I have many friends who are non-denominational Christians. I even have a friend that is so non-denominational that he doesn’t even like to call himself non-denominational as a precaution lest the term unintentionally create another denomination. But multi-denominational?
In his Confessions of an Ecumenical, Evangelical, Baptist Christian, Roger Olson unfurls a dizzying list of the various Christian denominations with which he has taught, served, studied and participated in ecumenical dialogue.
“What I want to say,” Olsons insists, “is that I am anything BUT a dyed-in-the-wool, separatistic, sectarian Baptist. But I am a convinced and committed Free Church, evangelical Protestant and Baptist.”
Finally, however, I identify myself MOST importantly as a Christian. And I see myself as a member of the Great Tradition of catholic and orthodox Christianity. (By “catholic and orthodox” I mean affirmation of the substance, if not the language, of the ecumenical creeds of the undivided church.)
I am not quite sure to which undivided church he refers, and I am not sure wether he himself knows, as he states, “There is one true church of Jesus Christ throughout the world and across the ages. And it is visible. It’s not always easy to tell exactly who belongs to it.”
This one true church, he says, this “real Christian unity was not broken by denominational labels or even traditions. It is broken by anathemas and refusal of shared communion and rejection of real Christians’ ministries just because of differences of doctrine and practice.”
He seems to have a sort of kaleidoscope ideal of the universal church. If only we keep turning, the distinct colors will beautifully flow in an out, with ever-changing facets, forever revealing a new and stunning design.
If only we would let pastors of all other Christian faiths speak in our pulpits and let the faithful of all denominations take communion in our churches, we would be on our way to showing the “true ecumenism of the Spirit.”
“There is no reason in the world,” he continues, “why I as a Baptist cannot embrace and accept as equally Christian and have full fellowship with Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. That doesn’t mean I think they’re right about everything or that our differences of doctrine and practice don’t matter. They can’t join my church without making some adjustments in belief about secondary matters of the faith. But so long as we agree about the essentials (which I have stated here several times before), we can worship together, serve together, celebrate communion together and accept each other as fully Christian in every sense.”
Yet, I am afraid that Olson’s good intentions for ecumenism undermine the very tenets of faith of each denomination he wants to unite. If members of other faiths would need to “make some adjustments in belief,” how can everyone accept each other as fully Christians “in every sense”?
Olson writes with an admirable sense of inclusivity that I see in many of my Protestant friends, but for the sake of all Christians, for the sake of each denomination, doctrinal beliefs must take precedent over the desire for inclusion.
Oh, and he “would draw the line at Unitarians or truly liberal Protestants or Catholics” . . . and Mormons . . . and other Baptist churches that “have turned their backs on the Great Tradition of Christianity and gone another way—led by their own individual thoughts and desires without regard to Scripture or orthodox Christianity.”