Sunday, August 23, 2015

More than a denomination

Those of you following my blog on a regular basis know I was raised in the Catholic faith and then after being out on my own, I chose to leave the Catholic church, choosing instead to associate myself with more of the non-denominational Christian church community.  I have been asked many times why I would leave the Catholic church and I always respond the same way - it wasn't the place for me to learn what I needed to learn, grow as I needed to grow, and become what I needed to become.  I will admit it almost broke my father's heart when I did leave the Catholic church, as he had been raised "staunch" Catholic and I can still recall every Saturday confession, Sunday communion, my first Communion, my Confirmation, and catechism classes.  All though high school, I struggled immensely with lots and lots of actions which really didn't reflect a very good "Catholic" at all.  I really needed more than a weekly visit to the confessional, if you get my drift!  Yet, all the while, I felt something tugging at my heart, for at the age of fourteen I had prayed the prayer of faith - asking Jesus to forgive my sins, come into my life, and make me a new person from the inside out.  I tried reading the Bible, but really had no one to mentor me in my faith, so I never really grew that much.  I had said "yes" to Jesus, but I was really "marching in place".  Deep inside I longed to be made new - sick of how lonely I felt all the time, distraught about continuing to disappoint my parents with all my wrong behaviors, and just plain miserable as a person, but wearing a pretty mask on the outside which said "everything is fine".  It wasn't until I was on my own in the military when I finally hit bottom. I can still remember the day my friend took me with him in his little blue VW bug to this "hand raising", "lively chorus singing", and very "happy" church.  My world was turned on end that night!  I could hardly wait for the sermon to end before I found myself at the altar, asking Jesus to transform what had become of my very empty and very lonely life.  I had found something which I had longed for without even knowing that was what I longed so desperately to enjoy!

So we should stop judging each other. Let’s decide not to do anything that will cause a problem for a brother or sister or hurt their faith. I know that there is no food that is wrong to eat. The Lord Jesus is the one who convinced me of that. But if someone believes that something is wrong, then it is wrong for that person. (Romans 14:13-14 ERV)

What I needed was community - something I just didn't find in my previous twenty years.  I needed connection - something I just didn't realize I could ever achieve because I had told myself I wasn't "worth it".  That night transformed my life - not overnight, but it began a journey I haven't turned back from or regretted for even one minute!  I made the decision to come regularly to that church in Anchorage - the church on a hill - Abbott Loop Christian Center.  Yep, it wasn't a Catholic church and I was about to break all the foundational "rules" I had been raised within, but it was what I needed in order to grow up in Christ. I grew by leaps and bounds that year, realizing I was loved more by Jesus than I ever had known before.  I found myself embracing lively praise and hand-raising worship.  I noticed myself broken and yearning - something "giving" inside of me which hadn't "given" before.  It was the beginning of a new era in my life and I was grateful for the things I was starting to see, appreciate, and understand for the first time.  Most importantly - I was certain that God loved me - just as I was, without any merit of my own, and he wanted relationship with me.  

I tell you all this to remind each of us of one important thing - God doesn't care about which denomination we attend - because in his eyes there is no "denomination".  These are "communities" of our own doing - we made these what they are today, not him.  His idea from the very beginning was one people, in relationship with him, and growing closer and closer to his heart each day. Where we get to that point doesn't really matter!  I can attend the Catholic church, Assemblies of God, or the local non-denominational Christian church. What he does care about is a few things:

- The Bible must be taught in totality.  None of it is without merit - all of it must be taught.  It isn't up for our own interpretation and we must adhere to the rules of interpretation which makes up "good teaching".  

- Sinners must be welcomed.  None of us is without sin, but to look down upon some or exclude them because of their "particular sin" is not the example we ever saw when Jesus ministered on this earth. 

- A sense of community must be established.  This is where and how we grow. We need the privilege of "being real" with another group of individuals because this is how we learn from each other and grow in Christ.

Paul said it well in Romans - we don't create a place where others feel judged and we don't create a place where there is no chance of being who we really are.  We don't have to "condone" any particular action or behavior which is opposite to that which God outlines in scripture, but it doesn't mean the individual is rejected or excluded from our fellowship.  What it means is that we create a safe place for them to meet Jesus, discover his love for themselves, find out how much he cares about transforming their lives, and then helping them to grow in that relationship.  If you think about "denominations" as how we describe something such as our currency and coins, you might see "denominations" within the church a little differently.  We have call our differing "bills and coins" of our money systems "denominations" because they each carry a different "value".  In God's economy, none of us carries any different value!  Just sayin!