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Does My Denomination Matter To God?

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

“What? You are attending a Bible study in a Methodist church?” My husband expressed his surprise when I first told him that I was joining this particular Bible study. It was 10 minutes’ walk from my office, and would be held just after work hours, which worked out perfectly for me.

I am currently involved in four different churches and Christian organizations, all from different denominational backgrounds. It is no surprise that my husband might worry about me becoming theologically confused. But I am increasingly learning that God’s love is not limited to any one denomination.

My home church is a Pentecostal church under the Assemblies of God denomination. I started attending the church because of the help and support leaders and church members offered me during a period of trials I faced early in our marriage. These were the people who helped me see God in my darkest moments. This was where my theological foundations were laid, through Bible studies led by my mentor and other leaders of the church.

We are a charismatic church. It is common to hear people speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:3-5) and raising up holy hands in adoration during worship. We unabashedly sing modern worship songs. I enjoy being involved in such lively worship.

My husband’s family, however, prefers that I attend church with them. So for now, I spend more Sundays at their Anglican church than I do at my home church.

Initially this was a difficult transition. The traditional hymns and music at the Anglican church, as well as how quiet and conservative worshippers were, stuck me as rigid. I missed the livelier worship at my home church, and I quietly criticized the leaders and worshippers for their style of worship. It felt like they were just following the weekly routine of worship, and were not at all led by the Spirit.

Despite my initial misgiving, every time I attended the church, the sermons ministered to me—just like the sermons I heard back at my home church. I began to realize that despite our difference in worship styles or our approach towards spiritual gifts, we both believe in the infallible Word of God. Pastors in both churches preach sound teaching. Both churches stand firm on the Bible. And God uses both churches to speak into my heart and convict me of my sins.

Instead of judging the leaders and worshippers at the new church for not being charismatic, I realized that I should repent of being a judge myself. After all, who am I to judge someone else’s servant (Romans 14:4)? The members of my husband’s church are true believers of God. They cling to the same blessed hope and assurance that I have in Christ. The Holy Spirit who inspires the preachers and leaders of both churches is the same Spirit that works in my life.

As for that Bible study that led to my husband’s surprised reaction—it meets in a Methodist church, but is a non-denominational gathering. My group leader comes from a Presbyterian background, while friends in my small group come from different churches as well. Though we all come from different backgrounds, we are brought together by the love of Christ, as well as our longing to see more of God in our lives. I have definitely benefited from the group discussions and lectures here. Alongside these sisters in Christ, I am learning more about God’s Word and being corrected in some of my erroneous ways.

Through this Bible study, I came to know that the Methodist church conducts a midweek lunch-time service for office workers nearby. I started attending the lunch time service, which are short but traditional. I am learning that whatever denomination or style individual Christians prefer, as long as sound doctrine is preached, we can benefit.

Of course, there are certain topics that are handled differently by each church or Bible studies—such as tongues and prophecies, or whether or not infants could be baptized. But as I spent more time in each of these settings, I increasingly realized that while these issues can be important, often they are not worth getting into a debate over. After all, we all worship the same God. And despite minor differences in church tradition and teachings, we preach the same gospel and share the common goal of glorifying God.

Therefore, it would be wrong for me to judge other denominations for their worship style or minor doctrinal differences. Judging other Christians and churches causes division and is not pleasing to God. Who am I to judge faithful and God-fearing servants whom God is well-pleased with?

Speaking in tongues, singing worship songs, and raising hands does not make me better than any other Christian. God looks at our hearts, and by this measure, I have fallen. I had carelessly allowed pride to creep into me instead of walking carefully in the ways of the Lord. Even if I speak in tongues, I would just be a resounding gong or clanging chamber. I would be nothing if I do not show love (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

Instead of focusing on the differences which may cause disputes or stumbling, the Bible commands that we are to love God first with all that we are, and secondly to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). We can show love by offering encouragement or helping a fellow Christian friend in need—whatever their church background. My Bible study leader, for example, once called me out when I was feeling down and spoke words of encouragement to me. She reminded me of God’s love and truth, and in this way she lifted my spirit.

Having experienced several different denominations, I realize that our common love for God and longing for Him unites us as one body of Christ—as the bride of Christ—with the common goal of waiting for His coming and our entry to our common heavenly home (Ephesians 5:25-27). As we wait, we must stay alert and vigilant as one common body of Christ by fixing our sight on Jesus, sharing our common love for Christ with one another, and watching to see how Christ works in our individual lives despite our backgrounds. How beautiful is God’s love and hope! It knows no boundaries.

4 Things To Consider Before Leaving Your Church

Written By Tay Boon Jin

Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

I was a young Christian when I witnessed my first church split. There was an exodus of members from the congregation I worshipped with. I had no clue how to make sense of what was happening. I don’t really remember who was in the right or the wrong; I simply remember the sadness that lingered when brothers and sisters in Christ part ways under unpleasant circumstances.

Some years later, I faced the prospect of leaving the very same congregation. It was a tough decision. By then I had grown to know some of the brothers and sisters well, and had become co-workers with them in ministry. Now I felt not only sadness, but also the pain of parting and the hurt of misunderstanding.

I have since joined a new congregation. Here also, brothers and sisters in Christ come and go from our midst for various reasons, and I would be lying if I said I have never thought about leaving this church too. But God has been teaching me to grow in love for the community He has placed me in. Loving people is a very difficult thing. Yet though I am difficult to love, my friends in this church have shown me much grace.

As I look back on each time someone leaves a congregation, I thank God for lessons learned. Some, I rejoice with them as the Lord beckons them to places where their presence with us would be impossible, and some, I continue to pray that God may see them well-placed in another community. Whether we are watching someone leave or leaving ourselves, I pray that the following pointers may help us continue to witness to the Lord’s headship over us—we who are the body of Christ.

 

1. Are you honoring Christ as head of the church?

Passages like Colossians 1 and Ephesians 2 clearly speak to Christ’s headship over the church. Some argue that when a Christian leaves a local congregation, he still remains a part of the body of Christ. Of course the body of Christ is greater than just the local church! But just as Christ is the head of the universal church, so is He the head of each local congregation.

When issues arise in a church, we often decide whether to leave or stay based on our emotions. I urge that we not be hasty, but carefully consider whether our response honors Christ’s headship. And this is not just about whether we stay or leave, but how do we respond to the initial issue that sparked such a question? Are we complaining loudly and adding to the division in the church? Or are we building up the body of Christ?

 

2. Are you living out the new commandment?

Speaking to a group of followers who did not always get along, Jesus commanded them to love one another (John 13:34-35). And He explained why: that the world may know that we are Jesus’ disciples.

We were commanded to love. The command still stands even when we are the hurting party, or when we are bystanders watching the drama unfold. As difficult as it can be, we need to put aside our hurts and grievances so that we can act according to this love. Are we praying for the other party? Are we coming together (even though we might disagree on different issues) to pray for one another—for the grace of God to be shown in these circumstances?

Whether we choose to leave or stay, whether to bless another’s departure or retain them, we need to consider if we are acting in love. Loving others will be difficult and draining, but that is what Jesus commanded.

 

3. Are you seeking the unity of the Spirit?

Sometimes when we fight over who is in the right, we become hostile to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scriptures urges us otherwise:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

In hostility, there is only pride, retaliation, and impatience. These are hardly ingredients for the unity of the Spirit. Even when justifying to third parties or questioning the reasons for someone’s departure, we often seek subtly to undermine the people involved. Wisdom can hardly do its work to help us make good decisions when we indulge our resentful spirits.

In making such difficult decisions, we need to pray that the Lord will guard our minds and hearts. Do we seek mediation from people who may see the issues more clearly than we do? Do we adopt an attitude of humility in seeking counsel from wise members of the church, or do we merely want an affirmation of our decision?

 

4. Are you actively building up the church?

Sometimes people leave a particular church because they feel like they are not experiencing spiritual growth, or that the preaching is not solid enough. This can be a subjective judgement. Spiritual growth is inevitable, since the Spirit is given to every believer. So perhaps our expectations need to be re-considered. Perhaps our over-reliance on a Sunday sermon is the problem. Spiritual growth should be an everyday experience!

Some of us might be spiritually mature, and find the current church lacking in the same maturity. If so, we have a responsibility to build up the body of Christ. We may have to find different resources to bring the Word to people around us so that they may grow too. If mature believers leave a congregation which lacks growth, then we leave behind a group of brothers and sisters poorer in their understanding of the Word of God. Good sermons and even good online theological courses are now prolific; as others build us up, let’s pray that God may use us to build others up.

Another common reason people give for leaving is that the church is “cold”. The thing is, relationships take time to grow. When I first stepped into the current church that I worship with, I felt out of place for a couple of years. If anyone had asked me to describe my church in a word, I would have said “cold”. However, I knew that my lack of effort in getting to know people played a large part in it.

I was serving in the youth group and spent all my time and energy with the youth. As years went by, I learned to broaden my circle of meaningful interaction by attending church prayer meetings or finding other ways of meeting people. And now I would describe the very same group of people as genuinely concerned for God’s work and His people. If anyone is contemplating leaving their church because it is cold, I would really ask you to consider not leaving, but being more involved!

 

We are not simply bound socially because we come to “do” something together every Sunday. We are all mysteriously bound—in love and peace—by God’s redeeming work. I cannot explain the sadness and pain experienced when people leave the congregation.

When we were redeemed by Christ, God called us His children and made us family! When there is love and peace among us, we reflect the very character of our Father, who demonstrated His great love in sending Christ and reconciled hostile sinners to Himself. We must then ask, do we respond to one another as a family member would?

Paul writes, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). So whether we choose to leave or to stay, let us bear witness to the love and peace Christ bought for us with His precious blood.

You are NOT a label

11 individuals. 7 countries. 1 message. It’s time we drop the labels and focus on what unites us.

Why Christians Should Not Be Afraid to Talk About Politics

Have you ever gotten into a political discussion at church? It’s not always the most comfortable topic.

“So what are you doing after church this afternoon?”

“Um. . . Going to the protest march.”

Awkward pause. “Oh. It’s so much noise and disruption. I’m not sure what the point is.”

That could be one of the more civil exchanges. Many Christians are reluctant to voice their political views among their brothers and sisters. And how often have we heard the advice to not talk politics around the dinner table?

While I have never been afraid to voice my political views, in recent years I am learning what it means to speak as a Christian. We as followers of Christ owe allegiance to no political party or power, and because of our neutrality, humility, and love, I think we have an important perspective on politics the world needs to hear.

 

1. We have a unique perspective

When entering political conversations, the first thing to remember is that we are Christians. We are not merely followers of one or another flawed human party. When lines are drawn in the sand dividing some people from others (liberal/conservative, pro-establishment/pro-democracy, etc.), these lines simply do not, and must not, apply to us.

When we offer our opinion on politics, the first and foremost opinions we have should come from the Bible. We as Christians are law-abiding citizens and submit to earthly authority (Romans 13:1-7). But we also boldly defend the dignity of the widow and orphan, and any others who are marginalized by the world (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Both of these views can be uncomfortable. On the one hand, we do not always want to submit to earthly authorities. I’ve known of missionary families who refuse to pay taxes to authoritarian governments. “Why should I help their persecution?” they ask, forgetting that Christ Himself told the Jews to “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21).

On the other hand, defending the weak often comes with a price. For example, Christians who speak out against forced abortions may face harassment from the community.

But when we remember that our loyalty is not to political parties or systems—but to a coming King—we can speak out lovingly, humbly, and boldly. Such a combination is uncommon in our current political landscapes, and is more likely to encourage meaningful, constructive conversation than our often superficial views. Perhaps through those conversations, our unbelieving friends might see that we hold dear something that is not swayed by political trends, and might be inspired to reconsider their own understanding of politics.

 

2. We are united in Christ

While we agree on submission to authority and defending the weak, Christians may  disagree on how specifically to carry this out. I have dear brothers and sisters with whom I disagree vehemently when it comes time to vote. We disagree on whether or not there is anything worth protesting about and whether or not a march is a reasonable way of doing so. We disagree about the extent of authority a government should have.

So, why bother even talking about politics?

Because we know that such differences are superficial, but important. Speaking of spiritual gifts, Paul reminds the church in Corinth that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are united in Christ, but we each have different strengths and weaknesses, and different preferences. That’s a good thing. Our flawed but individual attempts to live out Christ’s teaching make for the beautiful mosaic we call the Church.

My friends Steve and John* are both sincerely seeking to live out the teachings in the Bible to the best of their abilities. However, though they have the same foundation in the Bible, they work out the political implications very differently. In effect, they support completely opposing candidates and policies.

In the early days of their friendship, they had many heated discussions and minimal respect for one another when it came to politics. But as their friendship grew, they did not ignore the differences, but learned to lovingly and humbly challenge each other’s choices, and point each other back to the Bible.

As much as Steve disagrees with John’s politics, he has learned to trust that John is actively seeking to please God. Because of that, Steve does not tire of trying to understand how John’s favored politics (which seem so un-Biblical sometimes) connect to John’s love of God. And John patiently does likewise for Steve. They ask each other questions as they seek to understand opposing viewpoints, such as, “Why do you think this?”, “Have you considered. . . ?”, “I don’t entirely follow the connection between your points.”

By recognizing their unity in Christ, Steve and John often come to a better understanding and respect of each other’s choices, even though they still disagree. And sometimes, they even come to agreement on unexpected issues.

Even though we disagree with brothers and sisters on specific issues, when we recognize our unity in Christ, we can challenge one another to love God more deeply and love man better.

 

3. We know who is king

Ultimately, we are not afraid to speak out politically because the Bible is political.

I’ve been reading Isaiah recently, and Isaiah gets really specific about the coming judgment of various nations and their wrongs. But each of these prophecies also point to a time where a king will reign on Zion and bring peace and prospering to all nations (Isaiah 25:6, for example).

A king is an inherently political title, and in claiming this title, God promises that He will return and right the wrongs of our broken political systems.

Clearly, the time where all nations kneel before God and recognize His authority has not come yet. But we as Christians live in hope of that day. We know that the evils our rulers perpetrate are, ultimately, temporary. We know that Christ the King is coming back, and when He does, He will bring a sword of judgment and right all wrongs (Revelation 19:15).

When we discuss politics with other people, perhaps the one thing we can all agree on is how imperfect and broken politics is, and how little faith we have in our politicians. Different people propose different solutions, but let’s be honest, have we ever seen a political system work the way it should?

When commiserating about current politics, perhaps we can offer the hope Christ has extended to us. That one day, the Perfect King will come and rule the earth in a perfect manner.

In submitting to imperfect human rulers and speaking out against the injustices they commit, we look forward anxiously to that day. We live in anticipation of the time when God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

And ultimately, when we discuss politics as Christians, we share the very real hope we have in Christ.

“Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)

 

*Not their real names.