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The box to check 

Forget denominations, focus on what unites us.

Would you like to take a survey? Please check all the boxes that apply.

I check the last box in the age category now, ouch. At least I know that answer. We do not fit as neatly into other categories. Contrary to the individualism of our age, we are defined by our connections. Categories keep changing, and so do we. Categories take on connotations that can be used against us. We fear what Pete Seeger sang in “Little Boxes,” that trivial differences land us in different boxes, but “they’re all made out of ticky tacky / And they all look just the same.”

Age. Check. Race? “Dutch-American” is not an option and seems restrictive. Politics? My political alliances depend on the issues and circumstances. Religion? I’m troubled by my religious designations right now.

What’s in a Name?

Given names (first names in Western tradition, last names in Eastern) may connect us to family, historical or Biblical figures. They might reveal family values like strength, beauty, virtue, or reflect cultural patterns. 

Family names connect us to ethnic backgrounds. They might connect us to a place, such as, “house in the woods,” (Wolthuis) or my mother-in-law’s “Westendorp,” meaning “west of the village.”  Some of you are “van’s,” “de’s,” “der’s,” or “den’s.” Now others of you feel excluded. Maybe for you “-son,” “-sen,” “Mc,” Mac,” “-sma,” “-der” connects you to family. You may be connected to an occupation as a “Baker,” “Smith,” “Farmer” (aka “Boer”), “Wang” (“King” or “Koenig”). A name carries connection and categorization.

In the English language, a name is a denomination, but faith “denominations” carry connections and connotations beyond their names. “Evangelical” is now a politically overloaded word. “Catholic” is no longer just “universal.” “Protestant” seems a little angry. “Born again” strangely continues Nicodemus’ misunderstanding of Jesus in John 3. “Bible-believing” seems accusatory to others and prioritizing the Bible over God. “Reformed” can sound triumphant and past. I doubt John Calvin would smile to hear his name associated with discrimination against women or limited doctrinal points, although my wife enjoys the response when she claims she was a “Calvinette.”

I hear churches with long denominational names have small memberships. The more required boxes, the smaller the group. Can we be faithful and maintain identity with inclusiveness, connecting without categorizing?

Belonging

Checking boxes could be about belonging, not dividing. The Heidelberg Catechism places our comfort and identity in belonging to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:8). Here “belonging” is a translation of the Greek verb “to be” with a genitive object “Lord,” indicating possession. Our being (essence) is in our relationship with the Lord.

When Paul addressed the denominationally divided Corinthians, he asked if Christ was divided. He appealed to them, “that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor.1:10). This does not mean that agreement precedes unity, but united in the name of Christ we keep working toward agreement.

Christian – the box to check, connecting us.

Author

  • Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at www.geneva-ui.org.

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