A belief system that denies itself.
December 6, 2012 5:59 PM   Subscribe

What denomination or affiliation of Christianism am I being gently introduced to?

I and my housemates are being invited to weekly casual dinners by a pastor, and the amount of religious content has ramped up.

He says that what he is telling me about isn't a religion (such as Jewish or Buddhist or Catholic), but it is simply the "reality". Also that it's not about rites, rituals or submitting to a church or entity, but about allowing Jesus-God into your spirit. Although I don't agree literally with many things that he said, I noticed two points that I feel have general value and significance—
- Applying the act of eating, and the concept of one being affected by what they eat, to how both my mind and so-called "spirit" also "consume".
- God (Jesus, Lord) is with you in whatever challenges or tasks you face, and allow Him to guide you.

There are other details, such as mentioning in passing when a member experienced/opened themselves to Jesus (a.k.a. religious conversion?), and basic things you can say in prayer to Jesus.

What am I dealing with here?
posted by polymodus to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can only say that it is definitely not Catholicism. The focus on when you "opened yourself to Jesus" seems like one of the born again groups, but I don't know enough to tell them apart.
posted by drezdn at 6:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you share with us more of the many things that he said, and not just the ones you agree with? Without some more detail it will be hard to help you identify the theology.

It sounds like it could be born-again evangelical or charismatic christianity but it could also be plenty of other things. More detail would help.

Also, just as a sidenote and no biggie, but I believe you mean "Christianity" up there. "Christianism" is a term coined (I believe by Andrew Sullivan) to describe people who want the law explicitly to reflect their religious beliefs. There are plenty of Christians and pastors and people doing religious outreach like you describe without spending any time on politics at all.
posted by gauche at 6:08 PM on December 6, 2012

In my experience, there are many Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestant churches who use rhetoric like "this isn't a 'religion', it's a personal relationship with God" (or "with Jesus").

The "mindful eating" and "Jesus will help you" stuff is pretty usual Christian rhetoric for all denominations (I've encountered both teachings in the Anglican Communion churches and the Roman Catholic Church).

VvvV This, too, though again in my experience most of the Christian groups that describe themselves as "non-denominational" are solidly within an Evangelical or Pentecostal Protestant tradition.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:08 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend says some brand of Nondenominational Christianity
posted by griphus at 6:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup, this is, by definition, non-denominational evangelical Christianity. You can tell it's non-denominational if he's not inviting you to a church that you've heard of (Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, etc), and well, he's evangelizing to you.
posted by donajo at 6:14 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're not in L.A., are you? I ask b/c "Reality" is the name of a rather popular hipster church here.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:15 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, in much of Evangelicalism, the term 'religion' is often heavily associated with the idea that salvation is only conferred via sincere belief in Jesus, and that there is a lot of danger (of not being 'saved,' going to heaven when you die, etc.) in merely going to church and observing religious rituals, etc. 'Religion' is often seen as empty ritual, and this is related to how most nondenominational Christian churches eschew any church hierarchy, the singing of old hymns, the use of liturgy or other traditional trappings of church.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:57 PM on December 6, 2012

This is some flavor of the revivalist movement that has become so popular in the US in the past few decades.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:26 PM on December 6, 2012

I was invited to a christian mega church that a friend of a friend said was really good and was billed as non-denominational. The main "selling" point was that it wasn't as formal or rigid as the churches I'd have likely been to before. I attended some services, and it was a positive experience, all in all, but not something my heart was into. After I attended a few services, I noticed that I never once heard the word "non-denominational" in any of the services or from any of the church members I was introduced to. I did, however, notice that the words "christian reformed" were used frequently where I thought I would have heard "non-denominational."

I have no idea what "christian reformed" even means or stands for (so I'm not knocking it), but I got the impression that a bait and switch act had been perpetrated on me. Not cool, IMHO.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:51 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Reformed" generally refers to a church that aligns itself with the Calvinist theological tradition.

This is one of the things that, to be frank, bugs me about the "non-denominational Christianity" label in many cases. Calvinist theology is a very specific subset of Christian theology--it isn't an overarching system of beliefs common to all Christianity. Similarly, the Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions are specific subsets of Christianity. I see how "non-denominational" appeals to the founders of churches in those traditions as a descriptor, because they are often not allied with a formal denominational hierarchy, but it's confusing because the lay person tends to think of "non-denominational" and "generic" or "universal" as synonymous.

Obviously, people get to call their houses of worship whatever they choose, but I do think some of those labels can be confusing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:30 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Has the pastor not told you where he or she works? In any case, I'm sure you could ask directly and the pastor would be happy to tell you. But like others have already said, it very likely is an evangelical Christianity. If it's not a tiny community, they probably even have a website you could check out.

I would guess that the analogy between the body's and the spirit's consumption doesn't have anything to do with mindfulness in eating. Like yoga and meditation, that kind of thinking is way too "eastern" for most evangelical churches to be comfortable with.
I suspect that this is an argument that comes from some kind of how-to guide about how to make religion make sense to a non-believer with whom you're having a casual dinner.
posted by beau jackson at 9:21 PM on December 6, 2012

I noticed that I never once heard the word "non-denominational"

Well, it's not something that churches/worship groups use to designate themselves. The term is most often applied to e.g. an opening prayer at a public meeting, where the celebrant is expected to use language that engages with a sort of generic spirituality rather than dogma.

I just did a GMaps search for non-denominational church and found several pages of churches with names like X Community Church, Y Bible Chapel, Z Family Church, and so forth.

OP, normally a pastor does not hold that title unless they are in fact called (hired, etc.) to lead a particular church. I suppose he might be currently unaffiliated, but then that almost suggests that he's trying to actually form a church, or worship group if they don't like that word, by recruiting you.

about allowing Jesus-God into your spirit.

This is the essence of evangelical Christianity -- being born again and having that "personal relationship with Jesus" as the vessel of God's love for Man. This has a long tradition in the US through the various conversion fads called the Great Awakening(s), which sought to convert the unchurched as well as those affiliated with mainline Protestant denominations. There are sects, such as the Southern Baptists or the Churches of Christ (note: not the "United Church of Christ" which is liberal/mainline*) or Vineyard or, hey, here's the Reformed Chuch in America, ultimately an offshoot of Dutch evangelical traditions.
* One of its member denominations is the Evangelical and Reformed, actually, but they are nothing like modern evangelicals. Then you have the megachurch grouping like the Willow Creek Association, which is more about marketing the church as a service that matches a mostly-suburban lifestyle, so they have massive sanctuaries, fully staffed daycare, conveniences like drive-up services, and so on.

Applying the act of eating, and the concept of one being affected by what they eat, to how both my mind and so-called "spirit" also "consume".

This is a tradition often labeled spiritual nutrition. It has its roots in the Bible, and the Eucharist can be thought of as a particularly ritualized version of this. There are a number of evangelical traditions surrounding the concept of spiritual warfare, in which the things that are causing you stress in your life and pulling you in different directions or just making you have "un-Christian" thoughts such as anger at a family member are dealt with almost the way that people LARP and this can be either very abstract or very specifically illustrated. But the general point is that there is a sort of parallel spirit world in which our spirits interact, positively or negatively, so cleansing one's spirit is a way of engaging with that world.

What am I dealing with here?

Hmm, if you've already been to dinner I would think some of these questions should have come up. A pastor, self-designate or not, would probably be happen to answer them, although forewarned is forearmed in that just asking shows an increased level of interest and opens you up to various cold-reading types of sales techniques (something I once experienced with a particularly oddly aggressive Buddhist group, I kid you not).
posted by dhartung at 11:25 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

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