I am the vine; you are the branches.
One of the tasks during my first semester here in Dallas has been to find a church home. Since I wasn’t raised in any particular Christian tradition or denomination I’ve also taken this opportunity to evaluate various traditions and denominations with the goal of possibly joining one of them.
Background Info: I grew up in independent churches, all of which were orthodox and Protestant. I have no doctrinal dispute of any significance with any of the churches I attended during my childhood and adolescence. Over time however I became increasingly dissatisfied with these churches. Or to state it metaphorically: I began to feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole (the specific reasons for this are another subject entirely and I won’t go into them in this post).
What is the Church? One of the books I have (finally) started reading as a part of my evaluation of the various Christian traditions and denominations is An Outline of an Anglican Life by Louis Tarsitano (McGrath’s Christian Theology has also been very helpful). In the first chapter Tarsitano presents a view of the Church that I agree with very much and think the rest of Christendom would do well to not merely intellectually assent to, but to actually live their lives, conduct their worship services in light of, and guide their flocks by.
One of the things that breaks my heart about modern Christianity are the divisions that exist within it. While I think that distinct styles of worship and disagreements are inevitable I do not think that these differences should lead to divisions within the Body of Christ so that certain denominations/churches absolutely refuse to work with other denominations/churches in spreading the Gospel.
When divisions go this deep I think the leader of the church has been forgotten, if he was ever acknowledged in the first place. Christ is the head of the church, not a man or a council of men (Ephesians 1.22; 4.15; 5.23; Colossians 1.18). Furthermore Christ is the one who chooses who constitutes the church, not us (John 13.18; 15.16, 19). While most Christians would agree with these statements it seems to me that these statements have little effect on relations between different churches and denominations.
Christ is the vine and we are the branches. There are not multiple vines, but only one: Christ. The branches are connected to the vine and are to bear fruit. If we could truly recognize that this, that Christ is the only vine and the different denominations/traditions are merely branches connected to the vine I think it would go a long way towards achieving the unity that has been lacking for so long within Christendom.
This is a wonderful entry. I have been saddened by divisions in Christianity also. I grew up exposed to a wide variety of different sects, to include ones that have some heretical views from mainstream Christianity. While I now don’t agree with all the ideas of these different faiths, I’ve found that if I have an open heart I can still glean truth with the help of the Holy Spirit through different sources, sometimes ones that others understandably might not agree with. Christ knows his sheep, and I think it’s important to remember (for myself especially) that the fruits are often a stronger testimony than church affiliation or attendance, of God working in someone’s life. I don’t know if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis but I always remember in “The Last Battle” the soldier who was on the “wrong side” and it turned out he was actually a follower of Aslan all along-in his heart. He just had some of the details wrong. In my case I may be willing to read and learn from sources that may be a stumbling block or offense for other Christians (other faiths and philosophies, etc) but I always hope that if I do so with discernment and grounded in knowledge of the scriptures and with humility I can learn, and not be led too far off course. And I keep in mind that what may be faith-strengthening for me may be faith-weakening for someone else, and so I try to respect the individual paths of different Christians who view things differently.
Different people seem to flourish better on different branches of the vine. Some people are led to Anglicanism while others become Baptists or Catholics or join prophetic or nondenominational churches. Some people need more ritual, some less rules and framework. I think all have something to offer. I wish you the best in your search to find your church home in Dallas. As a student of theology called to the ministry perhaps there is more intensity in your search than that of the average Christian. But I am sure the Lord will led you to where you are needed in the body of Christ. I think we have times where we are led somewhere to minister to those in the church body, and times when we need to be strengthened and ministered to. You will surely find your place. Thanks for the book recommendations. I will check them out.
I should add that if you are indeed a Dufflepud you are most likely indeed a fan of C.S. Lewis! Oops. Sometimes we miss the obvious!