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Today I am putting together a test for all of us to use in evaluating ourselves on our ability to incorporate the main contributions of four major denominations in the whole body of Christ. Since writing last week’s blog on embracing the gifts of other denominations, I have been musing on how well I do in embracing different approaches to God. So I am offering this chance to you to do a self-evaluation of your relationship to Christ. This is not a pass/fail test. It is an opportunity to thoughtfully consider your strengths and weakness in your approach to God.
I have grouped the whole church of Jesus Christ into four main denominations and their major strengths: the devotion of the Catholics, the ability of the mainline Protestants to entertain new ideas and revelations about the Bible, the focus on the Holy Spirit of the Pentecostal church and the fundamentalism of the Evangelicals. In addition I have added Jesus’ two directives to take care of the poor (the Catholic Church and the Mainline Protestants) and to “go and baptize” (the Evangelicals and the Pentecostals). These six categories form the basis of the evaluation.
What the Catholic Church offers to the whole church of Christ is devotion,(devotion especially to Mary as the mother of Jesus and to the saints). Devotion speaks to the centrality of God in our lives: the “love, loyalty and enthusiasm for a person, activity or cause.” Devotion is about our priorities, about who we turn to when things are great in our lives and when we are suffering. The song popularized by the Everly Brothers and others, “Devoted to you,” suggests the timelessness and growth of the love: “Through the years my love will grow/ like a river it will flow/It can’t die because I’m so devoted to you.” Devotion comes from the heart.
The questions about devotion:
Have I pledged my heart and my whole being to Christ?
Do I put my trust and hope and love into my relationship with God?
Who really comes first in my life and how do I show that?
Do others see the centrality of God in my life?
The mainline Protestant church contributes to the whole church of Christ a liberal view of the Bible, an exploration of the deeper, metaphorical and historical meanings of Jesus’ teachings. The new scholarship often challenges traditional beliefs about Jesus and what he taught, but also brings a fresh perspective, new life to the teachings.
The mainline Protestant church engages the mind. Here are questions about new ideas, fresh perspectives:
Am I able to entertain new ways of thinking about Jesus and God?
Do I seek to challenge my beliefs, to test their validity through my experience?
Am I too rigid? Am I limiting God’s action in my life by the way I think?
The Pentecostal churches’ contribution to the whole body of Christ is its concentration on the Holy Spirit, being enthused, possessed by the Spirit, speaking in tongues, even handling snakes. These churches celebrate the baptism of the disciples by the Holy Spirit. They value the direct experience of God. They are like the charismatic movement which spread throughout the church capturing some other Protestants and some Catholics in the 1960’s. The Pentecostal contribution is about soul.
Am I filled with the Holy Spirit?
Am I free to go wherever he leads?
What has the Spirit whispered to me? What is he whispering now?
The fourth major player in the whole church of Jesus Christ is the Evangelical church. These churches believe that the Bible is literally the Word of God and that there are certain fundamental beliefs that must be held to be a follower of Jesus Christ. They know the Bible well, often quoting chapter and verse for any saying of Jesus or Paul. These churches are about strength.
Am I unshakable in my faith?
Do I allow others to draw me off my path?
Do I know the Bible well?
What are my bottom line beliefs about Jesus?
There are two major directives about service in Jesus’ teachings: 1)to serve the poor which the Catholics and mainline Protestants of our day follow and 2)to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” which the Evangelicals and Pentecostals embrace.
The questions about service and mission:
Do I serve the poor? Do I treat them like human beings? Am I open to their needs and their contributions?
Do I have a special love for the poor and marginalized here in my city and in my neighborhood?
Have I ever been on a mission trip to serve the poor in a third-world or fifth-world country or in our own country?
Do I take Jesus’ charge seriously to go and baptize?
Am I able to share my faith and what it means to me? Do I alienate others when I do this? Or is the other drawn in by what I say?
I found this examination of my own faith and actions to be revealing. Devotion, being open to new ideas and the indwelling Spirit of God are my areas of strength. The knowledge of the Bible, while growing, is an area of weakness for me. The book that I am writing on the kingdom through a study of the parables and teachings about the kingdom is helping increase my familiarity with the Bible, as are my Lectionary readings every day. Nonetheless, there is a much more to learn. I am better at serving, even knowing, the poor than at mission work, but wherever I am, the Life of the Spirit is my preoccupation. I promote it wherever I go.
I will be praying about how God wants me to do a better job with the Bible. I’ll await his instructions.
I hope that you will find this evaluation useful and that you will not use it to beat yourself up for whatever you aren’t doing. Apply the questions thoughtfully and with love. Use what you learn to work on improving your relationship with God. Ask Christ what he thinks needs improvement.