Thursday, April 24, 2014

Who Am I?

"There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all."  Ephesians 4:5-6

Malia stated forlornly that she didn’t know who she was. “Who am I?” she asked perplexed. “Am I Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox?  People ask me what kind of church I go to and I don’t know what to say. What kind of church is mine?”  Poor thing!  She came from her country as a Muslim background believer and has been attending church for two decades.  I could see the time had arrived to give some basic teaching of global church history. As I spoke she listened very carefully and even took notes.  Malia also did not have any personal church history in her local church. She couldn’t say that “so and so” is connected to her church and no one from her family blood line, either. She is an outsider who came in.

First I tried to help her see that when Jesus ascended to heaven there were no branches of Christianity and no denominations. These came about as his followers assembled and their groups grew large. Secondary differences arose but the primary foundational truths of our faith are that:  Jesus was born of a virgin, is God who appeared in the flesh, died on the cross for our redemption, was buried and came alive and ascended into heaven and will return at the end of the world. “So, if I am a follower of Jesus and believe in the Bible that’s enough?” she inquired. “Yes, Malia,” I replied.  But then she said people asked her what denomination she was, too, so we had to go over some of the names of denominations and the issues which are considered their distinctives. “Well, what kind of church is mine?” asked Malia. “Your church is an independent charismatic church,” I replied.  “What does that mean, Joy?” she asked, looking perplexed again.  Oh my….would this never end? It can get so complicated.  After everything was explained she had one more question. “Who are you, Joy?” I had to laugh by this time. I explained that I was a follower of Jesus, like her, and believe in the Bible but am a mixture of many kinds of denominational distinctives.  In all the years Malia and I have known each other those secondary issues had never come up.  However there does come a time when church history needs to be laid out so Muslim background believers will know how to at least answer people for whom the secondary issues are so important. It obviously was not beneficial for Malia to remain in ignorance.

An Afghan family who became followers of Christ visited church one Sunday.  The husband turned to me in the pew and asked which “domination” the church was.  The word he used could almost define church history!  It is sad that believers from Muslim background have to wade through all these extra labels but it is a reality of our age. When the time of inquiry comes it is wisest to keep it as simple and brief as possible.

Dear heavenly Father,  please help these believers to survive the maze of church history. In Jesus’ name, Amen.