Friday, January 22, 2010

A Primer on Unity

Much has been said about Christian Unity, and I do not claim to be saying anything new. Rather, this is a brief glimpse of my unexpressed perspective through many already considered opinions from theologians which you, the reader, may or may not agree with. I will do my best to speak clearly on a fairly opaque topic, but feel free to question for clarity. I will not, however, argue any theological point through comment as that would be inconsistent with what I hope to say.

Denomination = Distinction
To begin with the obvious, Christians follow Christ.
You might say, “Nvm, Katie’s going to be all ‘little kid/Sunday school’ on me now. Nothing to read here,” but hang with me, we’ll get there. We just need to cover a little background first.
Christ came for all, and His followers later formed many churches that worshipped him and built supportive communities… that weren’t identical. They had different ways of worship, focused on different parts of Christ’s teaching, and were relevant in different cultures, but they all were worshipping the same Lord.

“We must insist that our source, however, is Jesus Christ- Lord of the church… We dare to follow Wesley, Luther, Calvin or anyone else only to the extent that they follow Jesus.” - Howard A. Snyder, Wesleyan writer

Convergance = Unity
As time went on these focuses seemed to become all-important and, to make a long story short, denominations broke away from each other and were formed. Each considered their way of following Christ ‘true’ or ‘better.’
Often, not always but often, the danger of that kind of division is in its focus.

“Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an entrance a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the carve itself. They’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs tied, able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them. Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front of a puppeteers above which they show their puppets….” - Plato, The Alegory of the Cave

Basically, this story continues to say that there are shadows of real life showing on the wall in front of the people. Since they’ve sat there their whole lives they think that this is real… they forget about the light that causes the shapes, (which are really just shadows of what is real.)
Even if one of them turns around and see the things casting the shadows, they ignore it or try to drag their friend out to show them the things casting the shadows… forgetting about the light outside the cave. They’re so focused on finding what they think is the point and converting their friends that they ignore the source that they and their peers have in common- THE LIGHT. They forget where they do converge, that they are peers- parallel, not opposite.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
- Romans 3:22-23
“As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."” -Romans 10:11-13

Divergence = Relevance

Recap: remember that before ‘denominations’ there were many churches in different cultures which worshipped in many languages and styles? This did not keep them from being Christians, but rather, met the needs in their culture… let’s expound upon this briefly.

“Of course, the problem of how Christians relate to culture is as old as Christianity itself. The New Testament makes it clear that there were sharp differences in the first century over how to relate to the culture. Yet, the Christ of the Bible is the Christ of a culture. The ultimate act of communication in history, the Incarnation, means that Christ became a part of culture and can’t be understood apart from culture. In the same way, you can’t live in God without living in the world. That’s why this conversation is like debating the relative roles of hydrogen and oxygen in the air we breathe.”
- Leonard Sweet, The Church in Emerging Culture

Different denominations focus on different things, and appeal to different parts of our world culture. For example, I do not agree with Southern Baptist etc. and would have a hard time worshipping and ministering with the gifts God has given through that theology. Likewise, someone from such a background might have trouble working amidst Wesleyan theology because it doesn’t fit the culture they belong to or the gifts they’ve been given. Same with (insert your denomination here.)

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us…”
-Romans 12:4-5

This is true of the local church and of the Church at large.

Communion = Unity = Church
Mmk, a couple of ending thoughts are in order.
First would be a lil recap-
-That as Christ’s body, we each (individual, local, and denominational) have different gifts.
-We have ONE command ~ love the Lord your God & love your neighbor.
-We have ONE God.
-Our differences can compliment each other, if they aren’t the point of our existence.

Lastly, as C.S Lewis said in his book Mere Christianity: “A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ until I am blue in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward—driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home.”


Dan Lower / KKairos said...

I know that in my experience it's sometimes easy, when discussing theology across church lines, to forget the big thing we have in common. And since He's awfully important, that's a crying shame. This is a good reminder for me of the unity that is present even if full organizational unity isn't anymore.

called 2 shepherd said...

Thanks :-)
I know I didn't go very deep with it... hope it's what you were looking for.

llgp said...

This is also a good reminder that the early church comprised a growing number of far flung congregations with practices and theological views that were not uniform though they certainly had commonalities.
It also prompts the thought that the early church was vibrant and impressively prolific in the absence of much of "the scripture" as we hold it in our hands today, in the presence of all manner of distorted or heretical "Christian" and other teaching, and with the guidance of only a nascent "Christian" tradition.


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