A couple years ago I had a conversation with young college student. She had grown up in a nondenominational church, and was new to the Methodist church. I remember distinctly what she said: “dominations equal division.” She was fully convinced that denominations were just another way to separate the church; that denominations hurt the body of Christ.
I was not surprised by her comment, because it wasn’t that long ago that I felt the same. I was raised in a Methodist church. I was baptized and became a member of a Methodist church, but growing up I never associated myself as Methodist. I always viewed myself as a nondenominational kind of guy, because in my mind, denominations promoted division in the church.
I mean, why would I ever promote a denomination, when I could preach Christ and him crucified? To proudly claim that I am a Methodist is to suggest that I am more interested in division than in the truth of God, and the fellowship of the universal church.
And quite honestly many denominations are built on an attitude of division: we are right and you wrong! Many denominations exclude people from communion and cut certain people off of membership. Even individual Methodist churches have struggled to be welcoming. But as a church—as a religious denomination—the Methodist church is all about unity. If you study our history, you will see that we are the original seeker-friendly church.
More than that there is power in connection. Denominations can do more united together with each other (and other denominations) than any single church ever could—no matter how big it is. For example, we have missionaries in over 200 countries. We provide relief to the world’s disasters through UMCOR—the first to arrive and the last to leave. Our connectional giving funds schools, scholarships, revivals, and world development. Our connectional leadership is empowering revival in Vietnam. Our connectional giving is helping the country of Conga, providing relief, hospitals, and education. We are helping kids in Mexico. We are going to bring an end to malaria. Because of our connection with so many different Methodist churches, we have unavoidable diversity—our connection includes people from all over the world who have come together under one mission: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians; the rich, poor, suburban, rural, urban, liberals, conservatives, Americans, immigrants, republicans, democrats, homosexuals, transgenders, etc.
This doesn’t sound like a church that promotes division; in fact, it seems like the opposite. It seems like a church that is bridging boundaries many others in the church have given up on.
I want people in the world, in and out of the Methodist connection, to see the diversity, the unity, and the potential that can exist in a denomination.
I know we don’t agree on everything, but isn’t that the point? If we’re not careful, this diversity will turn into disagreements that will lead to division. At the heart of every war is a desire to eradicate, separate, or isolate diversity.
What really saddens my heart is that the world knows more about what divides us than they do about what brings us together. No wonder denominations are equated with division.
What if we were known for more than our disagreements? The story that is told over and over again is often the story we live. If we only tell stories of division in the UM church, then division will be the story we live.
So I leave you with a question to reflect on: Can you see past the clouds of division to the potential that lies in denominations? I hope so.
If done right, denominations ≠ division.