Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Finding A Denomination Where I Can Minister The Gospel

Long story, short; I grew up in a small rural denomination church and have moved to a more conservative denomination. I still have many good friends in that church. Just to assure you, I'm not against my former denomination. My evolution from where I was to where I am is not a neat and organized story. At times my heart longs for connections to my past. But I'm glad the road that God has taken me down.

For a long time I was concerned that I had obligations to the denomination. The people had supported me through some trials in my life. They had provided scholarships for college and accepted my flailing attempts at ministry. We had relationships and loyalties.

Due to my job, I moved from location to location. I wish I had a more noble reason for moving denominations. I was really in disagreement with the church's stand on the authority of scripture, abortion and the move away from the historic confession of faith. So when the opportunity came to change denominations, I looked for a more Bible believing denomination. I was not looking for the perfect denomination, instead I was looking for godly congregation where the Bible was preached. That is not a bad thing to look for, but what I found was that the denomination does affect the local congregation. I found that merely addressing the issue of Bible believing did not necessarily mean that the pastor knows how to interpret the Word and apply it to the here and now, nor does it mean that they read grace in the scripture. If someone wants to participate in ministry, in the end you have to find a group with whom you can partner in ministry. I will talk about some lessons learned from the various congregations and denominations I have been a part of.

Theological Definition
For a while I attended a great church. When I asked the pastor how to solve a Bible interpretation problem I was basically told that it was not important passage. In one sense, he was right, the passage was minor. But my real question was how to interpret the scripture accurately. A phrase that was the rule of thumb was, "Major on the majors and minor on the minors". I really thought this was a good idea, but how do you determine which is which. Obviously, my minor issue could be your major issue. We do have to some how sort that out. My desire was to preach the Word of God. Do I just preach on "major topics"? How does that fit with preaching the whole counsel of God? Here I was in a Bible believing church, but I could not trust the theological position to competently handle the Word of God. I did not leave that church, my work took me else where.

Lack of Oversite
For a while we lived overseas. While there we attended a military chapel. From one week to the next we got a lot of different chaplains. One week we might have a Bible church chaplain, the next a Christian Scientist, and the next a liberal Lutheran. We had some great Bible studies and fellowship, but a lack of Biblical standards really made for a rough ride. We were not there a long time. Since one of my friends was moving at the same time, we followed them in looking for a new church.

When we came to the next church we found a pastor who could preach "like the house afire" (that means really well for those of you unfamiliar with the phrase, the "was" is left out for effect). The congregation was small, Bible believing, had the ability to be decisive on theological issues, and had some good oversite mechanisms. In the end though, they really missed the grace of God. A subtle legalism governed the spiritual life of the church. The pastor fell into some sin. He ended up leaving the ministry. My wife ended up being very hurt by the environment. I was working a lot so I was less effected by it.

Grace In Finding A Church
In attempting to find a church I relied on my own strength. I thought I could find a church for my family through my own strength. My method was that when I moved into a new area, I would find the best congregation. I would meet someone who was godly, or call in the phone book. I'm not saying that was an evil method, but I am saying that I was walking in my own strength. When I moved the last time we were going through a difficult time. We were hurt by our previous church. We did not know which church to choose. Instead of finding a church that I thought was a great church, we just went to church. I did have some standards, but I felt inadequate to find the best church in the area. God brought us to a church that is not perfect but they are Bible believing, have theological definition, have good oversite, and are dependent upon the grace of God. I'm definitely not calling this a method of finding a church. I was simply attempting to find a congregation to take my wife and children. I found a denomination that I trust.
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