This summer has been an education for me. My son has been attending Vacation Bible School at various churches throughout San Francisco and, because this city is secular in the extreme, I didn’t have a vast array of choices as to which churches to send him to. But still wanting some low-cost child care for a few weeks (yes, I admit that it wasn’t the most “spiritual” motivation), I sent him to the ones that were available.
The first church was a pretty comfortable fit, since I have close friends who have sent their children to the church’s elementary school. I grew up in the “Charismatic Movement,” and this church is not on-board with the type of worship and expressions of faith I am familiar with; nonetheless, I only looked down on and pitied them a little bit as I dropped my son off into their care each day.
The next church was more of a stretch for me. In fact, my husband and I had multiple discussions about whether we would send our son there for VBS. This church is part of a denomination whose doctrine allows for the ordination of people who are in same-sex relationships, something that my husband and I believe is not God’s plan. In the end, we decided to take our son to VBS there in spite of this difference of belief.
The third church surprised me. It is actually part of the same historical denomination as the second church, but is part of an offshoot which does not ordain those in homosexual relationships. This denomination also takes a more “traditional” stance on issues like abortion and evangelism, with which I also agree. However, having picked up some of their literature in the lobby the first day VBS, I discovered that this denomination adheres to what is sometimes called “replacement theology.” That is to say, they believe that the Church (all Christians worldwide) are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and that the Jewish people and the nation of Israel no longer have a unique place in God’s plan. According to this belief, all the promises in the Bible for Israel are now actually for the Church, and only those Jews who have accepted Y’shua (Jesus) as their Messiah and savior have any claim to them—that claim being equal with those non-Jews who have accepted Him as well. While I won’t get into a detailed discussion of my beliefs here, suffice it to say that I don’t agree with this stance. (Note that I do agree with the Bible-based belief that all believers in Jesus are now Abraham’s spiritual descendants; but I see that as being a different inheritance from the specific promises God has made—and kept—to the Jewish people.)
So, three churches, three areas of contention. And yet, to my surprise, those areas of disagreement have turned out to be the tiniest footnote of my experiences with these various churches. While I expected to have feelings of discomfort when dropping my son off each day, that was almost entirely not what happened. Instead, here’s what I found at each of these churches:
I found people, individuals, who—just like in the churches I have attended—are not summed up by their denomination’s (or even their own personal) belief about one specific issue. I found beautiful women and men who love Jesus so much that it shines out of their eyes and flavors every word from their lips. I found people that loved my son and made sure that he—and I—felt cared for. I found leaders who had sacrificed huge swaths of time to be available to teach and bless the children who filed in through their doors each day. And, best of all, I found my own prejudices and preconceived notions cracking and falling away with each new interaction.
I can’t tell you how freeing and wonderful this is for me. I had no idea how enslaved I had become to my entrenched beliefs about “liberal” Christians, replacement theologians, and non-“Spirit-filled” churches. (I now see the pride that is inherent in this last phrase—as if other churches don’t have the presence of the Holy Spirit.)
My son has one more VBS to attend. It’s at a church whose denomination has been spoken of derogatorily in my family for as long as I can remember (in spite of the fact that my grandparents were members of one such church, and that I have good memories of attending there with them). Happily, I recognize in myself a new openness that I did not have at the beginning of the summer. Instead of preparing myself for potential conflict or disagreement, I find myself excited to meet more Christians who come from a different experience of faith than I do. I can’t wait to see what I learn from them, and—even more—just to connect to them as fellow followers of Jesus. I find that I love His Church more freely and fully than I ever have before, and I am truly, deeply excited to see what the future holds as I get to know more and more of His people.