The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Many churches today have fallen into a mentality of “us verses them.” This idea influences the way congregations do ministry and serve. In the back of many people’s minds is the notion that while we are working for the good of God’s word, we hope that someone, anyone, will take notice and will come be a part of our community of faith. This has led to more separation between congregations than ever before.
While Christians worship the same God, read the same gospels, follow the teachings of the same Christ, there can be division in the way that communities enact their faith. One group will state that they have the true and proper way of understanding God and another will reject it and proclaim their authority in the matter. If Christians do in fact serve and worship the same God, why are Christians finding more and more ways to separate themselves? In the denomination I serve, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we do not have a creed or hardline stances on many things. The only essential of faith that all must be in agreement with is Jesus is Lord and Savior. Anything outside of that statement is up for conversation, discussion, studying, learning and growing. This does not mean that there is no such thing as a bad theology, but we are given liberty to learn together as a community.
Christianity today is seen as too fragmented, too isolated, too self-centered. Working together for a common cause is becoming a thing of the past; what is happening is duplication of services, resources, and ideas all in the name of growing a church’s name and brand. Once, I organized a day of service in a small Southeast Texas town where I was serving a small congregation. The idea was to get churches together to do mission work, not as a recruitment tool, but as a way to share the gospel and live into our commands to serve one another. I called several churches and got a decent response. I called one of the biggest churches in that town and spoke to the senior minister. He told me that he liked the idea, but he wanted to pass out pamphlets about their church and their ministries. I told him that I understood his desire, but the organization team had decided that we would work together in unity of Christ, so that meant no advertising, just work. He then told me that if he couldn’t promote his church, then his congregation would not participate.
I was deeply saddened. The minister was willing not to work in the name of Jesus the Christ because he couldn’t use it as a way to get more people in his sanctuary on Sunday mornings. And we wonder why the Church universal is shrinking.
As minister, I struggle with this notion. On one hand, I want people to experience God in their own way, but on the other, I have been transformed and changed and I want people to understand my way as well. I have to understand that my theology might not be someone else’s or that their view of the Bible is not the same as mine. They have their reasons and I have mine, but these differences should not keep us apart.
Unity in Christ should drive the congregations together. While we may sing different songs, proclaim different ideas of God, ministry and social justice, we are all one in Christ. If the church is going to the place where lives are changed and love is shown to the community, then why are we limiting God’s movement within us?
The church needs to be that place where people can come with all of their faults, insecurities and even doubts about the world, themselves, Jesus, the Bible and God and find a place of acceptance, warmth, welcoming, grace and peace.
Churches every day serve countless numbers of people around the world through hospitals, hospices, medical missions, homeless shelters, food pantries and so much more.
These fly under the “radar” of popular culture but they are vitally important. These ministries are not for accolades or attention rather they are the response to the gospel’s message of loving God and loving neighbor.
The Church’s core foundation of love, joy, hope, peace, grace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation are still there, and they will never go away. The ministries that we promote, the gospel that is proclaimed and the mission of the Church must not change. We can change its transmission or function, but the core ideas and tenets are still in place.
Let’s hold on to those as we venture out into this world that is in desperate need of a Savior. We might not agree on theology, doctrine or even ways to have communion, but at our core, the Church is still trying to serve the same God and the same Christ.
There is so much work to be done and the workers are becoming fewer and fewer. Let’s come together united in Christ, seeing difference in theology and interpretation as a way to get a fuller, richer, deeper picture of who God is. The church needs to be the model of unity in a time where we are so easily divided over issues and politics. The church cannot model the same “us verses them” mentality that is being propagated in the news media and by politicians. Let us pray that one day our unity might one day be restored.