I got a message from a reader who is struggling because he is a member of a non-denominational church and his girlfriend is Catholic. She's started attending his church and enjoys it, and now wants to be baptized. That caused him to research Catholicism, the Reformation, and the emerging church movement. Now, he's not sure what to believe thanks to the contradictory doctrines of Christianity's many denominations. Since I get asked variations of this question a lot, I'm posting my response to him here for anyone who may need it.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the important things. First, you obviously love your girlfriend–that’s great! Second, you care about spirituality and pleasing God–that’s great too! Take a moment and focus on the good in those things. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest commandment is to love others. He said that all the scriptures rest on those two things. You are doing them. Be encouraged.
It seems to me that you are confused by the contradictory doctrines of different denominations and traditions in Christianity. That’s easy to do. For all the beauty of the teachings of Christ, there is tremendous division among Christ’s followers. How can we know which denomination is correct? Also, since denominations are made by people, we can assume they aren’t perfect. We have to assume that all denominations are wrong somewhere.
So, what do we do about Church? I’ve found that the most important thing is to find a church that is safe and challenging.
Safe churches are supportive and affirming. They aren’t threatened by questions or differences in opinion. A church that is safe accepts you and affirms you exactly as you are, without trying to control or change you. A safe church is a place of healing–but it’s not enough for a church to be safe.
Churches also need to be challenging. Jesus came to show us how to live a life full of God’s work, and a challenging church is full of people who are becoming more like Christ. Through their actions, attitudes, and words, the members of challenging churches are healing the world as they follow Jesus. The challenge, in this case, is just trying to keep up. I’m wary of any organization that spends more time talking about what should be done than actually doing what should be done.
Here’s the trick: we are the church. The best way to find a church that is safe and challenging is to be a Christian who is safe and challenging. How can you be safe and challenging to your girlfriend?
- You love her exactly as she is. It is not your job to change her, or convince her of anything. It is your job to love her.
- You work to be more like Christ and to be a part of a Christian community that will help you grow.
You’ll be much less stressed the day you realize that people are in God’s hands and not yours. You’ve been called to love your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Leave everything else to God, and you will experience more joy and less stress. Stop trying to control things–you can’t do it anyway.