“If you find the perfect church, don’t join it: you’ll ruin it.”
I have heard this saying a number of times through numerous mouths. I would consider it correct. And I have done a little research that so far seems to prove it.
Someone quite important to me is currently at a Southern Baptist-affiliated church. I had been at a Free Methodist church. Every one, by all accounts, seem quite wonderful for their fidelity to the Scripture, their service, their intentions, etc. However, in the process of wondering how we might drop the separate practices and join one another in services, I’m reminded of the saying above not because I am looking for perfection, but rather, consistency. Here is what I mean:
As a Baptist, you have a certain set of agreed convictions. One of those is the absolute liberty of conscience, to which I am highly, internally devoted. My problem with the “consistency factor” is this: if I have absolute liberty in conscience, then why am I not allowed to baptize my child before a (rather intricate and seemingly arbitrary) assignment of the “age of accountability”? I should be allowed; it is my conscience. This leads to other consistency issues; for example, the idea that only what is expressly commanded in Scripture should be practiced. Well, that’s fine, but I don’t see an expressed command for people to adopt children in Scripture, and yet it’s a high value among evangelicals. I don’t see a command to worship God with anything but ancient instruments, and indeed most Anabaptists abhorred instruments almost entirely for the first 50-100 years after the Reformation. And yet, what Baptist church now doesn’t insist tacitly on “modern worship” (organ or electric guitar)? What I do see is Paul commanding Timothy to “drink a little wine,” and yet abstinence from alcohol (thoroughly a good concern, and reasonable) is upheld among almost all Baptists. If I am only to do what is expressly commanded, well that leaves a lot not to do, and it makes the church look like a hypocrite on a lot of things that ought really to be “secondary.” I think I’ll call this: “Passive Legalism.”
The other end of the wick happens to be, unfortunately, Passive’s cousin “Indirect Legalism.” You see, while I agree thoroughly with much of the Free Methodist Book of Discipline (2007), I think it puts quite a high set of prohibitions on the liberty of one’s conscience. Reasoning all well and good, when it comes to one’s soul, abstinence from alcohol is not a necessity. Abstinence from tobacco (God knows I don’t like it) is not a necessity. The definition and circumstances that yield “divorce” inevitable or acceptable to the FMC–and this I find shocking, since they are so reasonable and still conservative–have almost no explicit reasoning from Scripture. Desertion is listed as a reason for acceptable divorce… any desertion. But the verse the B of D cites (1 Cor. 7:15) says “if the unbeliever leaves.” That is a big difference, my friends. According to the Book of Discipline, desertion also must be made “for an extended time,” which is never defined. One may say two years is extended; perhaps, but compared to what? Two years separate out of a marriage that, if not labeled “divorce,” would last 50 years or more… that is hardly an “extended period” of time. By contrast, two weeks could be an “extended period” if compared to two months. Notice please that I’m also using reason, another key feature of Methodist theology, to prove the point. And what I truly find interesting is where we draw the line for labeling someone who professes the Christian faith an “unbeliever”… and now you see my insistence on individual conscience again. There is nothing wrong with having so many stances naturally borne out of reason, experience and respect. But there may indeed be something wrong with “judging someone else’s servant” (Romans 14:4).
Bottom line: Will I ever find myself “at home” completely? No. Will any of us? Well what might be Heaven’s purpose but for feeling truly at home, I ask you. The best I can pray for is God’s willing direction to guide me everywhere, in every way, and open doors as He sees fit, according to His Spirit and His word. And I pray you’ll find peace in your own conscience, too, no matter where you worship.