A few days ago I was with a Bible study group when there was what seemed to be a fleeting reference to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This is my favourite parable and has been on my mind ever since. Now here, maybe I am guilty of stretching a metaphor. I have started to see in the rich man the personification of denominationalism, and in Lazarus someone who is seeking the Word of God.
Leaving aside what happens to both figures after death (I don’t think musing upon afterlife punishment would be very helpful here), I will just concentrate on verses 19-21. Imagine if you will that the finely dressed, arrogant rich men is eating the Word of God. Except, rather than eating just pure Scripture he has ordered his cooks to add some denominational ‘additives’ to it. It turns out that the additives are so sweet and so filling that the Scripture at the centre falls to the floor. Lazarus longs for just one of these refreshing scrabs. Maybe the dogs belong to the rich man and are there to keep beggars away.
Sometimes I love nothing better than hopping from one denomination to the other. I find that in life there are very few things better than experiencing how the Bible can be interpreted and lived out in a variety of ways. And when I am away from church services (and any other activities that a church puts on during the week) it is just so thrilling to read up about their thology, their history, their victories…and also their defeats. I find one must always keep a balanced mind in these matters, and one needs to understand why people have veered away from the denomination in question.
Overall, though, I’d say try to enjoy a denomination: even go as far as to imagine what your faith and life would be like if you were to abandon your own denomination and ‘sign up’ to this new one. From personal experience I’d say that there is a possibility of heartbreak in this (maybe thinking what you would leave behind, or even God telling you that this new life is not part of His plan for you). But I’d also say that it is worth it because such things can lead one to grow in their faith.
However, if you ever start to criticize the denomination you are visiting: LEAVE! Even if you feel a burning desire to criticise, be very very careful. In most cases, the denomination has already existed for years, probably even centuries, and brought untold numbers of former-lost souls to Christ. How will people feel if, by your arguments you convince them that their ancestors’ faith was wrong? Even if we ignore the dead and just keep in mind the contemporary community members, criticism could cause untold damage. Some may leave. Can you really be certain that they will go on to find another church to attend rather than just abandon the faith altogether? You would be responsible for leading Christ’s sheep astray (Mark 9:42; 1 John 2:26; 3:7)!!!
But do not worry about leaving one denomination for another, or just visiting, for the Church is the Body of Christ and is far bigger than a single part (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Eph. 4:25). I do think it very wise what David Orth said in a comment on my site recently: that “the Spirit is no respecter of denominations”. I really do feel that the Holy Spirit is urging Christians to make the Church’s divisions (i.e. the rich man’s additives) crumble, not so that Christians can think and interpret the same way and forego their individualities, but so that the purity of the Scriptures can shine forth, and that present and future calamities can be faced by a united Church. As one Church we shall be led by Christ, have a “shield of faith and belt of truth”, a healing sword, and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, each soldier will be armed with grace, love and prayer:
I am not sure how much I agree with the whole military imagery thing, but I do think that for whatever is coming there is safety in numbers. Imagine if Christians refused to join other Christians just because of their petty squabbles about communion, songs or hymns, infant baptism, ecclesiastical hierarchy, etc.? We would be as weak as Hell! And as Jesus said, Hell cannot fight the forces of Hell (Matt 12:25-26; Mark 3:23-26).
So please, Christians, whatever denominations you are affiliated to, and whatever position you may hold within your churches, do not be like the rich man: do not arrogantly hold onto denominational differences. Let no denomination seek a monopoly because, though we are not all the same, we are one body, having different gifts and thus different roles. But in this we are united: that God became man and died for our sins. Through the Holy Spirit we are not just certain about the victory that has already been won, but also the victory that is to come.
When Christ comes to lead us home, make sure you are not left behind mourning the defeat of denominationalism!