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Connection or Commitment?

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“I’ll meet you in 15 minutes outside the museum,” my friend said as we stood in the lobby of the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. I wasn’t expecting much, but I knew that I had to find Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture—at least so I could say that I had seen it. So there I was, a nonartistic person alone in an art gallery. The sculpture was breathtaking: veins; muscles; a slingshot.

Wait, a slingshot? I guess in my limited exposure to art I never was able to truly ponder who the sculpture is supposed to represent. I felt enlightened; I stared at the David, trying to figure out what he was thinking. Italy was making the Bible come alive for me.

An Unfamiliar Setting

A few days later, I was exploring Venice alone and stumbled upon a chapel that I had briefly entered with my friend the day before. I decided to go inside again and look around at the art—the little sanctuary was absolutely filled with it! I have always been critical of art and images in churches, but I realized that art can be an amazing form of worship. I felt moved to kneel and pray.

The day before I left Italy, I attended a Gregorian mass with a few Catholic peers. I was amazed at how the homily tugged at my heart. Here I was in a foreign country, attending a service in a church that was completely different from my own tradition and denomination, and I was truly worshipping Christ. I didn’t even speak Italian!

Far away from the Protestant denomination that I grew up in, I was doing, seeing and feeling so many new things. Sitting in the ancient sanctuaries made me feel connected to the Christians that have worshipped there for more than a thousand years. I felt connected to the little Italian couple who recited the mass next to me. I felt connected to my Catholic peers. I even knelt again to pray—something very foreign to me. What did this all mean?

It’s All About Who you Know

Sometimes it’s hard to step outside of my denominational mindset and feel unity with Christians of other denominations. Currently, I attend a Christian liberal arts college. My exposure to many different traditions, denominations and beliefs has prompted me to begin to think about how it is possible for so many different people to share one faith. I used to think that my way was the best way, but I’ve realized that really, Jesus is the only way.

I think that a lot of Christian college students—and Christians in general—struggle with denominational identity. How important should denomination be? What would happen if I left my denomination?

Before my trip to Italy, I thought “denomination” was of utmost importance. I saw my salvation as a “checklist” of what my family members have done for my denomination. Included among my relatives are a large number of Christian and Missionary Alliance pastors, missionaries, teachers, businessmen, professors, workers and church planters and even a board member. Not to mention, I’m dating a good Alliance boy and play piano and sing on the worship team at my Alliance church (that my parents planted). I’d feel extremely confident if I got to heaven and God was holding a big clipboard with a “Rachel was related to . . .” list.

In planning for my future, I’ve kept that network in mind. When at General Council with my family, I have met lots of “important people” and have made connections with those who I believe will help me accomplish my goal of being a missionary and ESL teacher (just like my grandmother).

This whole connection thing was encouraging to me for most of my life, until one day my pastor preached a sermon about how religion is about connections, rules and accomplishments. He encouraged us not to seek religion but instead to be followers of Jesus only. He even ventured to say that merely seeking religion for religion’s sake is idolatrous.

As I drove back to my dorm that night, I was upset. I called my mother. Why would a pastor ever put religion in a bad light? What about my family and their accomplishments? Did they not mean anything?

Only One Connection Counts

Everything that had transpired—the trip to Italy, my experiences at school and the sermon that my pastor preached—made me realize that my “connections” cannot be my salvation—they don’t give me “points.” But then, what do they do? And really, what should my denomination mean to me?

Since my mindset was shaken, I’ve grappled with role of denomination in my spiritual life. From the outside, denominations appear to be institutions that cause division. Following Jesus should be the cause of unification, though. Denominations should serve to unite, not divide, followers of Christ. Denominations should serve as a framework within which members can follow Christ. If there were no denominations, who would support the many missionaries and pastors all over the world? If there were no denominations, who would hold churches accountable?

I think that most denominations have done it right—they unify Christians around the common cause of Christ. I am sure there are exceptions, but I see no reason to abandon the idea of denominations all together. Just look at the history of the Alliance— according to one account written after the Alliance had been in existence for 50 years, “the Christian and Missionary Alliance was raised up by the Lord to fulfill its own peculiar mission.”* Furthermore, it was first established as a society, not a denomination. The Christian and Missionary Alliance was created to help followers of Christ fulfill a common goal, not set them apart from other believers.

I don’t present myself to be an expert on theology or church history. I’ve taken Bible 101, but that doesn’t give me the authority to make some overarching statement about denominations (my class was at 8 a.m.—who knows what I took from that?). Instead of The Christian and Missionary Alliance being my connection to God, I choose to—and have been called to—serve God through The Alliance and will continue to be a disciple of Jesus first and foremost. As I participate in The Alliance, I will keep in mind that I am still unified with Christians of many different denominations all over the world. Instead of finding assurance in denominational relationships, I will put my faith in salvation through Christ alone. In all of my wonderings and wanderings, I have grown to love my denomination in a fresh new way and yet have learned to appreciate other traditions.

  • Robert B Ekvall, Harry M. Shuman, Alfred H. Snead, et al. After Fifty Years.

(Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, Inc., 1939).

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