Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One man does not a denomination make

I figured I would put something here that ends up being readily obvious to people who have theology as a profession, but is less than apparent sometimes to folks in the laity. One man does not a denomination make.

What do I mean by this?

Well, let us say that you are reading blog X, and blog X says, "Denomination Y" (which you are a part of "teaches A, B, and C." Then you think to yourself, "What? I've never heard this 'C' before in my life."

There are two options. The first, which we can default to is, "Blog X is smoking crack and just doesn't know what he is talking about." Sometimes this is the case. Folks can mischaracterize the positions of other denominations (for example, Lutherans do not believe in "Consubstantiation"... that is an outside term, and as part of the reason we dislike Rome's doctrine of transubstantiation is that it imports Aristotelian language, we certainly aren't going to import Aristotelian language ourselves!).

However, there is a second option. The reason why you may never have heard C in your life is simply that your Pastor/Priest/Preacher/Cult Leader happens to disagree with C, which is his denomination's official position, and so doesn't teach it.

This happens quite often. This is why I can have the nice Methodist lady who will bluntly state that the Lord's Supper IS Christ's true Body and Blood, even though that isn't the typical Methodist position. There is a disconnect between what a Methodist on paper ought to believe and what this person believes. And this is reinforced by her pastor (bully for him on this point).

However, note that when you see a discussion about theology on line, and this discussion delves into the differences between various denominations, what is proper is to go by the official, stated position of that Church Body. What if you don't hold to that... or your Pastor/Priest/Preacher/Cult Leader doesn't teach that? Well, that's all well and nice, but... one man does not a denomination make.

So yes, if you are a Roman Catholic, your Church holds that I am anathema, for the anathemas of Trent still stand. It's nice if your priest doesn't hammer on that, but oh well. Likewise, if you are a Lutheran, you believe in the real presence and that the marks of the Church are simply the right preaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of Baptism and the Supper. It's nice that your (heretic) Pastor talks about how the Spirit moving folks is proof that we're the Church. . . but in that, he ain't Lutheran.

Just know this, be aware of this. These religious labels have meanings. They imply things. I had a friend in college who claimed that he was a three point Calvinist. Calvinism (in this little mental short cut) has 5 points. If you reject two of those, you know what? You ain't a Calvinist, and simply to say that you are doesn't make it so.

Your denomination is bigger than your own quirks. Remember that - and be aware that you may deviate from your denomination's stance on issues.


Chad Myers said...

And it certainly doesn't help when you have a person from a different confession/denomination/tradition telling other people what their denomination teaches :)

I'm guilty of this myself, I admit.

So I think it's always useful in debates, for people to refer to their denomination's core book or works of understanding.

The person who identifies himself as "Lutheran" or "Catholic" or "Calvinist" either conforms to what they call themselves, or else you're dealing with mashed potatoes and it's hard to pin anything down.

This is why I try to cite Church documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church whenever saying "Catholics believe..."

Like you said in a previous post or comment that Rome is a big umbrella, as is Lutheranism and Calvinism. So there's lots of variance.

I think it's important for us all to refer back to official teachings on subjects vs. our own (including mine) interpretation of subjects.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And Trent is still your official teaching >=o)