Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Denominations and Church Unity

With a possible PCA church plant here in north Jackson County, I've been pondering churches, particularly in our area. We drive about 40 minutes to Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA) where we are members. I'm sure many think we're crazy - after all there are presbyterian churches in Cullowhee and Sylva. However, I believe your denominational affiliation matters. The denomination your church is a part of is either strongly reflected in the character of your church OR is a major influence on your church. I do not believe I can be a part of the PCUSA due to many issues there I will not go in to - and the two presbyterian churches here are of that denomination.

And yet, the lack of visible unity among believers troubles me. I counted this past week and there are 10 church buildings right on the road between our house and Emmanuel. Eleven if you count the school where one meets. Why should that be? Why should I drive past that many different churches (plus who knows how many more just off the road) to get to the one we pick.

The one situation that is most noticeable to me is within 5 minutes of our house. There are three church buildings, all within sight of each other in the area known as Speedwell (basically a crossroads, no town or businesses). Two are Baptist and one is Methodist. I have no idea how such a situation happens - in a very rural area there are three churches. They all look more than 20 years old at least. One calls itself a Missionary Baptist church - my humorous side conjectures that the other church sent this one out as a church plant - about 100 yards away.

But, does anyone think this is bad? Or a problem? That there are churches within sight of each other? We are to be One Body in Christ. We certainly don't look like it.

Thinking historically, the ability to pick and choose between churches (not just denominations but churches) is a very unusual situation in the 2000 year history of the new testament church. I don't just mean Catholic vs. Protestant, but choosing at all. If you live in an area, you would go to THE church there. Christians in Galatia didn't get to pick from Rev. Jones downtown or Rev. William out on the east side. They had ONE church. Certainly as numbers increase, planting another church to handle people in a separate area of a city is wise, but then that becomes your church. You wouldn't worship at one and take the kids to the youth group at the other.

I understand (in my limited way) how denominations came about. But our propensity in Protestantism to split and create a new denomination is not good. While the book of Acts and Paul's epistles lay down many truths about how the church should be governed, how to handle relationships between denominations is not covered. I think that's the case because it shouldn't really happen. What should happen when someone from the PCA that has a discipline case before his session tries to transfer membership to the church down the road that is not PCA?

Though this troubles me, I still drive my family 40 minutes every Sunday. Why? I do not believe I can join a denomination that does not have a commitment to Reformed Theology. I still believe the Westminster Confession is true, and that puts me at odds with the denominations that say many key doctrines in it are not true.

So I'm troubled at possibly being part of the problem.


Andy P said...

Do you know the theology of the churches you drive past? I can think of a couple of PCUSA churches that have very solid theology.

Here's an interesting question. What would you do if you moved to an area without a PCA church? As we contemplate moving the academic job market next year we wonder what we'll do if we end up somewhere where there isn't a PCA church within driving distance.

That makes me wonder if I can be a member of another orthodox domination even with strong theological objections to certain points if they believe the gospel and there is clear evidence of the Spirit shining in their church.

Brian said...

I'm just speculating, but given where you are in the country, there's one possible explanation for two old Baptist churches across the street from each other: racism. Missionary Baptist churches in these parts are often historically African American. Similar situation to what happened with the United Methodist and AME Churches. It's one of the most incomprehensible reasons for a church to split, but all too common.

I was also inspired to write a response, but it's quite wordy, so I posted it in my own forum for such things.

It's days like today I wish I was a better writer.

Lee said...

When I was looking for a job, I specifically looked around the area for a church in any denomination in NAPARC. Yes, I would check the PCA first, but I would then look through the others. If I couldn't find one, then I would try to look up the yellow pages for that town and see what was there that might work (which I don't recall ever being fruitful). Failing that, I wouldn't consider the job. That certainly limits me, but I have to know there will be some church close enough for my family to join where we will be fed - and fed particularly in the Westminster/Reformed tradition.

If there had been, say, and ARP church in town, we probably would have joined there.

I realize there are some PCUSA churches that are solid on many things. Even if the local church is solid, I can't identify myself with that denomination due to many issues they have. I suppose I consider denominational affiliation more important than the local church because one way or the other, the denominational structure, policy, and theology will get in to that church OR the local church will leave. At least in the presbyterian system. That's the theory I go on.

Lee said...

Hmmm. Hadn't thought of that. Sad, but maybe so.

But then, any split is sad, whether over the color of the choir robes or skin.

I'll head over to your blog to see your post. (I feel so inspiring!)