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An Explanation of My Church Bracket Decisions

by Carson T. Clark on June 18, 2013

I’d like to preface my commentary below with three points of clarification. First, each pairing has a one to three sentence explanation of why I made every decision. Please give me the benefit of the doubt that there’s much more thought behind each of these decisions than can be concisely conveyed. I’m merely touching upon the chief reasons. Second, I’m describing rather than arguing. Here I am not offering an apologetic for or against particular ecclesiastical bodies. My concern here is simply explaining why I decided what I did, not convincing others to think, feel, or perceive the same way. Third, you’ll notice that I used a “/” instead of “vs.” That’s intentional. This is because, despite what the format may suggest, I’ve never seen this process as particular traditions winning or losing. The bracket framework has always been a way of sorting rather than a competition.

Searching for a Church Home bracket - Round 6

 Round 1

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION

2a. Eastern Orthodox Church / 2b. Oriental Orthodox Church

I’m not unsympathetic to the OOC’s Christological understanding, and I also know that efforts have been made in recent years to bridge this divide between the two Orthodox entities. But at the end of the day I openly affirm the Chalcedonian Definition. Plus the OOC is a little too cloistered for my tastes.

JOHN WESLEY 

N/A

HISTORICALLY PROTESTANT

2a. Presbyterian Church USA / 2b. Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians

Increasingly the PCUSA and other mainline denominations are treating orthodoxy like adiaphora and adiaphora like orthodoxy. For example, a person can get ordained without upholding the Trinity yet (s)he must be willing attend a woman’s ordination and affirm its validity. I’m no fundamentalist, but I can’t tolerate that sort of progressive untethering from historic orthodoxy.

BELIEVER’S BAPTISM

1a. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship / 1b. Baptist General Conference

All things considered they actually seem pretty similar, so I chose the CBF because they have a local presence where I live. Another factor is that the CBF is explicitly moderate.

2a. Brethren in Christ vs. 2b. Mennonite Church USA

The BIC seems more historically-grounded with an explicit, principled affirmation of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. They also have episcopal oversight of local churches, which I agree with. I’m no congregationalist.

Round 2

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION 

1. Anglican Church in North America / 4. The Episcopal Church

As my blog title makes clear, I’m a self-described hardlining moderate. I would always be a thorn in the side of someone, it’s just a question of whether they’re conservative or progressive. While I certainly don’t see eye to eye with the more fiercely conservative folks within ACNA, my situation down the road would surely be dramatically worse under the progressive leaders–such as Presiding Bishop Catherine Jefferts Shori–who are increasingly leading TEC toward vague, non-doctrinal, therapeutic, culturally-determinist spirituality that bears little resemblance to historic Christianity.

2. Eastern Orthodox Church / 3. Roman Catholic Church

I can buy that the pope is, historically speaking, the first among equals of the patriarchs. But papal infallibility? And then there’s transubstantiation, Tomistic theology, Seminalism, prohibition on birth control, their understanding of hell…

JOHN WESLEY 

1. United Methodist Church / 4. Congregational Methodist Church

I made this decision quite begrudgingly as I love much about the UMC. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable within a denominational body that hasn’t resolved the homosexuality issue yet. Though I strive toward civility, especially in that area, as vocal as I am it’s not hard to imagine that one coming back to haunt me.

2. African Methodist Episcopal Church / 3. The Wesleyan Church

Whether you prefer to call its “christian perfection” or “entire sanctification,” it’s a doctrine I cannot buy. Nothin’ but love for those who do, but that ain’t me in the slightest.

HISTORICALLY PROTESTANT 

1. Evangelical Covenant Church / 4. Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

I’m just not a mainline chap.

2. Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians / 3. Presbyterian Church of America

I’m down with the ordination of women.

BELIEVER’S BAPTISM 

1. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship / 4. Christian & Missionary Alliance

Having attended a C&MA college, I’ve many good friends and respected mentors who are part of that denomination. But its roots in the Holiness Movement make me uncomfortable. It’s culturally and theologically too similar to the Pentecostalism of my childhood and teenage years.

2. Brethren in Christ / 3. Evangelical Free Church

1827. That’s the year J.N. Darby invented Premillennial, Pretribulational Dispensationalism. It’s not just the eschatological system with which I disagree but the entire hermeneutical approach that produced it.

Round 3

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION 

1. Anglican Church in North America / 2. Eastern Orthodox Church

Both have a valid claim on apostolic succession, but only the EOC claims to be the one, true Church. I’m profoundly uncomfortable with that exclusivity and the condescension that all too often accompanies. That and, in my strong (albeit hopefully humble) opinion, it’s biblically and historically untenable that the EOC won’t ordain even female deacons.

JOHN WESLEY 

4. Congregational Methodist Church / 2. African Methodist Episcopal Church

I’m white…

HISTORICALLY PROTESTANT 

1. Evangelical Covenant Church / 2. Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians

I’m not even close to being Reformed. Plus, despite the fact that the ECC and ECO are in many ways culturally and theologically similar, I love the particular emphasis the ECC places on social justice and multi-ethnicity. Very InterVarsity-friendly.

BELIEVER’S BAPTISM 

1. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship / 2. Brethren in Christ

This one was close. The liturgical Baptist church my wife and I may end up attending over the next four years is part of the CBF. Yet I’ve got more in common culturally and theologically with Anabaptists than Baptists, especially Anabaptism in its BIC form.

Round 4

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION / JOHN WESLEY

1. Anglican Church in North America / 4. Congregational Methodist Church

Though both ecclesiastical bodies certainly lean conservative, my sense is that I’d feel unwelcome in the CMC since it seems more consistently conservative than even the ACNA. Now, if there had been a Methodist X–as in “As TEC is to ACNA so UMC is to Methodist X”–there might have been a different outcome. But, really, if I’m that close with Methodism why not just finish the Canterbury Trail and get the historical continuity that comes with apostolic succession?

HISTORICALLY PROTESTANT / BELIEVER’S BAPTISM

1. Evangelical Covenant Church / 2. Brethren in Christ

I spent weeks wrestling with this one as I read books and corresponded with pastors within both. But, at the end of the day, reading the Anabaptist literature and the book on the BIC specifically confirmed my hunch. It seems to me there’s a steady, albeit gentle, culture of favoring of piety over the life of the mind.

Round 5

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION / HISTORICALLY PROTESTANT

1. Anglican Church in North America / 1. Evangelical Covenant Church

I’m convinced either of these ecclesiastical bodies could be my long-term ecclesiastical home. That being said, I needed to make a decision. There were many factors that played into it, but it ultimately came down to my wife’s spiritual needs, wanting to finish what I started, the global Anglican Communion, the tradition’s view on apostolic succession, the unique opportunities for christian ecumenism, and my relationship with the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast.

  • Leo Staley

    Yes, but you’re not THAT white.

    • carsontclark

      Why, thank you.

  • Maureen K

    If only more people actually took the time to examine the particular denomination that they preferred…how awesome would our global church be! Even if we all came up with different answers, we would have a better grasp of our own spiritual beliefs and be able to articulate them in a meaningful way.

  • Scott

    You aren’t at all Reformed. + The ACNA receives the 39 articles in their “literal and grammatical sense” as “fundamental principles.” +The 39 articles support Reformed theology. How does this equation come together?

    • carsontclark

      Three initial thoughts:

      1. You took those quotations out of context… “We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.” Controverted at the time…

      2. Not all would agree with me, but I don’t see the Anglican Church as necessarily being confessional. Creedal? Yes. Confessional? No.

      3. I would disagree that the Articles represent a Reformed perspective. Certainly a Reformed Christian could affirm them, but I don’t think one must be Reformed to do so. They were quite intentionally written in such a way as to allow for a breadth of interpretation.

    • http://frjody.com Jody Howard

      Anglicans are Reformed, as are Arminians technically (who may be anywhere… well, except the PCA), to the chagrin of most who lovingly use the “R” label. Folks just like to use an unnecessarily narrow and ahistorical definition for the term.

      But don’t take my word for it: http://frjody.com/2006/04/rowan-williams-what-is-anglicanism-2/

      The Articles certainly started life with more of a Lutheran bent, but were finished off with Calvinism of a moderate stripe… so they’re certainly not Dortish, which is what most people tend to think of when they say “Reformed,” unfortunately.

      I think you’re right, Carson, when you say that they were intended to allow for a breadth of interpretation. You’re also right when you say they aren’t “Reformed” when that term is used (I would say misused) in such a particular way.

      The Articles also avoided controversies over things indifferent. So, for example, one of the earlier versions of the Articles affirmed Christ’s physical descent into Hades to preach to the spirits in prison. That was dropped because it was a controversial question and had nothing to do with central matters of the faith.

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