I’ve recently been asked why I refer to myself as a “Christian” or “believer” rather than specify an exact faith, denomination, or “sect” of Christianity. I suppose I do this because I live in a community that has many religious backgrounds – Christian and non-Christian. The Christians I know have multi-denominational backgrounds. The beautiful little church that I joined when I moved here has an inter-denominational, Christian congregation. I have become accustomed to focusing on important elements of theology that Christians have in common.
Jesus prayed, “My prayer for all of them is that they will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father – that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.” John 17:21
For me, the word “Christian” is usually enough.
Jesus prayed, “I have given them the glory you gave me – the glorious unity of being one, as we are – I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one – so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want them with me – these you’ve given me – so that they can see my glory. You gave me the glory because you loved me before the world began!” John 17:22-24
Located by the sea, my church is about 70 years old and understandably its motif is interwoven with Christian symbolism relating to fishermen. It is inter-denominational by design and its members take their Christian faith seriously. Although respectful and welcoming of all faiths, the church is focused on God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It represents many Christian backgrounds that follow our Lord and believe that God loved us so much that Christ died and was resurrected from the dead so our sins would be forgiven. It does not invite membership from non-believers.
“Don’t be teamed with those who do not love the Lord, for what do the people of God have in common with the people of sin? How can light live with darkness? And what harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a Christian be a partner with one who doesn’t believe? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For you are God’s temple, the home of the living God, and God has said of you, ‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.’ That is why the Lord has said, ‘Leave them; separate yourselves from them; don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
In addition to Sunday worship and Christian-based education, our little church partners with many other churches, synagogues, and non-profits to care for individuals and families facing homeless and inadequate housing, domestic violence, food insecurity, medical issues, and social justice. Our little church also participates in projects related to world hunger and disaster relief. We may be small, but we tend to the people we can impact, including Christian and non-Christian. Our church also partners with a network of churches called the International Council of Community Churches, which I read was the first Christian denomination to embrace racial integration in the 1950s. During tourist season, church attendance swells — and we enjoy an open exploration of Christian beliefs with visitors to our church from across the world.
“We try to live in such a way that no one will ever be offended or kept back from finding the Lord by the way we act, so that no one can find fault with us and blame it on the Lord. In fact, in everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God.”2 Corinthians 6:3-4
I am Christian. I was raised Protestant. My spouse was raised Episcopalian. Worship on Sunday mornings is one of our favorite things to do together because it stimulates, challenges, educates, and comforts us. And I won’t lie, that was not always the way it was. There was a time before we came here when we did not share our faith and when we did not enjoy attending church. For me, I think that had more to do with the fact that I simply hadn’t found the church that was right for me, combined with the fact I was too prideful and rebellious. In my search for Christ, I’ve attended many churches that are populous and grand on the exterior but feel like mausoleums for the spiritually dead on the inside.
I recently read somewhere that many pastors are tempted to focus only on “feel good issues” or “self-affirming” themes instead of Gospel. They apparently do so in hopes that they will not offend people and increase church attendance. But what good is attending church without the Gospel? All that really does, I’m afraid, is deny people who seek God the opportunity to hear the Word; to downplay our sinful nature and need of Christ; and subordinate the teachings of Christ to our worldly desires. At least that is my personal experience. I’ve come to believe that if a church doesn’t preach Gospel at the risk of offending people or making them feel uncomfortable, it’s probably dysfunctional. It probably does little else than promote a diluted version of Christ, contribute to confusion and misunderstanding, and possibly lead people astray. Our responsibility is not to edit the Word in the face of discomfort or controversy, but to present it gently and honestly.
“We stand true to the Lord whether others honor us or despise us, whether they criticize us or commend us. We are honest, but they call us liars.”2 Corinthians 6:8
And I’ve realized as I’ve grown older that, even among the same faith, denomination, or sect, places of worship each have personalities all their own because they reflect their human leadership and congregations. If a church isn’t a “good fit” to the point your faith isn’t challenged, you don’t enjoy worshipping God, you’re not welcomed, or it’s not inclusive of all believers or people searching for the Lord, then it’s probably time to find another Christian church. Hopefully, one that with God’s grace will stimulate, challenge, educate, and comfort you, as did our little church by the sea do for me.
Photo of Chapel-By-The-Sea. May be subject to copyright.