AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Let’s take a huge field, divide it up into many different pens, and set a flock of sheep down in each pen. This is the Church. God has one flock of souls, but they aren’t managed as a single flock by human shepherds. Instead, we humans divide the flock of God up into various denominations which then bicker endlessly amongst themselves. It’s not ideal, but it’s not going to change, either. Christ has only one Bride, but on this earth, that Bride will always be a fractured mess. God is not threatened by this, and you shouldn’t be, either. But God also doesn’t let our manmade pens distract Him from the fact that there is only one flock.
Now once God calls you to serve as one of His shepherds on earth, what happens? The typical scenario is that you make the transition from sheep to shepherd within the same pen. If you were a sheep who was grazing and growing in a Catholic pen, then it’s quite natural for you to begin your career as a shepherd in that same pen. This means that you go to a Catholic seminary, you soak in the Catholic doctrines, and when the managers of the Catholic pen approve of you, they assign you some portion of their pen to manage. If instead you were a sheep who was hanging out in a Protestant pen, then you make the whole transition under Protestant management. Does it matter? No. What matters is that you’re doing what God is telling you to do.
Now there is no such thing as a perfect denomination. Denominations are run by humans, and every human has theological blind spots and wrong beliefs which they simply won’t let go of because those beliefs help them get their own carnal agendas done. If you’re maturing in your own walk with God, the day will surely come when you start to develop problems with some of your denomination’s core beliefs. Maybe at first it’s just a few minor doctrines that bother you, and you decide to just ignore them. But then the day comes when you feel God leading you in a direction which conflicts with your denomination in some fundamental ways. When the message God is commanding you to speak totally goes against some doctrine which your group considers to be non-negotiable, what then? If a Catholic priest finds himself strongly convicted that praying to Mary is offensive to God, what does that mean? If a Pentecostal pastor starts feeling like speaking in tongues isn’t nearly as important as he once believed, what then? If a Methodist bishop comes to the conclusion that it’s quite absurd to suggest that we can maintain a sinless state after salvation, then what? A Baptist preacher suddenly finds shocking theological errors leaping out at him in the same Scriptures that he always upheld as infallible. What now? That moment when you finally admit to yourself that you no longer feel comfortable promoting certain core beliefs of your denomination is quite the crisis. But what exactly is creating that crisis?
You used to think your denomination was fabulous—the one that was far superior to all the others. Now you realize it has some major problems. Well how did this come about? What’s going on between you and God? Have you been asking Him to help you know Him better? Have you been asking Him to help you mature in the faith? God is perfect, people are not. The closer you get to God, the more you’re going to see how imperfect people are. If we could leave it at that, there wouldn’t be any problem. But the reality is that people are not content to let you follow your convictions wherever they take you. People want to tell you what your convictions should be, and when God starts pulling you in another direction, people are going to give you grief.
As a shepherd, what do you do when you find yourself in conflict with the denomination you serve? There’s only one answer: you have to do what God is telling you to do. God trumps all denominations. God is the Supreme Authority in your life. It doesn’t matter if it’s just the local bishop you’re having a problem with or the pope himself. No human comes close to being God’s equivalent, and no human can be your master in life. God is your Master, and He will hold you accountable to His Authority whether you want Him to or not. So no matter how wonderful your history has been with your particular denomination, if God is now shifting your convictions in a way that makes it impossible for you to remain where you’re at, it’s time to move on.
You serve God, not people. You’re not just a Catholic priest or a Baptist pastor or an Episcopal reverend. You’re a shepherd of souls who works for God. It was God who called you to serve Him in this capacity, and His directives to you trump all others. As His shepherd, you can’t afford to get your identity married to any manmade organization. These many warring factions that we’ve split the Church into only encourage us to lose sight of the fact that there is only one flock, and there’s no way you can predict how many different posts God wants to transfer you to during your career.
Now there’s nothing easy about letting go of foundational beliefs. When you’ve had it pounded into you that devotion to God is expressed by celibacy, and suddenly you find the Holy Spirit teaching you differently, it’s only natural to fear that you’re going astray. In many denominations, it is considered utterly sacrilegious to suggest that the Bible is not infallible. Theological shifts can be terribly upsetting, yet for sincere souls, the underlying fear is that we’re going to end up on the wrong side of God if we offend Him too greatly by embracing wrong beliefs. And yet is this really who God is? Is ours a Shepherd who we can trust to guide us in life, or does He stand by doing nothing while we wander far afield only to then come and beat us into the ground with His staff?
The truth is that God is good and He is gracious. When He sees you sincerely searching for truth, He isn’t going to stand there confusing you on purpose and then rail at you for having doubts. You don’t change your core beliefs without a lot of angst, but you also don’t start out in the faith with core beliefs that are flawless. We are all walking around with some very wrong assumptions about God which need to be corrected if we’re ever to reach certain stages of intimacy with Him. We all have theological blind spots. We all have personal wounds and insecurities which are preventing us from being able to even deal with certain truths about who God is, and so He isn’t even attempting to teach us those things yet. In your life, God is revealing His truth to you in a very strategic order. The order in which He’s teaching you is not the order in which He’s teaching the souls around you. This means that your best friend who is also sincerely seeking God and who you’ve been working with in ministry for quite some time is going to be very upset by you questioning beliefs that he still feels are right on. No one can understand truth simply because another human sets it in front of them—God Himself must illuminate our souls with understanding. It might not be the right time for God to show your friend the things He’s showing you. If it’s not, your friend might honestly feel he’s doing the right thing to cut ties with you and write you off as some kind of heretic. Such experiences are very painful, yet they are part of the cost of acquiring deep communion with God, for many difficult truths about God are simply not being accepted by any denomination in His Church. Factions and fighting aside, we’re all humans, and humans are intimidated by a God who they cannot control.
God is who He is, and He’ll not change into someone else just to please us. When you feel Him pulling your soul in a direction that the other humans in your life greatly disapprove of, you’re going to have to give serious thought as to where your loyalties lie. You’re going to have to choose between God or humans in these moments, for God will make it impossible for you please both. God wants your absolute devotion. If you serve Him only when you find it personally convenient to do so, what is that worth? Certainly not every command from God is going to cause upheaval in your relationships with other humans, but many will if you’re going to take your pursuit of Him as seriously as He wants you to.
Now does God understand every nuance of the mess He is making when He starts illuminating you like this? Of course He does. He knows that these people you suddenly find yourself at odds with are the ones paying your salary and giving you a good name in the community and meeting a lot of your emotional needs. He knows full well what’s at stake when He starts lining your comfortable nest with thorns so that you can no longer relax in it. But while there are a lot of intimidating changes on the horizon, let’s keep a grip on what really matters. You were created by God for the purpose of developing a positive personal relationship with Him. Life is about serving, knowing, and pleasing your Creator. It’s not about earning the approval of others or becoming Mr. Big Stuff in some silly religious faction. When you get your priorities right, there is only one course of action before you: you must obey God. You need to follow Him wherever He leads you, even if that means entirely cutting ties with your current denomination. Perhaps He’ll lead you to another denomination. Perhaps you’ll end up with no denomination at all. What does it even matter so long as you are pleasing your King?
It is when God forces us to choose between pleasing Him and pleasing people that our devotion to Him is tested. If we choose to honor God, we will gain things with Him which will make the approval of people look like the worthless thing that it is. God’s opinion is the only one that matters. If we’re not living for Him, we’re missing the whole point of life. Don’t let some irrelevant label hold you back in your walk with God. God doesn’t care about what denomination you are currently hanging out in. He cares about how your soul is responding to Him. Decide that you are going to hold nothing back in your pursuit of God, and you will end up in a glorious place.
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