Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ships, Airplanes and Denominations

(Edited for clarity 5/19/2009, LEK)
As I was following links in various blogs the other day I ran across this interesting post on conveyance metaphors over at Father T's blog. He is commenting on this article over at Episcopal Life On Line. Father T is commenting on the author's questioning of the ship metaphor and his suggestion that we may need to change our conveyance metaphors to airplane metaphors since few people use ships as a means of travel while most do use airplanes. The questioning of metaphor is a questioning of denominational identity loyalty and the fierceness with which Christians including mainline and liberal Christians hold their opinions.

Given my conversation with the Diocese of Chicago the following observation caught my attention; "The [Pew Forum's]survey points up an interesting countertrend worth pondering. The one bright light of significant growth in the mainline group of churches is – are you sitting down? –"nondenominational.
We might summarize the trends the report identifies in a simple statement: The denominational structures that we inherited, those traditions once central to shaping our identity and sense of community, are answers to a question fewer and fewer people are asking."
While I am not found of the label "non-denominational" and we have avoided such terms as non-denominational, inter-denominational, or post-denominational in our self-definition at Reconciler in preference for the label "ecumenical". However, I have to admit that most of those who come through our doors either just for one visit or who end up staying around do really fit the label "non-denominational", and this has influenced how Reconciler has developed as a congregation. Though I was arguing something similar to the above article though it seems that the author like the Canon to the Ordinaary can't quite envision a strong Christian identity that is that is strong but not denominational and also welcoming. We the pastoral team of Reconciler have always sought in working with those who can be called post-denominational or "non-denominational" to offer a strong identity grounded in a broad ecumenical orthodoxy.

I ultimately though find the article heading in a direction I think is mistaken: seeking to find a firm distinction between form and content, through setting in opposition "church" and Gospel. The Gospel should in my opinion produce a particular form, that form may have a certain malleability, but it also can't take on any form. For the Christian faith I insist that message and medium are closely linked. The division of Christianity up into distinct groups we have come to call denominations is it self our failure to truly embody the Gospel, and is to have legitimatized what Paul criticizes the Corinthian church for doing: thinking that they were being faithful by claiming to be primarily identified with one or other of the apostles or itinerant preachers of the Church, which ends up essentially displacing our proper identity with Christ and the universal body of Christ. (1 Cor. 1:10-17) So, I do not believe that denominations need to change and hold more lightly their identities simply because the surrounding culture fails to find value in those identities. Rather, I believe change needs to happen because I see in the surrounding cultures reluctance to embrace denominational identities a true insight into the nature of the church and the Gospel, and thus a recognition that denominational-ism compromises that nature.