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Where do I fit? Finding An (Imperfect) Denomination To Give Your Life To

May 28, 2016

 

I know the challenges that come with trying to find a denomination that fits. I was born and raised in the Christian Church tradition only to become fascinated in my college years with the history, beauty and wonder of Anglicanism. My stint as an Anglican was a short one as I was soon swept away by John Calvin and a whole host of humble, godly, thoughtful Presbyterians. But then there was that darn infant baptism thing. This sent me down the road to where I would eventually land. You probably guessed it already. In time I found my home as good ol’ Baptist, where I now joyfully live and serve the Lord as a church member and pastor. While I praise God for all of the ways He used these different denominations and traditions to shape me and help me grow and mature as a Christ-follower, it feels so good to finally be “home.”

 

Of course, my story is not much different from so many others. This is especially true of Christians who came to faith later in life, not growing up in one particular Christian stream. In fact, as I work with college students and seminarians, this is a conversation I find myself engaged in more and more frequently.

 

“Where do I fit?”

 

“What denomination best aligns with my convictions?”

 

“How important should issues like baptism, communion, and leadership structures be in my decision?”

 

“How big of a deal is it to commit to a denomination, really?”

 

These are important questions that thoughtful Christians must honestly ask and wrestle with. Here's what we know: There is no perfect denomination. If there were, and it was that clear, we would all be part of it! So, in light of this reality, how do I find a denomination that is a good fit for me? How do I find an (imperfect) denomination to give my life to? While not exhaustive, I do believe these three steps can be helpful as you seek to discern where the Lord would have you.

 

Step #1: Begin with hard study and humble prayer.

 

First of all, prayerfully study different denominations and Christian traditions. Learn to see the beauty of different streams. Discover what different denominations believe and why. In doing this, work toward a clear understanding of where each tradition stands on both primary and secondary doctrines and practices of the Christian faith.[1] Be sure to take the time to intentionally read and understand the best explanations and arguments from a particular denomination’s best theologians throughout history. Remember to study with a humble, teachable heart, recognizing there are very educated, godly individuals from a variety of Christian traditions who will lovingly agree to disagree on secondary matters.

 

Second, prayerfully study to determine what you believe and why. What are your convictions about both primary and secondary doctrinal matters (beliefs)? What are your convictions about both primary and secondary philosophical matters (beliefs in church practice and methodology)? Have you ever taken the time to think about this and make it clear in your mind? In light of your beliefs, what particular denominations and traditions most align with your convictions?  While you should never compromise your primary convictions, are there secondary convictions you are willing to agree to disagree on? [2] What are you willing to live with? What are you not willing to live with?

 

Step #2: Narrow it down and make a commitment.

 

Are there several denominations that you could in good conscience align with and commit to? Just a few? What are they? It is critical that you find a denomination you can go all in with and give your life to, knowing we are all in process and secondary convictions on both theological and philosophical matters can and most likely will change over time. Many Christians in our culture float from church to church, denomination to denomination, and therefore rob themselves and other believers from the joy of growing together for God’s glory. Don’t follow this trend. Narrow it down and make a commitment.

 

Once you make a commitment, take the time to really get to know, understand, and respect the denomination you are now part of. Make yourself at “home!” This means that while you may not agree with everything (again, remember, there is no perfect denomination), you are now “on board” joyfully and eagerly without a spirit of constant criticism on those things you disagree with. Moreover, you humbly, joyfully, maturely, and lovingly live with, encourage, pray for, and minister alongside other believers in this denomination, even if you agree to disagree with them on particular secondary matters. 

 

Step #3: Learn to live graciously and joyfully in your imperfect denomination.

 

There are four final things to remember once you've made a commitment to a denomination:

 

1. Regularly remind yourself of the difference between primary and secondary convictions both philosophically and theologically. Make sure in your heart and mind you do not (intentionally or unintentionally) let primary matters become secondary or secondary matters become primary. It is critical to understand which is which. This takes Spirit-empowered maturity and wisdom that is vital for the display of true, God-glorifying unity in any denomination.

 

2. Learn to practice and celebrate theological hospitality. In love, remember that when theological and philosophical differences pop their head up once in awhile, seek to journey with other believers in love, patience, and prayer. Be willing and eager to learn from others, even if you disagree with them. 

 

3. By God’s grace, seek to grow in humility before the Lord, His Word, and other believers. Not one of us is inerrant in our beliefs and convictions. We all have blind spots. May we always be willing and eager to realign our beliefs and convictions as the Holy Spirit makes the teaching of Scripture clearer to us. This will involve deep humility and a willingness to “hear out” and learn from other Christians and other perspectives.

 

4. While maintaining a posture of love and humility, walk boldly and courageously in your convictions. To me, there is nothing more refreshing than hanging out with a Lutheran or a Presbyterian who not only knows why they are Lutheran or Presbyterian, but is also passionate about being Lutheran or Presbyterian! Sure, we will agree to disagree on several secondary matters, but I respect their convictions as a fellow brother or sister in Christ. We live in a culture where many Christians have lost any strong or clear sense of biblical and theological conviction regarding their particular tradition or stream of faith. Don’t fall into this. If you are Anglican, know why you are Anglican and be excited about it! If you land in the Baptist camp, lean into it with gratitude! If Methodism becomes your denominational home, don’t feel bad about quoting John Wesley every time we grab coffee or go to lunch! In fact, I expect it!

 

Of course, at the end of the day, what is primary in all of this is our unity as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are Christians. We are those the Lord, by His grace alone, has saved and brought from death to life! We have a message to proclaim and a mission to pursue together! It is in this Christ, in this mission, and in this beautiful, diverse body that we call “The Church,” where we fit and find our true home.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Primary doctrines are those that are essential to historic, orthodox Christianity. Moving away from these core truths means moving away from biblical Christianity. Secondary doctrines are those that, while important, are not essential for matters pertaining to salvation and/or orthodoxy.  

 

[2] Again, remember the differences between primary and secondary matters as defined in footnote #1.

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