Written by: Rev Nathan Hill
My family and I were taking a leisurely stroll down a busy city street in our vacation city. The sun was out, pedestrians were everywhere, and the smell of curbside cafés filled the air. It was a very nice day…and then we approached what I will call “convert corner”. Convert corner is an intersection where various religious groups like to convene and share their religious literature. The location is actually quite strategic—it is a hub of interaction, a significant city bus stop, and the entrance to one of the city’s more famous parks.
I call this location convert corner because over a dozen years ago I first encountered a religious group on that corner. I was a university student out for an afternoon stroll when two women approach me and asked, “Do you know Jesus?” I lied and told them yes just to get them off my back. Of course I knew whom they were talking about, it is just that Jesus and I were not real tight back then, and these two women were the last people I was going to share that with! After all, I had places to be.
As my family approach convert corner during our vacation stroll, two women dressed smartly in business casual attire had a cardboard book display assembled filled with a book entitled, “What does the Bible REALLY teach?”.
I do not know much about these women, their heart, or their cause…but I found their book to be quite arrogant. Implied within this title is the notion that these women know some secret truth about the Bible that you and I do not know and that others who teach the Bible also do not know. As a pastor I found that approach rather unappealing, but it was probably just the influence of my pride. But then I thought, this book can also be confusing for skeptics—if so many other people can misunderstand the Bible, who is to say that these two women have it right. Perhaps they too are refutable?
My point is this: setting ourselves up against other Christians never really accomplishes good things. Factions, dissentions, divisions, quarrelling—have we not read about these things in Galatians 5? There is a diversity of voices throughout Christianity and I would speculate that no one voice has every aspect of theology figured out. The Calvinists remind us that God is sovereign and transcendent—He exists in a spiritual realm and has the final word on everything (even our salvation). The Armenians remind us that God came to us (in Jesus Christ) and is immanent—He exists with us in our daily lives, hears our prayers, and desires to work through us and along with us. The Pentecostals and Charismatics remind us that Holy Spirit is present within New Testament Christians in a permanent and enduring fashion to empower us to be witnesses and to give us courage to exercise unique gifts and talents imparted by the Spirit. Indeed, we can expect the supernatural and physical worlds to collide now and then, and Holy Spirit often allows us to be a part of this. The Roman Catholics remind me of the depth of history that Christianity has in our world and the elements of mystery present in our faith that can be represented through rich imagery and ritual. There are many more Christian traditions I could list here if I had the space.
I believe that the truest image of Christianity would arise when the best aspects of each of our traditions exist together like a patchwork quilt, with each square cloth telling its unique story and yet joining together with the others to create something larger than itself. We often interpret Paul’s discussion of a body with many parts from 1 Corinthians as a message to the local church and the role that each person has to play within it. I often wonder if this same metaphor cannot be applied to Protestant denominationalism—does each Christian tradition have a unique role, a unique gifting, even a unique anointing that enhances Christianity as a whole? Is it better to unite under the banner of Jesus Christ, or to divide under a banner of so many lesser things? What do you think our world needs to hear most—I am more right than so-and-so, or together we want to introduce you to Jesus Christ?
I wish I could point to a present reality where I think this exists, but I am not sure if there are any right now. Gatherings of many different Christian traditions have often resulted in a silencing of our unique aspects, not a mutual celebration of them. Sometimes we settle for the least common denominator at the expense of the richness of our own unique anointing. We later retreat to our own buildings, happy to have done a good thing but relieved that we can once again be ourselves.
This may stretch your thinking and some of the things that you have held to throughout your life. I am not going to tell you that I am more right than you, or that I know what the Bible REALLY says. Instead, I am just telling you what God has placed in my heart at this time, and if it finds traction in your heart too…then maybe together we are onto something that has the potential to bless the future of Christianity.