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My friend is struggling right now to discern what is right and wrong in the Church and his Christian life.

He has been brought up in a Catholic church where he had learned about Jesus and what he did for us.

Through friends (including myself) he has visited other denominations and congregations and is noticing the differences between them. He has attended traditional Church of Scotland churches, to Baptist Churches, to Pentecostal Churches and through each Church he is being told what to believe different things by different Christians. Some Christians have told him that he should not even question the pastor/priest, and must agree with what they tell him, as they are the anointed ones.

Does my friend need to accept all the teachings of whatever denomination he chooses to be associated with?

More generally, are Christians required accept the teaching of a denomination when they commit to it? Or is there some freedom to pick and chose their own personal belief system?

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This question may not be quite right for the site. It seems almost like pastoral advice... It might be much more fitting if it's about what Christianity (or a particular religion in it) says about this topic... –  Matt Nov 15 '12 at 0:49
    
I think your approach is correct: let him read his Bible and figure it out, with help from his friends. –  Wikis Nov 15 '12 at 6:00
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A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. –  Narnian Nov 15 '12 at 13:42

6 Answers 6

The New Testament church was different in that everybody participated in the meeting:

Quote

We used 1 Corinthians 14:26 as one example of what a NT church meeting was like.

http://www.paganchristianity.org/answers.php

It's quite likely that the single person monologue seen in church today had its origin in the state backed church Constantine created.

It led to ministry and authority vested in a few, which is antithetical to the New Testament model:

John 13:14 NET If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet.

Maybe a Bible study best resembles the original church, and thus the best place for your friend to get his feet wet (and washed!). I learnt the most in discussions at studies, both online and off.

How did Jesus purify the Church? By explaining the Scriptures to them:

Luke 24:25-27 NET So he said to them, “You foolish people – how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.

Ephesians 5:25-27 NET Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.

Christ's work is continued by his disciples who wash each other's feet . How is this different from the one person monologue?

There are checks and balances built into the process when the disciples imitate Christ:

Acts 17:11 NET These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.

The building action spoken of here are the explanations we extract from the Scripture, which must be buttressed by other Scripture, and based on the teachings of the Apostles, Prophets, which are in turn based on teachings of Christ:

1 Corinthians 3:12-13 NET If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done.

Jeremiah 23:28-31 NET Let the prophet who has had a dream go ahead and tell his dream. Let the person who has received my message report that message faithfully. What is like straw cannot compare to what is like grain! I, the Lord, affirm it! My message is like a fire that purges dross! It is like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces! I, the Lord, so affirm it! So I, the Lord, affirm that I am opposed to those prophets who steal messages from one another that they claim are from me. I, the Lord, affirm that I am opposed to those prophets who are using their own tongues to declare, ‘The Lord declares….’

As you can see, this edification model makes up for what the monologue lacks, by having a regulating mechanism: footwashers using the water of the Word of God to expose truth or lie in claims about the meaning of God's word.

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I don't how this suits this question. Haven't it been intended for another question? For example this one might suit. –  Pavel Nov 17 '12 at 17:01
    
The post answers the question of what is the most suitable ecosystem for someone trying to get away from the excessive control found in most churches, the RCC probably being at the top of the pile. I suggested a Bible study. This wouldn't have been a suitable post in the other thread: I have no evidence Constantine was responsible. –  Footwasher Nov 17 '12 at 18:35
    
This is not an answer Peter's friend would admit - you just offer him another group with another version of "truth", which would just increase chaos in his head. As I understood the question, the problem is with different groups trying to proselytize him, sometimes in a "excessive control" way ("don't think, just believe exactly as we do"). It doesn't seem to be his problem in RCC; if it was, I would recommend him just to ask another priest - there are some bad priests, but Catholic Church in general is quite helpful to those asking "why?" –  Pavel Nov 17 '12 at 21:35

I think you misunderstand something. It's not so much that a denomination forces you what to believe. It's that what you believe should determine which denomination you align with. You are free to choose a denomination that is compatible with what you believe, based on study and prayer.

As a practical matter, people tend to unfortunately choose their denomination based on other factors such as family association, religious history, ethnic background, etc. This could make a denomination feel restrictive or controlling for many individuals, but in this case the blame belongs with the individuals who allowed factors other than religious conviction to choose their religious affiliation, and perhaps with the culture that blinded them to the realization that they have a choice.

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In general, I can't add anything to what Svidgen wrote in his answer, but I have some concrete, practical hints, derived from my experience.

I was in somewhat similar situation as Peter's friend in Summer 2010. It was few months after my conversion and in my home town there was no group of young Catholics, so I often spent almost as much time with my pentecostal friends as with in my home church. They encouraged me to study Bible, and I read it, but I have been confused by the differences in the faith of the two denominations, and it inhibited me from accepting Bible as not just a clever book, but as real "word of God". This changed when I have joint Light Life Movement (one of spiritual movements in Catholic Church) and learned lectio divina. Since then, I wasn't afraid that the protestants will lead me to some unorthodoxy through misinterpetation of the Bible, and I have spent more time reading and contemplating Word of God then my friends since then.

And now my hints:

  • definitely continue encouraging him to read Bible
  • focus on "why", tell him not only what you believe but why you believe so
  • if your goal is not to proselytize him but to help him become a good Christian, it's good to encourage him to ask his priest(s) to learn him. 50 years after 2nd Vatican Council, most priests wouldn't force him to blindly believe something, but will help him understand Bible and his own faith and encourage him to try to explain Catholic point of view to you. Understanding one's faith is a necessary prerequisite of any good ecumenical dialogue, and it might lead to rich fruits.

Definitely avoid forcing him to believe in anything!

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Authentic faith should never demand a sacrifice of the intellect!

From Fr. Robert Barron, Catholic priest.

One of the signs that you're not dealing with authentic faith is that you've had to sacrifice your mind.

However, it's important to acknowledge the bounds of one's own intellect, giving due respect to religious traditions that have been fed with thousands of years of intelligent thought and divine revelation. Christianity ultimately started in Judaism. Hence, our founding philosophy is well over 5000 years old. And the core Christian addendums, if I may call them that, have been scrupulously pored over and tested for nearly 2000 years.

Don't be afraid to bring your intellect fully into your faith. Also, bring your experience, spiritual and otherwise. But, acknowledge regularly your own intellectual limitations, your ability to be deceived, and your tendency towards self-serving reasoning. Remember again, that your spiritual advisor is likely trained to help you recognize your self-deception!

Remember that many major traditions only "insist" on adherence to some core set of beliefs. You are generally free and encouraged to roam a vast expanse of practice and thought.

Now, since it is likely that your priest or minister will make mistakes, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, etc., remember: If you're in one of the major traditions, your priests have been sacramentally consecrated. They perform a specific, sacramental role which is to be rightfully honored and respected, even when the priest-person is in error.

And if I may offer a personal plea: Avoid relativistic tendencies. Under the cry of being open-minded, folks sacrifice their intellect far more than most any religion ever asks of them! The human intellect is pretty insistent that the world is ordered, that reality is what it is, and that there are correct and incorrect statements -- that truth is absolute. Though you may often cede not to know the right answer, I would beg that you insist, in most cases, that there is a right answer! And that often means the other answers are wrong, regardless of how compassionately we can acknowledge it.

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I think he needs to separate out the theological issue (what are my beliefs) from the practical issue (which church should I attend). These aren't entirely separate, of course - if he is convinced a church is wrong theologically, he should not attend it, no matter how nice the people there are - but he doesn't has to find answers for himself to the great questions of theology in order to pick a church. He should look for a church which satisfies him to a decent degree spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, socially - but he does not need to be convinced it is the "One True Church"(TM). With time he will grow, and he may well outgrow his chosen church and move to a different one - but that doesn't mean the time he spent there was wasted.

Separately, I'd encourage him to study the major branches of Christianity, and the doctrinal and practical questions which motivate them. I'd look at the three major divisions of Christianity - Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox - and the differences between them. And then he can drill down further, e.g. differences between different Protestant theologies (Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, Arminian, Annabaptist, etc.) Also it is worthwhile to examine those groups whose Christian status is called into question (like LDS or Jehovah's Witnesses) - one really should understand their distinctive beliefs (esp. in Christology) before declaring them wrong.

In order to make up your own mind, you need to start with a good understanding of what are the questions, and what are the different answers that are proposed; then one is ready to decide for one's self which answer one believes to be right. And one doesn't need to have completed this process to be an active participant in one's chosen spiritual community. (For many years I attended a church, which I've since decided has very many things wrong - but I don't regret my time there, because I learnt from it and I grew spiritually and intellectually from that experience.)

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You should not be forced to believe anything. All elders/pastors/priests will say something incorrect at one point or another. You are correct that you should be reading the bible as much as you can, as it is the source. Let the Holy Spirit and Word of God speak to you, and also pray and let the Holy Spirit give you eyes to see and ears to listen. Find a church you believe is following the Word of God, and grow with them.

Here is a verse that might be relevant:

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:5-7

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