Are we better off without denominations?

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

Are we better off dropping denominational labels as christians? No more catholics, protestants or orthodox, just ‘christians’. I disagree, whilst it would be nice in theory, I think it is just too natural in practice for humans to group together based on shared beliefs, and it just so happens that many different beliefs have come from readings of the bible.

That being said I myself do not currently belong to any denomination. I will probably start to attend my local catholic church where I was baptised and received communion, but I probably agree more with the Assyrian Church of the east more than any other church, as I take a nestorian position.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Without even knowing what the implications or beliefs are for all those traditions you mention (as if I was responsible for evaluating them all), I dare say your local Catholic community will be all the richer for having you as a unique member bringing all your textured experience and opinion into the glorious mix. I hope you are blessed and can be a persistent blessing as well to a community despite the inevitable (and in the end even desirable) differences that you will have with others there.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

I never said anything about formally joining the Assyrian Church, I just said I agree with the nestorian theology


Why do you take a nestorian position? [Edit: spelled nestorian correctly]

(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

For me, the notion that Jesus is fully God and fully man only makes sense if these two natures are separate from each other, as if you are fully God, you are immortal, f you are fully man, you are mortal, to state one issue I have.

(Mitchell W McKain) #6

Are we better off dropping occupation labels for people? No more firemen, doctors, or teachers, just people. Kind of ridiculous right? Labels are for communication. It good to acknowledge the limitations of labels. Even in the case of occupations people can be more complicated than you might guess. But even so, doing away with the labels is not helpful.

For denominations/religions, it is a matter of successive approximation. So despite the fact that I am always telling people that I don’t buy any theological packages, I still tell people that I am a liberal evangelical. It hardly tells you all the important things about my religious beliefs, but it does get you in the right ball park. From there you can start asking questions and find out that I am actually different on a few issues than the vast majority of evangelicals out there. On a few doctrinal issues I am much more in line with the Eastern Orthodox.

So why even say I am a liberal evangelical at all? When you have actually been involved in a group on a regular basis then it is hard to avoid absorbing a lot of thinking, attitudes, and language of that group without even noticing. So that really is probably the best place to start. There is still a lot of room for complications… such as the group you participated in the longest, the group you participated in the most intensely, and the group you participated in the most recently. But if you want to communicate, the labels usually still help make a start with a first approximation. But I cannot say that this is always true. I can believe that some will decide that in their case, any label communicates more that is wrong than right.


For what it’s worth, the orthodox position is that Jesus has two natures, a human one and a divine one, and the two natures cannot be separated. Believe what you want, of course. (For as long as you want.)

(Mitchell W McKain) #8

Frankly don’t know what the big deal is about, i.e. regarding separateness. Looks like this is another case of confusing language with reality – as if divinity or humanity were these things attached to them – I certainly don’t think they are any such thing. I best guess is that this has something to do with that awful medieval idea that the value of a crime or punishment depends on the value of the person, where crimes against a commoner was nothing and the same crime against a lord was unforgivable – thus feeding into this rational that our crimes against God could never be paid for by the punishment of our worthless selves – quite a disgusting way of thinking in my view. But then they were very concerned that Jesus had all the required divinity to pay the required price of our sins, …because if we punish innocent people then the guilty people are free to go – another disgusting medieval “whipping boy” way of thinking.

I am inclined to agree that some attributes are essential for our humanity. Life, mind and consciousness would be on the top of my list. But since life is all about growth and learning, I would think that limitation or a finite nature is essential also. Not sure about mortality though… I suppose this simply means that our natural/physical bodies are weak and perishable. But since we also have a spiritual body (what some call the soul) which is powerful and imperishable (and thus immortal), I am not sure “mortality” really fits. But maybe beaglelady means something else by this word.

Some try to do this with divinity also, thinking some attribute(s) of God is/are essential for His divinity, but I think this is wrong, for then you are inserting limitations upon God. Thus, I am inclined to think that only humanity has limits and it is because of God’s limitlessness that can be be both fully God and fully man – that God’s omnipotence includes a power over Himself to be whatever He chooses to be, including a helpless human infant lying in a manger. In other words, the limitless nature of God means that nothing is essential to His divinity, and He no more ceases to be God without power or knowledge than a man ceases to be human without an arm, leg, or without many of the functions of the brain as in the handicapped.

… but of course we have wandered way off topic…


The nestorian problem was one of the great Christological controversies that rocked the early church. The bishop Nestorius taught that Jesus Christ had two natures, human and divine. So far, so good. But he taught that the two natures could be separated. He refused say that the Virgin Mary was the Theotokos or God-bearer. Instead, he taught that she should be called simply the mother of Christ. This leads to the heretical idea of adoptionism.

So the 4th ecumenical council, the Council of Calcedon in 451, rejected Nestorius and his teaching, and Nestorius and his followers got kicked out.

The Nestorians were recognized by the Islamic Caliphate in Persia, and were even allowed to send missionaries to China and India!!! There are archaeological remains of a Nestorian church in China.

Most Christians today recognize the first 4 ecumenical councils, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and certain Evangelicals.

N.B. I got my information from classes we had concerning the formation of Christian orthodoxy and a book, not from the internet.

I have greatly simplified the issues involved, as it’s a very convoluted topic!

It goes without saying that nobody is forced to believe the rulings of the councils.

(Randy) #10

wow. So what is the problem with adoptionism? Thanks!

(Mitchell W McKain) #11

That doesn’t even agree with the first ecumenical council and thus doesn’t fit with the broadest definition of Christianity. But as far I am concerned this is only a matter of semantics, namely what does the word “Christianity” even mean (especially as distinguished from other religions like Islam)? I am not going to pretend that God is the property of Christianity or that Christianity speaks for God. But when I say I am Christian, it should tell you that I am not adoptionist. The moonies are adoptionist (though not of the Nestorian variety I suppose), for this is a natural Christological approach to take when you want to declare your religious leader to be the second coming of Christ.

Agreed… I like to emphasize the first council of 325 AD as the broadest historical definition of Christianity because I don’t like the trend of narrower and narrower definitions excluding and cutting off more and more branches. I like to think that the first council had the opposite purpose to make a stand against those like Marcion who were trying to chop Christianity down into something smaller. Thus in the first council I think we have a minimal definition that tried to be the most inclusive.

And yes the later creeds become increasingly complex to the point where I am not even sure they really knew what they are talking about any more. I mean I know some of the historical motivations but I think we are seeing the divisiveness which Paul warned about creeping in more and more. The conflict between Augustine and Pelagius, for example, was tragic because to be frank they both were a little extreme and many of the ideas of Pelagius were eventually adopted by the Baptists.

(Randy) #12

well, I’m really not that up on the semantics–but I’ve never heard that term before. Thanks.People are grafted into the root of Christ; and Mary was a vessel to carry Christ; but am frankly confused by these terms.

Welll–once you get into a mystery of the homoousion (hah, first time I’ve used that in a sentence–see Rauser’s post, too), there’s all sorts of room to disagree.

I just googled it–

Adoptionism, sometimes called dynamic monarchianism, is a nontrinitarian theological teaching that Jesus was adopted as God’s Son at either his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension. According to Epiphanius’s account of the Ebionites, the group believed that Jesus was chosen, because of his sinless devotion to the will of God.


(Randy) #13

Interesting–do you think that the Byzantine convolutions drove some towards the relative simplicity of Islam(but as all things human do, Islam now very convoluted and tortuous, as evidenced by the current Mideast wars)?
–this list doesn’t even include many smaller branches, like the Ahmadiyya, Isawa and even Baha’i,which are considered heretics and non- Muslim (esp Baha’i)–some think the Sikh are an amalgam of Islam and Hinduism

(Mitchell W McKain) #14

I think a diversity of thought is unavoidable when we are dealing with topics where there is no objective evidence either way. War is not a good thing but it is not the greatest evil… uniformity is worse.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #15

Christological details aside, the only major issue which I have with Catholicism is the doctrine of purgatory, so I am fine with praying at a Catholic Church, even though I probably agree more with Eastern Orthodoxy or the Assyrian Church of the East.

(Daniel) #16

I believe that God uses our human diversity and breadth to reach every area of humanity. The different flavours (if you will follow the analogy) can help connect with our diverse cultures and circumstances. The main binding is the faith, grace, and relationship with Christ.

Problems mostly arise when we attack and devalue this diversity in the Church or when we use shared belief and group status to groom political power. I grew up in a sect of Christianity where nearly every other denomination was considered barely or maybe not even really Christian (radical southern US-based denomination). I met Jesus through a different denomination and early on espoused this communion of all believers in Christ. I was met with a comment by my father, “You are trading truth for love.”

This exemplified a problem inherent within current church structures: a strong need to reproduce itself. In order to defend their institution and beliefs, many denominations advocate that they know or know most accurately “True Christianity” and do not teach acceptance, grace, or the limits of their own doctrine very well. This raises the stakes and makes oneness in any meaningful sense impossible.

In this we need Christ’s transforming work as we do not typically rise above our tribalism and power over the long haul.


This is what the council of Calcedon decided (in 451)

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.

(Jay Johnson) #18

Good observation. One of the reasons for the story of the Tower of Babel.

In his essay, “The Deceptive Simplicity of Babel,” Richard Middleton asks if the single language "could be a reference to the Assyrian royal practice of imposing Akkadian on subjugated peoples? As when Ashurbanipal II claims that he ‘made the totality of all peoples speak one speech.’ Or when Sargon II asserts: ‘Populations of the four world quarters with strange tongues and incomprehensible speech . . . I caused to accept a single voice.’ Indeed, Assyrian royal inscriptions often combine motifs of a single language with building, making a name, and world empire. And we know the history of the imposition of language on conquered peoples.

“More broadly, why should we take the multiplication of languages as punishment at all? Or at least why take this multiplication solely as punishment? Yes, there is initial confusion when people no longer understand or listen (shāma„) to each other. But is there a redemptive element to the multiplicity or mixing of languages? A negative or positive valuation of the linguistic diversity that follows YHWH‟s descent is, like all interpretations, partially a function of where an interpreter stands. The forthright challenge of at least one interpreter, David Smith, to the negative appraisal of this diversity is grounded in the fact that Smith teaches foreign language learning to undergraduates, which is (on his view) part of the complex created order God ordained. And Smith views languages, which are vehicles of cultures, as important for the fecundity of God‟s world.”

(Jay Johnson) #19

This isn’t a problem for you, but for evangelicals in the U.S., the label has become a political descriptor, not a theological one. Scot McKnight is advocating that we drop the “evangelical” label and claim a denomination instead as an identifying term.

That’s fine for some, but a whole host of churches are unaffiliated these days. What do they call themselves?


What creeds are we talking about here, and which fathers didn’t know what they were talking about?