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Christian Living

Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity

Shun Division, Disunity, and Denominations in the Name of Jesus

Just as church member status divides the church body into two groups, so does our doctrine. Instead of obeying Jesus’s instruction to love God and love others, we make a lengthy list of what we should do and shouldn’t do.

We judge others according to our opinions of what’s proper and what’s not. This legalistic approach follows what the Old Testament set in motion with its 613 instructions in the Law of Moses, of things to do and not do.

Compounding the problem, God’s children in the Old Testament added tens of thousands of manmade rules, which evolved over the centuries, to help interpret the original 613 expectations he gave to Moses.

Jesus Says to Love God and Love Others

Jesus says that his yoke is easy in his burden is light. This means his doctrine is simple to follow and effortless to bear (Matthew 11:30).

To confirm this, Jesus simplifies all these Old Testament commands and man-made traditions when he says we are to love God and love others (Luke 10:27).

Yes, Jesus’s essential expectation is love.

To accomplish these two instructions to love God and love others, we can best do so through Jesus. We should follow him (Matthew 4:19 and Luke 14:27), believe in him (John 6:35), and be his disciple (John 8:31 and John 15:8).

These are all ways of saying we need to go all in for Jesus. That’s it.

That’s our essential doctrine. Everything else is secondary. Beyond Jesus and love, we shouldn’t argue about the rest. We are to be one church, just as Jesus prayed we would (John 17:20–21).

Denominational Division

Yet in the last 500 years we’ve argued about doctrine, we’ve judged others by our religious perspectives, and we’ve killed people for their beliefs. We deemed that our view was right and everyone else was wrong. We used this to divide ourselves.

We formed groups of like-minded thinkers, which became denominations.

Today we have 42,000 Protestant denominations, dividing Jesus’s church so much that we’ve lost our witness to the world. Jesus wanted his followers to live in unity.

Yet we persist in division. Our denominations that we made are the antithesis of God’s unity that Jesus wants (Ephesians 4:3–6).

Yes, division occurred in the prior 1,500 years—the first millennia and a half of Jesus’s church—but that was nothing like what’s happened in the last five centuries during the modern era.

Paul says that we are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. In our relationships we should have Jesus’s mindset (Philippians 2:1–5).

To Titus, Paul writes to warn a divisive person one time, and give a second notice if they disregard the first. Then the only recourse is to ignore them (Titus 3:10–11).

Jude also warns against division. Instead of taking sides, he tells us to rise above it by focusing on growing our faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and abiding in God’s love (Jude 1:18–23).

As followers of Jesus, we must pursue unity in him and oppose every instance of division—regardless of the source.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change is a discussion about making disciples.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

How Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?

Knowing Jesus and Hearing the Holy Spirit Is Better Than Formal Education

Most all churches expect their clergy to have undergone formal, academic education. Many insist on a seminary degree, especially for their ordained ministers. From a worldly standpoint this makes sense. But from God’s perspective I can imagine him laughing.

Look at the credentials of Jesus’s twelve disciples. They were ordinary people, having received no higher education beyond that which all Hebrew children underwent. They had a relationship with Jesus. Their one essential qualification is that they spent time with Jesus.

Don’t miss that. Their one essential qualification is that they spent time with Jesus.

Though today’s leaders can’t spend physical time with Jesus, they can in the spiritual sense. They should. They must. Walking with Jesus in an intimate way and having his Holy Spirit lead them—just like in the Bible—is what we most need from our church leaders today.

If they don’t have a close relationship with Jesus, nothing else matters. Their credentials accomplish nothing.

A Personal Relationship with Jesus

Instead of emphasizing a personal relationship with Jesus, today’s seminaries focus on an academic deep dive into the Bible. This in-depth training ensures that graduates overflow with a substantial theological foundation, of which most church members care little about.

One common argument made in favor of seminary is that it’s a necessary protection against heresy. Yet, most all major heresies in the past two thousand years have come from trained clergy.

In truth, seminary best prepares graduates to teach other seminary students. But it falls short in equipping its students to provide the type of ministry functions that people at churches want.

Even worse, I fear formal religious education downplays having a relationship with Jesus and following the Holy Spirit, making these traits secondary in importance.

We need to select our clergy based on their godly character and not their seminary diploma. We must reorder our priorities away from man-made credentials and toward godly character.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about Sunday school.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

7 Things Church Is Not

We Must Correct Some Wrong Perspectives about Our Religious Practices

We’ve looked at how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament to provide a new way for us and our churches to function, replacing the temple, paid clergy, and tithes. Then we explored ten New Testament practices and five New Testament examples to inform our church behavior.

Yet today’s church has characteristics that come from our culture and have no scriptural basis. We need to identify these unbiblical practices and remove them from our perspectives—and our churches. We need to pursue what Jesus wants.

1. Church Is Not About Membership

Membership in a business promotion or club implies privilege. There are qualification requirements to meet. Often there is a fee. Because not everyone can meet these barriers to entry, membership becomes a status symbol.

It separates those who are in from those who are out.

Church does the same thing when it touts membership. To become a church member, there are hoops to jump through: attend classes, agree to certain teachings, follow specific rules, or commit to give money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we become a member, the church accepts us as one of its own. They fully embrace us, and we become one of them. We are elite, and, even if we won’t admit it, we swell with pride over our special status. Now the church and her paid staff will care for us.

To everyone else, they offer tolerance but withhold full acceptance. After all, church membership has its privileges.

There’s one problem.

Church membership is not biblical. We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else. It pushes away spiritual seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and holding the other at a distance.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest. (More on this in the next section.)

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wants to function as one (John 17:21). Jesus accepts and loves everyone, not just those who follow him or give money.

Paul never gives instructions about church membership, Peter never commands we join a church, and John never holds a new membership class.

2. Church Is Not for Consumers

When we join a church by becoming a member, we expect something in return. In addition to acceptance, we seek benefits. That’s why we go church shopping, striving to find the church that offers us the most.

We look for the best preaching, the most exciting worship, and the widest array of programs to meet our needs.

This is consumerism—and it doesn’t belong in the church.

When people feel free to leave a church, often over the smallest of slights, they view themselves as a customer shopping for the church that offers the most value. This is a consumer mindset, not a godly perspective.

We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Instead we should look for a faith community we can help.

When people go church shopping, the church becomes a service provider. Which church offers the best services? Then the focus shifts to programs, service styles, and preaching power.

Instead of asking, “What can the church do for me?” the better question becomes “What can I do for the church?” Don’t seek to be served but to serve. (See Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45.)

This idea of receiving services influences our church selection process. Seldom do people look for a church that gives them the opportunity to serve. Instead they seek a church for the benefits it provides: the music, the message, and the ministries.

They’re church shoppers, pursuing church selection with a consumer mindset.

The result is a retail religion. These people shop for a church the same way they buy a car or look for a gym. They make a list—either literally or figuratively—of the things their new car, gym, or church must have.

Then they draft their wish list of what they hope their new car, gym, or church could have. And then they create a final list of deal breakers, detailing the things their new car, gym, or church can’t have.

Then they go shopping.

They tick off items on their list. With intention they test drive cars, check out gyms, or visit churches. In each case, they immediately reject some and consider others as possibilities.

Eventually they grow tired of shopping and make their selection from the top contenders, seeking a solution that provides them with the most value.

A better, and more God-honoring approach, is to seek a church community that provides opportunities for us to serve. We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it, that is, for the people who go there and the community surrounding it.

We should look for a church that provides opportunities for us to serve, according to how God has wired us, ways that make us come alive. This includes service within the church and to those people outside the church.

Service is not an isolated activity. As we serve, we do so as a group. Church service and community matter more than church programs and benefits.

3. Church Is Not about Division

We’ve talked about how church membership divides people. Some carry the special status of members, while others are relegated to second-class status as attendees. Membership segregates people into two groups. This divides Jesus’s church, the body of Christ.

Sadly, there are nuances within membership too.

There are those who serve on boards and committees and those who don’t function in a leadership capacity. There are those who teach classes and those who don’t. There are those who volunteer and those who don’t.

Each distinguishing characteristic elevates some and devalues others.

We also divide by race, ethnicity, and social economic status. More God-dishonoring segregation. Shame on us.

4. Church is Not About Theology

Another way we promote division is through our theology. Yes, theology divides us.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. But the modern idea of finding the right theology piles layers on top of this basic understanding, and the subject gets murky.

The result is too many multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend.

Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

As people pursue theology, they amass information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity. They gather knowledge at the risk of pushing the Almighty away.

This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

The pursuit of theological learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Instead we take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church. We cite certain beliefs as immutable. We fellowship with those who agree with us and disassociate from those who disagree. We dishonor Jesus in the process and serve as a poor witness as a result.

5. Church Is Not for Networking

Some people become part of a church to make marketing contacts or achieve status as a member of a high-profile congregation. Their goal in attending isn’t spiritual. It’s business. It’s closing sales.

Once they’ve sold all they can to those who attend that church, they move on to another one. For them attending church is a business strategy, and God takes a backseat.

6. Church Is Not a Business

A church is not a business, and we shouldn’t run it like one either. Many churches today, however, think like a business and operate like one. A church should not have a profit motive, that is, maximizing donations.

Nor should a church adapt current business world concepts such as having a CEO, a board, marketing strategies, customer experience, and incentive programs.

Yes, a church should be fiscally responsible and manage its money—God’s money— with the highest integrity. And a church needs some degree of leadership, but remember Jesus modeled the idea of servant leadership (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45). So should today’s church leaders.

And we shouldn’t track the achievements of our church the same way a business would.

Today’s church measures success by attendance, offerings, and facility size. This is because the world values increased scope: the number of people, amount of money, and square footage of a building.

We’re more like the world than we care to admit. More people showing up for church each week is good. A larger campus impresses. Bigger offerings allow for more of the same. Churches with a sizeable attendance or grand edifice garner attention.

They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals. This is how the Western world defines success.

The church buys into it without hesitation. These measures of success become the focus. But this focus is off, even looking in the wrong direction.

The triple aim of most churches—attendance, offerings, and facility—doesn’t matter as much as most people think.

Said more bluntly, most church leaders today focus on the three B’s: butts (in the chair), bucks (in the offering), and buildings.

I doubt God cares about the size of our audience, offerings, or facility. Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?

Changed Lives: First, Jesus wants changed lives. He yearns for us to repent (Luke 13:3) and follow him (Luke 9:23). Then we can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing the way we live.

Community: Next, Jesus wants to build a community—to be one—just as he and Papa are one (John 17:21). He wants us to be part of the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Instead we have become a church.

Commitment: Last, Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who will go all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26).

We need to maintain our focus on Jesus and not look back to what we left behind (Luke 9:62). That’s commitment, and that’s what Jesus wants.

If Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment, so should we. Let’s push aside butts, bucks, and buildings, because these things get in the way of what Jesus wants for his followers.

7. Church Is Not an Institution

Most churches—and especially denominations—become institutions over time. As institutions they seek to perpetuate themselves regardless of the circumstances. In their struggle for survival, they lose sight of why they existed in the first place.

Instead of seeking to serve their community and share salvation through Jesus, their focus grows inward. Their priority is on self-preservation at all costs.

People expect a church—their church—will last forever. They forget that a church, which comprises people, is a living, breathing, and changing entity. It’s organic. That means a church is born, grows, thrives, and dies—just like the people who are in it.

The only way to avoid this is for a church to become an institution, but once it does it loses its original purpose. It’s no longer alive. It’s dead and can do little to advance the kingdom of God.

Church shouldn’t be a business, institution, or club. We must rescind membership, stop thinking like consumers, and start pursuing unity over segregation.

Finally, we need to stop dividing ourselves by our theology. Jesus has one church. We must start acting like it.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

3 Religious Terms I Struggle With

Exploring Doctrine, Theology, and Systematic Theology

There are three religious terms I don’t care for. Hearing or reading about them has a negative impact on me. These words are doctrine, theology, and systematic theology. I don’t like them because they take the awesome mystery of God and try to provide structure to something that transcends human organization.

Let’s consider these three terms and what place they might have in our faith journey.

Doctrine

The first religious term I don’t care for is doctrine. Doctrine is a principle or group of principles presented as a body of belief in a religious context. Other words to describe doctrine include creed, canon, and tenet. A fourth word is dogma, which is the root word for dogmatic.

Dogmatic means insisting unexamined ideas coming often from a position of arrogance.

When I read about Christian doctrine, it’s too often presented with dogmatic fervor. This may be a huge reason why the discussion of doctrine so turns me off.

Yet we all form and adhere to various religious doctrines. Some of these have a sound biblical foundation. But many do not.

We learn much of our doctrinal positions through the teaching of ministers. Often these pronouncements support tradition and align with current societal norms more so than being based on Scripture.

I fear, however, that we simply make up too many of our doctrine ideas because they feel right to us. Or because we want them to be true. Or since they allow us to avoid uncomfortable confrontations with biblical truth.

May we base all our doctrinal perspectives on what the Bible says.

Theology

The second religious term I prefer to avoid is theology. For Christians, at a base level, theology is a study of God. In this respect, I love theology. Yet my study of God has the sole purpose of helping me draw closer to him.

It’s a futile attempt to study God for the sake of amassing knowledge about him or to comprehend him from an intellectual standpoint. It’s arrogant to pursue theology if that’s our goal.

Bearing fruit is more important than having a right theology.

God far surpasses are human comprehension. We’ll never understand him in an academic way, at least not with any significant result—or producing any positive eternal outcome.

We cannot organize God, but that doesn’t keep people from trying. This brings us to our third religious term.

Systematic Theology

Systematic theology is a subset of theology. In the Christian sense, systematic theology seeks to condense our understanding of God and our faith in him into a series of interconnected thoughts that constitute a comprehensive and organized treatise. In a way, we can view a systematic theology is an interconnected set of doctrines.

The God who is revealed in the Bible transcends our ability to organize him and force him into a system of our own making. To attempt to do so diminishes him and elevates us to unwarranted levels.

Yes, most people have a systematic theology. Many were taught it and accept what they were taught. Others arrived at their systematic theology with intentionality.

I resist the urge to force the all-mighty, all-knowing, and all-present God who is revealed in the Bible into a system of my own making. It’s simply not possible.

Instead, my desire is to follow Jesus the best I can as I let the Holy Spirit bring me into a closer relationship with Father God. Toward that end, doctrine, theology, and systematic theology don’t matter so much and only get in the way.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Why I Don’t Do Doctrine

We Can’t Force the Beauty and Mystery of God into a Neat Little Box

Just as I bristle over the word theology, I also don’t like the word doctrine. Though the two words mean different things, in my mind they have the same effect:

They both turn the beauty of God into an intellectual construct, but the mystery of God avoids our structural confines. That’s why I don’t do doctrine—at least not in the traditional sense.

Doctrine Defines

As long as religion exists, we’ll have doctrines to explain it. In this respect, Christianity is no different. At a basic level, we need some minimal doctrine to understand the basis of faith. Arguably everything written about God is to some extent a doctrine of sorts.

One might argue that this post is a doctrine about doctrine.

Go online and do a search for “the doctrine of” followed by any letter in the alphabet. You’ll discover many doctrines. Some are common ones you’ve heard of, while others are esoteric.

Start with the letter a, and work your way through w. (There aren’t many Christian doctrinal results for the letters x, y, and z.) As you do, you’ll note that doctrine doesn’t just apply to Christianity. There are doctrines about other religions, philosophy, and about any other school of thought.

Yet this desire to define carries with it inherent problems. Read on to learn more.

Doctrine Isn’t Absolute

The modern era brought in the idea that through reason people could converge on a singular understanding. That didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite occurred, with our ideas diverging.

In addition, in today’s mindset that elevates individualism, anyone can develop their own doctrine on anything. This includes our understanding of God and how we relate to him.

As a result, there isn’t one doctrine about any one topic. Instead, there are multiple versions on everything. And they’re often in conflict with one another.

Doctrine Divides

As a result, our doctrine doesn’t unify us. Instead, it divides us. Even a local church body, with a stated doctrinal stance, will fail to get full acceptance from all their members, let alone all who attend.

Things get even more polarized when comparing one local church to another or two denominations with each other. And views diverge greatly when looking at the different streams of Christianity.

That’s why it’s critical for us to accept Christians who believe differently than we do.

Just as I wrote that our theology produces labels, judgment, and division, so too do our doctrines

Faith Essentials

To minimize the problems caused by doctrines, some enlightened Christian leaders have proposed that we focus on the essentials of faith that are non-negotiable. Then we should hold everything else loosely.

I’ve written about three essential aspects of Christianity. Then I even boiled it down to one essential: Jesus.

Nothing else matters—not really.

If we keep ourselves focused on Jesus, other things don’t so much matter. And that’s why I don’t do doctrine.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Are Our Beliefs Flawless or Flawed?

If We Claim to Know the Truth, That Implies Every Other Perspective Is Wrong

The book of Job is mostly dialogue between Job and his four “friends,” with God having the final word—as he should. The words of Job’s four friends aren’t much help.

At one point in Zophar’s monologue he claims that Job said his beliefs are flawless and he is pure before God. No one stands pure before God, just as no one is flawless in what they believe.

However, today many people carry this same assumption about themselves: that their beliefs are flawless. Yes, we must seek truth in our pursuit of God, but we must hold it loosely. After all, we might be wrong.

Unfortunately, not many people see it this way. They see their viewpoints as unassailable and without fault. This implies that all other perspectives are in error. These other people are, therefore, wrong in what they believe.

When it comes to matters of faith, it seems no one stands in complete agreement with anyone else. Though some may hold views closely aligned with what others say, 100 percent harmony doesn’t happen. Or if it does, it doesn’t last long. Inevitably differences of opinion will occur.

That’s a huge factor as to why we have 43,000 denominations in our world today. When people disagree, they draw lines. They push away those with different beliefs, even those with slightly different views.

Our Beliefs are Flawed

Yet no one’s beliefs are flawless, and that includes our own.

Instead of arrogantly assuming our beliefs are faultless, we should instead adopt the humble viewpoint that our beliefs are flawed: mine, yours, everyone’s. It’s as if we’re seeing through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What we know now, what we think we know now, we see in part. And for now, that needs to be enough. Later, we’ll see in full, but that won’t occur while we’re on this planet. It will happen later.

For now we must humbly accept the reality that our theology is incomplete, that no matter how sincere, our beliefs are flawed.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Job 9-12, and today’s post is on Job 11:4.]

Discover more about Job in Peter’s book I Hope in Him: 40 Insights about Moving from Despair to Deliverance through the Life of Job. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Job’s Conclusion

A common lament of Job throughout the story bearing his name is his begging God to answer his pleas. However, it seems that Job (and his friends) are too busy talking to give God a chance. When God does respond, Job’s friends are rebuffed, and Job’s righteousness is affirmed.

Now we can read Job’s conclusion to the entire matter.

Job’s brief reply to God’s discourse is humble and contrite. After acknowledging God’s complete knowledge (omniscience) and total power (omnipotence), Job unabashedly admits:

“I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” This is Job’s conclusion to his ordeal. May we follow his example.

With all of our knowledge and assumed understanding of God and his ways, I think that Job’s words are more often an appropriate and accurate posture then for us to assuredly spout our religious opinions (theology) as if they were fact.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Job 40-42, and today’s post is on Job 42:3.]

Discover more about Job in Peter’s book I Hope in Him: 40 Insights about Moving from Despair to Deliverance through the Life of Job. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Do You Worship Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

Which Part of the Trinity Most Receives Your Attention?

The Bible talks about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We intellectually know that these three parts of the Trinity exist, but what is the reality of our spiritual practice? Most Christians prefer one part of the godhead over the other. They make that facet of God their primary focus, while diminishing or even forgetting the other two.

Churches, too, tend to emphasize one part—Father, Son, or Holy Spirit—in their religious practices. I’ve gone to all three types of churches, have friends in all three, and understand all three.

In what follows, I’ll speak in generalities; that means there are exceptions. If one part of my summary offends you, ask yourself if I may have hit too close to home.

In our discussion of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, I outline three considerations:

Father God

The first group of Christians focus their faith on Father God. They worship him and serve him. He is the reason for their existence—intellectually so—and the center of their worship—albeit more stoic in nature. Though he is their Heavenly Father, they are more apt to refer to him as God than as Father. He also tends to be a more distant deity in their faith practice and daily living.

Jesus is a secondary part of their faith. They revere him as a good man, a wise teacher, and a worthy example. Mentally they acknowledge him as Savior, but it doesn’t often go beyond that. And they give the Holy Spirit minimal attention, treating him like an eccentric relative that they know exists but try to ignore.

Jesus, the Son

Another group of Christians celebrate Jesus as the center of their faith. Having a personal relationship with him—according to their specific theological constructs—is the only thing that matters. Once they’ve done that, their card is punched, and they’re going to heaven, where they’ll spend eternity with him. Oh, and Father God will be there too.

The Heavenly Father is part of their faith, But in practice and in thought, he’s often secondary to Jesus. They forget that Jesus is the way, not the destination. They acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit but have scaled back their acceptance of his work from what the Bible proclaims to what better aligns with their own practices and experiences today.

Holy Spirit

The third group of Christians put the work and power of the Holy Spirit in the center of their faith and daily practices. It starts with a relationship with Jesus and culminates with the infilling power of the Holy Spirit in their lives—often proved by speaking in tongues. Once a rigid expectation, speaking in tongues is now more a preferred—but not required—outcome for most practices.

Though Jesus and the Father are part of their faith, the extreme emphasis on the Holy Spirit tends to diminish them in the process.

A Holistic Perspective

Though you might insist on some exceptions, you likely identify with one of these three camps over the other two. But before you affirm your perspective as right and the other two as wrong, let me suggest that despite the good aspects of each group, none are correct.

It is not an issue of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, but a holistic call to equally embrace all three in our theology, worship, and service.

It should be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May we move forward to evenly embrace all three.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Don’t Let Our Labels Divide Us

May We Be One in Jesus and Ignore What Could Separate Us

We live in a divisive time, with one group opposing another, often in the most zealous of ways, sometimes even with violent outcomes. As a society, we’re quick to put people in a box and label them according to some aspect of their life.

Though these labels are sometimes convenient, and at times even appropriate, more often they divide us and cause unnecessary conflict and needless opposition.

These divisions, however, don’t just appear in secular spaces. They also appear in the religious realm. We put labels on people of faith and use these identifiers to decide who we align with and who we oppose. And to our discredit, we do this in the name of God.

Here are some ways that we let labels divide us as people of faith and followers of Jesus:

Divided by Denomination

First, we divide ourselves by denomination, in both a generic and a specific sense. First, we segregate Christianity into three primary streams: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.

Each group knows little about the other, often denigrating them over wrong assumptions and misunderstandings. Yet we all have Jesus in common. This should be enough to unite us and be one in him.

Within Protestantism, we see many more divisions with 42,000 Protestant denominations who distrust each other, criticize one another, and resort to name-calling for no good reason other than to make us feel smugly superior.

This is to our discredit. These manmade divisions take us far from the unity that Jesus prayed for and marginalize our witness for Jesus.

Divided by Theology

Next, we use the labels of our theology to separate us. We elevate our point of view—which we think is correct—and diminish our fellow brothers and sisters—who we perceive as being in error.

With academic vigor, we pursue a right theology. In the process, we overlook the importance of having a right relationship with God. Our connection with the Almighty, through Jesus, is what matters most.

Our theological labels don’t matter. In most cases, our theology wrongly judges one another and causes needless division. It generates suspicion and breeds mistrust. Instead of formulating tenuous theological constructs, we should focus on placing our trust in Jesus.

Divided by Politics

We also let our political views, which carry their own set of labels, influence our theology.

In the United States—and perhaps in the rest of the world too—we see well-meaning followers of Jesus who align with one political party, vilifying their brothers and sisters in Christ who belong to the opposite party.

I’ve heard each side lambaste the other, saying how can someone be a (enter party affiliation) and be a Christian?

Divided by Church Practice

Making an even a finer distinction on our theology, we place labels on our church practices, too, often with fervent passion. Some churches are known as being high churches, which implies the rest are low churches.

There are liturgical churches and non-liturgical churches. Some church gatherings place their focus on the practice of Holy Communion and others emphasizethe sermon.

Then there are musical styles, ranging from traditional to contemporary. We also debate pews versus chairs, women in ministry, and the “proper” way too be saved through Jesus.

Divided by Membership

Beyond that, we divide ourselves by membership status. For some churches—perhaps most—this is an essential consideration. Members are in, and nonmembers are out, be it effectively or legalistically.

But membership in a denomination or local church isn’t biblical. It opposes the Scriptural teaching that as followers of Jesus we are members united in one body, which is the universal church.

The Solution to Labels

It’s time we end our categorization of each other and stop our needless squabbles over secondary issues and disputes that don’t matter to God. Instead it’s time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do.

We need to live in unity.

Then we can come closer to being united as one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.

It’s time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

When Visiting Churches We Must Keep Our Focus on God

For 52 Churches, my wife and I spent one year visiting a different Christian church every week. What we learned was amazing. Still, I knew the journey wasn’t over. We had more to do and visited more churches. I shared these new experiences in More Than 52 Churches.

Consider these three discussion questions as we dig deeper into visiting churches.

1. Visiting churches wore us down. Visitors to our churches may share a similar perspective.

What can we do to help weary visitors experience God and enjoy community?

2. Each church’s worship practices varied, and their theology diverged, but the God behind them stands constant.

How can we keep our focus on God and not on our church service and theology?

3. A slight majority of the population are introverts who may struggle more in visiting churches.

Regardless of where we are on the introvert-extrovert scale, what can we do to personally embrace church visitors?

[Read more or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.