Alastair on Denominationalism Redux

Today I would like to direct your attention to a post over at Alastair at Adversaria that I linked a while back about the role of denominationalism in the present-day church.

This article is a challenging and helpful piece for all who are struggling with the question of what is the true church and/or which church is the right church.  Many of you, particularly in my own church, are thinking through these issues, and so I recommend it to you highly.

The jumping-off point for this post is the Presbyterian Church in America’s recent passage of  a report condemning the Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul.  (Don’t ask me what either of those are because I don’t know.  Those of you who know the Presbyterian church probably know these items better than me, but it is not essential to understand these things in order to get this post.)

Alastair quotes one voice which spoke out in support of the PCA’s ruling:

…Brothers, the vast majority of the Reformed church in America has said that the FV is out of accord with the Westminster Standards. Does that not at least give you some pause? I mean, if my brothers spoke so loudly and in such unison to me about my views on a given issue, I would be trembling. Maybe I am weak in my nerves, but when the corporate body of Christ speaks with such unison, I am humbled. Yes, assemblies and counsels may err, but this is the Visible Church speaking here! Aren’t we to have a high regard for the Visible Church? Is she not our nursing mother to feed and nourish us spiritually? Has she not spoken a word of admonition to you? Do you not honor her? Do you not heed the voice of your spiritual mother?

To which Alastair responds:

The problem with all of this is that the PCA and OPC are not — and I know that some of you might find this hard to believe! — the ‘corporate body of Christ’ speaking in ‘unison’. I am not sure that it is appropriate to accord ecclesial status to such bodies, even on the local level. The same can be said of any denominational organization or local denominational church.

Some of the big ideas from this post:

–When the New Testament epistles were written, there was no such thing as denominations in the church.  The local churches which were referenced in the epistles were each a single church in an entire geographic area.  This church may have consisted of multiple congregations meeting in multiple locations, but denominational churches were not on anyone’s radar screen.

–In light of this, we cannot take the things which the Bible says about the church, or the local church, and apply it directly to our own denominational churches.

–Luther, Calvin, Zwingli et. al. saw themselves as reformers; their mission was to retain their connection to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church while reforming their own little neck of it.  They were NOT out to start new denominations, to throw out everything that had ever been done before and reinvent Christianity from scratch.  The multiplicity of denominations which presently exists was a very unfortunate side effect of their attempts to reform, but it was not their original intention.

–In light of this, we should look with suspicion upon the claim of any denomination to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  We should also be critical of the attitude that we who live in our own place and our own time are the end-all, be-all of what God is doing in the world–wherever that attitude may exist and to whatever extent it may exist among us.

–The upshot of all this is that the church in our area is way bigger and way more inclusive than what we would dare to suspect.  The local church is not limited to First Baptist, First Methodist, St. Peter’s, Oak Hill Presbyterian, Riverstone Fellowship, or whatever other church you may belong to.  Rather, it is the agglomeration of all such churches in a given area; all these churches are merely subsets of the local church.

Alastair closes it out with a list of ideas on how we can apply this toward a more inclusive view of the local church:

1. Recognize the discipline of other congregations in your locality.
2. Recognize the ordination of people from other denominations and don’t force them to jump through too many hoops to serve within your denomination.
3. Recognize the baptisms of people from other denominations, including the infant ones.
4. Admit people from other denominations to the Table.
5. Read widely, beyond your own theological tradition. Seek to learn from other theological traditions and encourage crossfertilization of ideas.
6. Become friends with people from other denominations in your area.
7. Pray for the various churches in your locality and ask them to pray for you.
8. Seek to co-ordinate evangelistic efforts with other churches.
9. Try to get involved in other group projects with other congregations in your locality. Doug Wilson helpfully suggests that we rediscover the idea of ‘parish’. If we really started to think and act in terms of the concept of parish we would soon find ourselves enjoying more fellowship with other Christians in our communities.

I strongly recommend that you read this post and consider what Alastair’s ideas mean for us as we seek to develop a vital connection with other expressions of the Christian faith in our area, and with the generations of believers who served God faithfully long before we ever came on the scene.

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