Monday, March 05, 2007

One Church, One God

I’m not usually one to complain about denominational differences in the Church, in fact usually I see them as an acceptable and even healthy reality. The lesson we can learn in seeing different denominations doing different things is that the Church is organic. The Church moves and lives as its people move and live precisely because of the fact that the people themselves are the Church. We do things differently because we see things differently and have different backgrounds. We all approach God intimately and personally even in the context of community (which is the only good way to examine the Church). The Church is a witness that truth is a beautifully messy thing to which everyone has access in different ways. It’s a testament to the fact that rational and intelligent people don’t always come to the same conclusion and truth, therefore, finds itself in the story we find ourselves in rather than in some objective reality outside of circumstance and narrative. Denominations are not all about division, they’re about people being people. Denominations have showed us that we are not being called to a hierarchy of truth, where lay people are handed truth from some higher authority and are unable to think and question it. Christianity is all about questions, I’ve argued before that questions are a language of God. We are not called to be total conformists, believing without question the truth that’s passed to us. We can come to different conclusions and still be the Church. We can do things differently and think and question freely. The Church doesn’t always have to agree… in fact if it is truly the Church, which is at its core unadulterated community, then we are going to disagree because you don’t get to pick and choose who you do community with (or at least you shouldn’t).

Having said all this there is a huge question on my mind that has been haunting me. This question is linked with a definition of the Church that I have grown very fond of: The Church is a reversal of disrupted relationships and a foretaste of all things being reconciled to God. The oneness of the Church is reflectant of the oneness of the Triune Godhead. In embracing this idea, the unity of the Church emerges to primary importance in our ecclesiological outlook. Thus the question that has been haunting me is this: are our denominational differences or, to be more blunt, divisions a witness against God? Are we, when we decide to go our separate ways, proclaiming that God is not one as Deuteronomy 6:4 says God is? I’m afraid that unless we are united we are doing just that; we are shouting in a loud voice that God is divided and indeed bitter at times. If something doesn’t go right between us and God, God will find no problem going somewhere else and doing His own thing there. If the relationship gets tough God might not stick around. Is this our message to the world? If this is the witness of the Church divided then we are reflecting a false reality and we are, in fact, not being the Church at all.

The non-denominational movement is not free from this and neither is the non-institutional movement. Why do those sorts of Churches start in the first place? Usually it’s because they didn’t agree with the idea of a denomination telling them what to do or they simply didn’t like the Church being the way it is. In the end it’s a testament to the same false reality, it’s all based on disagreement and thus division. Is disagreement a good enough reason to leave a Church? Is a difference of opinion really enough to drive us apart?

Perhaps this problem comes from our understanding of what the Church is. The classic protestant view is that the Church is Kerygmatic, that is it is a herald for the King, so to speak. For protestants, usually the view of the church is reflectant of its church service. If you are a protestant/evangelical/non-denominationalist what does your Church sped most of its time doing in the church service? Usually it’s all centered on the worship (that is the singing of songs) and the sermon. We spend forty minutes proclaiming who God is in song and another forty proclaiming who God is in spoken words. It’s all about proclamation. We’ve gotten so used to this that it’s hard for us to imagine that there might be things that are of equal or greater importance. It’s not unusual for protestants to think of a church service without eating a meal together (in fact that might sound quite strange) or sharing your problems with your neighbors (in fact we avoid this most of the time with all of our effort), but to imagine a church service without a sermon, why, that would be unthinkable and sacrilegious. What matters most is that we proclaim the reality of God not that we participate in bringing God to reality.

For Catholics (after Vatican II in the sixties) Church is not so Keygmatic and based around what we proclaim about reality, though that is of great importance (just look at their view on dogma someday). Church is about what it actually does in effecting that reality in the world. The Church, for the catholic, is not so dependant on a sermon or the lyrics of a worship song but it’s dependant of the sacraments, the infusing grace of God through things like Baptism and Eucharist (protestants call it communion). The Church is the arch sacrament, that is it actually infuses God’s grace into the world. The Church actually brings salvation through Jesus to the world. The Church is the very instrument which effects union with God and unity of the Human Race. It isn’t just proclaiming the work of Christ in the world, it actually implements it.

What if we embraced the sacramental view of the Church? What if we saw the real importance of what we were proclaiming? Would we be divided so easily over what are, in the end, minor theological matters? We could unite under that banner of God’s restorative work rather that the statements we make about who He is.


I believe that the Church does a bad job most of the time of reflecting God’s oneness. But most of the time is not all of the time. We can see glimpses of the Church, transcending denominational divisions, coming together and proclaiming “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” These are the times when we come together beneath the banner of God’s restorative work and become the body of Christ, responding to and suffering for the crying and broken world with the intent of and belief in making the world right as it was in the beginning.

3 comments:

Philip said...

Really enjoyed your reflection. Amen to One church, One God.
www.everyhomeachurch.blog.co.uk

KJKEB said...

Wes,

Good post. I come from a strong denominational background. I can identify with Timothy, his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois.

You said, "Denominations are not all about division, they’re about people being people." I think we are to be people who are genuine.

So your question: "Thus the question that has been haunting me is this: are our denominational differences or, to be more blunt, divisions a witness against God? Are we, when we decide to go our separate ways, proclaiming that God is not one as Deuteronomy 6:4 says God is?" My view is that the answer is painfully simple. Much more simple than your post would seem to indicate. I think the answer is in the distinction that you draw in your question between differences versus division.

So let me restate your single question into two questions:

- Are our differences a witness against a God of unity? - No!

- Are our divisions a witness against a God of unity? - Yes!

WES ELLIS said...

Indeed, I realize the initial simplicity of my question. The intention of my post was to get us thinking about what really unites us, not to actually find out what witnesses against God. Any time I say I'm the Church and dissassociate myself with someone who's also the Church I am witnessing against God (this is not supposed to be complicated). Here's what I think, If we united under praxis moreso than doctrine then we could be different without dividing. We could be one Church without going our separate ways while disagreeing about some things. I could associate myself with anyone who is part of the Church (we'll have to talk later about who that is).

This post is a response the the pattern that is very present in the church: if I disagree or feel uncomfortable, I start my own church (and usually have no idea what I'm doing).