Do I Have to Declare a Church/Denomination to Be a Christian?

11 Oct

A recent headline has been that a new survey concludes that avowed Protestants now make up less than half of the U.S. population – for the first time ever.  This got me thinking a little bit.

I must confess that I am one of the [now] millions of non-aligned Christians, having been counted among the unchurched for close to thirty years now.  I believe that it is through God’s grace and inspiration that I continue to seek further enlightenment and purpose.

But I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t admit that I feel, from time to time, the loss that comes from not having a supportive church family, and the fear that going it alone can easily lead to a weakening of faith over time.

My basic problem is that I find too many faults with the beliefs or practices of the denominations I visit or research, too much fear of dissenting interpretations and questions, and too much intolerance of those outside their denomination.  Yet one could ask, Who am I to expect any denomination to conform to my personal beliefs, as opposed to the other way around?

The other day I was re-reading portions of C. S. Lewis’s God in the Dock.  Probably now most famous for having written the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis wrote many books on theological issues (my favorite is Mere Christianity), being one of the twentieth century’s most effective and prolific Christian apologists.  God in the Dock is a collection of many of Lewis’s essays on theology.

One of the sections of this book is a series of questions posed to Lewis, and his responses to them, at a “One Man Brains Trust” in April 1944.  The following caught my eye, and I was moved to consider its importance and truth.  Food for thought.

Excerpt:    [Emphasis is mine; content in brackets [ ] is mine]

Question:  Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?

Lewis:  That’s a question which I cannot answer.  My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago [he was 33 at the time of conversion], I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. . . . If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to church.  I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.  I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.  I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

[End of Excerpt]

I think Lewis made a great point, but I will dissent on part of his observation.

I do not have the super-intellect of Lewis, nor his superb educational credentials, nor his ability to rate poetry and music against a professional standard.  However, I will say that, although I do not very much care for most hymn-singing myself, when I have removed the “sixth-rate” music and awkward line breaks, I have found some of the “fifth rate” poetry of the hymns to be quite beautiful and meaningful.  Also, when I have isolated the music from the poetry, and let the wordless harmonic tones of a quality organ flow over me, I have also found both inspiration and inner peace.   But put the words and music together, and most of the time it leaves me rather cold.

But I’m rambling — again.  I would be interested, though, in your own view of, or experience with, the ease or difficulty of going it alone in a world containing literally hundreds of Christian denominations.

Do you agree that if there actually is a denomination that has everything right, only one of the hundreds can fit this description?






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