by Tyler Lehmann
An angel says to Charlie, “Welcome to heaven! Now, before you get settled in, let me show you around.”
So the angel leads Charlie through the pearly gates, and the grand tour begins.
“Here in heaven,” the angel explains, “we try to keep things peaceful. That’s why we like to give each denomination their own cloud.” Charlie nods his head, viewing the magnificent expanse of clouds stretched out before him.
“If you look to your left,” the angel says, “you’ll see the cloud we have for Lutherans.” Sure enough, there’s a large cumulonimbus floating just on the left, sprawling with Lutherans as far as the eye can see. Charlie and the angel briefly exchange greetings with them, and then go on their way.
A few moments later, the angel says, “Look to your right, Charlie, and you’ll see our cloud for Baptists.” Again, the two of them stop to greet the cloud’s occupants, then continue on.
After a few minutes, the angel turns to Charlie and whispers, “Alright, I’m going to need you to be very quiet as we pass that next cloud up there.”
“Why is that?” Charlie asks, confused over the sudden need for stealth.
“That cloud is for the Methodists,” the angel says under his breath.
“They think they’re the only ones here.”
To you Methodists reading this, please don’t take offense—I only pick on people when I like them. Besides, the joke works with any denomination. The reason I tell it is, underneath the humor, it makes a good point about all of us in the body of Christ.
Sometimes, we Christians get so absorbed in our own way of encountering God that we all too quickly dismiss the way our brothers and sisters practice the faith. At least, I know I’m guilty of doing this.
You see, I grew up as a Pentecostal. If you’re not familiar with us, just picture a church full of people on a caffeine buzz—I’d imagine that’s pretty much the same thing. Jumping in the air during worship music, huddling up and laying hands on each other for group prayers, and of course, a healthy dose of congregational Amen!s peppered throughout the sermon were all staples in my Sunday mornings growing up.
My arrival at college, however, ushered in a drastically different religious experience. The school I attend is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, a considerably more mile-mannered bunch than Pentecostals. Singing out of hymnals, taking part in responsive readings—I felt like I had landed on another planet.
For about my first semester, I walked out at the end of chapel every morning extremely cynical about what I had sat through, secretly thinking my Pentecostal upbringing was above this Reformed nonsense. I have my own way, I like it my way, and my way is right, I told myself.
As time went on, though, I realized that I had gotten way too big for my britches—sorry for using a momism. But when I finally got over myself, I recognized that this new perspective was actually really helping me grow in my faith. Now, I still enjoy connecting with God in the more ahem exuberant Pentecostal fashion of my upbringing, but I’ve also discovered real value in the more introspective Reformed approach.
No single denomination has a monopoly on God. Rather, they all capture a slightly different angle of Him. None of us can paint the whole picture ourselves, but together as the body of Christ, we can seek out the depth and complexity of our God.
Are you an evangelical? You’re no more right than a Presbyterian. So you go to an Episcopal church? You’ve got nothing over a Catholic. That’s because we all share one thing in common: we are all Christians, and we are all the body of Christ.
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”—Romans 12:3-5
It’s no accident that we all see God in different ways. Do you really think the creator of the universe can be figured out by just one understanding? There’s a lot you can learn from someone who does things a little differently than you do, so don’t confine yourself to a single denomination. If you do, you’re getting a really limited view.
Plus, as a side note, I’m pretty sure the clouds in heaven aren’t segregated by denomination, so we might as well just learn to put up with each other now.