I get asked this question all the time in different ways: “What about denominations?” Sidney Mead, the American church historian, is the best at defining this because in a hurry he just explains that denominationalism in the United States is a mathematical formula: theological conviction plus religious liberty equals denomination.
That’s a really easy insight that religious liberty plus theological conviction equals denominations because we actually have different theological convictions–not we must believe about what the Scripture is, not about who Christ is or what the gospel is, and furthermore, not about any doctrine that’s constitutive of the church whereby we would make the distinction that one who does not agree with us is not a Christian and a church which is not so ordered is not a true Christian church.We are part of Christ’s church, and Christ’s church is wherever gospel Christianity is found.
Starting with what one does or what one does not do with the baby, we have a differing understanding of things that mean theological conviction that’s different, plus religious liberty which means no one’s forcing us to violate conviction means we’re going to be in different churches ordered as congregations.
I don’t think we’re members of a different church. I don’t think we are part of a different church. We are part of Christ’s church, and Christ’s church is wherever gospel Christianity is found. As I was driving around last night I passed a lot of churches that had Presbyterian in their name, and I can tell from what’s advertised out front that they’re part of Christ church.
I passed a couple of Baptist churches of which I must say the same thing. The last time I was here it was just before a controversial election. The names no longer tell us what they used to tell us. I can’t be assured that any Presbyterian or Baptist church is a gospel church until I find out what’s being preached therein.
There are some shortcuts like finding out what denomination officially they’re part of. But wherever Christ’s gospel is preached–Martin Luther said, “With the word of God rightly preached is the first mark of the church.” Wherever the right preaching the word of God is found, Christians are found, and the church is found of which we are all apart by God’s grace together.
In glory, that identity question is very important. There will be no Presbyterian or Baptist sections.