“ I do benefits for all religions. I’d hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality.” – Bob Hope
It would be relatively easy to write about Bob Hope for he has done much as an ambassador for freedom as well as boost the morale of our armed forces for decades. But that is not what I want to address today.
I have been a member of the Methodist denomination my whole life. I married a Methodist, which certainly helped us get a good start in our married life. However, I’ve known many couples who successfully married across denominational lines – most notably a Catholic man and a Jewish woman. They were wonderful people and accepted each other’s faith without question. In some instances, one will change denominations to make a marriage relationship more complete; in others one spouse will quit all together. There are so many denominations now, that they are difficult to keep up with. Yet some claim to be non-denominational and with success. In thinking about this and Bob Hope’s quip, I began asking myself questions about it. Do denominational allegiances impede God’s work? Can churches work together for the common good? I wish I could answer the questions with a simple “no” to the first one and a ”yes” to the second. Unfortunately, I can’t.
I believe that all too often we put our church allegiances (either to doctrine or influential people) first and God’s work second. Perhaps we pick and choose those we want to welcome in our church. Money talks! As I began writing this, I thought back to a significant, but disheartening event in my life.
When I was in college, there was a point where I debated changing my major and going into the ministry. I was president of the Wesley Foundation, which was then located in the local Methodist Church. As a group, we voted to study various denominations in order to learn more about other faiths. This was presented to the church board as our plan for the coming semester. One man, a wealthy rancher, stood up and denounced it with a loud “NO”. He went on to say he didn’t want his son, a member of the Wesley group, to be influenced by other religions. Well, that killed the study plan. A few days later I was called into the pastor’s study and was told in specific terms, that the rancher was a large contributor to the church and it isn’t good to upset him. At that point, I gave up the ministry idea for I felt I couldn’t sell my soul that cheaply and it appeared that is what would be expected of me. I completed my term of office and never set foot in that church again. Fortunately, a new Methodist church was starting up near the campus and we went there. Sometimes, I think God was redirecting me as we became very active in the little one room church.
When Tom Morris was pastor at our church, he tried to organize a ministerial alliance here in Grapeland. Like so many things, there was a lot of verbal support, but virtually no actions to follow the words. Since then, there has been some action – at least at Thanksgiving and the World Day of Prayer. There have been plays and musicals jointly supported. And that is good step forward. It shows that churches can work together for the common good.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we all should support the church we attend, but we should always go the “second mile” when the need arises in our community or beyond. In 1960, Hurricane Camille hit the Texas coast while I was in college in New Mexico. As a amateur radio operator, I and other “hams” kept the college station operating around the clock handling messages for loved ones and while doing that we rounded up a truckload of food and supplies for the people in Texas. A radio station in El Paso offered to send a moving van load of supplies to the coast. We arrived in El Paso early the next morning with our donation – it was put on the third truck! People, churches, businesses all came together to support the effort. It was overwhelming.
Our effort to do God’s work should always be overwhelming! I don’t claim to be a theologian, but I believe we all worship the same God. In my opinion, denominational lines only reflect the way we worship and we select the denomination that we are most comfortable with in respect to doctrine. However, having said that, I believe we should never let our denomination come before God’s work.
It was magnificent in the way churches, people, and even businesses came together after 9-11, but it’s a shame it took such an event to bring them together. Several years ago Grapeland experienced a power outage as a result of a major storm. In both instances I never heard a denomination mentioned – people came together regardless of race or creed. What a wonderful world it would be if all faiths could work together for the good of all people. It may be a dream today, but perhaps it can be a goal tomorrow.