs. I've seen a lot of anger and humor and making fun of 'the other ones.' And I've also seen some serious and thoughtful attempts at dialogue and understanding. All this has been rolling around in my subconscious, I guess. Today, it started coalescing. I realized that we are still very concerned about who is on whose side. And the question followed... So... who do you follow?


Here is what I see right now. There are many many different denominations within 'Christianity.' Although I know that both Protestants and Catholics would disagree with me, I view Catholics as one of many Christian denominations. So how many denominations are there? I'm not sure... There's the Catholics, the Coptics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Lutherans, the Anglicans & Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Calvinists, the Anabaptists & Mennonites & Brethren, the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Piests & those of the Holiness Movement, the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, the Restorationists, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)... whew, and that's just some of the main umbrella groups. There are literally dozens of subgroups under nearly all of these. YIKES!

Now, it seems that each group thinks they have the low down on the Truth. Some will allow that the others have some truth and are 'brothers and sisters,' but they really aren't sure... Hmm... and they all look at each other suspiciously - afraid that they might become contaminated by association - or feel the need to try and scare or bully one another into agreement. And when asked what religion they are, they give their denomination. So this brings me back to the question... who do you follow?

Hmm... I will start my answer by saying whom I do not follow. I do not follow Peter. I do not follow Paul. I do not follow Benedict XVI. I do not follow John the Beloved. I do not follow Constantine. I do not follow St. Augustine. I do not follow Martin Luther. I do not follow the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury. I do not follow John Knox. I do not follow John Wesley. I do not follow John Calvin. I do not follow Peter Chelcicky. I do not follow John Smyth nor Jonathan Edwards. I do not follow John Wyclif. I do not follow Philipp Jakob Spener nor Phoebe Palmer. I do not follow Alexander Mack. I do not follow William J. Seymour. I do not follow Dennis Bennett. I do not follow Thomas Campbell. I do not follow George Fox. I do not follow Amy Semple-MacPherson. I do not follow Oral Roberts. I do not follow Kenneth Hagin. I do not follow James Dobson. I do not follow Todd Bentley nor Chuck Pierce nor Dutch Sheets...

Hmm... I know this is a long list. Sorry. Have I sufficiently stepped on everyone's toes? That's really not my purpose. But if your hackles rose a little when you read a familiar name and you thought, 'Hey! Don't bring my guy into this!'... well... who do you follow? I used to follow my denomination - then I began to be caught up in following Kenneth Hagin. For the record, I think many of these people would be appalled at the way people have begun to follow them - like they are what is important. But I can't speak for all...

My point is, as I think about my religious experiences, I have very often heard people say, "Well, I follow Kenneth Hagin's teachings," or "I am a Calvinist," or... on and on... I follow - a person or denomination... Hmm... Paul had something to say about this.
"I have a serious concern to bring up wth you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I'll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.
     I bring this up because some from Chloe's family brought a most disturbing report to my attention - that you're fighting among yourselves! I'll tell you exactly what I was told: You're all picking sides, going around saying, "I'm on Paul's side," or "I'm for Apollos," or "Peter is my man," or "I'm in the Messiah group."
     I ask you, "Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own? Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in Paul's name?" I was not involved with any of your baptisms - except for Crispus and Gaius - and on getting this report, I'm sure glad I wasn't. At least no one can go around saying he was baptized in my name. (Come to think of it, I also baptized Stephanas's family, but as far as I can recall, that's it.)
     God didn't send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the message of what He has done, collecting a following for Him. And He didn't send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center - Christ on the Cross - be trivialized into mere words." 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (Message)
Now, I know that the Protestant movement was born out of abuses within the Catholic church - that a lot of splits were because of abuses. I am not here to debate the validity of the causes that were behind the formation of the various groups. I'm just wondering if, instead of focusing all of our attention on where we disagree and thumping our chests and saying, "I'm right and you're wrong!" - maybe would could look at what we have in common. 

All of the denominations I listed up there - along with their subgroups - no matter which one you belong to, if you believe that Jesus came to save the world and you take that promise and say that you believe He can do so and want that to include you, well... then you are my brother or sister - you're part of my family, no matter what else you might believe. 

That doesn't mean we have to always get along and spend lots of time together. That's just silly. But maybe it means we could respect each other enough to take a breath and listen instead of pointing the finger and accusing and calling names and mocking. That might make the framework which allows abuse to shrink a lot.

A lot of what I used to believe and think and cling to has been stripped away the last year or so. And all I am left with is Christ and His death and His Life - Papa God who will not leave me alone - the Holy Spirit who does not give up on me. Who do I follow? There really is only one choice left to me if I want to live. 

Maybe it is a Utopian ideal - but... just my thoughts today.

19 comments:

Stormchild said...

Katherine,

Wonderful post, and my toes are perfectly happy, thanks!

May I share something equally wonderful?

I've just returned from a visit to a Benedictine monastery. Why they call it a monastery [monks], when it's a cloister [nuns], and always has been, I do not know; one of God's little mysteries. Next time, I might ask.

In this place, among these people, I spoke with a very staunch, morally courageous, learned woman, a lifelong servant of God. She chooses to wear the habit still - not all of the sisters do so, but many do, and there is no sniping, no comparing, not even an undercurrent that I sensed anywhere that one choice is 'better than'. Rather, both choices are good. :-)

I told her about a colleague and his wife, very decent people, who are Eastern Orthodox, and to whom I owe much of my ability to remain sane while at work ;-) --

her face lit up like a Roman candle. This dignified, elderly nun literally glowed with joy and goodwill.

For, you see, one of her dear, lifelong friends had, only recently, completed double ordination - in both the Eastern and Roman Rites. He had long been ordained as a Roman Catholic, but was now also ordained as an Orthodox priest, and was serving an Orthodox congregation with great joy. In his letters to her he spoke of their love of Christ... their good works... and his happiness at being privileged to serve both this flock and those baptized into the Roman rite, as one.

She shared this with me, in a delight that brought her close to tears, and frankly made my eyes a bit moist as well. Her joy in seeing false distinctions fall away was so tangible, I hope to hold it in my own heart and memory forever.

She is in her nineties. Truly a redoubtable woman of God!

My godparents, when I chose baptism into the Catholic Church as an adult, were Episcopalian. Still are :-).

When I lived overseas, I attended Anglican services. :-)

Just to add perspective: I was baptized in 1979... lived overseas from about 1991 - 1995... and was at the monastery in 2008, this past week.

In a life that has been otherwise very fraught and frustrating, I have been allowed to find people who truly believe that, first and foremost, God is love.

Not value-free enabling - the Sister I describe above knows what she believes, and is one of the gutsiest women I have ever met! - but love. The thing that melts all artificial boundaries, and sees only the Light of His face, in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Him.

I love your message here. God bless you.

Storm

Stormchild said...

Oops. P.S.:

One of the books that helped me as no other has done - in terms of remaining open to that of God in all denominations - is C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity".

I can't recommend it strongly enough.

Marana tha!

Katherine Gunn said...

Stormchild~

Thanks. Hmm... I think the biggest problem is fear - fear of having the doctrine believed challenged. I think many have faith in doctrine rather than God. Hmm... and doctrine does not have the strength behind it to cast out fear - only perfect Love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

*Smiling* Yeah. C. S. Lewis is one of my favorites. I just recently reread 'Mere Christianity.' I have a quote from it on my sidebar. ;-)

Hugs,
Katherine

SuzyQ said...

A great post! So refreshing!
At the end of the day, as Christians, we all fall to our knees under one cross.
Many Blessings to you :)

Katherine Gunn said...

SuzyQ~

Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Robert said...

Katherine-

So well-stated. Paul's words ring so strong to todays climate. All eyes upon Jesus amen katherine!!!

Katherine Gunn said...

Robert~

*Smiling* Thanks.

Anette said...

Katherine
What can I say, you've nailed it!
And then:
"I follow Jesus"
One day, we'll meet in person at the end of this earthly road :) , together with our Jesus.

traveller said...

Yes!

Tyler Dawn said...

kept waiting for my toes to feel squished and it never happened.

I have two people in my town I discuss God with (the rest ran away) -- one is a southern baptist and the other is a catholic. They both know and love God, so you'll get no arguements from me.

Now that being said, there were times in my walk that i thought this or that group couldn't POSSIBLY know Him. (Mother Theresa really chapped my hide though, couldn't explain her away). In fact, in my "angry at the IC stage I thought that everyone in church was pretty much nonbelievers. (yeah, you have to be REALLY angry to have that attitude).

That being said, I have met James Dobson and he is a neat guy, but no different than I am, no more worthy of being followed (and PLEASE don't follow me, I can get you lost on the way to the grocery store). I am no longer enamored with this or that person and I hope it stays that way :)

Katherine Gunn said...

Anette~

*Smiling* I look forward to that. ;-)


Traveller~

Yeah, thanks. :-)


Tyler Dawn~

I think we've all been there. I understand about wondering about those still in the ICs... ;-)
Isn't it amazing how much we can get along if the focus is Him and not our religion?
I'm glad to hear that about James Dobson. I'm reasonably sure that is true of most of the people on that list. :-)

CZBZ said...

Thank you, Katherine Gunn. And I'll back-up other people's replies: no bruises on these dainty toes. (all smiles here)

Hugs,
CZ

Katherine Gunn said...

CZ~

*Smiling* Thanks.

Hugs back,
Katherine

Beowulfa said...

I've always thought that any differences we might have as Christians would be solved when we all died and got to meet Jesus face-to-face, which is when he would look at us sadly and ask why we spent so much time bickering when his lost sheep were out there ..... Thought-provoking post! Thanks for writing it!

Thankfully Broken said...

Dear Katherine,
Thank you for the visit and the comment, both were a gift. So often I wonder if I am writing for myself or if God is using it.I will be back to really spend time reading your story. What I read is very well written, transparent, heartfelt, expressive, painful, seeking, hopeful and a gift to others who are experiencing similar circumstances. Thank you for choosing to share yourself. As a survivor of a date rape, school shooting and spiritual abuse I have learned that I could really begin claiming pieces of my new self and take back the ability to make choices/control/power by reclaiming my voice. I am so thankful you are using yours. I was baptized Catholic, sporadically attended both Methodist and Catholic churches growing up. I walked away from religion at 8 and viewed myself as agnostic. I spent my teen years, during the Cold War, being an adamant atheist, all the while privately arguing with God. As in prove to me you are real, because if you were who you are supposed to be, why would you create creatures who are destroying each other, themselves and the world around them. I eventually joined the Methodist Church, spent 10 years in 2 churches. The first much healthier than the second. The second church had people in it I loved, who could not accept me as a PTSD/ survivor's guilt trauma victim. Why couldn't I just move on like everyone else, it's never going to happen here again right? I was expected to do and not be and certainly not question. It finally came down to an hour plus meeting where I was told who and how to be and given a coffin to live in. I left to survive. I attend a nondenominational midsize megachurch where the Sr. pastor admits he is as broken as the rest of us from the pulpit. He was a drug dealer over 40 years ago and shares that story freely as well as his current faults. I am slowly healing, because I was given permission to not do just be, that I and my family are welcome to do what feels right for us with no obligations to the church or anyone in it, I have never been asked to join or serve or discouraged from doing so when I have felt like it, it is far from perfect yet I have been so blessed. In my heart I would love to see no denominations, just one community of Christ followers. No churches with walls and buildings to upkeep, just meeting to strengthen and share then out loving, not judging, others meeting people where they are...utopian yes, endtimes perhaps. May God bless you and I will be here to share in your times of joy and pain as you continue to heal. He is already redeeming your pain and using it to reach others in such a powerful way. Love, Kimberly

Katherine Gunn said...

Beowulfa~

Yeah - Thanks.

Katherine Gunn said...

Kimberly~

Wow. Thank you for your transparency - and your support.

Love, Katherine

Valorosa said...

Just wanted to add this ... Has anyone ever noticed what the work of God is?

John 6:28

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

Jesus answered,

"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

Pretty simple huh?

LOL

Katherine Gunn said...

Valorosa~

Thanks for stopping by.
Yeah, it really is pretty simple - we sure do try to complicate it, though... ;-)