In my own words, I’m a theological mutt. I was raised in a Christian Church congregation with a Missionary Baptist pastor; I attended a Southern Baptist university; my M.Div. is from a nondenominational Wesleyan evangelical (read: United Methodist) seminary. For a time, I attended an Episcopal cathedral, and I was once three months away from becoming a Roman Catholic priest, having attended Mass for some time and fallen in love with it. At the end of the day, I returned to my roots, convinced of the doctrine of the Restoration Movement (although I took a detour through a Disciples of Christ congregation on my way back to the ICC/CoC branch of Restorationism). My faith journey is the church equivalent of “I’ve Been Everywhere.” A seminary friend dubbed me the most ecumenical man alive, and I once frequently answered to “Anglo-Baptist” and “Catholo-Baptist.” I’m a mix of many different breeds, and so I call myself a theological mutt.
But there’s much to be said for theological mongrelism. It gives you the sampler platter of denominations and worship styles. You get a feel for differences in dogma, and those discrepancies force you to reevaluate your personal beliefs. It’s impossible to live an unexamined faith amid so many different interpretations of the same. And why would you want to? Only the proverbial ostrich buries its head in the sand, and only stereotypically insane fundamentalists and patronizing Orthodox refuse to ever question their adiaphora. (Those are jokes.) Do we question the divinity of Christ or the efficacy of the atonement? Absolutely not. But what about weekly Communion? Entire sanctification? The role of the magisterium or polities in general?
Let’s talk about all of those things. Let’s find out what the Bible says and how pertinent passages have been historically interpreted. And if there isn’t Scripture addressing a concern, let’s reason together to formulate a Christian paradigm for it. In short, let’s pull from the best each denomination has to offer and go for it.
And I do believe each faith tradition has value. It may turn my stomach to realize there are over 3,000 distinct denominations in the world, but each of those 3,000+ groups brings something unique to the theological banquet. We may not agree in particulars, but we can recognize their wisdom in generals. For example, I wholeheartedly disagree with the distinctive Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification, but I deeply appreciate the emphasis on personal, scriptural holiness which stems from it. I don’t subscribe to transubstantiation, but I love the reverence of a Roman celebration of the Eucharist, an awe impossible if one did not truly believe one were in the presence of the literal body and blood of Jesus. We all should look at our brothers and sisters of other denominations and learn from them, appreciate their unique contributions to our faith.
Of course, the reverse is also true. If every denomination gets something right, we all also get something wrong. Most of these errors are precisely that: error, not heresy, a problem in adiaphora, not a misunderstanding of diaphora. Heresy we are quite correct to condemn. I can’t imagine a true Christian willing to believe in Arianism, for example, nor unitarianism, gnosticism, Montanism, polytheism, or that the Bible is a work of fiction. Minor things can be left alone; major things never can. And before we rebuke an entire faith tradition just for a minor issue about which we happen to disagree, let’s look at our own denominational dogma and see what error we may have secretly slipped into, shall we?
So while my call is to learn from each other, to become theological mongrels, we must do so judiciously. We can’t just accept something in toto without a certain level of biblically-based scrutiny. As The Incredibles might have said it, if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing. But there’s nothing wrong with adopting the beliefs of others if such beliefs are biblical (or at least not unbiblical). Maybe an ecumenical spirit, a listening ear of this nature will open the door to greater interdenominational dialogue and cooperation.
That’s the ultimate ecclesiological goal, isn’t it? To lay aside our differences, heal our schisms, and restore the integrity of the Church Catholic. It’s a pipe dream, and I know it, but it’s still a dream. We cling to our respective distinctives too tightly to ever recombine into a single denomination. But we are always one Church, a single body of all baptized believers, regardless of doctrinal disparities. We all share the same God, the same Christ, the same salvation, the same baptism (Eph 4:3-6). We all are charged with the same holy commission (Mt 28:18-20). We all strive to win the crown of eternal life and to see others join us in that race. We are truly “one brotherhood united in service and love.”
Therefore, sisters and brothers, let us be one even as God is one. Let us work together, worship together in spirit and in truth, and learn from each other.
Let’s commit a bit of theological mongrelism.