The Personal Preference Sin

I’d like to talk to some people about a rabid sin running rampant and unchecked throughout the American Evangelical church. Maybe if you’re reading this today I’m meant to talk to you. This is, I believe, one of Satan’s most powerful devices for separating our people. And yet, this sin runs so deep and is so approved that it carries back to some things we hold sacred such as denominations… probably 50% of non-denominational churches founded in the past century are the result of this sin.

That sin is personal preference.

An unfortunate consequence of Modernism as a life philosophy is this concept that you cannot worship in a place you disagree with on some levels. Adopting modernistic thinking as a religious way of thinking has lead to nothing but personal preference sin disguised as “acting on theological conviction.” Whether that preference is musical instruments during worship vs. no musical instruments in worship or modern music vs. traditional hymns or small groups vs. Sunday School or even Arminian vs. Calvinist, forms of church governance, women in ministry, preaching styles, baptism, on and on.

One day, either today or yesterday, a person decided that they simply could not live with that compromise to their integrity or vision or desire and decided to leave a church to start their own. I am convinced that many of today’s churches were founded because someone got ticked off enough to take their friends and start a “new and more pure expression of worship.” If you’ve ever had a meeting with a wide-eyed green church planter you often hear this notion as their primary justification for planting a church.

You may be uncomfortable with how I’ve phrased that. So let’s give some examples:

– John Wesley started a methodist reform movement within the Church of England. As time went on, they couldn’t reconcile that tension and the Methodist Movement was born.

– Meanwhile in Scandinavia, disenfranchised Lutherans (commoners) who were persecuted by the King’s people over tons of issues separated and started meeting outside of official worship services sanctioned by the King. Eventually, they could not reconcile and the Free church movement was born in Scandinavia.

– The Brethren church movement is born out of a personal preference issue on baptism in the early 18th century. That groups has fractured further ever since… it’s in their DNA! Some of them have split of theological interpretations of things like eternal security, or whether baptisms indoors counted, or to start Sunday schools.

– There so much independence bred into the Baptist church movement that no one can even agree on what makes a baptist a baptist or where the Baptist movement originated. Many of my students in Romeo will remember how we read an 80 year old tract in my office called, “What real old regular baptists really believe.”

– These are the tribes, and decedents and fractures of those tribes, that form modern Evangelicalism in America. In other words… we are a people divided for centuries on an unspoken belief that our personal preferences should divide the Bride of Christ. Division over personal preference is our unfortunate heritage.

Let’s state the problem more clearly in your front yard. Modernism has long hated contradictions and mystery. While that is a noble hatred in science and has led to the greatest innovations of our day, it has decimated the church. People presume that their personal preferences are more significant than the church doctrine of unity.

As believers, every one of us would agree with this statement: The church body is a unit. (Singular) And yet, we divide over non-essentials all the time.

– Style of baptism.

– How a person is labeled a member.

– How a person is labeled a believer.

– What types of sin a person can be involved in and still lead and/or be a member.

– Who can vote and for what.

– How we learn best.

– Worship best.

– Give best.

– Serve best.

– Read our Bible.

– How we dress.

– How we act.

– How we pray.

Rather than live in those tensions, struggles that fully represent the “the body of Christ,” we chose to divide and group with who we feel most comfortable with.

Largely, on Sunday morning we go to churches who are lead by people we feel comfortable with, who preach to us things we want to hear, who say things to our kids we agree with, who look like us, sing like us, dress like us, and serve in ways we approve of. When I hear complaints of my friends or when I complain about my church it is almost exclusively about crap that doesn’t even matter!

We have been lead to believe that tension in church is bad. I believe that it’s time to call the church back together. I believe that when we chose to take our flocks and submit them to one another in submission to Jesus, who longs to break down walls that separate, that we will see God do amazing things.

I hear a lot of friends openly wonder why the American Evangelical church is not gaining more ground in our society. And yet we, as American Evangelicals, refuse to deal with our personal and institutional sins.

I’ll quiet this rant by proposing a question. Friend, I covet your response.

If there were a young friar in a monestary today composing 95 charges of sin against the Evangelical Church, what would he nail to the Wittenberg Door?


38 responses to “The Personal Preference Sin”

  1. Brandon Johns Avatar

    That is one of the greatest things I have ever read! I had a prof in seminary who taught on issues very similarly to this. Anyway, two of my 95 would be “Away with preachers who dodge the issue of the gospel in order to fit in better with others or draw bigger crowds” and “Too many people are more concerned with the way things used to be than with reaching those in the ‘now’”

  2. Andrea Avatar

    Would you consolidate all of the denominations? And what about issues that are fundamentally biblical, like the dual nature of Christ? Are those worth splitting over?

  3. Kim Seberg Avatar

    One of my issues with our current Church would be the instant copying of other churches (specifically their programs) because it “worked” for them–or at least, we think it did while we stand on the outside and peer in. One of my mentors likes to tell me, “God has given you specific gifts to work with the specific people He has put into your life right now. Stop borrowing King Saul’s armor if God’s already given you a sling. All you need is God. Don’t add anything else.”

  4. Amy Avatar

    Your post is AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME! I see this sin all over the place (including in myself) and it needs to be challenged! Both the divisions among (non)denominations as well as the griping and complaining that goes on within Church bodies is a scandal.

    However, I would challenge you that some things are worth standing up for because of the importance of being faithful to Scripture. I would include baptism, women in ministy and Arminian v. Calvinist as things that may not be essential for salvation, but are important to get right. I just wish that the Church could be better at discussing and mutually submitting to one another so as to come to unity, or at least to more peaceful, unified coexistence.

    Items I would nail to the door:
    1. Commercializing and excessively conforming the church to contemporary culture to make it “hip” “relevant” or “accessible” – as though the Gospel had to be sold like a product, rather than being the work of grace.
    2. Too closely associating Evangelicalism with patriotism to America. Jesus is not an American, nor does he have a preference for Americans.
    3. Failing to radically love our neighbor by taking a greater lead in social issues like racism, the environment, AIDS, poverty, etc – often due to fear of being aligned with or loathing for liberals and democrats.
    4. Having the same consumerist, materialist mentality and lifestyles as non-believers, and justifying it either with Republican economic principles, or with a health and wealth gospel – or both.

    Oh boy, I better stop now, I could probably think of 95 by myself!

  5. adam mclane Avatar

    Andrea and Amy- I would argue that the fullness of worship is found in choosing to worship with people despite some disagreements. Would I find a service LESS worshipful if a baby were baptized in my midst? I doubt it. Would I care if the pastor preached a message on eternal security which I disagreed with him to the very core? Not at all. Heck, I go to a church which I disagree with on the issue of women in ministry… and yet I believe firmly God has us there despite that.

    I think you are bringing up the very meat that I’m talking about. Yes, we should be ONE church on Sunday morning. We need more of what we disagree with and less preaching to the choir, IMO.

    Kim- just nail it to the wall sister!

  6. adam mclane Avatar

    Andrea- would I consolidate denominations? Not necessarily… but I think there is a lot of discussion that needs to take place.

  7. Amy Avatar

    I am all for coming together and worshiping with other Christians with whom I disagree, I do it frequently with no problem. But a Church community is much more than just Sunday morning, as well you know! So what would you do in Sunday school – teach Calvinism or Arminianism? What would be taught to children or new believers? Would the pastor baptize babies or not? Frankly, I WOULD have a problem with listening to a sermon that was not biblical – we should not be free and easy with error! I wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be more dialogue and less preaching to the choir; we should all have our ideas challenged – iron sharpens iron. But at some point, you make the decision as to what you believe, and of course that is what you are going to want passed on to your kids or to new believers. And listening to sermons that you “agree with” is not a bad thing, if what you are “agreeing with” is sound scriptural teaching. Are you sure you are not just envisioning a church that will eventually come around to your way of thinking? (That is not meant to come off as an attack, just to get you to clarify what it is you really are envisioning.)

  8. jeremy zach Avatar

    adam what the heck are you doing as an online guy? you need to be an ecumenical seminary professor. or maybe you can lead the ecumenical movement via online? uniting the churches through online community?

    i cannot agree with you more. we have over 15,000 christian denominations because everyone perfers comfort and sameness, and not oneness.

    at the end of the day it come down to the question of: can you live in tension? Can we have agreement while leaving room for disagreement. Can we agree on the essentials of Christ, while disagree on the non-essentials?
    Living in unity while in diversity is tough and uncomfortable, because it is healthy and great accountability. The church becomes more about the person of Christ, rather than a list of agreed doctrinal statements and the senior pastor’s personality.

  9. adam mclane Avatar

    amy- that’s where I think we may disagree. I don’t listen to a message I disagree with and go… “eh, bad scholarship.” While I may be a Calvinist (shocker there!) I can see where staunch Arminians are coming from, appreciate them, and largely write off our differences on the fact that my hermeneutics are just better than theirs. 🙂 Some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard were ones I fundamentally disagreed with the “sound biblical exegesis.” After all, I can’t ignore Rob Bell or Charles Stanley just because I don’t agree with everything they do.

    Should a SP be “forced” to perform ceremonies and participate in things they don’t fully agree with? Um, I don’t know if you’re a pastor but I’ve had to teach the party line at some churches… you should see my notes on teaching Revelation!

    In all seriousness, I don’t think anyone should be forced to perform a baptism for a child if they don’t think it’s right. At the same time, a temperate leader should raise up others and fill gaps.

    But you’re talking to a guy who goes to a church that’s a little different than the average bear too.

    @jeremy- you crack me up. Why teach in a college when I can hold class right here in the blogosphere? Plus, I hated school from 1st grade through grad school!

  10. Ben Avatar

    Adam, I agree with most of what you are saying and most of your list at the bottom of the post is personal preference but you lead in with a very theological issue. Like you I think Rob Bell and Charles Stanley have good things to say but because we disagree theologically I couldn’t be apart of their community. 2 Peter 2:1, “1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” I wish we all understood the Bible the same but we all look at it through lens, non of which are perfect. Even though we disagree and don’t worship together we are still one body. I agree that we need to think less about personal preference but we can’t simply these issues down to personal preference or a single blog post. I hope we can still be of the same body even though we disagree.

  11. Amy Avatar

    I agree with Ben’s concerns. I too am a Calvinist, but I also very much appreciate the Arminian point of view. I follow infant baptism, but have close friends and relatives who only accept believer’s baptism, and I have no problems being in fellowship with them as an individual. While my Christian brothers and sisters who I disagree with may still be saved, and while I may still be able to fellowship with them, points of doctrine cannot just be shrugged off. We need to have the bond of love for one another, but part of that love is remaining zealous for the truth and witnessing to one another. What good would it do to have apparent unity in the Church at the expense of the true Gospel?

    I think what you are talking about does happen, but on a local, individual basis. I go to a church that practices infant baptism (a PCA church) but I know there are members that believe in believer’s baptism. There are some in my church that think Catholic baptism is valid, and others that think Catholics must be “re-baptized.” We are able to worship together amidst disagreement because we realize that such matters do not determine salvation. But that is very different from allowing the pastor to preach things that the denomination disagrees with because doctrine still matters, even if not unto salvation! How would a entire church (on a denominational level) deal with issues of doctrine and discipline if there was no orthodoxy established and enforced? Worship music and clothing – much freedom can be permitted in such things. But whether or not people are being disobedient to the Lord in the way they practice baptism (as an example) is too consequential in my view to just let go for the sake of supposed peace.

    I still want to know more specifically what difference you envision this making in the church. Specifically.

    BTW – what does SP stand for? 😛

  12. adam mclane Avatar

    Ben, I agree with you. And I hope we can be friends even in disagreement… some of my best friends are convinced I’m absolutely insane!

    You used this verse and it scares me: 2 Peter 2:1, “1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”

    I think this cuts to the heart of the matter. When you, as a finite person [or me, cos i do this too] think label someone we disagree with as a “false prophet” we have to be really careful.

    I can disagree with Rob Bell’s hermeneutic. But I still respect him as a man who loves Jesus. Same with a ton of people. Heck, I can watch some of the craziest stuff on TV and think the preacher is off his rocker… but I still wouldn’t label him a “false prophet” simply because I think his hermeneutic is wacked.

    Paul wrote in Romans 12:3-5 ” 3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

    I think that we over-value our intellect way to much. Who am I to think of myself with “drunk judgment” to the point where I can label fellow believers as false witnesses?

    Let’s not jump to extremes here. I’ve been in plenty of churches and I know that 95% of what we do and say is the same… we’re separated on Sunday mornings for areas that make no real difference.

  13. adam mclane Avatar

    Amy- SP means “senior pastor.” Sorry for the short hand.

    I’m intrigued by your search for an exact answer. I disagree with you… I think we are ultimately called to shrug off a lot of our differences. Who knows… maybe we’re all wrong and Jesus will laugh at us one day?

    I’ve got no problem worship the Lord Jesus as the sole source of my salvation next to a person who practices and believes things that both of us are still wrestling with.

    I think that the later half of the 20th century was spent, in theological circles, trying to systematize God… put Him into boxes so our tiny brains could understand how and why He does things. Certainly, I had to memorize “proofs” for tons of doctrines. My point in this post is that we should focus not on what divides us because it could very well be WRONG. Instead, we as believers are called to work together despite our differences for the common cause of bringing the lost to Jesus.

  14. Andrea Avatar

    This is so beautiful it makes me want to cry. I love every one of you.

    The problem with going to a church in which you disagree with some of their doctrines is that you will actually have to think about what is being taught once in a while, rather than swallowing it whole. Imagine that: thinking Christians, instead of indoctrinated ones.

    Also, I agree with your last statement, Adam. I feel that division when people look at the church in America today, they don’t see a gospel of grace; they see an incoherent mire of dissention and pride. Sounds more like a teenager having a temper tantrum than the Bride of Christ.

  15. Andrea Avatar

    Also, one of my theses would be “Consumerism”.

    Christian bookstores, clothing, CDs, curriculums, buildings, Christmas, TV shows, politics, bumper stickers, angel statues, eating out every Sunday while we skimp on the offering and while people are hungry…so much for being set apart and holy.

  16. adam mclane Avatar

    “I feel that division when people look at the church in America today, they don’t see a gospel of grace; they see an incoherent mire of dissention and pride.” Hmm… that’ll preach right there.

  17. Ben Avatar

    @Adam I will continue to read and contribute through comments event though we disagree. Now I don’t believe Peter and Paul would have talked about false teachers (I should have emphasized, false teachers) if it wasn’t something we should watch out for. I believe that when a minister (or anyone for that matter) begins to teach things that are contrary to scripture in a country where they have freedom of speech one of the ways we can displace our disapproval is by not fellowshiping with them. I’m not criticizing you but didn’t you go a few different churches when you moved to San Diego before you found one you connected with?

    @Andrea I want to be challenged when I go church, but why would I want to invite someone to go to church with me and hear doctrine in which I don’t agree is right?

  18. Andrea Avatar

    Sorry, I shouldn’t have been snarky.

    When it comes to controversial issues, I think a good way to teach them would be to say, “here’s one way of looking at it, here’s another, and this is what I think.” That way, you are able to teach what you believe is “right”, but it also gives room for discussion and disagreement.

    Also, it would be absurd for anyone to expect an organization of millions of people to agree on every point – I think a reasonable visitor will understand that. If I were your friend, I would be impressed that the pastor was willing to admit differences and deal with them openly. Really, to admit fallacy shows faith in the gospel, that we don’t need to know everything for the gospel to have power.

  19. Todd Tolson Avatar

    O.k., Adam…

    1. I think you’re a stud. I can’t wait to take you to Chipotle so we can chat in real life, and not just on Twitter.

    2. I’ve been mulling this over since 3a.m. I so badly want to agree with you, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Here’s why:

    Let’s say a family has been going to Church A for 5 years. But this family (who has largely sat on the sidelines probably) feels like the messages are getting stale, and the new worship leader is too hip, and overall the church is no longer “meeting their needs”, so they decide to go a different church. That’s a sin? Really? Forgive me for being slow, but where in Scripture would I find that? Now, if you said that their leaving the church because it wasn’t being done “their way” was IMMATURE, I’d shout AMEN! I would however say that the sitting on the sidelines, not serving in ministry, or anemic giving would be sinful.

    Shifting gears, another family (of 4) moves into town, and wants to find a church to belong to. Would you advise them to join the first one they find? I believe I remember a certain, studly blogger who was looking for a church not to long ago who wanted to join a church and visited several of them before “landing”. I believe their was a list of “personal preferences” involved in how that church was chosen.


    Again, I think you and your blog are awesome…just can’t get on board with “personal preference” as sin. Not yet, anyways…

  20. jeremy zach Avatar

    @ben how would one go about detecting a false prophet when he/she claims to follow Jesus?

    also if you are going to quote 1 peter as your central theological claim for detecting false prophets, then we need to carefully look and understand what exactly Peter’s audience is dealing with that calls peter to say something about false prophets.

    Bottom line Christians are not liked and Peter’s audience is Anti-social (Cannibalism, Sacreligious, and his audience could be dangerous (could break up peace, the Roman government moves in when there is disturbance, public gathering, so the Roman government would work to keep people separated).

    So we can see the complexity to why Peter is wanting to clarify what to watch out for.

  21. Jason Avatar

    It’s great to see you type this post after having these kind of discussions so many times. (makes me miss lunches at Peppers.)

    Our church split from another church once upon a time. Part of the church packed their stuff and moved 1.5 miles down the road over what I’d consider less than Biblical teaching and more in the emotional department. Fortunately, we’re in the midst of serious talks with the other church to unite together! It’s very exciting to see God’s people coming together! I wish the coming together of churches happened far more than the divisive splitting of the body of Christ.

    As I’ve been getting to know the area, I’ve found one thing to be certain. There are WAY too many churches. (Yes, that feels weird to say.) There’s a church for every restaurant, bank or drug store. They’re a dime a dozen. The reality is very, very, VERY few are effectively spreading the Gospel. Perhaps this is why. We’re so focused on what WE want, what WE think we need our spiritual life to sound like or look like or read like that we lose sight of what the lost is looking for.

  22. adam mclane Avatar

    Todd- indeed we do need to get together soon. I think some of why you don’t find the “church choice” in Scripture is because of a couple of factors…
    a. People rarely moved, and those who did [aka people like Paul] were fascinating.
    b. Each town had a single church governed by a group of overseers who reported to a central church. More of the parish model than the individual model in modern Evangelicalism.

    Is it is sin to leave a church? It depends on why. If it’s for something really serious, like the pastor is boinking anything that moves and no one seems to care… I don’t think so.

    But I don’t think it’s right to leave a church because you want the worship leader to wear tight pink pants and rock like Steve Fee. Nor do I think it’s right to leave because a new pastor comes in and sounds different from the pastor you loved.

    So– leaving over sin issues– no problem in my book. Leaving because Church B has a better kids ministry than Church A— I think that’s slapping the God of the Universe in the face. God still loves you, you still get to Heaven, blah blah blah. But I don’t think that makes Jesus happy.

    A few folks have brought up the fact that Kristen and I visited 2 other churches before landing at Harbor. I didn’t think either of those churches were “bad” and this one was “good.” And, ultimately, Kristen and I made judgments based on surfacy things. At one place we went for more than a month, attended the first step towards a membership class and realized we weren’t in their target demographic. They are cool people, they are preaching the “right Gospel” and I’ve actually met with one of their elders after we left just so they know that. In the other case, we didn’t even make it all the way through our first service. It’s a fine church, they preach the “right Gospel” and I’m sure if we stuck around we’d love it. Ultimately, I don’t know if our list was personal preference based completely. Our new church certainly doesn’t match all of our personal preference “requirements.”

    Really, I think the sin plays out more in day to day stuff in church life for people who are currently there. If you’ve been on staff you know how much people can hold the staff prisoner over some issues. And I think that concept is completely sin based. “If you do ____ we’re leaving.”

    Jason— mm, peppers! Those were awesome times. I think your church and the other is in a glorious process of recognizing the sin of the past and reconciling. Amazing model!

    Jeremy- right on brother.

  23. Amy Avatar

    Jason – that is wonderful and inspiring to hear about your church!

    Adam – This discussion has provided much food for thought for me! I am a person that places a very high value on truth; some people see doctrine and theology as stagnant or stuffy – I find them to be electrifying and alive – few things excite and inspire me like the pursuit of truth. So that may be a personal preference in me that makes it hard to just shrug things off if I think they are not right. 🙂

    In reflecting on your ideas and other people’s comments, I was moved to read Paul’s epistles for some enlightenment – and Paul’s calls for unity in nearly every epistle were just leaping off the pages!!! Though I have been playing devil’s advocate here, the subject of unity is one that is very close to my heart, and has been for a while. I think that, really, you and I are in agreement. I guess I am just still unclear as to what to do with situations where real theological differences exist. In your most recent comment you contrasted leaving a church over unrepentant and rebuked serious sin in a pastor with leaving a church over the way the worship leader dresses. I would agree that the former reason is probably a very good reason, and the latter reason is probably not, in and of itself. The former is an example of sin, the latter of personal preference. I am in total agreement that to leave over preference, non-essential issues is wrong!!! But you have yet to explain what you would do in the case where real theological differences play themselves out in practical matters. Let me give you an example. A family that I am very close to began attending a new church that has completely renewed them and set them on fire for Christ. It has been a beautiful thing to behold this family be transformed, and I praise God for it, I really do!! However, the way that this church practices the Lord’s Supper deeply troubles me. They simply leave bread and grape juice on a table in a quiet, separate room where people are free to stop in and pray and take the elements off the table as they so choose. It is clear to me that this is not really the Lord’s Supper – it bears no resemblance to the Last Supper or the feasts described in the New Testament, I feel strongly that it’s an unbiblical practice. The Lord’s Supper is meant to be a communal meal with the Body of Christ, not an individualistic exercise. My conscience would not let me replace the true Lord’s Supper with this practice. Now – I consider this church to be a Godly church, I consider those attending to be believers with whom I am in full communion and with whom I can worship and fellowship with. But I could not in good conscience belong to that church on a permanent and prolonged basis, because in order to do so I would have to continually disobey the Lord’s command to celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly.
    This specific example is beside the point – so even if you disagree with me on this particular situation, I would wager that you would have similar scruples about SOMETHING or other. So what do you propose in such a circumstance? Where do you draw the line between mere personal preference and the need to obey the Lord – not just for “integrity” but as a matter of conscience – even at the expense of getting along?
    Ok, I am sorry if this discussion is going round and round and getting no where. I intend this to be my final comment, as I don’t want to be a contributor to the division that you are talking about. I have appreciated the opportunity to hone my own thoughts on this matter!

  24. adam mclane Avatar

    No division here. I think this is an awesome discussion. And I think it really is getting somewhere.

    Your example is interesting, but I think you and I may disagree on whether or not how you take the Lord’s Supper is a reason to break communion! (like that pun?)

    I think your experience is that you prefer communion a certain way and that it means a specific thing to you. So something outside your frame of reference is “wrong.” One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that just because I don’t like something or I don’t initially approve of something (or think it’s biblical) doesn’t mean that I can’t learn from it or learn to appreciate it.

    For me, that’s a ton of these cooky spiritual disciplines! When I read Richard Foster I was kind of ticked off! I wrestled with fasting… isn’t that a good work? But once I experienced it I recognized that it really was a great way to connect to God.

    Now, insofar as essentials go… obviously, I wouldn’t go to church at the Mormon Temple!

    Just by way of discussion, what if the standard were something like The Nicene Creed?

    I do have to say… a dude who was indoctrinated into a pre-trib/pre-mil hardcore evangelical who took everything literally, etc. (Moody grads unite!) I have learned a ton from people who I disagree with massively. Imagine how my world was rocked when I heard a sermon on a post-trib rapture using the same passages as the pre-trib preacher would use! Was one right and the other a false prophet? Nah, one of em is just wrong and we’ll find out later.

    I hope the discussion continues. And I hope that I’m not pushing too many buttons.

    It’s just a discussion! And one which I hope leads to acknowledgment of sin and a seeking of reconciliation.

  25. John Denton Avatar


    Is the inspiration of this blog that “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess to God.” I think Christ will bring about a denominational oneness not our guilt or realization of our sinful ways. History has shown we are stubborn and try to build new better denominations, instead of uniting the Church we strive to divide it further (Maybe not the plan but it happens). We can’t stay away from a post-denominational Church. We are no longer divided, and we haven’t been for say since Christ. It is strange that we still take a divided, separated approach to Church and Ministry. How long will it take for the Church to work as one? \\


  26. Amy Avatar

    But see – I don’t see the proper practice of the Lord’s Supper as a matter of preference! Now the kind of bread that is used, or wine vs. grape juice, or once a week v. once a month, silent or with music playing, standing v. sitting, etc….those things are preferences. But at some point, too much deviation from the biblical mandate and it ceases being what the Lord commanded. We wouldn’t be ok with dancing around a fire, beating drums, eating fried chicken – and call that the Lord’s Supper, would we? Or what if in my own home I chow down on some macaroni and cheese by myself, and say that I am celebrating the Lord’s Supper? I don’t think so! There are certain elements that need to be present for the Lord’s Supper to be what it was meant to be, and a communal meal is one of those things. Any simple reading of the text is clear – there is no indication that eating a piece of bread by myself is the same as celebrating Communion.
    Now, if it could be shown to me that their practice is biblically acceptable, I am willing to admit that I am wrong and withdraw any objection – it is not MY preference that I am clinging to, but simply the desire to be obedient to the Lord, something which shouldn’t be taken lightly.
    But as I said, that specific example is beside the point. I guess you are saying that rather than disobey my conscience, I should tell my conscience that it is being overactive? But can you not think of anything comparable that you would not be able to participate in without violating your conscience?
    Some of your comments make it seem like you have a relativistic, agnostic view of the kind of knowledge we can have about the Bible, and that might be one source of our apparent disagreement. I agree we should have humility in recognizing that we have been mistaken on some point of doctrine or practice when we are shown the error of our thinking. And we should always be humble enough to realize we can learn from those with whom we disagree! But go too far in that vein of thinking – well, what if we are wrong in interpreting the bible as saying that salvation is by faith? Eh, maybe people don’t REALLY need Jesus to be saved, maybe that’s a misreading on our part. And maybe you really do need good works to be saved, and the Catholic Church was right all along? All us Protestants could just be lousy exegetes, right? (I write that as a former Catholic, btw.)
    I guess I am just concerned that too much indifference to doctrine and practice is a fast way to allowing error to creep in and establishing a false Gospel. Your comments remind me of the same line of argument that people use for saying that all religions are equally valid – everyone thinks they are right, so how are we to decide between them? So instead of arguing and trying to convert each other, let’s just all get along and agree that all religions can lead to God! I know that is on a completely different scale than what we are talking about. I guess I just think that we CAN come to knowledge about things like the essential elements of baptism, Lord’s Supper, worship, etc. That there will be disagreements is an unfortunate but unavoidable result of the Fall.
    I am still trying to make my thoughts fit with yours, because I really do think that fundamentally what you are saying is right.
    Btw – I think the Nicene Creed is a great tool for establishing the essentials.
    And you aren’t pushing buttons; I hope I am not being tiresome! I am praying that the Holy Spirit give me wisdom and humility to see where I am wrong and in need of repentance. Frankly, I think that is the answer to this issue – to let the Holy Spirit guide as a Church.

  27. adam mclane Avatar

    Amy, again I’m loving this conversation. I don’t know if your example is so clear biblically as you think it is. There is a pretty large argument from silence there with about 2000 years of church history mixed in. Because Paul described one way of practicing communion doesn’t mean that’s the only acceptable way. We know that it was practiced differently even in the 1st century church.

    I think the bigger thing I want to point you to is just a statement of fact. If people left churches, started denominations, etc. over serious theological differences I think that would be ok. But to start a new denomination because you think baptisms should only be done in flowing water and never indoors? You’d agree with me that it’s pretty trivial.

    As I served in local churches for the past 10 years, I rarely encountered a single person who left a church because of doctrinal issues. Typically it was a “I like ____ better” decision. I like the pastor better, the youth group better, the worship better, the ___ better.

    As far as being relativistic… I dunno. I think that maybe the problem here is that people go to church not relativistic ENOUGH! When it comes to theology we need to use a bigger, more forgiving pen. Even Bible colleges are starting to back down from the rigidity that I was trained under… Shifting from SysTheo to Biblical Theology is a big step!

    I dunno, I don’t have all the answers. But I did want to point out that most of the problem isn’t theological differences on meat issues but on the trivial.

  28. Amy Avatar

    I am sure my background as a Catholic, and then my leaving Catholicism for Protestantism out of theological conviction has had a lot to do with where I am coming from! I am inspired to read more about the Lord’s Supper to better form my understanding about it. That aside, I agree with just about everything you said in your last comment. But rather than relativism, how about we say we should be holding things with an open hand? Relativism implies that there is no right answer, whereas holding truth openly acknowledges that there is a right answer, but we only see though a mirror darkly. 😉

  29. adam mclane Avatar
    adam mclane

    I love the open hand analogy. I think that’s better than the other more loaded term

  30. Jason Avatar

    This post convo has gotten quite long (woo hoo!!) and I may have missed this, but Adam, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there’s another part to this sin.

    Amy- I’m glad you’re sticking up for the theological core… Rock on!

    What I believe (and sounds along the lines of Adam’s recent dialogue) is that people are often saying, I REALLY don’t like _____ about my church. Now, that can be either a healthy statement or a poisonous one. It all comes down to the response. If the response is, “I’ll just get my needs met somewhere else.” That’s a selfish attitude. Period. Instead of hitting the eject button, hit the pause button for a minute… Ask a couple questions that make the issue less about what we get out of it, but how to CONTRIBUTE to the cause. What can I do to help _____ be better? Can I help _____ improve? If you’re not willing to be part of the solution, do you really have the right to complain? I don’t think so. To me the sin becomes evident when abandonment is just easier than rolling up your sleeves and helping out.
    Another issue is that people often don’t understand the goal of how something functions. They reserve the right to complain without the opportunity of feedback. It saddens my heart when I or another leader get ‘hate mail’ (Definition of hate mail= negative feedback letters mysteriously without senders name or signature) That shows an unwillingness for discussion or understanding… and ultimately, again… selfishness and being unteachable. Often people bolt before even taking time to understand why something is the way it is. This is where consumerism of the church drives me crazy. Don’t like the music selection? I’ll shop, ahem, attend Wal-Mart Community Church instead. No, parking lot’s too big. I’ll try Kmart Christian’s Blue light Jesus. No, the Aisles are too crowded there. How about Church-A-Lot? Nah… It’s like Seinfeld episode where Jerry breaks “The Pact” After deciding to change his ways, and ‘be a man’, moments later, he breaks up with his girlfriend because she eats her peas one at a time, but scoops corn nibblets. How vexing! People need to take a long look and make sure it’s not the trivialities that cause them to leave the church.

  31. adam mclane Avatar

    If this thread has taught me one thing, it’s that I need to follow it up with some more posts and thoughts.

    – What is worth dividing over?
    – What does this have to do with long-suffering?
    – More discussion of our broken DNA as evangelicals.
    – Stories of restoration.

    Anything else?

  32. Andrea Avatar

    There would be only one charge: that the church today doesn’t understand what it means to be like Jesus, people of grace and truth. If we meditated on this and sought to live in balance in this way, we would truly be transformed as a people and we would indeed be His instuments to change this world!

  33. […] The Personal Preference Sin (several follow-up posts in […]

  34. […] key component to the personal preference sin so prevalent in the United States evangelical church is a lack of respect for the word, […]

  35. Kevin Harris Avatar
    Kevin Harris

    Adam – With regards to your last post on this discussion, have you written any follow up posts on “what is worth dividing over, what does this have to do with long-suffering, more discussion of our broken DNA as evangelicals, etc.” that you could point me to. I loved reading the conversation that this post brought about and was hoping that it has continued somewhere else.

  36. adam mclane Avatar

    Kevin- humbled that you’d be reading through stuff from 2008. This was certainly one of those posts when a lot of people chimed in. I can’t remember if I specifically if I continued on and followed-up/through with a series. But this is the category where I blog about that topic:

    I’ve written on the topics brought up in this post a lot since. In fact, I’m working on a larger work (ebook?) about the heresies we believe in Evangelicalism which are synchrotisms with the American Dream.

  37. grvaughan Avatar

    “We have been lead to believe that tension in church is bad.”

    I think that’s the crux of the matter. No regular family could operate like that. In our family, we have to frequently air our views and hash things out. If that doesn’t happen, it’s not long before things ‘blow up’ and we have a mess on our hands.

    But that almost NEVER happens in the American church. Everyone is pleasant, but the walls stay up. Sooner or later, someone’s concern, petty or serious, doesn’t get addressed and tensions start to build.

    I really wish we could be more open in the church, but I think the only way that can happen is if the pastor and other church leaders work hard to maintain that kind of culture. Communication is SO important in a marriage, in parenting, AND in fellowship within a church family.

  38. Austin W. Gunter Avatar

    Hey Adam, you’re making a great argument for a return to the Holy Orthodox Faith, which has been apostolically handed down from the original 12 to today. Worship is indeed a “community” event, and we are called to a worship that requires us to approach it, not the other way around.

    Trying to find worship that “resonates with me” isn’t an evil thing, and I don’t want to hop on a soapbox and condemn the choices people make about their worship. I just trust God to be guiding people, and I trust everyone to do the very best that they can with their faith.

    Rather, I think that desire to return to true worship of Christ is in all of us, and any desire we feel to search for an authentic, encompassing method of Worship – the kind our Creator set up for us. Martin Luther was seeking a return to the Eastern Church when he put his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. The only reason he didn’t aid the church’s return to the Eastern Orthodox Church, which was alive and well in Constantinople, may have been as simple as he was isolated by geography. Rather than mend gaps in the Church, his actions created a splintering, which ultimately resulted in the evangelical movement, which has removed itself from the truth of Orthodox worship.

    “Orthodox” literally means, “right belief, right worship.” The implication is that there are one way to worship Christ, which I get the sense is exactly what you’re pointing to, unfortunately, you haven’t gone far enough back in Church history, or provided the right source material for churches and Christians to use as a foundation. And frankly, the Orthodox Church is a huge shift away from how evangelicals worship, and a return torwards tradition that is often challenging and shatters the world perspective of people who have grown up steeping in evangelical christianity, as I did.

    I’ve of course got my own personal story on how I discovered Orthodoxy, and made the conversion from being an evangelical preacher’s kid to an Orthodox Christian. I’d encourage you to check out what I’ve said from a historical perspective, and visit an Orthodox Church to experience true worship.

    Thanks for writing this.

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