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I grew up in a non-denominational church and was heavily involved until a few years ago. Some of my personal beliefs don't agree with the commonly accepted "core doctrines" of Christianity (which is a separate issue here), and I've found it hard to feel accepted in a church.

For reference, here are some of the doctrines that I don't accept as infallible:

  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • Deity of Jesus
  • Millenialism
  • Predestination
  • Dispensationalism

I don't see that any of these are core to Jesus' teachings. Accordingly, I don't know whether I would even ascribe myself as a Christian, though I believe in God and very much believe in the lifestyle that Jesus portrayed. I'm almost certain that most Christians would not consider me part of the "in-group."

However I miss the sense of community that I once had, which leads to the question: Do you have any suggestions for how to find a community in which to belong, one that centers around Jesus's teachings and a love for God, yet doesn't require you to proclaim belief in the core doctrines of Christianity to gain acceptance? Are there a denominations / communities that hold these as core doctrines, but don't require you to subscribe to them to be considered 'Christian'?

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A few objective facts about basic Christian beliefs that are relevant to your question: Central to the gospel is the idea of "come as you are." Jesus' sacrifice made it so that we can approach a perfect God even though we are flawed. That means that relatively few churches will require much of anything of a person who wants to attend and learn what they're about, though most have requirements for membership. Groups that identify as "seeker-sensitive" often welcome people with diverse beliefs, though many others contend that the term is also associated with flawed theology. Best wishes, ciao. –  Philip Schaff Jun 30 '13 at 1:37
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@landons The basic answer to your question is Unitarian. I'll warn you in advance, most Christians (myself included) wouldn't really see them as Christian, but they may fit your criteria. Likewise, the word you are looking for is Deist –  Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 14:21
    
@AffableGeek, thanks so much for that. Unitarianism is exactly what I was looking for! –  landons Jul 1 '13 at 18:22
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Though, I'd say that only your first two could really---in any descriptive sense---be considered "core" by the vast majority of Christians. –  jackweinbender Jul 2 '13 at 11:37
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The "Deity of Jesus" is kind of a show-stopper. If not deity, then why bother? –  Joel Coehoorn Jul 3 '13 at 3:14

2 Answers 2

The "coreness" of your stated doctrines should really be divided into two groups:

Group 1 (Requires Explanation - See Below)

  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • Deity of Jesus

Group 2 (A Lot! see Methodists in particular)

  • Predestination
  • Millenialism
  • Dispensationalism

The doctrines in Group 2 are actually rather narrow in scope and are rarely considered requirements outside of certain Bible Church cultures. Indeed, finding all three together would be difficult in many places.

Dispensationalism, for example, pretty much didn't exist until Darby Ryrie in the 1800s. Outside of hardcore fundamentalist Baptist or evangelical Bible churches, the actual scheme of different salvations for different time periods is fairly rare.

Millenialism, popularized by the Left Behind books and Hal Lindsay is a 20th Century thing. The Roman Catholic Church explicitly rejects Millennialism, for example.

Predestination typically is reserved for Calvinistic movements. Methodists, for example, completely reject the notion. Even "Free Will Baptists" reject Calvinistic notions.

As such, to find a church that doesn't consider anything in Group 2 to be "core" you have a whole lot of latitude - Everything from Orthodox to Roman Catholic to Methodist to Episcopalian to even liberal Baptist. These are issues that are more likely to be selectors for a church rather than against.

Group 1 Options

Group 1 is harder because the formulations are much, much more ancient.

The Doctrine of the Trinity was most famously formulated in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD - one of the most fundamental tenant of what most of the world assumes you are talking about when you say "Christian." Likewise, Jesus' Deity is something that I, as an Evangelical, would say is fundamental to Scripture, but objectively can be seen to permeate the writings of Paul, John, and other 1st Century Christians. In rejecting those, I suspect one would naturally hold a much "looser" understanding of Scripture than again what most would consider "Mainstream."

As such, those are the core doctrines that would make you uncomfortable in a Roman Catholic Church, for example. (Some more liberal churches like certain Methodist or Episcopalian ones might let you pass, but that's at the congregational level, not the denomination.)

Mormons (LDS)

For rejection of the Trinity and the creeds, the LDS (Mormon) Church is in agreement with you. Likewise, Jesus' divinity is more nuanced. Additionally, their emphasis on feeling doctrine would make you feel at home - but make no mistake, there is a very definite Mormon Orthodoxy that might rear its head on other issues you haven't listed. Subjectively, I consider them to be highly orthopractic, meaning they are highly concerned with "right action," although not to the level of a Holiness movement church.

As a movement, however, Mormons are quite large and growing rapidly - and thus easy to find. It would be a church that would make your consideration list.

Jehovah's Witness

Additionally, Jehovah's Witness reject the Trinity and the notion that Jesus is God. Famously their "New World Translation" says that Jesus is a God, not the God. Again there, however, the rejection of these doctrines does not mean that they do not hold very rigidly to others.

Likewise, JW's are characterized by a radical rejection of racism, and are one of the most integrated 'churches' out there. This leads many to understand JW's as very 'tolerant,' but again, fidelity to core doctrines is rigid, and excommunication happens with some regularity if there is a perceived lack of fidelity to core teachings. Being thrown out of the very tight-knit community is a highly charged thing for JWs.

And, speaking as one who grew up in a Bible Church, I suspect you would find JW's treatment of Scripture to be downright maddening. While they do not have their own Scriptures that add to the Bible (like, say, the Mormons, and bearing in mind that the WatchTower comes closes), their translation of the Bible is considered authoritative, and certain peculiar translations that are authoritative may drive you nuts. ("I and the Father are One in Unity" I'm looking at you!)

Unitarian Universalists

If you are looking for a denomination that is most at home holding doctrines in general loosely, your "best" bet would probably be Unitarianism. Tom Lehrer famously joked in the 60s, "How do you get a Unitarian out of your neighborhood? Burn a Question Mark on his lawn." Unitarians explicitly reject the Trinity (hence their name) and like the Ba'hai understand all religions to have Divine Truth. Most famously Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Unitarian - and since he grew up "Christian," Unitarians are often lumped together with Christians by scholars.

That said, most Nicene Christians would reject the idea that Unitarians are Christian at all. Their rejection of such fundamental doctrines and what they would view as out and out syncretism makes them suspect to the eye of one grounded in the Scriptures. I say this not as condemnation but again, to place them in a mental model.

The 'Emerging Church' ala Brian McLaren

Here, you might also find some traction, as these seeker-friendly churches seek, in almost Agile-like Manifesto. From Brian McLaren:

An awareness of and attempt to reach those in the changing postmodern culture.

An attempt to use technology, i.e., video, slide shows, internet.

A broader approach to worship using candles, icons, images, sounds, smells, etc.

An inclusive approach to various, sometimes contradictory belief systems.1

An emphasis on experience and feelings over absolutes.

Concentration on relationship-building over proclamation of the gospel.

Shunning stale traditionalism in worship, church seating, music, etc.

A de-emphasis on absolutes and doctrinal creeds

A re-evaluation of the place of the Christian church in society.

A re-examination of the Bible and its teachings.

A re-evaluation of traditionally-held doctrines.

A re-evaluation of the place of Christianity in the world.

Like Unitarians (only with a more modern bent), the rap is the same - they stand for so much change, so much 'people over process' that it is tempting for some Christians to ask if they stand for anything at all.

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A major plus one for all of this, but one nit picky detail: Of group two items, only one of the three items in your group two is the proper domain of "hard-line Calvinist Evangelicalism". The other two are actually more properly contra-indicators. For example a "dispensational Calvinist" is sort of like your happy highschooler calling themselves emo: they haven't quite got all their genres sorted out yet :) –  Caleb Jul 2 '13 at 13:32
    
@jayyeshu I agree - I'm just trying to be non-partisan in describing it. The Creeds are the most common reference point for the formulation of the Trinity, but I agree, it really goes back to Scripture. Saying that, however, has a slightly higher bar than the Creeds - and since that isn't my focus, I put it the way I did. –  Affable Geek Jul 2 '13 at 13:59
    
Doctrine of Trinity is not an invention of this creed but it was existing much before that. See this question –  Seek forgiveness Jul 2 '13 at 14:00

There seem to be two tacks to take here. You could be looking for…

  1. a church that specifically does not believe in these doctrines at all, or…
  2. a church that is welcoming enough to include you in their community without prerequisite of doctrinal unity.

Let's take the easy one first.

Of the doctrinal points you list as believing they are flawed, several items are already nearly mutually exclusive. For example, it would be hard to find a church that held fast to both predestination and dispensationalism. While a few individuals may profess some such jumbled creed, in broader strokes they just don't go together. However, these points are usually considered to be "non essential" doctrines and don't in themselves define Christianity.

Still this will be a short list because, if you allow me to be blunt, you've pretty much ruled out two of the very most foundation beliefs of Christianity. Christianity without the Trinity and without the Deity of Christ is, according to a vast majority (probably most easily labeled at the broadest level as "Nicene Christianity") not Christianity at all. I would group the short list of exceptions into two categories:

  • Sects with specific but non-Nicene beliefs.

    There are a few sects that don't hold to the usual formulations of these doctrines. For example Mormonism comes to mind. They don't believe in the Trinity the way Nicene Christians do and their version of divinity is also quite different. However for the purpose of your question, it is also worth noting that they require a high degree of conformity to their beliefs in order to "belong" so that is probably not what you're looking for.

  • Sects without specific beliefs of any sort.

    There are a few denominations that still call themselves Christian even after having thrown all its teachings to the wind. The list of doctrines these groups consider "essential" is a short list indeed. On it you will not find the Trinity, Jesus' Divinity, the authority of Scripture, or other notable doctrines from the rest of Christianity.

    • Unitarianism is probably the biggest name in this group. These guys pretty much don't care what you believe as long as you believe something. Doesn't matter why. Their version of community is basically secular humanism plus a few moral values or spiritual ideas vaguely defined as being related to God.
    • While not denominations, there are quite a few individual churches, often centered around some charismatic leader, that have gone this way. Examples might be Rob Bell or Joel Osteen. These 'churches' have abandoned the idea of creedal belief statements being what unites a church and put people and culture first, leaving the details of theology in their communities to play out however they will.

Tracking down folks in the second group will be much harder...

... but in the end the result might be much better for you!

Here's what this boils down to. There is a huge spectrum inside Christianity as far as how "outsiders" are treated. Some churches won't give you time time of day if you don't show up in your choir robe with your signed confession in perfect conformity. Others will take a trippin' hippie that wandered in off the street thinking it was an ice cream shop and make them feel awkward with a giant hug and smothering attention just for existing no matter what they believe.

So what makes the difference?

The difference, I propose, is in how intentional the church is in living out what it believes. Now please don't get me wrong: I'd be equally uncomfortable in either of the two extreme caricatures I painted just now. In fact I would go so far as to say both are, in their own ways, wrong. Wrong because each extreme tends to be very weak on the other side of the spectrum.

So where is right?

Christians throughout the ages (Old Testament, see: Ten Commandments. New Testament, see: Jesus two point summary of the law) have been called to two things: loving God and loving our neighbor. On the one hand we must know and worship God as he deserves. On the other hand we must seek to show the kind of love he showed us to those around us.

Let me take the second point first.

Who is our neighbor? I think I still speak for a significant majority across many major denominational lines when I identify the neighbor we are supposed to love as you. You plural. In fact all the yous. This goes for our fellow man, whether God fearing believes-just-like-us or the total pagan stranger.

If it weren't for the fact that we're all miserable sinners, you should be able to meet and hang out with any Christian at all and be welcomed, loved and cared for no matter where your beliefs are at. That doesn't mean they will accept your beliefs, but theirs is a kind of community (extending in all directions by default) that you should be able to fall right into.

Now for the first point. And this is going to be troublesome. Why? Because…

… you don't love God.

Yes I know how harsh that sounds. Half the people who read the first half of this post nodding away and probably voted it up after just the first paragraph probably reached to undo their vote before the 5 minute timeout when they saw this heading.

Allow me to explain.

At this point, my definitions are going to get less ecumenical. At least until the next header, what I saying will be a general reflection of Reformed theology at the exclusion of Catholic and several other traditions.

You don't love God because you don't know God. You don't know who is is or what he is like. Because you don't know God, the thing you think you love is not even God at all, but some figment of your imagination and you might as well be worshiping a different god.

Worshiping God wrongly is tantamount to worshiping the wrong god(s). — Kevin ByWater

Perhaps an illustration will help. Perhaps you read the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid and were mesmerized by the description of Turkish Delight. You'd never had any but you knew it was your new favorite dessert. Your mouth watered. In your childhood dream world it was served after every meal. Then one day you were grown up and actually ran across the stuff in an import shop or you traveled to Turkey. The stuff you just ate was entirely different from Lewis's famous description and quite different from your childhood imaginations. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn't. The point was, before you had an encounter with it and *knew*what it really was, it could not be properly be said that you "loved" it.

That is a trite example but loving God is not so different. If we completely mis-identify who he is and love a God that is our version of what God should be rather than what he is, we cannot really be said to love him.

Any church that takes the business of loving God seriously will also concern itself with knowing who He is and what He is like. It will matter to them that He might have specific preferences, things that please Him and others that displease Him. They will not accept your make-believe God as an accurate reflection of the real thing without first examining the evidence. They will not try to soft-pedal the idea of absolute truth. But they will also realize that they cannot cram it down anybody's throat. In fact they will believe that short of a miraculous work of God you cannot believe like they do.

With this in mind they will welcome you into their hearts and homes and show you real grace as part of a community knowing full well that you are not (yet) on the same doctrinal page. There will be lines: you will be only able to observe but not participate in a few sacramental actions such as the Lord's Supper, but they will not exclude you as an outsider from their lives.

These two things are not, by definition, in opposition but they are hard to find in the same package.

There are in fact churches that fit the bill.

But you will have to accept some rough edges too. There are none that have yet actually hit the mark. However they are going to get a lot closer to the mark if they are aiming at it. With that in mind you need to find a church that aims to hit both of these marks: Loving God rightly and loving people fully. What you need is a church that will accept and love you as their neighbor knowing full well that you don't yet love God. You need a church that will embrace you in community while not trying to pretend beliefs don't matter.

You will find such churches across a range of denominations. If I make specific recommendations at this point I think I would be crossing a line. But there are churches that hold very firmly to their creeds but keep their hearts wide open. Look for people like that and figure out where they go.

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You had me at Turkish Delight :) In all seriousness- what I love about this answer is that you rightly place the focus back on God and away from man. I move denominations freely, because that is where God takes me, not the other way around. –  Affable Geek Jul 2 '13 at 13:50
    
I'm actually surprised at how much of a 'Truth' answer this is (I'm so proud!) but I think it really hits the nail on the head. If the focus is on You, not on God, you're missing the point. –  Affable Geek Jul 2 '13 at 13:51
    
@AffableGeek Yes this is definitely flirting with being truthy. Now you see why I closed this question, brought it to meta and was reluctant to buy your theory that this was not a pastoral issue? This is what my minds eye saw as the answer called for by the question from the get-go. No matter how much you finagle the scope of the question, I am not sure I could have in good conscience answered any other way. Non pastoral and non truth questions don't typically raise issues like this for me. This question does. I tried to deal with it in a way that attaches the truth to something but still... –  Caleb Jul 2 '13 at 20:40
    
I just wanted to add the name of a denomination that definitely doesn't care whether you believe in the Trinity or the Deity of Jesus, won't be restrictive about other beliefs, and is found in almost every town in the world - Quakers. –  DJClayworth Jul 3 '13 at 2:03

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