Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Church: factions and fractions

Conservative Charismatic.
Evangelical Anglican.
Reformed Catholic.

Any one of those combinations make you lift a brow?

Presbyterian priest. Catholic elder. Baptist Bishop.

Ever heard of those?

When we say, "I'm Methodist" or "I'm AOG (Assembly of God)," what exactly do we mean?

Can the AOG and the COE (Church of England) ever meet eye to eye?

I'll use my own church-going history as an example. I was born into a local evangelical church. Now that in itself is confusing isn't it? Aren't all churches meant to be evangelical? As far as I recall, Jesus didn't say, "You AOG, go make disciples" or "Hey Catholics, you're exempted from telling people about me." Further, my home church runs under a system of elders and deacons which sounds a bit Presbyterian to me and they don't baptise infants but does it mean I'm a Baptist? A Baptist, Presbyterian Evangelical. Gosh.

Anyway, I was part of an 'evangelical' church until I went over to London and got the biggest church culture shock of my life. I really thought the whole COE (Church of England) wasn't Christian because they weren't as exuberant in their singing or in expressing themselves. Maybe it was because I went to the UK instead of the States or Australia. The British bring their stiff upper lip into church as well... and that's fine... but it wasn't fine to me, not at that point in time anyway; I've since seen the error of my ways :p

So, after 5 years in a COE setting of modern hymns and academic Bible preaching, I get shifted back to Malaysia where I join an Anglican church. The last time I was in Malaysia before I went off to UK, Anglican used to be synonymous with the Protestant version of Catholic (think tradition, incense and an old man in funny clothes). However, it was recommended by a friend who was as concerned about getting solid and faithful Bible teaching as I was and he wasn't wrong.

I have spent 2 years in the same Anglican church. But it's not just Anglican, it's evangelical. And although it's not Baptist, infant baptism is optional and yes we have a bishopric but there's also a council and we hold general meetings. So what am I now? An Episcopal-Presbyterian, Anglican-Baptist Evangelical? The next thing you know I'll end up Protestant-Catholic :s

These days when people ask me what I am with regards to my religion, I pause for a very long while and then slowly say that I'm Christian. I think that's all people need to know. If that's not enough, they're not really interested in who I worship but who I hang with. There're no different brands of Christianity out there to choose from. There's no such thing as Holy Spirit Christianity or Academic Christianity or Charismatic Christianity or Bishop Christianity. There's just one brand; Jesus Christ.

If your brand is Jesus Christ through and through, it doesn't matter what material you use. If Jesus Christ is merely a director on the board whose opinions are consulted now and then and can be vetoed, (Sorry Jesus, you're wrong on that issue. We think you're 2,000 years behind) then your brand isn't Jesus Christ no matter how attractive or unattractive your programme and religious super star line-up is or how much money you've raised in tithing or how many countries you've sent the Gospel to. I say 'unattractive' because some are of the opinion that to be Christian means to be sombre and melancholic and wallowing in awareness of sin without grace.

The Charismatics can learn how to be devoted like the Catholics. The Catholics can learn how to place the Word of God as a Christian's highest authority like certain Evangelical groups. The Evangelicals can learn how to be more zealous like the AOGs. The AOGs can learn how to practice the quiet assurance of faithful COEs. The COEs can learn how to take God out of the academic box and experience His power, not just read about it.

So, what are you?

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