Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Forgive us our denominations!

This was the title of a little booklet published in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. Where did all those denominations come from? We may find some clues in the Bible.

Genesis 11 tells the story of the building of Babel. We interpret it as an illustration of humanity's attempt to reach heaven under his own efforts, but there is another theme here also. They were afraid of being scattered and decided to give themselves a central rallying point and to give themselves a name.
And they said, go to, let us build us a city and the tower, whose top may reach to heaven: and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
There are some interesting motivations that come to the surface here.

In the earliest chapters of the Bible cities are sometimes symbols of fear and defiant independence. The first city was built by Cain in direct disobedience to God's command that he must forever wander. He built a safe place for himself, afraid that he might be hunted down and killed.

Later the inhabitants of Shinar determined to build a city and to put their name on it. They were afraid that they might be scattered. There is a verb for "putting a name on something"; it is the word "denominate" . They built a defensive wall around themselves and put a name on it. That might serve as a good definition for "denomination"; a defensive wall with a brand label on it.

Of course, for many the brand label has no sinister undertones. It is just one of history's accidents. But if we organise ourselves together for security and use our brand names and creeds to exclude others we are following a dangerous precedent.

Let him who has an ear to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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