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Question On Denominational Emphasis


murmsk
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I am not sure I can put this question into words but I will try.

 

According to Phillip Gulley, there are 39,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. Each has its own emphasis. Some concentrate on the virgin birth, others speak in tongues, others ....... Even within the "Progressives we are beginning to see some splintering. Some seem to only be interested in merging science with religion, others de-masculinizing God, still others only talk about the pluralization question ......

 

My question is... Is this a problem or a strength? Should we be working to unify or is it better to have "Evolutionary Christians, Evolving Christians, Progressive Christians, Pluralistic Christians .... Or should we try and shun emphasises all together.

 

steve

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My question is... Is this a problem or a strength?

steve

 

Steve,

 

In my opinion, it is a strength. I don't think a one-size-fits-all theology is desirable. We all have different needs, experiences, interests, education, social milieus, etc. Therefore it is reasonable to expect different theologies would be the result.

 

George

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Steve,

 

Personally, i think this is a strength at least in progressive Christianity. If this is an individual and collective journey, then it seems to me that it could not be so if everyone had to accept the same tenets by default. To me that would not be progressive. Individuals can't wait for the church to change. It is too slow a process. We do not all progress at the same rate and it is more an individual journey with the collective perhaps agreeing in principle on things such as the 8 points which doesn't for the most part contain dogma and doctrine which has created so much splintering in the conventional church system.

 

In progressive Christianity, it seems to me, there is no splintering because it allows each to focus on where one is at for the moment. There is not a requirement to "merging science with religion, others de-masculinizing God, still others only talk about the pluralization question ....." etc.... In short there is no requirement to hold specific beliefs which allows a great freedom for us. All, within limits of the general principles, (8 points) is allowed as part of the journey and to me that's what makes it progressive. Ultimately, collectively, i think we will all grow closer together by going on different paths that all eventually meet. Perhaps, that makes sense to you?

 

Joseph

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Steve,

 

First, let me say that I share your concerns. Many "progressives" that I know and respect are of the general opinion that Progressive Christianity is somehow breaking new ground. This not entirely true. As Whitehead put it in Process and Reality, "The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly." Owing to the limits of a single response to your concerns, I can say only this. The last wave of what I call a "progressive" worldview reached new heights in the second half of the 19th century. It died off for two reasons. First, there was the near fatal blow of WWI which was, as Jung put it, "A war of Christian nation against Christian nation." Secondly, and more subtle in its effect, is the fact that a progressive worldview is incurably (w)holistic, and thus complex. Many churches that had adopted a progressive perspective soon found themselves facing a negative reaction with the charge that "this is just too complex for the masses." Many of these churches then returned to Calvinism, etc. Will this happen again? Perhaps ... I do not know.

 

Myron

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I think there is splintering within progressive Christianity. The most recent example would be Sojourner's controversial rejection of the pro-gay ads. There seems to be different flavors of progressive Christianity which often seems to get lumped in under this umbrella label of "moderate" Christianity. You have the radical ultra-liberal Christians or what I call Christian humanism which tries to purge all supernatural elements from Christianity and places more emphasis on the teachings of Jesus as a moral philosopher. These would include progressives like Karen Armstrong and Bishop Spong. Then you have the supernatural liberals who have liberal interpretations of the bible but still believe in the supernatural and still see the bible as being divinely inspired in some way though not necessarily in the same way fundamentalists do. I would include Christians like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell and Barack Obama in this camp. Then you have what I call the New Age Christianity or what some pejoratively refer to as Oprah Winfrey religion. These would be Christians who might be more liberal than fundamentalists but they try to mix spirituality in with controversial New Age alternative medicine. I would include folks like Oprah and Deepak Chopra in this branch. Then you have the moderate evangelicals. These would be Christians who might have conservative theological beliefs and still believe in biblical inerrancy but they might have liberal political beliefs like Phillip Yancey and Tony Campolo. My stance is as long as they're following the greatest command they should be welcomed within Christianity. When Jesus was asked what he thought was the most important commandment in following God, he didn't say it was baptizing your kids in the correct way or having the right interpretation of how to worship God but it was to love your neighbor as yourself. I think its unrealistic to expect everyone to believe as exactly as you do. Even within the same congregation you're never going to find a Christian who believes exactly the same as you on everything. As long as you're not using your beliefs to hurt others, you should be welcomed in the church.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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Neon,

 

Barak Obama and Oprah Winfry are both linked to the United Church of Christ which is an offshoot of the previous progressive movement (see my prior post). President Obama has made it clear that he aligns himself with other groups that share the same values in the interest of "progress" and self identifies as a "progressive" due to his understanding of what constitutes a progressive worldview.

 

Myron

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I'm not saying they're not progressives but there are different approaches within progressive Christianity to issues like biblical inerrancy and a wide range of beliefs about the supernatural ranging from an almost atheistic approach to Christianity to Oprah's New Age/The Secret theology and I don't think we can ignore these differences just like we can't ignore the differences between all the world religions either. I think the one thing that binds all these different flavors of progressive thought together is that regardless of beliefs about the supernatural or the accuracy of the bible, these flavors of progressive Christianity all put a higher emphasis on social justice issues than they do on doctrinal issues.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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Consider how it was put in the Westminster Confession of Faith (contemporary edition):

 

Particular denominations being members of the worldwide church are more or less doctrinally pure, depending on loyalty to the gospel. Do they teach and embrace the truth? Are baptism and the Lord's Supper administered and congregational worship performed among them in a manner faithful to Scripture?

 

Even the best denominations have a mixture of truth and error. Some degenerate so severely they cease being churches of Christ and become gatherings of Satan.

 

So it seems to be a strength as far as the various denominations progress towards purity, truth, and the gospel. But a weakness if they progress away from these.

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I'm not saying they're not progressives but there are different approaches within progressive Christianity to issues like biblical inerrancy and a wide range of beliefs about the supernatural ranging from an almost atheistic approach to Christianity to Oprah's New Age/The Secret theology and I don't think we can ignore these differences just like we can't ignore the differences between all the world religions either. I think the one thing that binds all these different flavors of progressive thought together is that regardless of beliefs about the supernatural or the accuracy of the bible, these flavors of progressive Christianity all put a higher emphasis on social justice issues than they do on doctrinal issues.

 

I 100% agree with this. For good or ill (and probably both), progressive Christianity is defined in the first instance politically rather than theologically. Substantially different Christian traditions can have progressive wings.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am not sure I can put this question into words but I will try.

 

According to Phillip Gulley, there are 39,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. Each has its own emphasis. Some concentrate on the virgin birth, others speak in tongues, others ....... Even within the "Progressives we are beginning to see some splintering. Some seem to only be interested in merging science with religion, others de-masculinizing God, still others only talk about the pluralization question ......

 

My question is... Is this a problem or a strength? Should we be working to unify or is it better to have "Evolutionary Christians, Evolving Christians, Progressive Christians, Pluralistic Christians .... Or should we try and shun emphasises all together.

 

Hi Steve,

Excellent question! Personally, I see it as a problem. Your first paragraph pretty much emphasizes that. I would re-word your first sentence to read "39,000 denominations", dropping the word "Christian" because, primarily, 39,000 denominations can't all be right. Also note that the word Christian itself has a root of Christ, implying a relationship with Christ. Of the whole, there are very few denominations whose foundation is built on a relationship with Christ.

 

In its simplest terms, ALL denominations are man-made so they are flawed as Man is flawed. The word 'religion' to which these denominations align themselves with, is mentioned very few times in the Bible but most Biblical references cast a negative light on religion and all its trappings.

 

Take something as simple as the Ten Commandments. By Jesus' day, the Pharisees and Sadducees had taken the 10 commandments and had developed 600+ spiritual laws from them! No wonder Jesus called them a brood of vipers among other things. By contrast, Jesus summed the 10 commandments into two...Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and body and Love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Christianity, on the other hand, is about a relationship with Christ. I don't consider it a religion. I realize I am likely in the minority on this point, but take a look at what passes for Christianity today and tell me you don't see it treated as a religion instead of a relationship. It comes back to your first paragraph. In short, I don't even like to use the term Christian to describe a relationship with Christ. I have come to use the term "Christ Follower" as a term to separate Biblical (relationship) Christians and the general term Christian (religion).

 

Doug

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When Jesus was asked what he thought was the most important commandment in following God, it was to love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Actually, no. Here is what Jesus actually said the most important commandment is:

 

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)

 

Yes, I will agree that the second commandment is not any less important than the first, but Jesus spoke them in this order for a reason. I don't believe one can love their neighbor as themselves unless they first love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

 

Doug

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Even the best denominations have a mixture of truth and error. Some degenerate so severely they cease being churches of Christ and become gatherings of Satan.

 

The last statement of your quote could not be more true. As I have said elsewhere, ALL denominations are man-made so are necessarily flawed as Man is flawed. Most denominations would fall into the degenerate category. There are very few that work hard to follow Biblical teaching in its entirety. Not to say those few are more perfect than others, they just try not to succumb to societal or secular pressures. It is with great sadness, for instance, to see PCUSA succumb to those pressures as so many other denominations have over the last 25-30 years. There are few that hold steadfast.

 

Doug

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I think that Christian primitivism is part of the problem and is a mistaken ideal that will never be achieved. Many Christians have this assumption that if they can just get back to the basics and recreate the "original" Christian church from the first century then all our problems will miraculously be solved. The problem with this is that there is no "original" Christianity to return to and Christianity has always been divided even within the time of Jesus and unless you're a Jew with a time machine to take you back to AD 30, no Christian alive today is practicing "authentic" Christianity. What ironically ends up happening is that Christians who try to follow the bible literally end up actually moving further away from the teachings of Jesus as the bible is not a historically accurate representation of the early Christians and represent more of the later traditions of the church fathers than they do the original apostles. In the process of trying to abolish all creeds and demonationalism, the Christian primitivists end up creating their own creed of being anti-creed and this results in these Christian literalists adopting a "holier than thou" attitude where they assume they alone have returned to the "pure" true form of Christianity. This results in them acting superior to other Christians that disagree with them and all other religions which they use as a justification for persecuting groups they deem to be "heretics" and "infidels."

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It's not surprising to me that there are 39,000 variations on the theme that is Christianity. You'll get 39,000 different versions of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Shintoism. You'll get 39,000 different incarnations of Atheism or Agnosticism and 39,000 different versions of Transcendentalism.

 

Religious expression springs from ignorance and fear within each one of us. Since we all have myriad diverse influences and synaptic explosions, it is little wonder we can agree that the sky is blue. Although, right now, where I'm at; it is deep black.

 

I think it is healthy for a society to embrace all ideas and expressions - whether religious, transcendental or a-theistic.

 

However, when one group deems itself triumphant over all others, or that they are the only ones who have the path to the correct deity or correct way, or the right crystals, that's where we run into problems.

 

My thoughts?

 

They are best summed up by one of the greatest little ditties ever written by the world's most famous ideologue:

 

Imagine there's no Heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today

 

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace

 

You may say that I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will be as one

 

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

 

You may say that I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will live as one - john lennon

 

 

NORM

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