Two of my kids were not feeling well and another one just got home from a five-day-camp, so my husband and I decided to attend worship at a nearby church. We live in Bulacan and our local church is located in Cubao—more than 30 kilometers away.
We’ve seen this particular Wesleyan church a few weeks after we moved to the neighborhood two years ago. My family is reformed Baptist by conviction and confession. Just last year, we left our Fundamental Pentecostal church to fellowship with like-minded believers.
I grew up attending only one church (I refused to attend another church even when I was away from home for college) and I did not have the chance to mingle and worship with other Christians who have different beliefs and convictions. I have to admit that this is due to my deep-seated pride inculcated by well-meaning people who only have good intentions and wanted to protect me from doctrinal pollution. The 20+ years I’ve spent in my Fundamental Pentecostal church has given me safety from “false teachers,” “compromising Christians,” and “doctrines which appeal to the itching ears of hearers.” Because of the strict set of rules and conservative upbringing, I’ve always thought that believers outside of my denomination were second-rate Christians who are worldly and are not living according to the standards that God has set for His people. The Reformed Baptist church which we are now part of is the very first church we’ve attended after we said goodbye to our former. We’ve consistently attended the services in Cubao during the last year taking only six Lord’s days to fellowship and celebrate with our brothers and sisters from our previous Fundamental Pentecostal circle.
With this background, I’ve never really had the chance to get to know believers with other persuasions. The past three years have been monumental in our lives as the Lord started to uproot the prejudices in our hearts and opened our arms to embrace people outside our camp and recognize that these people were also bought by the same precious blood of our Savior.
So this morning, while the family was having breakfast, we told our kids that today we will meet other brothers and sisters who are worshipping in a different local church. My youngest was actually thrilled that we will be going “sa bago nating church” (in our “new church”).
It was a Wesleyan church so we already expected that the doctrine upheld is different from our reformed confession. The worship was different from what I have been accustomed to. The churches I attended have very solemn worship services where only hymns were sung. This particular church’s worship service was led by a band who sing mostly upbeat contemporary songs. They also raised their hands while they sing. The preaching was practical though not as theologically deep and rich as I wanted. But the pastor and his wife and all the church members welcomed us warmly and treated us like brothers and sisters. I could only sense their genuine happiness in having us in their midst.
This morning’s service has been a very humbling experience for me. It is no question that doctrine is of utmost importance for me and I will stand and risk my life for the things that I believe in. So much so that when faced with believers from another Christian camp, I must confess that I still feel a sense of superiority. I believe that no matter which circle you belong to, there is this distinctive that can cultivate pride in a believer’s heart. For some denominations, these are their “holiness” and “spirituality” that make them a cut above the rest. For some, these are supernatural spiritual experiences. For us reformed, I think it is theological pride. It gives us the feeling that we know the profound truths of God. And it often puffs us up and makes us look down on other believers who don’t share our “theological depth.”
Yes, there are essential truths which should not be compromised at all cost and I acknowledge that there are goats masquerading as sheep even inside local churches. And these errors need to be exposed and corrected for the sake that Christ’s bride be without blemish or wrinkle. But personally, I feel the need to be more compassionate and recognize that though Christian essential doctrines are a hill to die on, I should also be humble enough to accept and embrace and learn from other believers (especially those outside our denomination!). It takes humility to call another believer a brother or a sister even when their theological understanding and practice (in non-essentials) is far from mine. And even though I think I am holier and spiritually superior (Oh the irony of believing I am more spiritual and look down on another believer!).
Again and again, this verse comes to mind:
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another. John 13:35
The proof of my discipleship to Christ is a love for my fellow disciples. I affirm that love does not and will not tolerate sin and will correct and rebuke when needed. But more and more, I am learning that real brotherly love is best exemplified by my humility towards other believers who are different from me–in theological understanding, in living this Christian life, in convictions, and in Christian maturity. We are all in various stages of our Christian lives and I believe that God has sovereignly ordained the road that we take towards fullness of knowledge and sanctification. It is definitely easier to “love” those who are like us and for us, but to truly care and pray for and prefer those who differ and even oppose us requires a Christlike love that is both sacrificial and unconditional. It is to rejoice for them when God has granted them a favor and to weep with them when they are disciplined.
No believer is perfect. No church in this age will ever be perfect in understanding and in practice. And how I long for the day when our eyes and hearts and minds are all perfected to comprehend the beauty and the deep truths of God! But until then, our God has left us with a command and a challenge–to stand together for His glory–despite our differences and imperfections.
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