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« Asking the Tough Questions (Part Two) | Main | A Tribute to Deacon Brown »

We Are Different

“For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10.

Does being different mean discomfort to you? It does for many Apostolics. In fact, the fear of being different is one of the most paralyzing mindsets that can seize the church. While fear wears many masks, our old nemesis intimidates the church body most effectively with this insidious brand. Whenever media types, talk-show hosts, writers, or others, ridicule us for being out of the mainstream, panic forms in the pit of our collective stomach. Often, it provokes us into full-blown defensiveness. “No, no! You’re misjudging us,” we protest. “We’re really not that different.” As a result of this fear, we become a bland, garden variety kind of Christian group. It seems we would rather enjoy sitting at the table of denominations, purring with pride and contentment, than reach the world with a unique gospel message, the same one that energized the church of the book of Acts. I contend, however, that if we fear to be different, we fail to be different. We are not here to be accepted but to be a light in a dark place.

This phenomenon of fear did not start with us. Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus at night for fear of the Jews. All four gospels record that Peter denied his involvement with Christ three times. This fearless man who jumped out of a boat to walk on water and who wielded a sword against Malchus, did not distance himself from Jesus because he was afraid for his life, but rather because he was afraid for his reputation. The Judaizers in Acts and Galatians clamored to retain certain practices of the Jewish religion, not only because those traditions were so ingrained within them, but also so they would not be considered too different from their friends and families. (Acts 15:1; Galatians 2:12).

Since its beginning, the United Pentecostal Church , International has undergone countless attacks. Several years ago, a mainline denomination and a major Christian magazine declared that we were a cult. They based their charge on our doctrines of the oneness of God, baptism in Jesus’ name, the new birth and our holiness lifestyle, claiming that these doctrines made us so different from general Christianity that we had to be classified as a cult. Their assault went beyond mere name-calling. It appeared to be a calculated attempt to hurt us and to serve as a warning to their people to avoid us. The charges galvanized our organization into a massive defensive reaction. We insisted that we were not a cult. In an avalanche of articles, letters, sermons and bible studies, we tried to convince people that we had been unjustifiably tagged with this label by those who wanted to make us seem freakish to the world. Looking back, I now wonder if our fear of being perceived as different, rather than a pure defense of the truth caused much of this reaction. The substance of our defense was correct, but this question remains: Would we have been better served to have ignored the charge and simply redoubled our efforts to get the message out to the unchurched and lost of the world? Indignation over false accusations consumes far too much of our energy, and it seldom works. Very little has changed in how our detractors view us.

Recently, a friend shared some intriguing data with me about the Mormons. No group has been more maligned as a cult than the LDS. While they defend themselves against nefarious charges that they feel mischaracterize them, they focus primarily on offense, not defense. For example, according to a report put out by the National Baptist Convention, the “Mormons are the ‘church’ doing the most evangelizing through TV commercials. Within twenty-four hours of a person’s response, missionary will show up with the Mormon Bible. In a shocking trend, Mormons are converting 155 Baptists to Mormonism every week. The average-sized Baptist church in America is 150 members. That equals about fifty-two Baptist churches that are lost to the LDS religion every year.” Now, if any group fits the definition of a cult, the Mormon Church certainly does. They have discovered, however, that the strategy of ignoring the charge and continuing to push their agenda works best.

I understand that the cries of cultism need to be rebutted because they are untrue, and because they conjure up negative images of us. Neither our theology nor our lifestyle supports the charge. The driving force behind our response, however, must not be the fear of being different. As long as we allow ourselves to be overly sensitive to the opinions of “mainstream” Christianity, we sabotage our calling. We are different, but the differences we have with the world’s brand of Christianity do not speak of weakness, but strength. If we accept and celebrate the fact that we are indeed different, we will find ourselves much farther down the road than if we continually chafe under a perceived negative, or worse, if we let the fear of being different neutralize us in our mission. The only standard we should accept is the Word of God, and the only approval we should seek is that of our Lord’s.

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