Generic Christianity

I do not believe there is such a thing as “generic Christianity,” although I often referred to my own parents as generic Christians. In the rural, dust-bowl community in which they grew up during the Depression, the church had a denominational sign out front, but they got the pastor they could get for however long they could get him and it didn’t much matter which denomination he came from, if any. That early pattern meant that while mom and dad were dedicated churchgoers, they were satisfied with whatever Protestant church was nearest at the time, and we, as children, went with them. To be sure, they were devoted Christians their whole lives long. When other families took summer off from church we went every Sunday. Grace was always said at meals, and we children did not have much choice about going to confirmation classes. But their knowledge of what Christianity really meant remained stuck in what they learned in Sunday School and the little mixture of this and that they picked up from each of the many churches they attended in the various places they lived. In their retirement years they were content with a preacher who could entertain a congregation with a humorous, reassuring message that did not demand too much.

That’s not an altogether bad thing, it’s just not good enough. Because denominations were not important to them, they missed out on a deeper understanding of why each church worshipped they way they did and why they expressed the faith in ways deeply rooted in very serious thinking about God, Jesus, humanity, sin, salvation and all the other elements of core church doctrine. What was it about Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists and Lutherans that made them different? Was it just a matter of liturgical style? Local custom? Or was there something very important about the ways in which each understood Christianity? My parents would never know. There is something to be said about a plain generic and steadfast faith. Don’t get me wrong. But I believe there is something greater to be had through a faith that more fully understands the how and why of denominational differences. That greater understanding is what enables a deeper conversation to take place about God and what it means to be the body of Christ. It is the differences between us that allow us to learn from each other and come to new, more profound, understandings of God in Christ that will pave the way for future generations of believers.

I imagine there is more to be said: a book perhaps? Why don’t you add your own thoughts.

6 thoughts on “Generic Christianity”

  1. This made me think about the various rectors of the Episcopal Church of my birth. My family watched as members came and went, much of it based on their like or dislike of the rector. I remember my father being bemused. He always felt the parish was his church, and no priest would change that.This sentiment seems to be in short supply these days.

  2. in responding to this post i am reminded of a line from your last post: \”(These different ways) allow us to enrich one another through the sharing of our traditions.\”it seems to me that \”sharing\” is the key word…not co-opting another or pushing aside as better or worse…but sharing through listening and conversation rather than demanding that one must be \’right\’ and another \’wrong\’ or (even worse) simply ignored.unfortunately, many (most maybe) people are not even interested in the conversation. it is seemingly much easier to go with the flow of one pastor/church or another than to question what christianity/God/life truly means. the existential questions are hard, but i have found it is in the questioning and the \’bumping up against…\’ that true life is more fully experienced. generic? no thank you!i\’ll stop there 🙂 aloha!

  3. From ten to twelve clergy gather each Tuesday morning for conversation and study of the lessons for the coming Sunday. What a treasure about being a part of them is that the group includes Episcopalians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, a Mennonite and a retired classics professor. We respect and learn from each other. It\’s the way it should be I think.

  4. I feel blessed to have experienced more than your Christian denomination in my lifetime – Methodist, Nazarene, Lutheran, (UCC, barely) and finally, I think finally Episcopal worship.I think my Episcopal worship and understanding of God in my life and in the world is enriched by the fact I have experienced some other denominations. For me, the ritual and sacrament brings me to pay attention to what God is saying, where he is leading. I do agree that trying to making one denomination into another can be more divisive than united and feel somewhat uncomfortable when I sense that is happening in a group. BUT, I pray that I can continue to learn, to worship, to recognize my brothers and sisters in Christ in all denominations that I\’m fortunate to worship with.

  5. Mixed feelings on this. One of our regular worshippers is with us b/c her new husband is Presbyterian (son of Presb. pastor). She is the daughter of an Episcopal bishop. I sense her feelings of loss and loneliness for her own tradition each week, especially when we celebrate the Eucharist and don\’t use the most traditional liturgy that morning. But I wonder if her loss isn\’t just for the beauty of her tradition but also a loss of family tradition, her comfort zone, etc. What we love/don\’t love about worship is so deep. It factors in a variety of things from childhood memories to adolescent traumas to adult griefs. My main issue with denominational divisions is that they simply divide us and sometimes lure us into \”us v. them\” mentalities. Sometimes the competition is not in good fun. It\’s about which denomination is better/richer/godlier.We sometimes find that getting together makes us defensive – at least around here for some reason.But I agree that ecumenism can also bring about richness and appreciation for both differences and similarities.

  6. Jan,Thanks for your deep insights. In keeping with some of your own experiences, our local ministerial assn. has become the clubhouse of a few very conservative evangelicals who are not much interested in those of us who are obviously unsaved and don\’t Love Jesus. And I think there is more genuine fellowship among the rest of the clergy than there is between congregants of different churches. Having said that, I treasure the Eucharist so highly that it would be hard for me to regularly worship where it was not celebrated every Sunday.

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