Tonight, we are in Chapter 6 “The Same Team” of Tim Sorens’s book, Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are.
Unity not Uniformity:
Most of Paul’s letters address the divisions in the church between Scripture-oriented Jewish members who want to keep the laws given by God to Moses and Gentile members who do not have any connection to the Law, but who carried with them into the church certain spiritual practices such as glossolalia. Paul writes that the Cross breaks down these divisions between Jews and Gentiles making us all one in Christ Jesus. Eph. 2:13.
As Paul writes, this unity of the church is not a uniformity. Paul says that we each have different spiritual gifts. 1 Cor. 12:1-11. He goes on to write that ethnicity, socio-economic status, or other demographic, we all are part of the same body and no part of the body can tell another part of the body that there is no place for them. 1 Cor. 12:12-26. Paul later writes that we should not pass judgment on our fellow Christians because each of us must give our own account to God. Rom. 14:1-12. The example he uses is that if one of us keeps the Sabbath then we should keep it to the glory of God, but if one of us does not keep the Sabbath we should not thereby be excluded from fellowship. If you have time today, please read the above-quoted chapters to see how Paul teaches unity and not uniformity.
Sorens also gives us a wonderful understanding of unity without uniformity. “Unity is achieved when we see the imago Dei in one other, when we refuse to live by the cultural script that some lives have more value than others.” p.88. Unity, he writes, requires vigilant curiosity, a common story, and great humility. Our attractive story to the world, is that we are united in spite of our differences. Therefore, any insistence on uniformity cheapens our witness of unity. Anyone can be united with someone just like themselves. Unity without uniformity is the culture that we are called to develop and nurture in the church.
The question the world asks is whose team are you on? In politics, are you the red team or the blue team (or maybe the yellow team)? Are you the conservative evangelical team or the progressive mainline team? Just like in Paul’s days (Jews/Gentiles; slave/free), the world wants divisions because divisions bring power – just read any political fundraising letter. There are divisions and will always be divisions between us. The difference that the church must witness to is that these real differences and real divisions can be bridged by our commitment to loving God and loving our neighbor. p.90. Because it is only here within this two-fold commitment of love that we find eternal life and the kingdom of heaven. Luke 10:25-28. This is the game changer where the divisions between the teams are overcome. (This is what Tuesday night is about.)
In chapter 5 of his recent book Don’t Look Back, Methodist bishop Will Willimon gives a similar take on what game-changing uniformity looks like. He writes that when a congregation is focused on the mission of Jesus Christ, then our worldly divisions are less likely to appear. In his observation, the ongoing strife over LGBT and other issues within Methodism is more of a symptom than an underlying cause of the decline in that denomination. He writes that “doctrinal squabbling tends to be low in congregations whose commitment to mission is high, not because of their laissez-faire attitude toward biblical authority, but due to their commitment to theology as a practical mission strategy.” p.69. The game changer is what are we committed to. If we first seek the kingdom of God, then everything else will fall into place. Matt. 6:33
Walking together does not mean uniformity. Sorens understands that we will have different congregations with different worship styles, different ecclesiastical systems, and different doctrines. Every congregation has its own charism and its place in the economy of salvation. However, these differences should not prevent us from coming together and walking and working with one another. Sorens does point out that organizations and institutions cannot collaborate, only the individuals within them. p.92. This is an interesting point of view.
Sorens ends this chapter with his understanding (and diagram) of what all of this looks like. If we are engaging in a ministry of reconciliation, we move from a core team to all Christians within our neighborhood/parish. In this movement, Sorens outlines three practices that we need to embrace. pp.93-94
First, we need to move from isolation to awareness. We cannot isolate ourselves in our own church bubble, but we have to become aware of other Christians and their Spirit-led movement in our neighborhoods. We have to be able to both give and receive hospitality.
Second, we need to move from polarization to curiosity. As we lean in with curiosity, we begin to knit together social capital between Christians that can grow into something extraordinary. But, as he cautions, every “side-glace of contempt for their backward theological position” has the very opposite effect of tearing the body of Christ and diminishing our witness in the world.
Third, we need to move from fragmentation to integration. He writes, that initially, we should think small and even smaller. We move from strangers to acquaintances to friends to fellow-workers. We must look for what we can do together.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is Chicken and Biscuits. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8. Hope to see you here.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:4-6