United We Stand???
It is a seminary classroom. One student asks if there was ever a time when the church was one unified, homogeneous body. The professor stops for a moment and then says “maybe for the first 15 minutes”.
Another story. 24 years ago I went to the minister of my home church and started the discussions and process that would lead to my ordination. As part of that I met with a couple of people from the church to discuss things. One of them asked “are you sure this is the church for you?” As I was born and raised in the United Church young 22 year-old me (with all the arrogance that comes with being 22 years old) thought that was a really weird question. Now I think it was incredibly wise, I suggest it is a question we should all ask ourselves from time to time.
As we read the Christian Testament we see that there are different factions and understandings popping up in the early church. At the beginning of his letter to the church in Corinth Paul says:
“What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)
Jump forward almost 2000 years and what do we find? Well in Grande Prairie itself there are dozens of churches. And amongst them there are (sometimes substantial, sometimes almost contradictory) differences in theology that get played out in worship style, music, preaching, belief statements and lived faith. And yet I believe that we are all part of the universal church. I believe that despite all the differences we have something very key in common, something that is, in the end more important than our differences.
More than that, I believe that it is a very good thing that there is such a wide range of ways to be part of the universal church. It means none of us have to be everything to everybody.
There is a phenomenon called church-shopping. People new to a community, or people new to attending church, or people unhappy with the church they are currently attending or people who are simply curious, will go to a different church each Sunday to find the one that fits them best. Some people find this to be a strange concept. I think it is brilliant.
At heart we all share a basic construct. That in Jesus of Nazareth God did (and is still doing) something different and amazing. We share a faith in a God who takes the worst the worldly powers could do –execution– and turns it on its head, bringing life where there was death. We share a belief that the Kingdom of God is amongst us now and is going someday to come to full flower. We share a belief that God is active in the world. That is the important stuff. How we express and explain those things, how we worship, how we describe our faith, well those are matters of (deeply loved) traditions and aesthetics.
Next week is the week of prayer for Christian Unity. Unity can seem like an odd word to describe a faith with so many different faces and incarnations. But we are united by those things we have in common. And they are wonderful. We are also united when we can openly share that it is okay that not everyone is like us. I believe we are more united when we allow each other to express and live the faith in our own tradition than when we try to insist everyone else has to be like us. That insistence has been tried in various places and times in the history of Christian faith. Generally it did not go well. Besides that how boring would it be if we were all the same?
I look again at the question I was asked 24 years ago. My answer is still the same. I love my church. I don't always agree with my church but I love my church. I also know that I would not make a very good Lutheran or Roman Catholic or Pentecostal. They would not be my home. But they are home for others of my Brothers and Sisters. They too love (but probably do not always agree with) their churches. Isn't that a wonderful thing?
So next week I plan to give thanks for all the varied and amazing ways we Christians can live out our faith. I give thanks that we can stand together under the cross, gaze together at the empty tomb. And I give thanks that they are my Brothers and Sisters.
United we stand. We just might stand in different places and postures.