Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What I mean by "sectarian"

So here's wikipedia on "sect":

A sect is a small religious group that has branched off of a larger established religion. Sects have many beliefs and practices in common with the religion that they have broken off from, but are differentiated by a number of doctrinal differences. In contrast, a denomination is a large, well established religious group.

The church I grew up in was self described as "independent baptist". Among other things, I imbibed growing up in this church the idea that we were right, and everybody else--even all the other christian churches out there, were wrong. They were wrong in thinking it was okay to ever drink alcohol, they were wrong in sending their children to those evil public schools, they were wrong in using any translation of the scripture into English other than the King James Authorized Translation (translated in 1611). They were wrong to not condemn homosexuality. They were wrong to not teach that parents should spank their children. They were wrong to allow women be pastors. They were wrong to use and allow the use of contraceptives. They were wrong to promote the evil UN, the evil of civil rights legislation, the evil of public education. Other "Protestants" (saying "other protestants" doesn't really work, since some among us believed we had apostolic succession outside the catholic or protestant lines) were mostly wrong, and Catholics were dangerously wrong and probably not even Christians. Seminaries in general were sneeringly referred to as "Cemeteries". I imbibed the idea that the only safe place in the world was inside our little religious group, since we had the answers. People who left the group, unless they had the full approval of the leadership of the group to leave (which was rare), were thought of as being 'on the outside', and one could only hope they would come back to god/the right way of doing things someday (that is, back to us), so that their lives wouldn't be utterly destroyed by the dangerous and wrong world outside our group.

I mean obviously I couldn't see all these things with the same perspective with which I am now able to see them. They were not all definitely overt, although many of them were proclaimed from the pulpit.

So I spent a good year gradually convincing the senior pastor and founder, Tom, and the associate pastor, Mike, that it would be an okay idea for me to go off with the (to them fairly radical) missions organization Operation Mobilisation (OM) (this is interesting because in a bigger picture sense OM itself is a fairly conservative evangelical organization). The chief complaint which they had with OM was that OM's policy on church planting is that when an OM team plants a church, they encourage that church to affiliate denominationally with whatever denomination is the most locally/structurally available to them for support. That is, for instance, if an OM team plants a church in a rural area where, for instance, the nearest other churches are, for instance, Assemblies of God, then they will encourage that church to become assemblies of God. Sensible, right? Tom and Mike saw this as a huge problem because then of course the church would by association end up with all the terrifying and deadly doctrinal error of Assemblies of God.

Anyway, Tom and Mike finally acquiesced. Here's to importunity.

During my two years with OM, one of the things I learned about which I'd not previously heard of is the practice of pastors and church leaders from a city or town all getting together to pray, talk, envision together for their city or town. OM actually promoted this sort of thing.

When I got back to little old Monroe Washington (population 13000) in early 2001, one of the first things I said to Tom was, "So is there a monthly pastors meeting here in Monroe where the pastors get together and pray and talk and envision together for Monroe? The reason I ask is I'm wondering if I can come with you to the meeting? I'd keep my mouth shut. I just want to listen and watch and learn and get excited." Tom responded
"Yes, there is such a meeting, but I don't go. There are two Catholic priests
and one woman pastor who attend that meeting. If I were to show up, I would be
implicitly giving my approval for them being there."


That is exactly what he said. And that's what I'm talking about when I say the church I grew up in was sectarian.

9 comments:

Chad said...

Here you go again, Benjamin. A mainstream Baptist Church is hardly sectarian. It is, by definition, a denomimation.

The word "independent" meant nothing more than that the church wasn't financially or otherwise accountable to a central office somewhere. It was an "independent" church...as in self-sufficient. Like Overlake Christian in Redmond. Or like any one of a million all over the world.

You can disagree and that's okay. If I recall correctly, you frequently did. And yet you were still given love and responsibilities in the church. I don't know where you got this feeling that one person's perspective had to be yours or you would be ostracized.

Here's my experience:

-I've been to this church since the first service they opened.

-While I've never drank alchohol because of a personal choice I have three bottles of wine on my counter and am more against excess than imbibing. In fact, the same pulpit you castigate just mentioned the other day that it can NOT be said emphatically that God said drinking is a sin. But it CAN be stated emphatically that you should not be drunk.

-My daughter is enrolled in Park Place Elementary School (public).

-My wife has two versions other than KJV and I have two more. I even have two different versions in Spanish that aren't translated from the same text as the KJV and we have (knowlingly and enthusiastically) distributed them in Latin America as a church.

-We used contraceptives most of our marriage, as have each one of my siblings (sons and daughters of the pastor you detest). I am now neutered...a rather drastic form of contraceptive. Guess what? I'm not going to hell for it. :)

-We had people who left the church come back for special occasions or "just because" only recently. Each time they were greeted with hugs and smiles and "can my kids sit with you?" What a misguided memory you have!

I could go on. But you get my point. Does our church have homogenous belief in every area? Of course not. In fact, as Papaw used to say, "If two people agree on everything all the time, then one is unecessary."

Something tells me that your memory is impaired by your attitude. That, or you are not the Benjamin Ady that I knew growing up. Because the Benjamin Ady I grew up with went to my church.

Benjamin Ady said...

Chad,

I'm glad to hear things have changed somewhat for the better. I kind of thought/hoped that perhaps they had.

Benjamin Ady said...

So does your dad attend the pastors meetings in Monroe now, then?

Benjamin Ady said...

I'm sorry to see that you are of the opinion that because your memory is different, mine must be therefore be wrong. I see two difficulties with this. The main difficulty is that it's entirely reasonable to think that you and I had very different experiences in the same church. I mean for one thing you were the pastor's son, and I wasn't, which very naturally would lead to us having very different experiences. The other difficulty is that while it is entirely normal for people to remember things as factually different from how they actually were, it seems to me that the best conclusion to draw from this little factoid is not necessarily that you are "right" and I'm "wrong", but rather that we both are probably a little off to some degree--that both of our memories fail to entirely objectively capture reality as it was. And that's ok. We work with what we have =)

Chad said...

I could agree with that to some extent. So then stop short by saying you had a bad experience. Don't cast aspersions. If it truly was YOUR experience and YOUR perspective then keep it at that. Don't spew hatred at good people because of your limited perspective and experiences.

Chad said...

And you missed the point again. You are free to agree or disagree if you choose. No one is shunned, no one is ostracized.

But you would push the envelope. You would aggressively deny the founding principles of orthodox Christianity and then call us "strange, rural and masochistic" because we don't agree with your newfound paganism. You were looking for areas of disagreement instead of agreement. The drama was what you always thrived on...and it sounds like you still do.

If it's okay I'm kind of done now. I'm emotionally spent. And we're just talking in circles created by your cyclical avoidance of the main points.

I just don't think you should say such awful things about people who don't deserve it. That's all.

Joe said...

Point of information: Evanglical Baptist is not Orthodox christianity.

You claim to be Orthodox, but that is an entirely different issue altogether.

But then, Benjamin's definition hardly holds water - any religious group we currently see could be described as a sect.

Also Independent does not necessarily imply that everyone else is wrong, though the one often follows the other.

Chad said...

I didn't say Orthodox, I said orthodox.

Used as an adjective, not as a noun or noun modifier.

Orthodoxy as defined as accepting the commonly held creeds of the early church and mainstream Christianity.

I was not referring to Orthodox as in the teachings of the Eastern church.

Megs said...

I think Benjamin's description of Heritage Baptist Fellowship in Monroe is fair. There's a book entitled 'The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse' by Jeff Van Vonderen and somebody else which describes HBF pretty accurately.