Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Northumberland County has plenty of worship choices, especially if you are a Christian. From Anglican to Baptist, or United Church to Free Presbyterian we're inundated with different denominations. As a young pastor I never gave this denominationalism much thought. But then I got involved as a leader in an interdenominational spiritual retreat. Called Cursillo, it began as a Roman Catholic renewal movement. During the weekend event attendees are invited to reconsider their faith and the direction of their lives.

The highlight of the weekend was supposed to be a communion service. Here people from many different church backgrounds, or maybe none at all, joined together to celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection, as well as our unity in the faith. At one Cursillo weekend, my fellow leader was a Roman Catholic priest. At the moment of communion he got up and told the rest of us--about fifty men--that he couldn't participate. He wanted to, he said, but his Bishop forbade him to take communion with Protestants. So I would have to officiate by myself.

Furthermore, said the priest, he would stand by the communion table, silently observing communion while not participating, as a mute reminder that the church we thought of as one on account of our wonderful weekend together was actually broken and fractured. He hoped that his example would encourage us to work for more and more visible church unity.

In some ways the priest played it like a melodrama. On the other hand, his silent witness got to me. And, as a pastor, I began to wonder which doctrines that separated me from my Baptist or United Church friends really justified having separate churches.

As I walk up the steps to Grace Christian Reformed Church, I still wonder. And I now honestly think that there are very few doctrinal differences that warrant separate denominations. The time for arguing about who is right about when to baptize, or how to manifest the Spirit in worship, or whether or not evolution is something Christians can work with is long past. Much better to be curious about how other people make sense of difficult Bible passages than insist my interpretation is the correct one. In the words of Brian McClaren Christians need to start practicing a much more generous orthodoxy. We need to focus on the few things that unite us rather than the many that separate us. Why? Because, that is what Jesus wanted. His final prayer for the church was not that we get the doctrine of Original Sin or Eschatology right, but "that they may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us [God and Jesus] so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).

In fact, Jesus here suggests that Christian unity is a key strategy for convincing others that God, in his love for us, sent the son to the world in the first place. Do we really believe that?

1 comment:

  1. Amen!! A house divided against itself can't stand, and the evil one knows that, so he'll do whatever it takes to break us apart. Our struggle isn't against each other, not against other denominations, it's against the rulers, authorities and powers of the dark the spiritual realms, the ones trying to break us apart.

    (But how often do we talk about spiritual warfare in the North American churches? We can pretend that it's not there - we can say, "if i don't think about it, it's not real and won't affect me" but it is there. And if we aren't fighting against it, in a way, we're helping the problem, aren't we? Just a thought...)

    Jesus calls us to love. Do *everything* out of love. Because of the love we've received from God, we can love Him right back, we can love our family, we can love our neighbours, and we can love our enemies. It overflows. It's amazing.

    Real 1st Corinthians 13 love. Real John 15 love. Not hokey, not superficial. Deep down, restorative, life-changing LOVE.


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