When I Had No Church-Part Three: Trying Other Denominations
I'm a firm believer that you won't truly understand something unless you take the time to become involved in whatever that "something" is doing. I see the error of not doing this a lot in our contemporary Christian culture. Unfortunately, a lot of division takes place that really shouldn't. I used to look at denominations in this light. That is, until I went out and experienced a few of them.
If you've read just about any of my other blog posts, you may know that I spent many years involved in the Word of Faith movement. What you may not know is that I was raised in a small United Methodist church. My mom and I used to attend every Sunday until I stopped going at about age 16.
For many years, I resented this aspect of my upbringing. Word of Faith churches tend to tout themselves as being more anointed than other churches; specifically those who don't believe in a separate infilling of the Holy Spirit with proof of speaking in tongues. They take a lot of pride in being charismatic and "on fire for Jesus" and mock churches like the one I grew up in. When talking about my old church, I would call it things like "dry" or "lukewarm" because of it's lack of excitement, lack of attendance, lack of, well, anything we did better than them.
Obviously, my perspective on the Word of Faith doctrine has changed dramatically. The main reason I blog the way I do about my journey is because I've been a part of something that I am convinced is false teaching. The pharisaical viewpoints I once held about some of these denominations that I used to curse couldn't have been further from the truth. This fact hasn't been any clearer than it is now that I've actually attended a number of different denominations in recent years.
Take the assemblies of god church I attended for 4 months, for example. It was a very well known church in the area with a good reputation. They believed in things like prophecy and speaking in tongues, but they never allowed those things to occur outside of the biblical context of 1 Corinthians 14:26. The worship services were more charismatic than many of the other denominations I attended, but it was always done in a intimate and respectful way.
Seemingly polar opposites from that church, was the southern baptist church that we attended for a couple months. They taught that spiritual gifts like praying in tongues had ceased with the Apostles. I may have not seen a whole lot of charisma during the worship service there, but I did see a whole lot of charisma in the way they treated one another. It remains quite obvious to me that biblical teaching on loving God and loving others was not lacking in that environment... and that is something that you can't have enough of.
Then there was the acts 29 church plant that gave me a great deal of hope for the future of the American church. I'd estimate that about 80% of the members were college-aged singles and young families. I don't think I've ever witnessed such a tremendous thirst for biblical knowledge and action. Even though we chose not to make this church our home after nine months of attending there, we value this experience so much because of the teaching we received and the lifelong friendships we made.
When we arrived there, they were in the middle of a teaching on the Book of Acts that would end up lasting a few more months. For those of you who are unfamiliar with expository teaching, I can't stress enough how vital it is in our churches. In a time where so many things in the Bible can be pulled out of context, going through the Bible verse by verse in our sermons would avoid so many problems.
We also attended a evangelical presbyterian church for about 4 or 5 months which we also grew to love for a number of reasons. These folks really understood youth ministry and missions. It was the lifeblood of the body and seemed to drive everything they did. This was also an environment where I learned the difference between "closed-hand" issues and "open-hand" issues.
For example, some of us may be interpreting scripture to say one thing about something while another may be interpreting it a slightly different way. In the vast majority of cases, our love walk with those people we are in disagreement with trumps whatever “thing” it is that we fail to agree upon. When I began looking at tolerance through this lens, it inspired me to search the Bible for those things that were "closed-handed," or non-negotiable. I will tell you that, so far, I haven't found a whole heck of a lot of them.
Finally, we come to our new church home. As I write this blog post, I realize that it is a really even mixture of all of the things I grew to appreciate about the other churches we attended. It's funny because people began inviting us to this church almost as soon as we had begun to transition out of our former Word of Faith church. I let a little thing like location keep me from going there. It is downtown. It's incredibly hard to imagine where someone might find a parking spot. It's so far from ideal in so many ways, until you actually visit there, that is...
You know what else is really awesome about this? I honestly don't think I would have appreciated our new church if we had just visited there right away. By attending all of these other churches, we were able to make an informed decision about where our family would end up beginning the next chapter of our church life. It's not only given me tremendous hope for the future, but a greater respect for God. After all, He knew the journey our family needed to take before we did.