COMPLETE STATEMENT OF BELIEF
For those who want to start with a complete presentation of what I believe you may review the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene . It goes into great detail with references. I am a member of the Church of the Nazarene, not because it is perfect, but because I believe it comes the closest to a correct understanding of the Word. For now. Today. This does not mean I walk in lock step with its actions and policies, but I believe the official statements it makes about the faith.
If you look around you find a multitude of different denominations. A natural belief would be that they can't all be right. Where should a serious follower of Jesus become involved. There are many things that attract people: Worship style, language, location, size of congregation, type of building. These are a matter of personal taste. You can find disciples of Jesus in any church with any combination of superficial qualities.
There are important differences in theology. Some demonstrate the difference between heresy and truth. Some are the difference in how we interpret the Scripture. All who are really Christian have certain things they agree on. If you look at the link above you will find that except for the article on Entire Sanctification, most believers would accept the rest. Okay, you want to tweek it and change some words, but you know what I mean. I can visit a church and look at their statement of belief and generally find nothing I disagree with.
Then why are there so many denominations?
Part of the problem is that churches hide the parts of their beliefs that might drive people away. I took a chance on that when I linked to the Nazarene web site. You can attend many Nazarene churches and even join, but not know about Entire Sanctification. You can attend many churches for years and not realize that they don't believe you are really a Christian until you speak in tongues, or are baptized in their ritual, or use a King James Bible, or....
For all of our differences I believe the big divide has to do with free will. Are you saved because God chose you personally before He created the world, or did you chose God because something in you made a decision? Once you are saved, can you change your mind and heart? This to me is the big divide among believers. I deliberately said "believers" because I don't think one side is going to heaven and the other isn't. Really, I don't believe that. Hook up the lie detector. Read my journal.
I can find verses that back both unconditional predestination and free will. They exist. We have to deal with that.
The traditional titles for these two sides of the road are Calvinist and Arminian. No I did not mean to type Armenian.
You will not meet too many people today who will admit to being Calvinists. They now call themselves followers of Reformed Theology. It is almost as if they are ashamed of John Calvin. Let me give you an example that I found as I was composing this piece. There is a great church in Maryland. This in no way is a put down on them, just an example. You can examine their web sight and their statement of faith. It contains a summary and a complete statement. In reading it I found nothing but nit picky things to criticize. But I had listen to the preaching and have been around the block a few times. I kept digging and on the web site for their umbrella group it found an even more complete statement. Here you can find a page for FAQ. If you look at the third question you find this statement: "We do believe and cherish the doctrines that historically have been called the TULIP...." To make that statement means you are hard core Calvinist. This statement is hard to find, even if you are looking for it. I almost gave up because when just jumping around I remembered seeing the link to FAQ, but when I went looking for it I couldn't find it on the local church web site. It was only when I went to the umbrella groups web site that I found it. Is this a sinister plot? No. Does this mean the church is evil? Of course not. To me, though, it is a sign of being embarrassed by what you believe. Calvinists are like liberals in this regard. They never admit to being what they are.
The teachings of Calvin have been summed up in the acronym TULIP.
Perseverance of the saints
Most of the spiritual descendants of Calvin have publicly backed away from at least one of these points, but at heart they are still Calvinists. Most churches today are Calvinist even if they keep it quiet.
The Arminians are named after a Dutch theologian named James Arminius. The big difference between Arminius and Calvin is that Arminius taught that God had given us free will. It seems a little thing, but it is so important. If you haven't figured it out yet, I am an Arminian. I believe that we are saved by grace through faith and that that choice is something I make, not something that is made for me. I believe that if I should ever be so stupid as to choose to withdraw my faith, God will honor that also.
THE TRADITIONS OF THE ELDERS
If you read the Sermon on the Mount, you find Jesus making quite a contrast between what He taught and what the Traditions of the Elders taught. In addition to the individual points Jesus made I think this is a warning to us to not get to wrapped up in the traditions of the elders. Today that means Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Luther or any other modern authority we like to quote. I am reading through Wesley's works. I find them very uplifting. I usually agree with what he says. But my beliefs are from the Bible not from any system, no matter how wonderful it is. The Bible talks about predestination. The Bible talks about making choices. The Bible talks about being secure in the hands of God. The Bible talks about falling from grace. You cannot pick and chose, you have to include all of it.
So read, study, grow. If you have trusted in Jesus and are seeking to be obedient to His word, I will call you a brother, even if you have consigned me to the pit of hell. And I will continue to wonder how smart, God-fearing people can disagree with me.