Now I am really crawling out on a limb.
My wife and I spent a couple of days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We chose that as a vacation spot because we now live in Pennsylvania, and it was close. We were there briefly a couple of years ago, after a visit to nearby Gettysburg. It’s a beautiful place, and the attraction is the presence of a Christian group whose lifestyle contributes to the uniqueness of the region’s culture., the “Pennsylvania Dutch”, otherwise known as the Old Order Mennonites, or Amish.
After a couple of days of seeing horses and buggies everywhere, the black and white, and sometimes dark blue clad Amish going about their business on neat, plain, simple farms, we were surprised to see some similarly dressed people on the National Mall in Washington, DC. A group of Mennonites was there distributing literature and tracts, singing hymns, giving testimonies and preaching. When I approached the table where they were distributing Bibles, and literature, one of the men stepped forward, and we talked about our faith. He was quite gracious, and we wanted to give them a blessing, so I handed him an offering, which he accepted. He then offered us a couple of CD’s of hymns, and a couple of tracts to read.
One of the tracts explained who the Mennonites were, how they came about, and what they stood for, along with why they dress the way they do, and why the women all wear caps and the men all have beards. The tract very graciously, but subtly explained that while the Mennonites share common origins with others of the Anabaptist tradition, other churches have fallen away from the Biblical gospel, and have allowed worldly influences to creep in. That would include, according to their tract, hair cuts and hair styles, clothing, and the accompanying lack of preaching a Biblical gospel that doesn’t include church discipline and the “practice” of righteous living.
Of course, their definition of “worldly influences” differs considerably from that of most Christians, as does their definition of “righteous living.” And while I think it is a really good thing that they were boldly out there on the national mall proclaiming their faith, I would respectfully disagree that most churches of other faiths in their own Anabaptist tradition have fallen into apostasy because they don’t define “worldly” and “righteous obedience” the same way. If strict adherence to the specific set of “rules” to which they refer is a mark of obedience to God, then none of them were being obedient, since their dress and hair was consistent with what was worn in Switzerland at the time their church started than with what people wore when Paul wrote his epistles, and what people of that day and age considered “worldly.”
But any attempt to distance yourself, and your group of Christians from other groups of Christians on the finer points of doctrine, especially those which involve a measure of subjective interpretation, isn’t consistent with the teaching of scripture. Grace and redemption are the focus of the Bible’s message. Righteousness comes from Jesus, not from the strength of your interpretation of the scripture. Obedience and the avoidance of “worldliness” are the products of grace, not works done to achieve it, and after salvation, they are expressions of gratitude and, not marks of correct doctrine and faith. The finer points of interpretation related to clothing styles, hair styles and beards tend to bog Christians down in legalism, and distract them from the main message, fragmenting the body of Christ into different parts that follow leaders who actually leave the impression that if you don’t see it the way they see it, you’re not seeing it, and you’re not going to enter the Kingdom, no matter what you may think. And that has the effect of making the very subtle transition from a Holy Spirit illuminated interpretation of scripture to one that depends on human intellect.
If you can point to all the rules you follow, and assure yourself that you are closer to Biblical Christian faith than others, as a result of your self-evaluation, you can sure feel good about yourself. I’ve done that on many occasions in my life, especially during times of spiritual uncertainty, and those life circumstances when my faith was being tested, or when I was having doubts that were hard to resolve. Making sure I was in church on Sundays and Wednesdays, picking up an extra responsibility or job here and there, and observing other Christians to see if they were following rules like I was following them helped me feel good about myself. But it wasn’t very useful in bringing about the spiritual revival that I needed.
The bottom line is that I think the denomination and church where I belong and serve is closest to Biblical Christianity because I wouldn’t be going to one that I thought wasn’t close. But before I make that a topic of my conversation with other believers, I need to realize that we are not in a place now where anyone practices a perfect faith. I think it is more important to be moving in that direction, and experiencing His grace, than to be marking off points that make me think I’m better than the Christians over there in that church. There have been many times in my life when I’ve learned a lesson in humility, discovering that God moves in places and among people that I judged differently.