I have put off responding to Doug Chaplin’s challenge, passed on from John Hobbins, to name my top ten Bible verses. Maybe I will do this sometime, but don’t hold your breath. I always find it difficult to name my favourite anything, and with Bible verses it is harder than ever.
Doug nominated me for this Bible verse challenge as “someone who seems to think entirely differently from me on so many things”. Well, yes, we have big differences on a few issues, such as reservation and adoration of the eucharistic elements. But in fact as brothers in Christ we think very similarly on far more issues – although I don’t so often comment on them on Doug’s blog.
For example, take Doug’s response to the new “Convert or Die” meme, in which he explains why he did not become a Roman Catholic. Although I have never come close to going over to Rome as he did, I could echo all of his reasons for not doing so, although I might also add a point about the Eucharist.
Having refused (for now) to take up the meme which Doug did tag me with, I will now take up the “Convert or Die” meme with which he didn’t tag me, or in fact anyone. If this is breaking the unwritten rules for memes, I don’t care! The meme originates with Nick Norelli, who has made a good choice of WordPress template (!). The question is:
If your life depended on it and you absolutely had to change your denomination/religion, what denomination/religion would you convert to?
Well, how do I answer that one? I won’t offer “any super-pious ‘I’d rather die than change’ answers”, especially because I suspect such answers would be based more on super-traditionalism than super-piety. I am quite happy to change, well, in principle at least, if that is what God is calling me to do, and his call might even be mediated by a man with a gun forcing me to leave my old ways.
But if the only conversion possibility left open to me involved denying the basics of my Christian faith, to join a non-Christian religion or a non-Trinitarian group, I hope I would have the courage to refuse even if it meant my death.
However, Nick’s meme seems to suggest I am allowed to choose any denomination other than my own one. I am currently an Anglican, a member of the Church of England. Indeed the way things are going there is a real chance that I will have to find a new denomination before long, as the Anglican Communion looks unlikely to survive the next year and the Church of England itself may well fall apart. So this meme is not just a theoretical issue for me, even though if I were to cling on to what remains of my denomination the only death I would be likely to face would be spiritual.
I don’t think I can name any one alternative denomination which I would move to. For me, the character of a local church fellowship is more important than the distinctives of a denomination. I would be reluctant to join a local church that was part of a denomination which held positions which I could not accept if these positions were being actively imposed on the congregation. For that matter I would be reluctant to join even if I accepted these positions, because this would imply denominational authority structures which I do not approve of. The implication really is that I would look for a congregation which is either independent or part of a loose confederation, rather than one in a tight-knit or authoritative denomination. But my objections to a strong denomination would be strengthened if its teachings were in general ones which I cannot accept.
I would expect any church I joined to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit through charismatic gifts. I would also expect it to be faithful to the Bible, understood in a proper scholarly way. But there is a problem for me here in that independent or semi-independent churches tend to take a more or less fundamentalist approach to the Bible. This is often because they have leaders without proper theological training. I don’t think I could be happy in such a group, although I might accept it if there is no better alternative and if they do not heavily impose poor doctrines. For I think I would always have to accept less than complete theological agreement with the leaders of a church I joined – the only way to avoid that would be for me to set up and lead a new church on my own!
I would also expect any congregation I joined to be a friendly and welcoming community demonstrating a loving and caring attitude to one another and to outsiders. In some ways this is the most important thing.
In these circumstances, would I join the church which I am now a member of, if I was not already a member? It would not meet all of my criteria. On the other hand, it has so many good things going for it, especially as a friendly and welcoming community, that I might even put up with it being more or less part of the Church of England.