Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Christians Have an Essential Unity

There’s the joke that I have heard told with several different denominations inserted into the punch line. A person dies and goes to heaven. On the first-day-in-heaven tour, they see a high wall surrounding a portion of paradise. The person asks St. Peter (who is always the tour guide in jokes like this) why the wall is there. St. Peter motions the person off into the distance and then whispers, “That’s the area for the [insert name of denomination here]. They think they are the only ones here.”

It’s as if you can’t get into heaven if you don’t believe exactly what I believe. That sort of we-are-the-only-true-Christians attitude is a real turn off for folks who have not come to faith yet. Sometimes a non-Christian can get the idea that if Christians cannot even agree on what to believe, why should they bother to try to sort it out?

This attitude is a problem that Jesus saw coming. The night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed with his disciples. That prayer, recounted in John 17, ends with a prayer for “those who will believe in me through [the disciples’] word.”

That means us. We have come to believe in Jesus because of the word of the first disciples. Had they never gone out and told Jesus’ story, we never would have heard it. We believe today because of an unbroken chain of believers back to the time of those first disciples. So when Jesus prays for “those who will believe in me through their word,” Jesus is praying for those of us gathered here today and for all the Christians around the world.

Jesus prays, “that they (meaning us) may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they (Jesus is talking about us again) also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus prayed for unity among all Christians. Jesus’ heart’s desire is that we may be one with God and through that oneness with the triune God we may be one with one another. This unity leads to Jesus’ true desire, that through our unity, the world may see and know that Jesus is God’s own Son, the savior of the world.

So what’s the answer? The end of denominations? A stop to all distinctions among Christian groups? If that were to happen, which denomination would we be? What exactly would we believe? How would we worship?

I believe the answer is in Jesus’ own prayer. Jesus prayed, “Father make them one as you and I are one that the world may believe.” If we are to be one as Jesus and the Father are one, then how are Jesus and the Father one? God is a Trinity of persons—one being, yet three distinct persons. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one and yet each unique. We, too, are to be unique persons, separate from one another and yet in communion with each other.

We are not all created just alike and so we will each approach God a little differently. Denominations allow us to express this diversity. Our various churches allow us each to find the best way for us to approach God within a loving community of fellow Christians. There is no need to break down the uniqueness found within various branches of the Christian faith. However, we must find some ways to show that we have an essential unity, even in our diversity.

The solution is not to squish all Christians into a one-sized-fits-all faith. The solution is to present an outward face that shows the world that we know that our similarities matter more than our differences. Churches are not in competition. Churches are allies in the cause of spreading the Christian Gospel. The Bible does not teach that all heaven rejoices when a person or family changes from one church to another. All heaven rejoices when someone trapped in a life of sin learns that God loves her or him, God wants what’s best for them, and God desires a relationship with them. A child of God coming to that knowledge is what makes all heaven rejoice. The more we show the world our unity as the Body of Christ, the more we prepare the way for more people to experience that life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.

The above is my religion column for today's issue of the Tribune & Georgian. The same page of the paper carries news of King of Peace hosting a community-wide worship service for the May 6 National Day of Prayer with a multi-church choir singing Holden's Evening Prayer.



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