Togetherness Within the Church
If the collective “we” are made in the image of the Triune God, what might that look like for the Church? What does that look like at my church?
The following is an excerpt from a written examination of my own church’s process toward fuller and fuller togetherness. It offers some observations and discoveries within our diverse body as we continually co-labor toward oneness in Christ.
As I considered my church from its beginning, I noticed we followed a sort of evolutionary path much like the individual human’s growth trajectory. I also observed that our moments of brightness have not been limited to an age or a stage or a particular section of the body.
I do believe that the whole trajectory toward a purer reflection of God glorifies Him–even times that may look to us like chaos and attrition; but for this piece, I mean to focus on our oneness-in-Christ as our moments of brightness, our calling, our reward, our witness to the Triune God, and our eternal destination. (And I guess I indulged in coming up with a few creeds that I think would be shared by many in our church).
One thing to note: we happen to be a non-denominational church. That fact, I think, has enabled the inclusion of more perspectives regarding non-salvation issues, politics, etc. As such, our unique brand of diversity within our church body has offered complications, complexity, and (when aligned with our calling) a fuller sense of wholeness.
In times of heightened polarization, it does me well to remember that togetherness is the goal, and that fact is to be served well by (not thwarted by) our individual differences.
“…The positives of being non-denominational is that it has fostered some inter-denominational worship practices. For example, we follow the traditions of liturgy and lectionary. We have incorporated The Book of Common Prayer into our services. We offer weekly communion. We have prayer candles. We sing hymns and contemplative and modern worship songs. Our church offers a mosaic of ways to worship on a Sunday morning; but instead of being confusing or contradicting, this eclectic method of worship has proved to be connective and inclusive.
Another positive of being non-denominational is that it brings in a wide range of people, starting with denominational backgrounds: Presbyterians, Assembly of God, Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, and more worship here. And of course like most churches, we welcome people of different faiths and the self-professed “non-religious” to join us, in hopes that they will one day worship the Creator God with us.
Somehow this seems to foster a range in demographics as well: young and old, wealthy and homeless, liberal and conservative, churched and unchurched.
Not surprisingly, some of us are comfortable with the idea of women in ministry, others are not. There are people on all sides of the creation and evolution story. Some of us believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, others believe marriage should be a loving, committed and monogamous relationship-end-of-sentence. Some identify as “religious”, others, “spiritual”, and still others, both. We have teetotalers and scotch drinkers, puritans and cigar-smokers, all in one body.
As such, represented within our church is a deep respect for tradition and newness, doctrine and enlightenment, science and scripture, contemplation and action, and a desire for right relationship with it all.
How can such a vast array of people call the same place “home”? We are learning. But we are conscious of the truth that Jesus sought the poor and rich, the Jew and Gentile, male and female, the pious and the sinner, the law-bound and the intelligista, the family, the orphan, and the widow, and was thrilled to call them each “His”.
If such a range of people groups are invited to thrive together forever in the Kingdom of God, can they co-exist at our church? We are learning.
It is not always easy to see diversity as a positive, but we cannot deny that diversity, as opposed to likeness, has served as a major catalyst to healthy maturation for us, both individually and as a church. Often posing as a daunting threat to manage, we have been shaped to embrace the eclectic demographic within our church as one of our biggest assets, specifically because it is teaching us about love.
Learning about God by practicing love as demonstrated WITHIN the Triune God:
God has been teaching us something about himself, and how to be a church after his own heart, specifically through the diversity within our church.
Firstly, we are a reflection of God—the Triune God: a diverse and perfectly collaborative union of Mind-Body-Soul. The Triune God is the answer to the question of what we, the multifaceted church, are supposed to look like, collectively. Thanks to my church’s history of differences within our body, we’ve had some practice at what we believe to be our calling: becoming more like the diverse and rightly-collaborating Triune God. In other words, we don’t have to all be the same in order to be right in God’s eyes (or ours). I believe we are called to represent well, the places to which we’ve been scattered, and gather together under Christ, because God is too big to be represented by one or two “positions” or causes.
When there is diversity within a church (differing gifts, demographics, convictions and perspectives, etc.—which our church has aplenty), it can be tempting to impose a yoke of conformity or uniformity to forge a type of unity, or representation, which humans and churches are prone to think they ought to have; but ultimately, uniformity is not the highest witness to the nature of the Triune God. Our collective collaboration represents God in a fuller, more complex way.
In the Father, Son, and Spirit, we see distinct differences working together in reverence, humility, and love. In one toward the other we see grace and empathy—even obedience and sacrifice. Likewise, it is our grace and empathy and humility toward our diverse members—not an insistence of conformity—that makes us a truer reflection of God. We believe this is part of how and whom we are called to be.
Learning about God by practicing the love show FROM the Triune God toward us:
Secondly, we are a reflection of God’s love toward us. We have discovered, with relief, that to love people does not require that we agree with them (or that they agree with us). God loves us, and yet, to be sure, he does not agree with all that we think. Agreeing on everything is not a prerequisite for God’s love. Why would we make it a condition of participation in our church? Neither is “agreement on all disputable matters” our lifeline to salvation. Christ is our salvation.
We will not forsake doctrine or knowledge, and we will not disregard the law; but if we are discerning the truth within them accurately, they should be pointing us toward togetherness (not sameness—not divisions) in Christ, and oneness with each other. Even the “lesser matters” should be promoting the same objective. And this is the objective Christ has for us: belief and faith and hope and trust in the true and actual Christ. On that much, we insist, is Truth for all. If we will be like-minded in this one thing, there will be fewer disputable matters high enough to divide us.
We will not turn a blind eye to destruction, diversions, distractions, and sin. In fact, we believe that loving the church body includes addressing these things. But as a general practice, we will set our minds on whatever is good and whatever is pure.
We remember the way of love that Christ showed and shows us humans, and will hold that up as our guide for loving others; meaning, we the church do not rest on our similarities and agreement—our lock-step stride in non-salvation issues—as the highest testament of our Christian love. Rather, we depend on the exchange of grace and truth, longsuffering and forgiveness, as we look to the Father for our righteousness. This is our means and measure of co-laboring with Christ, like Christ, into the image of God.
We have found that specifically diversity offers an abundance of opportunity to practice adding to our faith: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. These are the greater fruits that can harvest when committed members are vastly different yet called to love.
This doesn’t answer all the questions or solve all the problems, but it is a directive which implores us to look up as we go forward as a diverse church.”