Denominations Ought to Be More Like Family
We have never been the kind of family who gets together at holidays and birthdays and wastes time with chitchat. Polite conversation is boring. So we tend to focus on subjects you’re not supposed to discuss in polite company. Politics and theology dominate.
Sometimes, when I see my family going at it, I wonder if I’m witnessing a microcosm of the Southern Baptist Convention, my denominational family.
My grandparents are staunch conservative Baptists. Christians shouldn’t go to movies, which means they won’t babysit our kids if that’s where we’re going!
My parents would line up pretty closely with the recent “Traditional Statement” on Baptist soteriology, although I suspect Dad might have some quibbles with Article 2.
Mom is a premillennial dispensationalist, which tends to influence the timing of when she serves dessert.
And then there’s us kids. I’m the oldest, so I need to take responsibility for being the one who started all these discussions by questioning much of what I was taught in American Christianity. (Five years overseas will do that to you.) Today, soteriologically speaking, I’m about where W. A. Criswell was, but I’ve got a soft spot for high church liturgy and a major man-crush on the late G. K. Chesterton.
My younger brother is an Iraq war veteran, a deacon in his church, and a Sunday School teacher. He’s the most politically involved, and he keeps us all politically informed. I call him the “Richard Land” of the Waxes.
Then there is my sister and her husband. Their church is elder-led. They lead a community group. They’re personally okay with Christians who drink in moderation, which horrifies my mother to the point she might take up drinking, were it not for her stance on total abstinence. They’re vegans too, but I don’t think that has anything to do with anything, except that we never know what to cook when they’re coming.
My youngest brother is a recent college graduate. When we talk theology, he sounds like someone put John Calvin and Stanley Hauerwas in a blender. The result is that he is the strongest Calvinist and Anabaptist in the family. For a while, we battled over pacifism (irony, I know), but “just war” theory won the day. Whew! Close one.
So…when you put us all at the table during the holidays, you can imagine our conversation topics:
- Election – God’s election or the next U.S. election, take your pick
- Debates over the rapture that last so long I’m convinced we’ve begun the millennium
- Alcohol, abstinence, and wisdom
- Capital punishment
- Christian political involvement
- Patriotic displays in church
- Extent, intent, sufficiency of the atonement
- Open communion, closed communion, and everything in between
- Church polity and structure
- Lord’s Supper – sacrament, ordinance, how often?
- Age of accountability
- Baptizing young kids
When we have guests, they say things like, “You guys don’t hold back.” But then they also say things like, “The only thing more surprising than the intensity of your discussions is the obvious underlying commitment you have to one another.”
I guess that’s what I love most about my family. We are more passionate about each other than we are about our ideas. We’re united without being uniform.
During the past few weeks, we’ve all been cheering on my sister as she leads a Bible study with three unsaved women. We’ve been praying for my mom’s manicurist for years. Whenever we lead someone to the Lord, we celebrate over email. Dad is in his fifties, but he wants to plant a church to reach unbelievers. Grandpa may not go to movies, but he’s spending his retirement years printing Bibles for other countries. You see, the mission matters more than our family debates.
I wish denominations were a little more like family. I wish we’d sit across the table more often from precious saints who don’t always see things the same way. I wish our passion for each other was stronger than our passion for our pet preferences. I wish we’d cut each other some slack instead of nitpicking each other to death. And I wish the fervor of our denominational debates was matched by our fervor for evangelism.
We are family. Because of Christ’s death, we share the same bloodline. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we share the same power. Because of His ascension, we share the same mission. So let’s act like it. Let’s live in the unity Christ bought for us and love each other fiercely, even more fiercely than we sometimes disagree.