July 29, 2004

"Is it getting better..."

"...or do you feel the same?"

Many of you will recognize the title to this post as the first line of the song "One" by U2. This song has been on repeat in my head since Oxford, but I only yesterday realized why--it's the soundtrack to something God is doing in my heart and mind that I hope I can share with you over the next few days and weeks. (You can find the lyrics to the song here at U2Wander.org.)

What has happened to the church? I'm talking about the "one holy catholic apostolic church" that we Christians have been claiming we believe in for almost 1700 years.

During my time at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford this summer I did some research into church unity. I took my question to the great minds of the church through the ages--Cyprian, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and so many more--but none of their answers satisfied. With every word, every excuse for our lack of visible, real-world unity, the words of Christ came whispering back to me across the ages:
I pray . . . for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I gave them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
I had many opportunites while at Oxford to share my dissatisfaction with my friends and classmates, Christians from across the broad spectrum of the 21st century church. Nearly all of them admitted that they were feeling it too, and had been for some time. Many were very hopeful (the Kingdom equivalent of optimism) that our generation would impact the situation in a redemptive manner. Two weeks ago I did some preaching in this direction in our church, founded on the seventh Beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." I got a similar response.

I read two days ago at Christianity Today's Weblog that fifteen churches in Australia have signed a "covenant of cooperation" under which they will recognize each other's baptism and ministries. (Read about it here at the Sydney Morning Herald and here at the Age, and feel free to use password and username "neotheologue" if you don't want to register.) Some will even share property and clergy. There are Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches involved. Dean Drayton, president of the Uniting Church of Australia, said, "Since the Reformation, churches have more commonly kept on dividing and dividing again. But here are representatives of the church saying let's work towards a common goal. That's a really dramatic statement of intent and hope." Yes it is, Mr. Drayon...or at least I hope it is.

So is it getting better or do you feel the same? I don't know. But I do know this: I'm done making excuses. God is calling people to work to restore the unity of the church, in spite of all the failed attempts, in spite of all those who would war against it, in spite of their own weaknesses and myopic vision.

Here I am, Lord. Send me.


At 11:01 AM, Blogger Tony said...

Daniel, thank you for your honesty and I'm truly sorry for the pain. I guess I have taken the coward's way out by saying: I don't believe there will ever be Christian organisational unity (can ever be - because it's about power and property in the hands of sinful human beings) so I am neither going to break my back over it, or feel guilty about it.
I suppose angry, yes - like when I went to the induction of our Roman Catholic neighbour a year or so ago, and the Bishop carefully told us that we non-RCs were not allowed to receive communion - then proceeded to utter all our Lord's words about this being for ALL my followers etc. I wanted to stand up and scream: Are you LISTENING to what you're saying?! But of course this is me seeing clearly the speck in my neighbour's eye and not the beam in my own.
What I HAVE seen and wonder at, is the way ordinary Christians in the different churches (around here at least) know and love and enjoy one another in a way they wouldn't have 30 years ago. This is extraordinary, and a work of the Spirit. It's much harder to love our neighbours in the same denomination - for me, all those pesky evangelicals (though I'm one too) and Reform people.
So I think there is hope for us ... but only when we're not trying and relax into what God is doing.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Justin said...

I think the reason church unity isn't a reality is that it requires so much movement from both directions. For a church that only gives communion to its own members, or a church that has a strong belief about an issue it disagrees with another church on, there are few options. One is to not worry about unity and keep on doing your own thing; the other is to say anything goes and everyone's fine. I don't want either of those options.

This dichotomous choice exists precisely because of what Tony said above - power and property. Imagine what kind of unity will be possible, without compromise, when church ceases to be about property and power. I'm part of a church that has no property, and no power other than a website. We aren't exactly rocking the world, but I choose to believe that this is the way forward, and that unity is possible when it doesn't determine the fate of old money or buildings or staff.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Chera said...

Those of us from UD have talked about this too. The four of us started UD 3 years ago, since we thought it would be neat to have a Christian blog with four different denominations represented. We do disagree over some things, but nothing so significant that it ruins our friendship. And I can honestly say that my best-Christian-friends are from other denominations other than my own.

Just my 2 cents ^..~

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Karl Thienes said...

"There are Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches involved."

I highly doubt that any canoncial Orthodox Church will be involved in sharing sacraments or comprimising the Church's teaching any time in the near future though....

Sharing resources and joining hands in the "culture war" are a good things of course. No argument there. But declaring theological (and thus sacramental and ecclesiastical) unity is done by fiat, wishful thinking, or any form syncretism.

Remember: the AntiChrist's religion will be outwardly "Christian" and "unifed" ... how else will the elect be caught up in its spirit?

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Karl Thienes said...

that should be: "is *not* done by fiat...."

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,
I'm with Chera (literally, I help with UD). The first steps to healing the body of Christ is forming friendships within them. The disciples didn't even all get along (or Jesus wouldn't had to chew them out and pray for them so often). The early church didn't always agree (look and Peter and Paul over circumsicion). It has long been my believe that Satan uses the ideal of divide and conquer to destroy the fellowship of the church. The more time we spend arguing over whether baptisim is symbolic or required, or has to be dunked or sprinkled, or Communion only offered to those of the same denomination, the less time and energy we have for our real calling, to spread the Kingdom of God. It breaks my heart that we are so determinely divided over matters of truly trival doctrines. It has often been my prayer, and hope that we would become one church, if not in name and policy, at least in Spirit.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Karl Thienes said...

"truly trival doctrines..."

The problem is they aren't and calling them as such will not help you win over those who think they are vital to the "spreading of the Kingdom."

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Chera said...

What I think Danielle meant (or at least, my take on it) is that when compared to the one thing we do have in common - Jesus Christ - they, along with everything else, simply aren't as important.

At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Karl,
When I called them "trivial doctrines" I wasn't attempting to take lightly the beliefs of so many brothers and sisters, but instead to focus on the unity of the church through the saving faith in Christ Jesus. When Jesus gave the great commission he gave us a very generalized and yet very specific command, "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19).He told us who, and what to say, but didn't give specifics about whether baptism was to be by immersion or by sprinkling. I have gotten into debates/discussions where people were so furiously holding to thier positions, you would think I was asking them to deny Christ, it's just water. The same thing is true with the Eucharist (we can't even agree on what to call it), to say that one denomination is the sole way to receive the body and the blood is sad, and unfair. Jesus offered the Supper to anyone who would partake of it, including Judas, without rituals, or oaths or any sort of initiation. I picked these two Sacraments because they are Biblical, but the church is divided on all sides over a variety of topics, homosexuality, women ministers (a subject close to my own heart), whether drinking any moderate amount of alcohol is permitted, whether dancing should be allowed, the list goes on forever. I find that as long as they have a shared faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that leads to salvation, then we should welcome them as equal members of the family and stop destroying the Body of Christ.

(I'd post to UD but the server is down)

At 11:15 AM, Blogger rod said...

Call me old-fashioned, or post-modern, but I still believe that Jesus meant what He prayed for us in John 17. I also feel that the seeming impossibility has to do with where our allegiances lie. Are we sold out to organizational Christianity, or to Jesus. For some reason, the more I look at dividing issues, the more I notice that they are about religion rather than theology.
This topic is something that has been bothering me for a long time too. Interesting that a recent trip to So. California, seemed to really fan the flame for me. So I've prayed, and read Jesus' prayer over and over and over. Meditated on its implications and promises. Thought about the desires of the Trinity concerning our relationship with God and with each other. Then I began working on worship services that emphasize what Jesus prayed for, what He still prays for, I believe. I will begin challenging our congregation with this tomorrow. I think that is where it has to start.
"Do you feel the darkness tremble when all the Saints join in one song, and all the streams flow as one river to wash away our brokenness?"

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Laura said...

well chera and danielle have beat me here, but I think I agree with them to some extent. what you just posted about is something that i've been praying about deeply for the past few months, maybe close to a year now. as a Catholic girl from the Boston area, I've seen my church been rent and torn more than most people. In answer to U2, it feels the same now as it did then, maybe even a little worse. It even led me to write one of the most despairing songs I've ever written... "Is the Passion still the greatest story ever told? When every plank of the ship has been replaced, is it new or old?"

That said, I don't know if total unity is what our religion needs. Like Chera and Danielle have already touched upon, most of my best Christian friends are not Catholic. I have worshipped at Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and non-denominational churches and felt just as much in the presence of God as in my home church. Perhaps our goal should be harmony, not unity.

At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you that its not a matter of how we worship, or where we worship, but who we worship that is important. However, I disagree with you when you said we should work toward harmony instead of unity. Jesus called us to live in unity, harmony should be mood of the journey we take toward that unity.


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