"If you don't want me to leave the Catholic Church and become what you are, then you have a religion which is not worth a 'tinker's dam.'" (Fr. Terry O'Shea, Ministerial Alliance meeting, 1973)
There is an old bromide about the Methodist who died and went to heaven (fyi -- denominations vary by who's telling the story). According to the storyline, as St. Peter is showing him around they come upon a very high wall. "What's with the wall?' he asks. St Peter whispers "That's where we keep all the (insert any denomination's name), they think they're the only one's up here."
It's hard to image now, but there was a time in this town and every like town in America when where you went to church mattered. It mattered a great deal. "Social position" was broadcast by which denomination one pledged allegiance. If one lived on a certain Brazil street, now on the historical register, it was assumed you were wise enough to attend a "high church." Living on another side of town gave liberty to being Baptist or some such; and if really poor Pentecostals were tolerated.
It's hard to image now, but there was a time in this town and every like town in America when whether a politician went to church mattered. If a man (it was 99 percent men) wanted to get elected, he pretty well had to be identified with a church. And, until 1960 that church dare not be Roman Catholic.
These perceptions have changed since 1960 and the election of President Kennedy. For better or worse who we are is not so much judged by where or whether a person goes to church. I might even be ready to admit it has become conceivable that if you do not attend my church you might get into heaven after all.
It is my observation that it continues to be possible to be what I would term a "philosophical" Christian -- that is, because I somehow identify with a certain church that is what I am. My stepfather Bill Maddox put it this way, "I'm a trunk Baptist. Joined the Baptist Church when I was a kid and got a membership certificate. Put the darn thing in a trunk and have been a Baptist ever since."
People identify with one church or another for a lot of reasons: They love the liturgy (every church has one, know it or not); or it's where they grew up; or there's a really nice preacher. All good reasons, I think.
Any American church can embrace any teachings or traditions it wishes, which makes for a very interesting diversity. As long as you say, "these are our traditions, the way we choose to 'do' church", you can get away with a lot of intriguing dichotomies.
What cannot be done in the name of Christ's Church is that which clearly contravenes the civil law or the rights of another. My church may advocate right to life and yours favor right to choose. Advocating gives neither justification to walk into another's church and murder.
On the second Sunday in September 1996 Kay and I walked into a church we have attended to this day, Christ Community Church. It had no specific denominational allegiance, but neither did we. For reason we could not articulate this is where we felt "at home".
It is not a secret that a while back Christ Community went though a spiritual wilderness not unlike that which many congregations experience. These sojourns might actually be beneficial, maybe even led into intentionally. It was a time of forcing us, and everyone involved, to search our hearts for an answer to these questions: Do I honestly believe this is where God has planted me, is this where I am to serve Him?
Affirmative answer to such questions raises every true follower above being a "Philosophical Christian."
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.