I came across this one a “Dear Abby”-esque site where readers apparently write to Rev. Gregory, it reminded of a conversation I had at Annual Conference and how hearing some of the opinions of my friends shocked me a bit. It also plays into some recent motion in my life.
I was born and raised a Catholic and my mom doesn’t like when I attend service at any church other than ours. My dilemma is that I feel that the Catholic religion is so organized and although I enjoy going to our church I feel that when ever I attend service at our local UMC or even attending service with my husbands cousin at the Seventh day Adventist church, it seems that the feeling of the community is so much more warm and different than the environment at our catholic church. Of course to my 78 year old mother the only true religion is the Catholic one. Do you believe that God doesn’t favor one religion over another and that different religions are just different roads all leading up to God?
Thank you so much for writing. You ask an interesting question. Before I proffer a response, I would really like to make a few definitions clear. Specifically, your use of the word “religion.” The way you appear to be using it is different from how I would use it. When I talk about the difference between Roman Catholics, Episcopalian, Lutherans, United Methodists, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Baptists Seventh Day Adventists, etc., I prefer to use the term “denomination.” All of these institutional churches are “denominations” of the one Universal and heavenly undivided Church of Jesus Christ. All of those who are part of these denominations are “Christians,” followers of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ and members of the Body of Christ. We all affirm the same basic faith in Him as Saviour and Redeemer, and we mostly profess our faith with creeds, affirmations, and statements that share much in common (as in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds). By contrast, when I use the term “religions” I am thinking about Christians as distinct from Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. These are different religions, not the various denominations of Christianity.
Hence, my response to your question should be evident: I believe that God really doesn’t care about our denominations. Our denominational distinctions are simply the institutional ways in which Christians have organized themselves. In other words, God does not favor one brand of Christianity over another … they are all part of the ways in which God has provided for us to be Christian.
I remember being in third grade and hearing a boy talking about his church. He asked me what religion I was, and when I said “Catholic” he leaned back, opened his eyes wide and said “Oh…I’m Christian.” Even in third grade, I knew this was the incorrect attitude and was brought by misinformation or misunderstanding on his part, and shouldn’t make me feel bad. But it always did make me feel bad. It makes me feel bad TODAY. I haven’t been in a Catholic church since my older sister’s wedding a few years ago. I’m a member at a United Methodist Church where I am all. the. time. I can hardly be described as anything except Methodist (especially without adverbs such as: previously, remotely, or slightly). I recently (two days ago) revealed to my Catholic parents that I was being called to be a Methodist minister. It would be safe for you to assume I was apprehensive…anxious…terrified? none of these words are really good choices.
I knew they wouldn’t be mad. I knew that they weren’t going to kick me out of the house or tell their friends they now had five children. I just felt like they wouldn’t like it. Because they were Catholic and that would be saying “Methodism isn’t a phase for me.” For those of you who know my parents, you know it was silly to not want to tell them. My dad is supportive in anything I want to do, especially things I’m good at or passionate about. My mom is ecstatic that I won’t be applying to engineering schools in Boston, New York, or Antarctica in a couple of years. However, I couldn’t help feeling bad that I was going to always be different from the rest of my family.
This leads me to wonder what really IS the difference between these two worlds. Not culturally or politically. Not in doctrine or tradition. But the difference in the heart. The God difference. It’s something I thought about a lot when I was deciding whether or not to become a member at Epworth when I had been going there for a few years.
How does a calling come into the division of denominations? Should denominations really be so indignant with one another? Does it really matter what church you end up at? Are we all that different?
“1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”
You don’t get to choose. As Pastor Sarah said when I talked to her about being called into ministry “How do you say ‘no’ to God!?” You are God’s and when He draws you somewhere. You just go. And if you’re a Catholic girl being called to preach, he might just call you somewhere that you can do that.
“2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love’
Love each other. What benefit do you receive from belittling Methodist discipline or from mocking Catholic Lent practices? How does it glorify God for you to call each other “crazy” or to call ANYONE “crazy” for that matter? I don’t think it does. I think that if you are intolerant of other people, blind to Christian similarities, or just rude to each other- then it doesn’t matter to me how much you know about John Wesley or how long you’ve been in the Knights of Columbus or how much scripture you can quote off the top of your head. If you can’t live out the simplest truth presented to us- Love God. Love each other- then you have bigger problems than your denomination.
“3 Make every effort to keep the unity of Spirit through bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”
You and your siblings may sleep in different rooms. But you live in the same house, under the same roof, with the same dad and the same mom. When you take into account all of the things that make us the same, the things that make us different don’t matter. All of the things holding us together- into one community of Love, shared in the same Faith, ruled over by the same Mercy, enveloped in the same Grace- are more important.
“7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
No. We aren’t all that different.