Why I No Longer Believe in Food
In the past I did, but I no longer believe in food. If you stop and think about it, there is no unity or agreement in the food industry, so how could food be true? All you have to do is drive down the street and you’ll see countless contradictions when it comes to food. One place has Italian food, another place offers Chinese food, while yet another place promotes Barbecue. If you keep driving, you’ll see pizza joints, fast food places, and Mexican restaurants, all of which claim to provide—you guessed it—food. What a confusing mess!
A white-haired, bearded guy named Colonel Sanders claims to have the “original recipe,” so he must think he’s the only “right” one out there and that everyone else must be wrong. And the disagreement doesn’t stop with so-called food. I’ve seen several places which all claim to have the “best coffee.” And beyond regular food and coffee arguments, I’ve heard people hotly debating their preferences regarding Krispy Kreme vs. Dunkin’ Donuts. All of these places can’t be right, so I’ve decided that I just don’t believe in food any longer, nor will I ever go to another restaurant. If food was real, surely there would be more agreement among all of these different vendors.
By now, you’ve probably determined that the above is a pretty ridiculous and non-sensical argument, and yet this is exactly the line of reasoning that some people have applied to the Church. They think Christianity must be illegitimate because there are so many different denominations and types of groups out there, and that the Bible must not be valid either because so many people have such different interpretations of Scripture.
The food analogy could be construed to be an over-simplification of an issue that’s more complex, and perhaps it is. Issues of faith are probably more complicated than a preference for salsa as opposed to oregano as opposed to soy sauce. I think, though, that the concept sheds at least some introductory light and merits further consideration.
In reality, most restaurant owners, regardless of their specialization, don’t really believe that theirs is the only legitimate expression of food. They would agree that other restaurants serving other styles of food are a welcome and appreciated addition to the culinary community. Likewise, most ministers I know are very appreciative of other ministers and churches, even those that have a somewhat different focus or emphasis.
Elmer Towns wrote an insightful book in 1996 entitled Putting an End to the Worship Wars. In his work, he identifies different styles of churches. It might be good to ask if the “different styles of restaurants” illustration has any relevance when it comes to these different styles of churches? Towns gives a generalized overview of different types of churches as follows:
The Evangelistic Church: Emphasizes such activities as door-to-door visitation for evangelism, the altar call, Sunday school busing, and personal evangelism. The evangelistic church is usually (1) action-oriented as opposed to meditative or instructive; (2) has strong pastoral leadership with the spiritual gift of evangelism; (3) has persuasive evangelistic preaching to get people converted; (4) has simplistic organization; (5) is organized to get lay-people involved in outreach; (6) is growth-oriented (numbers oriented); and (7) is platform-oriented.
The Bible Expositional Church: Usually noted for its use of sermon notes, overhead projectors for people to follow sermon outlines, expository sermons, reference Bibles, and frequent references to the original languages of the Bible. The dominant spiritual gift of the Pastor is teaching. At services, the people can be seen taking notes.
The Renewal Church: Lifting hands in worship, clapping in joy, going to the altar to pray, hugging, laughing, crying, laying hands on people for healing, power, or anointing, spiritual gifts such as tongues and interpretation, people being “slain in the Spirit.” Whereas formal liturgy churches emphasize one-way worship toward God, worship in the Renewal Church focuses on two-way communication between the person and God. Worshippers must get something out of worship. It must be stimulating, uplifting, and exhilarating.
The Body Life Church: The glue that holds this church together is the relationships that are formed in the small groups, or cells, that make up the body. The Body Life Church is not a pulpit-dominated church where everyone looks to the pastor for ministry. Instead, the people look to one another for support, help, and ministry. The focus is koinonia. Small groups provide a format for openness, accountability, sharing burdens, praying for one another, and giving testimonies.
The Liturgical Church: In some churches, the style of worship has not changed since the denomination’s founding, and people sing the same hymns that were sung by their grandparents. Liturgical worshippers do not worship for a feeling. They center all glory, praise, and worship on God. He is the focus of the worship service. The people are not there to evangelize, to learn, to fellowship, or to be renewed. They worship in obedience to God.
The Congregational Church: A congregational church is where the people are more responsible for the church than the pastor or the denomination. It is a church where people do the work of ministry in Sunday school, training programs, camps, VBS, and the like. One of the main gifts of the pastor is to organize the people for ministry, rather than doing ministry for them.
In reading Elmer Town’s list, one may quickly realize that some churches are a blend of two or more of the above styles, but the list provides an interesting reference point. My question is this: Can I, as a believer (with my own convictions and preferences), still have an appreciation and respect for other groups who do things differently than I would, or do I feel a need to disparage and denigrate other groups who have other styles and methods than I would employ?
In saying this, I’m not indicating that that all methodologies and systems are equally effective, or that all doctrine preached everywhere is right. Should we aspire to the best methods and the most accurate doctrine? Absolutely! But we should also keep in mind what Paul said, “It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18, NLT).
A study of church history (and an observation of some churches and ministers today) reveals that Christian leaders have often been far less tolerant of those whose views differ from theirs. Many of the early Reformers and those who put Scripture into the language of the people were burned at the stake by a highly intolerant institutional church that felt it was their religious duty to maintain a monolithic establishment whose authority could not be questioned. Having borne the brunt of persecution for their divergent views, one might assume that the Reformers themselves would have been somewhat tolerant of those within their own general realm of belief who took differing views on particular issues. That was not really the case.
For example, Martin Luther led the Reformation in Germany and Ulrich Zwingli led it in Switzerland. When the two men finally met, they agreed on fourteen out of fifteen major theological foundations. However, they differed most vehemently on the meaning of communion. Luther held to a view that the real Presence of Christ is in the elements, whereas Zwingli believed in the Lord’s Supper as a memorial. Following vigorous debate, Luther refused to shake Zwingli’s hand, and said, “We are not of the same spirit.” He later questioned Zwingli’s salvation.
Having been painfully rebuffed by Luther, would Zwingli exhibit a tolerant attitude to those who differed with him? Hardly. When the Anabaptists in and near Zurich promoted adult baptism upon profession of faith (as opposed to infant baptism), Anabaptist leaders who refused to recant were drowned in the river that ran by Zwingli’s church. A bit later in Geneva, John Calvin stood by as a heretic named Servetus was burned at the stake. A few centuries later, former friends, John Wesley and George Whitfield, both great preachers, would battle extensively and exchange harsh words over their different views regarding Calvinism and Arminianism. Fortunately, after years of feuding, both men resolved to co-exist peacefully while still holding divergent theological positions.
I’m not simply trying to air the dirty laundry of some great leaders from the past. No doubt they accomplished many great and historically significant things, but in endeavoring to stand for the truth, we must make sure that we ourselves don’t take on a spirit that is far from Christlike. Personally, I am committed to standing for the truth of God’s word. Jude’s admonition is still urgent today: “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 3, NLT). Having said that, I am also committed to doing this in a Christlike spirit, and I believe this is reflected in the wisdom of a statement made by a German theologian during the Thirty Years War in the early seventeenth century, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”
May God help us see the difference between principles which cannot be compromised and preferences which should be respected. May we stand boldly for truth, while walking strongly in love. A final thought: I really do believe in food. And I’m happy if you want to enjoy a burrito, an egg roll, spaghetti, a kabob, quiche, or jambalaya. I just want it to be prepared in a clean kitchen with healthy ingredients. Bon appétit.