Once the sour taste of love unrequited starts to fade, and you stop eating gallons of ice cream, you begin to think about slipping a toe into the relationship waters again. But commitment is not the goal. The notion of diving in gives you acid reflux. So, after forty-three years of buying into the belief that there is one way to do church and having been spiritually reared that our brand was the right brand, my family began a journey over the last year of visiting all varieties of the Christian church, all denominations. Because when you’ve been burned in a relationship, the last thing you want to do is jump into another one. And to us, church was about relationships, commitment, and love. A notion that was shattered. So we walked out the door and down a rabbit hole.
Our roots, the Churches of Christ, have a surprisingly recent history of believing they singularly hold the cards when it comes to biblical interpretation. And while I love my roots and respect my people, my tribe, I no longer adhere to the arrogance that in the 1800s in the hills of Kentucky, Stone and Campbell’s Restoration movement finally figured it all out. Sadly, what many in the Churches of Christ have forgotten, in their historylessness, is the original intent of the restoration movement “to be Christians only, but not the only Christians.” It was a beautiful, ecumenical, and unifying idea. As a matter of fact, the earliest members of the restoration heritage worshipped with just about anyone. Don’t believe me? I have a book for you regarding Christians on the Oregon Trail. (For now, I personally apologize to anyone who has been maligned by members of the Churches of Christ who have made you feel like less of a Christian because you don’t worship in one of their buildings. May God forgive us. And I pray you do as well. Most Churches of Christ have a rich history of remaining biblical in practice and belief. On that front, I encourage you to give them another chance. I want to. I hope they let us back in after I write this blog.) Back to our journey…
Despite my youthful understanding of Christianity, the core of what Christians believe across denominations is the same, brethren. And here it is:
A perfect Christ, the Son of God, was willingly crucified for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation because we were so loved by God.
After visiting twenty plus churches from the liturgical Catholics to the rocking worship at a predominantly black church, this is a constant.
Every church used the bible.
Every church had some form of musical worship.
Every church prayed in Jesus name.
Every church mentioned the struggle with the surrounding culture and sin.
Every church included deeply committed adherents to their practices and the faith.
Every church responded to the gospel with repentance and some form of baptism.
I have news for you friends, the order of worship is basically the same between all the denominations give or take a few participational variants and incense waves. The biggest difference you ask? Music traditions and prescriptive theology or descriptive theology. But by and large, yes, we are the same. And while some of our baptismal practices and traditions do vary which would be a point of contention with many of my readers, truthfully, we have much more in common than not even in our interpretation of baptism. The fight is always semantic.
If life would allow it, I’d take a piece of each tribe and pull it together to make something amazing; a beautiful conglomeration of Christian faith and practice. Which I pray is what God sees as He looks into our many gatherings. I pray He sees our love for Him amidst the diversity of His creation, rather than our intentional divisions because we don’t play well together. I dream of a fellowship of all believers. We need it. Our country needs it. Our future depends upon it. And Christ prayed for it.
My heart breaks when I think about how merging just two denominations would wreak havoc amongst us, because that is exactly what should happen. But we, the prideful, always right in our way, would disallow it. And we, the pastors and ministers, comfortable in our pulpits would feel threatened and defensive about our own heritage rather than the heritage of Jesus Christ’s plea for unity, His last plea by the way.
“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” John 17
Somehow the Gentiles and Jews figured it out in the early church, but take a old school Church of Christ kid and put them in a room with a conservative Baptist and it will be a biblical bloodbath…and not in Christian love. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Oh and Catholics, do they count as Christians? Didn’t Luther clear that up for us? On that we can agree with the Baptists- Catholics are all suspect. Here’s my confession, I’ve learned a whole lot from Catholics over my years, and if we would listen, we all could. In fact, the greatest lesson that I’m taking from this year, is how I feel protective of all these people in these different houses. And I’ll defend them. And I respect them. But that is what happens when you enter a relationship looking for truth, authenticity, and commonground. You make relationships. Lasting relationships sit in the dissonance of disagreement side by side working toward the same goal.
If you find yourself on a team with believers whose first goal is to disprove the theology of the church down the street, gently remind them that there are people walking this earth who see our divisions as evil. Christ said they would know us by our love for each other. And to the world, Christians all fight for the same team…until they start fighting with each other. Then the world shakes their confused heads, and tweet about us and call us crazy. Get to work, church, and reach out to the people who don’t already know Jesus. Listen more assuming you don’t have all the answers, and refuse to live in fear of people outside your walls who also read the bible.
Finally, I would say, if you haven’t had a chance to take a journey like this, I encourage you to do so– IF you do so to find commonality. If you go in guns blaring for bible blasting, your intentions are not pure. You are a divisive spirit. Jesus is the great equalizer. Make finding Him your goal and you will.