He keeps using that word....

Words mean things. Oh yes, they most certainly do.

So this article popped up in my twitter feed, and I'm browsing it, basically agreeing with the author's premise, but then I caught this line:

"I wasn’t a Christian for the first part of my life. I knew it, and I didn’t want anyone to be mistaken. Now that I am a Christian, I don’t want anyone to believe that I’m an atheist, or a Mormon, or a Roman Catholic, or a Hindu."

Oh dear. So I stopped reading the article at that point and went immediately to the comments. And they did not disappoint. It wasn't quite a refight of the Reformation, but it's pretty close.

I'm always suspicious of "non-denominational" because what ever your opinions are of a denomination, it's an agreed upon set of beliefs that everybody (well, maybe not everybody) in that denomination agrees to. Or at least says they do. Or something like that. I'm always suspicious that non-denominational types are just making it up as they go, and in the end, it's like that line from the movie: "Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

23 comments:

Grim said...

Well, let's forgive him and look past it, today of all days.

Texan99 said...

I don't honestly know what's meant by non-denominational. It seems like defining the church by something it's not. As I understand it, a lot of the difference between denominations has to do with their style of church governance, especially how to ordain pastors, and how much influence a central authority may have over the doctrine professed in the individual churches, and how group decisions are made. There may be doctrinal differences as well, but I'm largely ignorant of them. There's also a lot of difference in incidental style. Like Eric, I fear that it could be hard to find out what a non-denominational church believes is true. At least in the case of a standard church, I have a basic grasp of what the church is teaching about the nature of God and our duties to Him and to each other.

In my church's informal Bible study classes, I'm often surprised by the eccentric views of scripture taken by some members. I like being a member of a church that, while allowing extraordinary leeway in personal belief, nevertheless offers some guidance from history and specially trained pastors in interpreting the more difficult passages in the Bible. If I walk into any Episcopal church, I'll probably find a pretty recognizable theology.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Non-denominational churches are usually heavily Baptist in their theology, but not style. I have a similar frustration with their willingness to exclude other Christians so quickly. In the end, though, I'm with Grim.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkoixZ7X6IE

Texan99 said...

It's not something I hold against anyone who attends a non-denominational church. It's just not for me, that's all. I can see the attraction of what C.S. Lewis might call "Mere Christianity." If I thought a church had managed to avoid a lot of errors of sectarianism by being non-denominational, it would be a good thing. Too confusing for me, though.

By "defining themselves as what they're not," I wasn't so much thinking of excluding Christians as leaving unanswered the question what the church is rather than what it's not. In other words, I don't feel excluded, only a bit in the dark.

Tom said...

I just looked at the article and don't see the bit Eric quoted there. Maybe the author didn't intend to open that can of worms. However, the discussion is a fascinating (if ugly) look at people arguing over what words mean.

Krag said...

Having become a father three times over, I found I could no longer honestly call myself a Presbyterian because I did not believe those beautiful newly-born infants were filled with sin. They were human, yes, but pure.

So I now half-jokingly lament that I am a Pelagian Arian Protestant. It is the closest I can get with the existing labels. At least in today's world that statement doesn't get me slow roasted, which I am thankful for, truly. It does however make finding a church a bit of a non-starter.

To the original point of words mean things - my daughter, now a high school junior, has had to educate teachers on this very subject. Just last week she had a math teacher start lecturing about how Catholics were different from Christians - yes, a math teacher, until it was too much ignorance for my daughter to handle. This is not the first time this conversation, or a variation of it, has come up from both students and teachers in high school. Religious ignorance is truly a problem.

-Krag

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Krag, that you might feel love does not mean that the child is not utterly selfish. Rather than rejecting the very sensible doctrine of Original Sin - which is not just a Calvinist idea - you might use the experience to understand how God loved us while we were yet sinners. That second part is actually very difficult for humans to absorb, and you have something valuable to contribute.

Tom said...

Well, Original Sin is a different thing than Total Depravity, which is what "filled with sin" first struck me as. But I don't know which Krag was thinking of.

On the other hand, there are other options. Arminianism is similar to Calvinism, but with a limited form of Total Depravity that you might find acceptable and less emphasis on predestination. Methodists and the Churches of Christ tend to follow this view.

Or, for a significantly different view of the idea of Original Sin, the Eastern Orthodox conception of it is that we bear the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin, but not the guilt for it. I.e., we are not born with their sin, just the effects of it. They prefer the term "ancestral sin."

Grim said...

The Pelagian heresy is one that gets a kindly treatment in modern fantasy novels of an Arthurian bent. It's probably worth reconsidering, but we should also be careful (as far as we can) to separate the original idea from the fantastic reconstruction.

Krag said...

There are fantasy novels that incorporate Pelagian discussions? That's kind of cool, I guess. I stumbled across him many years ago while learning about the history of the Presbyterian church. What little there is of his original work struck me immediately as truth - what I felt to be true but had not seen articulated within a Christian framework.

@ AVI and Tom - Both Original Sin (as an event that crippled their innate morality) and Total Depravity. Arminianism didn't go far enough for me, but did for my older brother that left the Prebyterian Church for the Methodists. We still go back and forth on this - thankfully without offending each other.

-Krag

Tom said...

Well, that does leave the Orthodox. They completely agree with you that infants are born sinless. We inherit the effects of Adam and Eve's sin, foremost of which is mortality, but not sin itself.

So, for example, the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception makes no sense to the Orthodox. Of course Mary was born without sin; we all are.

Now, they don't think we can completely avoid sin through our own efforts, either, but my impression is that they view it somewhat like baseball. No one bats a thousand; all sin and fall short of the glory of God. You do get a chance to swing every time, but eventually one's going to get by you.

Grim said...

Krag:

I was thinking especially of Jack Whyte, but there's quite a few places where Pelagius has been incorporated into literature, especially recent Arthurian literature.

Tom said...

That's an interesting section, Grim. I wonder where this comes from, why the authors use him.

Grim said...

Pelagius was apparently from Britain, and his teachings on free will were popular there. St Germanus was sent to Britain to combat his teachings. He lived within 100 years of Arthur, more or less, so it's plausible that some people were still around who believed in that doctrine of free will. Plus, among those who write Arthurian tales it is common to have a love of the British heritage (or to be British); here is someone who is authentically British and also an ancient symbol of free will.

I think that's not too hard to understand. What's harder to understand is how his ideas and ours diverge. We're mostly left trying to understand what he thought from what his enemies said about him (including St Augustine).

Tom said...

That makes sense. I've read Pelagius himself denied he said some of the stuff attributed to him. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of St. Augustine on the topic of what happens to unbaptized infants who die.

Krag said...

Well, to be fair to Pelagius, those denials should be considered to be made under duress. His courage perhaps didn't match his intellect.

Tom said...

Really? What kind of duress?

Krag said...

Fear of being labelled a heretic, excommunicated, death.

Tom said...

In the 300s? I didn't think Christians were all that scary in the 4th century. Arius, for example, was exiled by the emperor for a few years, but even labelled a heretic and excommunicated, he pretty much lived happily ever after.

It seems like it would have been a lot like being excommunicated and labelled a heretic today. Socially inconvenient if all your friends are Christians, but it was still an overwhelmingly pagan society in a thoroughly pagan world.

But I dunno. I've never really studied it in much depth.

Tom said...

Or early 400s, I guess.

Ymar Sakar said...

Heh.

Every tree of so called Christianity after Constantine made the church into a State Religion, from which heresy was punished on pain of death just as being part of the Cult of Christianity was punished with death before the Empire converted to the Emperor's religion, needs to restart their theology from the beginning. A re evolution not a revolution.

Their foundation is weak. As for the Holy Bible that Christians claim to base their foundation on... that Bible was created by Constantine, who refused to be baptized.

As for the baptism of infants, the theology behind that is that infants go to hell and are damned forever, or just temporarily, without baptism. It's a kind of way to coerce people into joining a church and religion and having children in it as well. A little bit more efficient and less iron handed than Jim Jones. What gets people is probably how a multiple serial killer and rapist can convert and become baptized, clean of sins, and he will be in a better state of grace than the baby. Humans are stupid a lot of times, on top of being fools, but not even they can swallow that one for long.

Ymar Sakar said...

What separates personal opinion from the holy priesthood is power.

Military, economic, spiritual, something or anything that isn't possible for humans.

I would be one of the last individuals to trust the word of humanity, solo or in "group consensus".

Practical results, are hard to argue against however. The only difference there would be determining from what source such power sprang.


A church that can't do what the Apostles did in 1st AD Christianity, what people call primitive Christianity, lacks the power. Anything that lacks the power, won't work.

Tom said...

Well, I'm stepping way outside my area of expertise, but it's an interesting topic, so let's see.

If we go to the All-Knowing Wikipedia, it seems that Constantine I (r. 306-337) only legalized Christianity and tried to unify it with the Council of Nicaea. He did not make it the state religion. Also, when Arius was declared a heretic, Constantine merely exiled him.

It was his successors' successor, Theodosius I (r. 379-395), last emperor of both the eastern and western empire, who made Christianity the state religion of the empire. He also declared Nicene Christianity the official version, and stopped state sponsorship of pagan rituals. Certainly, he seems to have oppressed non-Christians and heretics. However, he merely expelled Arian bishops and church officials and had them replaced with orthodox ones. There's nothing about him killing or even imprisoning heretics that I can see.

Now, he certainly cracked down on pagans, but he doesn't seem to have killed them either. For example, although he did not accede to their requests to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House, he also left non-Christian senators in office.

So, yes, there was oppression, but it doesn't seem lethal, at least through 395, which carries us through both the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. Despite the oppression, heretics were allowed to live their lives normally, it seems, but not hold church offices.

With Pelagius (c. 360-418) as well, after the Council of Carthage in 418 declared him a heretic, he was merely banished and went to Egypt.

Now, on the page on the Councils of Carthage, there is a description of violent suppression of Donatism after the council of 411. However, they were apparently still a force in North Africa until Muslim conquest 3-4 centuries later.

Interesting stuff. I'll have to read more about the history of the early church.