Growing up between countries, cultures and Christian denominations (or non-denominations), I never fully understood the significance of or need for denominations within the Christian church. Indeed, I still do not. To explain my beliefs, I shall share with you, briefly, my life and opinions in terms of the matter.
I was dedicated, as an infant, by American Baptist parents at an American Baptist church, a church which I attended with them and my two sisters until I was four. We then moved to an international school in southern India, attending the church held on the school’s campus.
It was an intensely diverse congregation, but there was a powerful unity in our diversity. We were from a variety of countries, cultures, denominations, and even religions, yet all that mattered was that we were there, together, worshipping God in the name of Jesus.
After a couple of years, we returned to the U.S. and were part of a tri-denominational church in Wisconsin. This congregation felt just as unified as the one in India, which caused me to wonder what the purpose of denominations was. Newborns were either baptised or dedicated, new believers were either confirmed or submersed; everyone was allowed to choose what they felt was right based on their faith values.
Upon returning to the same school and church in India, my family and I began to see differences in the congregation. However, before explaining these changes, I shall tell the story of a man from Northeast India which I heard while travelling with my family.
This man was from the state of Nagaland, which is now almost entirely Christian due to God’s amazing work there, which began through Baptist missionaries. Some things are lost in translation, however, and so this man, a Naga Baptist, was quite confident in his answer to a particular question posed by a leader in the Naga Baptist Church. “Are you a Christian?” the leader asked. “No,” replied the man, “I am a Baptist!”
Back at the school, some of the same misunderstandings of denominations were cropping up, though less in naïveté and more in obstinacy. Some well-intentioned missionaries came in with their denominations staunchly in-hand and brought conflict into the church. The leaders of the church and the school fought openly over petty differences.
This interfaith conflict turned non-Christians away from Christianity. If Christians believed in peace and love, then why were they fighting over such small differences? The conflict forced students and other staff members to evaluate their own beliefs and decide what they believed. It forced us to cling to faith as we knew it personally because there was no all-encompassing set of doctrine for us to follow. We had our God, his Word and faith.
After recovering from that experience, I thought a lot about what it taught me. I probably still haven’t learned all I can from that period of my life, but I have concluded this: I believe that it is good for a church community to have Christians with variety of opinions and approaches to faith within it.
It is healthy to be challenged constantly in our faith, to be asked why we believe and what we believe, by non-Christians as well as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It is also good for us to understand and respect that we won’t all have the same viewpoint or approach to faith because we are all different in so many ways.
How much deeper would we all be in our faith if we were, from the beginning of our faith journey, challenged in such a way? if faith weren’t seen as a set of doctrines laid before us but, rather, a quest to figure out for ourselves what exactly we believed and why we believed it? On that note, I shall conclude this so that you, ladies and gentlemen, may ponder that – and so that I may ponder it myself.
Lisa Perkins is a creative writing major from Green Lake, Wis.