Let me be very blunt right off the bat. I do not write this blog as any kind of condemnation of anyone or any group. I do not write this blog so as to arouse anger or promote division. I only write this blog for the purpose of getting us all to think about what the Christian faith stands for and in its least common denominator; what is really is.
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Under the massive banner of Christianity are innumerable belief systems. Whether these beliefs are actual denominations or simply how an individual chooses to live his/her faith doesn't matter. What is important to understand is that there is no religion on earth with as much diversity of doctrine and application of that doctrine as Christianity.
In the 40+ years I have been an active Christian, I have been exposed to, participated in and learned about many elements of our faith. I have been involved in extremely liberal as well as extremely conservative groups. I have swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other when it comes to both the doctrine and application of what Christianity is all about.
I spent years growing up in a denomination that was on the cutting edge of what is known as the "social gospel". There were very few rules in place and the predominant purpose of the church was to be a hub for various and sundry activities that promoted a community/family atmosphere. The church was comfortable and highly non-confrontational. As a result of this laid back approach, it was extremely prosperous and able to constantly build new buildings and offer new programs.
I spent years serving in what outwardly would be considered a fundamentalist group that succeeded in finding loopholes in their predominantly conservative belief system which allowed the leaders to become extremely liberal in their personal lifestyles. The normal pillars of conservative Christianity were not promoted or lived. Abortion, adultery, and filthy lucre ultimately destroyed the top leaders of the group and then the group itself and thousands of us "saw the light" and ran for our very spiritual lives.
The church of my youth looked at the Bible as a good book and each Sunday ONE verse was read and formed the basis of the sermon. The group that was my life for many years worshiped the Bible and had many people who could quote entire Books by memory. Many of the groups I have been exposed to since fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
Over the past 25 years, I have attended and for short times been involved with numerous denominations and belief systems, especially in my days of doing full-time charity work. I have seen small groups doing amazingly good things and huge groups doing basically nothing for others. I have seen groups where all the emphasis is on self and others where all the emphasis is on the leader. I have also seen groups where people totally live to bless and support others.
I remember going with different friends to their church when I was a teenager. One was a Sunday evening service where the pastor spent the whole time yelling about the Catholics being of the devil. This deeply disturbed me because just a few weeks earlier I had gone to a Catholic Mass with another friend. I was so confused that it took the youth minister at our church getting involved to settle me down.
I went with another friend to his church and heard that I was a terrible sinner. I left that day in tears for I saw no chance of ever being anything other than an ugly worm in the sight of God. I also went with yet another friend to a Pentecostal church and was totally confused by the strange languages spoken and the confusion that reigned throughout the service.
I believe that in each of those churches there were people who yearned to know and love God. Although each place was adamant that they were right and in varying degrees implied that to not believe as they did would be a mortal sin; for the most part, those who attended were neither judgmental nor fanatical.
If there is one thing I absolutely know for sure about the Christian faith it is that the truth is not found in buildings, denominational tags, creeds or some type of "Christian law". No, I have found and am comfortable in believing that our faith is a highly personal matter between us and God. Belief systems come and go and may or may not be right, but The Word of God endures forever and should be the backbone to our beliefs.
Faith is personal and needs to be something deeply rooted in ones heart and not planted in what church one attends or what creed one recites on Sunday. Faith is built on our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ first and foremost. Faith is based on the Word of God and ultimately represents the conviction in our hearts as to what we believe, personally, to be the truth.
If Christians spent more times developing and strengthening their personal faith and less time condemning others for their "unbelief", we would all enjoy the fruits of fellowship much more and present to the world something that is indeed desirable and profitable. Amen and amen.