“If I am interested in becoming a Christian what denomination should I choose? There is too much choice, too many churches. Which one is most right? It feels like a market place.”
This was one of the questions a student asked when my husband and I were talking with some of them after he had given a lecture on Christianity in a religious education class. Unfortunately, he directed it to me because my husband was talking with someone else.
“Well,” I said, struggling to find the words, “it’s not really like that.” I gave him a few more “profound” thoughts and then tapped my husband on the shoulder. “Akshay, do you want to answer this?”
The student was slightly happier with Akshay's answer but still not too convinced. It really must be confusing to see the many denominations of Christianity.
Even we are sometimes suspicious of each other’s beliefs. I don't think there is any other religion with this many “division”. I have heard people from each denomination make fun of the others. At the same time, I have seen or heard of amazing women and men of God in each one of these. How can we explain this?
I grew up in a village, in a small community, with one church. We were quite far away from “civilisation” and there wasn’t another church for miles. Though my parents had friends in a town an hour away who lead other churches, I didn’t have much interaction with them.
When I was nine, I was sent to a boarding school. On our first Sunday, to my shock and horror, our dorm-parents dragged us off to Sunday school in a church that was totally different from anything I had ever experienced. I didn’t really enjoy this—it was too unfamiliar and I missed home—but the people who led it seemed to love God and wanted to do right by Him.
As soon as I entered middle school and was allowed to choose for myself, I joined a church that reminded me of my home church. The people leading it knew my parents, and it was very similar to the style I was used to. I immediately felt at home with this community but some of my classmates chose to continue at the other church. And here, I think, lies a very valuable lesson, at least for me, about which church is “right” for whom.
It has surprised me, sometimes in a very uncomfortable way, how differently my husband and I relate to God. We come from different denominational backgrounds, and the most intriguing times for me are when we have debated through our differences and come to the realisation we are actually saying the same thing.
Other times we have agreed to disagree, but we have learnt to trust each other’s relationship with God. I have learnt from him about a side of God that I had never encountered and, hopefully, he has learnt from me, too.
The thing is, I am quite guilty of being suspicious and judgmental of others just because they are different. My “non-denominational” status doesn’t mean I don’t have a theology or that I accept everyone. I can be pretty rigid and strongly opinionated. And I know it isn’t wrong to have strong beliefs. It isn’t even wrong to disagree with what other denominations believe. But it is important to keep disagreement from turning into disrespect.
I’m only now beginning to realise there are some truths that are really important to agree upon. Having so many denominations isn’t wrong; while we may disagree upon small issues and the way we apply the Word, our foundation remains the same. Jesus said that people would know us by our love for each other (John 13:35). This is where we should start from. Not focusing on our differences, but on Who unites us.
Here’s what I think I must do in order to change my perception. In Philippians 2:6 Paul says:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage”
Only when I have Jesus in view will I see people differently, when I know how much He gave up for all and humbled Himself for all - not just me, when I am awed by His generosity. Only then will I too, out of my gratefulness and love for Him, be able to give up much for others—especially my pride, my rights and my feelings of superiority.
Then, I will be more concerned about pleasing God and living in unity with those who are His. Then, I will be more interested in other people’s experiences of God, open to what they have discovered, and excited about sharing what I have found.
I think it’s time for us to be more open to each other. I don’t think one denomination alone, one church, or one person can get following God completely right. How amazing it would be if we were able to put down our differences and listen. Then maybe people will “know we are Christians by our love.”