Let’s Talk: Denominational differences, a series of conversations on hard topics

By Jonathan Soder, Faith Co-Editor  (Photo by Jonathan Soder/The Bison)

Christianity, which modernly consists of several religious traditions, is fraught with divisions. On an openly Baptist campus, how can students relate to other Christian traditions?

Protestantism

One way students can begin the process of understanding the broader world of Christianity is by talking to students with backgrounds in other Protestant denominations.

Junior psychology pre-counseling major Benjamin Dingus grew up in the Assembly of God church, which is a Pentecostal offshoot with different practices than Baptist students are accustomed to.

“That can be seen in worship practices and group prayer,” Dingus said. “Baptists can see that as more ‘mystical’ or ‘supernatural’ because we’ll anoint people with oil or do other symbolic things.”

Though Dingus said he isn’t “very educated” on specific Assembly of God theologies, he did say that there can be a difference in Assembly of God and Baptist beliefs on salvation.

“Assemblies of God doesn’t believe anything external can take away salvation,” Dingus said. “But willful choices of a person rejecting grace can jeopardize their salvation.”

This opens up a division even within Baptist churches. Some congregations believe that salvation can be lost due to an individual’s actions. Other Baptist congregations, especially those in the South, believe that once salvation is received, it cannot be lost or taken away.

Another difference which Dingus said many Baptists especially don’t understand are the Pentecostal worship practices, such as dancing and speaking in tongues.

Catholicism

The extent of Christian divisions doesn’t stop with Protestant denominations. Also found under the greater ‘Christian umbrella’ for students to explore is the Catholic tradition. For many Protestants, the Catholic church is difficult to understand because of the general disconnect between Protestantism and Catholicism.

According to a dw.com article by Klaus Kramer, one of the largest differences is each tradition’s approach to Scripture.

“Catholicism and Protestantism have distinct views on the meaning and the authority of the Bible. For Protestant Christians, Luther made clear that the Bible is the ‘Sola Scriptura,’ God’s only book, in which He provided His revelations to the people and which allows them to enter in communion with Him,” wrote Kramer.

“Catholics, on the other hand, do not base their beliefs on the Bible alone. Along with the Holy Scripture, they are additionally bound by the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Another Scriptural difference is the view of the papacy. Interpretation of Scripture falls largely on the Pope, which is part of his papal authority in the Catholic church.

Protestants, on the other hand, encourage individuals to read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves, which has led in many ways to the emergence of the many diverse Protestant denominations.

However, Kramer said that Catholics and Protestants are fundamentally the similar.

“They worship the same God, but the principles of their faith are different,” wrote Kramer.

Whether this proves the legitimacy of Catholicism in a Protestant’s eyes, or vice versa, is another issue. But, for the sake of understanding the differences in the many Christian traditions, Kramer’s article reveals some of the key differences.

Within Protestantism, Dingus said that one thing Christians can do to better cooperate is to quit focusing on differences.

“We’ve all been called to serve and love, so we should all work together and join efforts,” Dingus said. “It’s not a bad or taboo thing for a Baptist congregation to serve the poor alongside a Methodist congregation.”

In his personal life, Dingus tries to practice what he preaches.

“I’ve never, and probably won’t ever, identify myself under a denomination,” Dingus said. “I choose to identify myself as a child of God and would rather not separate myself into a humanly created and defined category.”

While divisions in Christian traditions will most likely never dissolve completely, Dingus’ statement can remind students that Christians are all a part of one catholic, or universal, church under Christ.

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