Something has been on my mind for the last few day so I am going to interrupt my study of the Kingdom of God for a quick non-related post. What does it take to get individual congregations to cross denominational boundaries for the common good? Jesus told us to be one as He and the Father are one. But it seems that that is an almost impossible task in today’s Christian world. Years ago when I was a Catholic I was told that I could go to another church as long as I “sat on my hands”. That is to say in no way participate in any of their service activities. I realize that since then the Catholic church has revised that advice although I really don’t know to what extent.
To bring up the reason for this post, right at a year ago I organized a benefit dinner for a local Christian homeless shelter at my local church and invited members from twelve other area churches to attend and support the shelter. Of the twelve, not one showed a positive response or any of their members attend! I was planning on making the dinner an annual event, Lord knows the shelter can use the money especially now. I would like to do the dinner again but I don’t think it would be fruitful without Christians in the community attending. I was even somewhat disappointed at my own church members attendance. It was much less than I anticipated. I guess I am gun shy and don’t want to be burned again.
5 thoughts on “Crossing Denominational Boundaries”
I wonder what would happen if you organized the first event (well, the NEXT first event) at a non-church venue. Is there any chance that the others were put off by it being on a “competitor’s” turf? I’m not justifying this at all; we should be bigger than this.
Maybe if you could find a common-ground soul in one (or more) of the other churches, so that it could have multi-group ownership. . .and maybe then you could announce it as something that would rotate from one church’s facility to the next on an annual basis. . .anything to spread the ownership out.
But in answer to your opening question, I doubt that “congregations” will learn to cross lines, at least until significant numbers of their individual members have done so (perhaps surreptitiously) first.
But I share your frustration. . .good on you for trying!
Thanks Dan for your usual helpful comments. Yeah, maybe that is the way to go. Thanks for not letting me sit back and complain and fail to look for solutions. With enough advanced planning maybe next year will be the 2nd 1st annual benefit dinner (ha).
I would suggest a location other than at one of the sponsoring congregations, too (a “non-church venue”).
You have to ask yourself, what is your goal? If your goal is to benefit a local shelter, why dilute the cause with side issues, like the differences between churches? If your goal is to get people to cross denominational lines in a symbolic way, don’t be surprised to find you’re putting the cart before the horse. There’s lots of conversations that must happen, and even then, you automatically rule out those sincere Christians who have no desire to be manipulated into the perception of nonchalance about false teachings.
A few years ago our local hospital wanted to promote the idea that every church in town discuss what to do with end of life issues — each congregation should have a discussion about the ethical decisions involved when a person is close to dying. It was a great idea! Each church’s beliefs were respected in the original concept — each church was to teach their own people on a weekend of their choosing. But then some of the clergy saw this as a chance to promote the perception of unity and declare that by doing this we would display our unity in Christ. Well, that ended a worthwhile project for many community churches. I asked the promoters why they hijacked the hospital’s program with their personal agenda. Because that’s what it was.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that all who believe in Jesus are part of the true Christian church. I have Christian friends (including pastors) of other denominations. I attend workshops at other churches. I’m not one to miss out because it’s at a different church.
But I recognize and respect those who say, with the red letters of Jesus, that we need to warn people against false teachers and they want nothing to do with those churches. So if I want to support a project not part of my own congregation’s program, I use a nonchurch location.
Thanks Pastor Jim for another great idea. It is just sad to think that in order to make a success of helping a Christian homeless shelter I should take the dinner out of a Christian venue. But you are probably right. I guess the attitude that “our demonination will be the only ones in heaven” is still alive and prospering, if you want to use that word. Instead of one unity of believers we are stuck with 10,000 unity of believers. I’m sure that when Christ returns he will set us all straight on this issue. Thanks again.
Helping a Christian shelter doesn’t require you to not have it in a Christian venue, just not a church. It might be good to invite the donors to dinner in the shelters’ dining hall (if you could make sure the donors were safe parking around there). Identifying the shelter with any specific religion is what narrows the potential list of donors.
Maybe this is off topic, now, but the concern about false teaching is not the same as saying “our denomination is the only one going to heaven.” It’s saying that Jesus was right to warn about false teachers — they really exist. It’s saying that Jesus has given us His Word, and I don’t want to give the impression that this Word is negotiable.
I didn’t tell this story in my first response, but one of the pastors who was pushing for “Christian unity” responded to my quoting of Jesus “I am the way, the truth the life. No one come to the Father except through Me,” by saying that was MY interpretation — he believed that God wouldn’t damn anyone. Do I have to believe that every person in this man’s denomination is going to hell? No. But would I toss an invitation to a benefit dinner at his church into the waste basket? Maybe. And I would respect anyone who expressed concern about “Christian unity” under those circumstances. I went with this man to a meeting of the metropolitan faith organization that tries to promote religious unity. Do you know that they tried to stop “Jews for Jesus” from evangelizing in this city?
Don’t confuse organizational unity / cooperation with the unity that Jesus spoke about. Jesus had no qualms about associating with sinners; he had sharp words for false teaching. There are reasons that different churches exist. We have to stand for something. I once had a family join my church that had been in three churches where, when the church was small, they agreed to disagree about an issue such as infant baptism. But eventually someone asked, “What does God want us to do?” and the churches split. So finally they sought out a church that had already taken its stand on such issues.
I agree that human nature contributes to unhealthy rivalry among Christians, but like Paul, I’m happy to see churches proclaim Christ as Savior even if they got other issues wrong. I believe my church has the doctrines right, but none of us has the Christian living right. You’re right, God will set us all right in every way we’ve been wrong — we just shouldn’t say that there is nothing wrong.