Plain Label Christianity and Hall Monitors

There are hundreds of shampoos on the market; far too many to make any logical, rational, certain choice, so I choose one called “Generic Shampoo.”  There are hundreds of beers too.  All have competing claims and counter claims so I drink one called Beer.  There are dozens of cars on the market each claiming to be the best, so I drive one called “Non-Detroit, Japanese, or European.”  I reported for jury duty to a large courthouse with many rooms; I couldn’t decide which one to enter, so I stayed in the hall.

 

Of course, I don’t do any of this. Yet people do this in the matter of religious faith.  They choose Non-denominational believing they have answered the dilemma of competing claims to truth.  They reason since all denominations claim to be the truth I’ll choose the one that makes no claims to truth even though by definition a non-denominational church believes all the other denominations are wrong for being a distinct denomination and they are right for not being one.

It is like the generic craze of the early 80s.  Wikipedia, the website everyone sites as untrustworthy except in the area they’re citing it, says this: “In the early 1980s, generic products in the United States had plain white labels with blue or black lettering describing the product in simple terms – “Yellow Cake Mix”, “Tuna In Water”, “Chocolate Flavor Syrup”, “Deodorant Soap” – with only ingredients and preparation details as appropriate. This was during a sharp economic downturn when many consumers were placing more emphasis on value than on brand loyalty. In the U.S. industrial Midwest, a region especially hard hit by the recession, generics became a common sight in supermarkets and discount stores” (wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_brand).

My new bride and I used these products.  I well remember the black label beer, not Carling Black Label mind you, but a white can with black lettering that simply said Beer. (It was the first time I knew that 12 fluid ounces was 355 milliliters.)  I drank under the label Beer but to be sure I was drinking from one of the major breweries of that time.  And so non-denominationalists are drinking from one of the major streams of Christianity usually Reformed and probably Armenian Baptist. As I could say by drinking generic beer that I was above the fray of the beer wars, so they can say they are above the fray of denominationalism.  But what I did to save a dollar or two, they are doing to save relations with all the other denominations.  I’m non-denominational, so I can go to a Baptist, Catholic, or Lutheran church if need be….all the while believing those churches are in fact wrong for being denominations.

This is hypocrisy.  I didn’t deny I was drinking beer even if I didn’t know the brand.  They claim they aren’t imbibing a particular brand of Christianity when in fact they are. Furthermore, they claim to be above judging any of the truth claims of denominations when in fact they reject them all.  In drinking Beer, I wasn’t claiming that I was above judging any of the flavor claims of breweries.  I was “above” paying for their name.  It’s “beneath” Non-denominationalists to come out and judge truth.  I gained a few bucks; they lose the concept of truth.

C.S. Lewis would’ve been gentle, I think, with Christians caught up in these non-denomination, denominations.  He would’ve called them mere Christians.  In fact, in 1943 long before the existence of Non-denominational as a denomination, he likened this type of Christian to a person who remains in the hall rather than go into one of the several rooms off the hall. He can’t yet bring himself to go into any of the rooms of the existing communions of faith, so he stands out in the hall.  Lewis goes on to say, “But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think preferable” (Mere Christianity, 11-12).

Yes, with Lewis we can be gentle with a Christian in the common hall of Christianity, but I think we should be more like no-nonsense hall monitors when it comes to generic denominations.  They are harming the Body of Christ when they invite people to make the heatless, restless, foodlesshall a place to live. 

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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