We have all been raised to believe certain things. Regardless of your religious or political stances, you have been raised with a certain backdrop. The recent fad is for parents to try to avoid raising their kids with certain beliefs by providing unlimited freedom of exploration, but that in itself is a belief system.
We all inherit beliefs, and at some point in our lives we have to face them. Some do this in their early teens and others naively ignore it until they are too old for it to make a difference. But in the end we all must individually establish once and for all what we believe. I have to do it and so do you.
In my time at Pacific Lutheran, I heard several times about how evangelical Christians indoctrinate their children. Yes, they do. They also “indoctrinate” their children that it is proper to use the toilet facilities when nature calls and that one should not cross a busy street without looking both directions. This “indoctrination” argument is true for everyone and everything; it’s just a matter of how derisive we want to be in saying that parents taught their children to believe something.
However, in all fairness, the argument does have a point. Too many Christians do not actually know what or why they believe. They simply “believe” what they have been taught from childhood.
But this goes beyond the great stereotypical “Evangelical Christianity.” Every denomination is affected.
How many Lutherans actually know the tenets of faith that Luther espoused? How many realize that Martin Luther would likely despise the entire Lutheran denomination simply because he had no desire to create an entirely new sect of Christianity?
We can raise questions like these about any and every Christian denomination, because every one of them grew out of disagreements and differences. The sad thing is that Christ never intended such division among his followers.
A quick glance at any of Paul’s letters will reveal constant reference to not allowing division in the church. Christ called us to love God and love others. Unity, not separation, was God’s intent all along.
My overwhelming experience with Christians from every denomination (and even non-Christians who use the Bible to dispute Christianity) is that they find exactly what they are looking for in the Bible. With 66 books and thousands of pages, it’s really not that hard to find something to support what you’ve been raised to believe.
Here’s the problem: we are reaffirming our own thoughts rather than searching out those of our Heavenly Father. It is all about approach.
Entering the Word with a heart that seeks to understand and grow in relationship with God will probably lead to you discovering some things you were most definitely not raised to believe. And that is a challenge. And we as humans do not like challenges.
Our natural response to this is to “pray” as we enter the scriptures that God will enlighten us, while really we are guarding our hearts from the potential of being shaken by something we do not want to hear. It gives us comfort, because we feel good that we are doing our “Christian” duty, and surely enough we find exactly what we’re looking for in the same familiar passages that we have had ingrained in our heads from youth.
And the result is that none of us genuinely grows in Christ, and we all continue to despise each other based on cultural differences. We have all been indoctrinated to believe in differences. I am not Lutheran, or Catholic, or Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Pentecostal; I am (fill in the black). We define ourselves by what we are not rather than by what we are.
I am a Christian.
That’s not good enough, though. People want to know where I stand. What do you mean, you’re a Christian? You went to a Lutheran school; are you Lutheran?
Are you Catholic?
Are you Baptist?
Are you (fill in the blank and repeat the process)?
Now, we obviously have to balance the fact that there are aspects of denominations that are way off-base. This is true in every denomination.
You know how I know? Because the simple fact that they agree to be separated into a denomination shows a split from Paul’s call for the Church. Right off the bat, every single denomination is in the wrong.
But I could go on for several thousand more words about what is wrong with denominations in general and what we need to do about it. That is not the focus of this post.
The focus of this post is you. You and God, to be more specific.
When you enter your quiet time – whatever that consists of – push yourself out of your comfort zone. Read a Bible passage you’ve never read, or at least one that challenges some of the denominational doctrines you’ve been raised to believe. And ask God what it means. It is possible that you have been raised with a wrong belief. You wouldn’t be the first person and you definitely will not be the last.
None of us understands God; by definition, our finite minds simply cannot comprehend the infinite. So as you read, seek God more than denominational affirmation.
Christ’s message is tremendously simple. We’ve all heard the statement that religion is complicated and Christianity is more a relationship than a religion. But our denominational obsession has complicated Christianity, and it is leaving people on the sidelines missing out on the genuine relationship to which God has called them.
We allow ourselves to be bogged down in denominational complications, and we are overwhelmed by the routine and indoctrinated beliefs that we have no room to allow God to truly move in our hearts and give us authentic revelation.
God is love. Christ called us to love God and each other. These are the most basic points in the Bible. Simplify your search, and allow God to work. Seek the God of love and remove the denominational box. The Bible offers far more detail about God, but this is where we need to start.
Begin again. Start from scratch. Open the scriptures and pursue the God of the Bible, not the God of Catholicism or Lutheranism or Pentecostalism or Baptist-ism (I’m not sure if that is a word, but for the sake of parallel structure it will be here). You will be amazed how your focus shifts away from our denominational differences and towards God.
We have been called to pursue God, and to do so as one Church. Our human nature has led to disagreement and division. Let God break down the barriers by reaching out and seeking genuine revelation rather than denominational reinforcement.
Discover God, not denominational differences.