In my recent travels, it has been a joy to visit some Christian communities and talk with some of their leaders. One of the interesting things that reoccurred was the situation where i found myself in one position surprisingly opposite to that of the community member i was talking to; in each case it was the same issue. That issue is perhaps better phrased as a question: “is each community and therefore (to some extent) each member professing Christian faith called to grow in the whole gifts and fruit of the Spirit?” This is what i have always thought, that denominations are an abstraction, making complicated, dumb, and simplistic the notions of the Gospel concerning unity, grace, and truth.
i was surprised to hear different community members, even leaders, espousing a theology of custom-fit, choose your own spirituality. Though i rush to the front to affirm the many different gifts in human kind and in the Church, this does not mean that i think one group should be a “24 hour prayer group” and another a “social justice group” while yet another clings to its ‘grace’ of contemplative living, this strikes me as a sneaky blasphemy, or perhaps more clearly as a whole group of people doing something that humans down through the ages have often done: excuse themselves from service by virtue of being occupied elsewhere.
the only problem is that Jesus never asked, in his parables or the stories concerning his actions, for each disciple to find their gift (which again i think is important and good) and then quickly found a movement within the Church which focused on that gift. Paul’s own disgruntlement with the people’s unhealthy association with Apollo or himself makes this point nicely.
It seems to me that this method of custom fit spirituality is a can-can dancer to our cultural saloon, sporting a tattoo that reads ‘for specialists only.’ In some church somewhere, pretty much anyone can be a leader, a star, a professional, a knowledgeable one, the reason for this being that when many different options are available, the number of people in each option decreases, increasing the chance of those remaining being seen as intelligent or wise.
I have been in the Vineyard family of churches for awhile now, a couple years in Minnesota but mainly here in eastern Canada (if your interested, check out one expression of community here http://www.scvine.com) and i have on the whole enjoyed my time, grown, been challenged, faced suffering with the help of friends and the Holy Spirit, etc… Now in that whole time i have never been to an expressly stated ‘ecumenical’ meeting before last week. I was amazed at both the difficulty so apparent in the meeting of different expressions of faith and my reaction to it. The latter one is of relevance, it came as a shock and an awe (emoticon wink) that the Vineyard was not the whole Church, it was merely an expression of it. i always knew in my head that the Church was vast and wide but i had simply never been confronted with the reality of the body of Christ before. (in a way that made me face it – billy graham crusades don’t count, neither perhaps do meetings based not on ecumenicism but on celebrating unity)
This experience left me yet again without an excuse. It’s not that i think God needs or even wants me to go to every church, to love every expression that calls itself church, or to be in dialogue with every one, it’s not that at all. What i do think God is calling me to is a recognition of the reality of the situation. the situation is not a controllable, mappable one. the reality is a fractured Church trying to proclaim peace. the only thing funnier to me than this is when a movement acts as if it is the remnant, citing some prophetic reason when really they are crossing their fingers for the biggest bluff in history.
sorry boys and girls, we’re all tied together. so implications
– progress, though encouraging to see in one denominational level, is not really progress as eventually those ahead will have to come back and break down the same walls for others with the same amount of sweat.
– in every community that seeks to follow Jesus, that community must seek all that the kingdom is and endeavor to NOT make that vision out of its own desires and natural passions (gifts)
– there will always be those communities which excel in certain areas and this should be acknowledged. however, when this acknowledgment serves only to bolster the pride of the ‘talented’ or ’emergent’ or ‘worship’ communities and drain the dreams of those communities who are slower, then it would be better for the gift never to have been celebrated at all.
God is supposed to be glorified, not in our quarantined fireworks of denominational specialization but in love, unity, service, humility. Perhaps when we grow more humble, we may ask our pentecostal neighbors, “why do you believe so strongly______?” and put the kettle on, let them stay awhile, break bread, forget about doctrinal correctness and love like the doctrine says love, listen like the doctrine says listen, listen in that person for what makes them human, their heart song or cry.
so i’d love to hear any thoughts on these ramblings above.