I remember going to church as a teenager, even young adult, where if I was going to volunteer I had to fill out and sign a form on the 17 things the church believed that I must believe too (not all the things were even theological) before I could volunteer. This form was required to be re-filled out and signed every year. And what I later learned is that most people in that environment just checked "YES" and then signed whether they agreed or not, it was just easier that way. I could not do that, it seemed to me to be an integrity breach to say, "Yes I believe that" when secretly I did not believe that.
At Mercy Church we have nearly every religious background present. We have Jewish congregants (not messianic either), a couple people from a Buddhist background (still practicing), a Jehovah's Witness (which if you know anything about JW's they are not allowed to be a part of anything other than JW churches) ...we even **had an Atheist attending for a year. This is fascinating to me, especially since we teach from a Biblical perspective a Christian message of hope through Jesus Christ and Him alone. I believe it to be our loving approach and the way we allow for questions, discussions and differences to exist while maintaining unity in faith. I believe in a loving God who understands all our journeys, no matter where we are.
Our primary membership is made up of mainline Christian denominations, with a heavy splash of Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist. A true melting pot of religious diversity. And I love that. I never set out to start an all Republican-Voting Baptist-Hymn-singing church. (Nothing wrong with being Republican or Baptist or singing Hymns! Just sayin!) I wanted a church that would rally around the two main messages of Jesus, which is found in Matthew 22:37-40 where Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
1) Love God!
2) Love People & Love Yourself!
And in my 20 + years of ministry I have finally come to except that not every church needs to be like Mercy Church. We are who we are, other churches are who they are ... we need all flavors to be about fulfilling the mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ in this world, and that's to "Make disciples!"
Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ..."
For me, more than anything, I want Mercy Church (and my life in general) to be a reflection of Jesus' love for all people! I want Mercy Church to be a place where anyone and everyone feels loved and accepted; whether they are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or from some other religious group.
*Theological Differences: We are a Christian church, so when I say, "theological differences" I am referring to what falls under the acceptable Biblical views and positions of our Christian faith. Make sense? Frankly, views that have been argued over and discussed in the church for thousands of years. I think it's a bit prideful for one group to feel they have all the answers and have God all figured out.
**Had: He eventually accepted the message of Jesus, though we never pressured him, ever! One Sunday he just confessed to me that he decided that everything I was teaching was good, and that he finally felt the boundaries that were keeping him from faith came down. And like I said, we never made him feel like he didn't fit in. I actually found his atheism fascinating.