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.