Thursday, February 09, 2006

Unite the right?

Well, now that I’ve discussed it with my family and best friend, I suppose I can tell all of you that I made a decision… I’m going to be back at Regent for the next two years, doing a Master of Christian Studies degree. It was a hard decision to make, mostly because I still miss home so much. I don’t know exactly where this will lead, I'm kind of taking it one step at a time. But I’ve been looking at different career ideas to do with the environment, theology, philosophy and science, and I haven’t ruled out being a pastor. The nice thing is that Regent keeps all of these options open for me, and actually helps me toward any and all of them. Mostly I just have this insatiable desire to learn. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be home this summer. Thank you to all of you who were praying for direction for me. (Don't stop).

Partly thanks to Christine’s creative encouragement, I’ve been taking a lot more pictures lately. I wanted to share some with you. I took these ones yesterday, when it was so windy down a the beach that I thought I was back on the prairies. But the prairies don’t get waves like this. Except maybe across the wheat fields.











These next ones require a story. I was walking to the bus stop, looking at the ground, and I noticed a bunch of pink rose petals littering the ground, all over. I said to myself, “Wow, something really romantic must have happened here last night. These Vancouverians must celebrate Valentine's Day a little early.”
Then for some reason I looked up, and I saw there was a rose tree in full bloom (tilt head to see tree). Not just a bush, but a tree. Ha. So much for my romantic musings. I guess these are the kind of things you have to grow to expect in Vancouver in February.

Switching topics completely...Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about something we’re talking about in my Christian Thought and Culture class: Christian unity. It’s a topic that comes up a lot in a transdenominational school. I realized that my concept of Christian unity is really based on my conflict avoidance, and my own ignorance. You see, I’ve never really investigated issues of doctrine. When I was looking for a church here in Vancouver, I mostly made my judgments by looking at style of worship and how “at home” I felt. I think this is how most people evaluate churches today. I didn’t question denominational beliefs, assuming that if I’m in the general Protestant category, it’s all good - we all believe in Jesus, right? But to tell you the truth, I have only a vague idea of what Anglicans believe, and I go to an Anglican church in the evening. Heck, I don’t even know what makes Baptists distinct, and I’ve been one my whole life.

One of my profs said that the continuing disunity in Christianity is sinful. I had never equated it with sin before. It got me thinking about what really divides us. I mean, maybe I feel united to my brothers and sisters in different denominations in some sort of mystical, inner, invisible church sense, but the fact remains that in the world’s eyes, we’re separate. I keep wanting to compare it to politics, which is weird, because I usually hate politics. But I was remembering the whole “unite the right” thing, when the Canadian Alliance and PC parties (who had similar, but not identical platforms) united to become the party now leading our country. I’ve been wondering… would it ever be possible in the Christian church for two denominations to unite? Is there a lofty mission that could cause us, like the right-wing political parties, to look past our differences and join together for greater unity and effectiveness? Like, say, announcing the Kingdom of God? Would this make a difference to the world?

But maybe our differences are too great to overlook. I’m not entirely sure. At any rate, I’m going to look into it. I’m going to start by reading a book about Baptists. I’m going to learn who I am and what separates or distinguishes my beliefs from those of other Christians. As I do, the words of Jesus’ prayer will ring in my ears: “I pray that they will all be one, Father, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me… May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me…” (John 17:21-23).

I would love to hear some of your comments on this. Don’t be shy. Am I dreaming? How do you see it?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think there’s another way we could approach it. Part of the reason the rest of the world sees us as fractured is that we encourage it. It can be as subtle as an offhand comment about what another denomination does “wrong” or as obvious as armed conflict, a la Northern Ireland. Almost all of have been guilty at some time of promoting our denomination rather than our God.

My mom has a great story about a United Church minister she knew who had been baptized in and grown up in an Anglican church. When he moved to a new town that was predominantly Anglican, the locals were wary of someone from the United Church. Eventually his Anglican background came up. One relieved resident said, “Oh, well then at least he was baptized a Christian.”

A non-practicing Hindu classmate of mine recently asked me why all the different denominations in the church. I explained that while all the different flavors of the church use the same book and worship the same God, they put the emphasis on different areas.
“Like the black churches in the States where everyone is loud and sings?”
“Yes. We’re there to worship God either way, but around here people tend to be quieter and more reserved. Our churches reflect that.”
“And what’s up with Catholics and Protestants anyway?”
“Well, again we worship the same God and read the same book. But the Catholics organize their churches a little differently and tend to rely more heavily on tradition.”
Not a complete explanation by any means, but it works. We need to project unity to the outside.

I grew up in an Anglican church and a United Church, then moved to Baptist, and for a few months held a volunteer position that took me to a weekly Catholic Mass. It irked a few people along the way but most had no problem with it. I like that. We also need to show unity on the inside.

Unity shouldn’t have to mean putting all the flavors in a melting pot.

-Susan Howse

Smaj said...

Perhaps we've separated churches (the buildings' attendents) based on our God-given characteristics, not understanding that we're meant to share these?
Denomination A is the church for hands and Denomination B is the church for toungues.
Instead, we ought to be as one body - just as John said.

mcuyu

Matt said...

This is a tough issue. I think the large majority of the time splits in the church are sinful and reflect the individualistic ideals of North America. That is not to say there aren't appropriate divisions... like the Reformation. Some denominational divisions I don't think are a big deal because we agree on primary doctrine, and that isn't something to be taken lightly. Secondary doctrine differences are in many ways, insignificant. If Martin Luther and John Calvin can disagree, who am I to say "let's forget those differences"? But sinful splits can often be masked by the "well its just secondary doctrine, so who cares?" mentality though and definitely needs to be looked out for.

On a side note, one quite positive thing I would have to say about multiple denominations (which has actually be articulated by Dr. Stackhouse) is that no one denomination can possibly worship God in every possible way. Even all the denominations together cannot grasp God's greatness and therefore cannot worship completely. If we are limited to one form of worship via one denominations, there is much that will be left out. I didn't say it nearly as well as Stackhouse, but thought I would throw it out there.

God Bless,
Matt

PS, I love photography so enjoyed your photos. :)

tank said...

Hey Beth,

It's something Anna and I have been talking a bit about lately too and we don't have a lot of answers. I think that if you can bring together the traditions and doctrine surrounding the Eucharist/communion, then everything else will fall into place.

Sam said...

I usually think of it in terms of diversity and variety . . . which is good! Ice cream would be boring if there was only one flavour; so would plants and trees and animals. Diversity is wonderful -- it's only a problem if we start saying that some other denomination is "wrong". May an infinite God can only be imaged in a finite space-time reality by a variety of denominations each expressing a nugget of truth?

Sam

Anonymous said...

Beth,

I applaud your decision to stay at Regent for the next couple of years and to continue nurturing that insatiable desire for learning. I will continue to pray that God gives greater clarity to you on your sense of direction and call.

I'll not say much on the issue of unity in the church, except to note that I'm not certain I agree with your professor's description of the situation as "sin"! I think there is much to celebrate in the diversity within the Christian community. Where it becomes problematic is when churches begin to bash each other. One of the many things that encourages me about EBC is the refusal to do so, and to create space for persons from other Christian traditions to feel at home with us.

Finally, I appreciated your use of "announcing the kingdom" as opposed to "extending" or "advancing". Seems to me there was a careful use of words there.

Loads of grace to you!

Vincy

Anonymous said...

I haven't studied the bible in years or even spent large amounts of time thinking about religion lately but I think that denominations don't have to merge together into one homogenous bag in order for Christianity to become united. I believe all that needs to happen is for all Christian denominations to respect and aknowledge one another. As someone who was raised Catholic I grew up experiencing the prejudices of Catholics towards other Christian denominations and while I was in University I had Christians say to me(not knowing that I was Catholic) that Catholic's weren't even Christians. This is a huge problem in Christianity which is symptomatic of how some Christians see the world in black and white. People are different and I believe that this is one of the most amazing things about human life and should be celebrated rather than trying to make everyone to conform to one specific person's or a groups idea of what Christianity should be. We must also remember that many of these denominations have cultures attached to them that are much more diverse and rich than the denominations themselves. A Menonite should be proud of their amazing musical tradition and their agricultural heritage that helped to create the Canada we know today. As an Italian Catholic my cultural ties are much different than even a French or Irish Catholic. Maybe I'm over simplifying the issue but I think that just as Canada works to be unified as a multicultural nation rather than as a melting pot shouldn't Christianity work towards acceptance of all denominations without having to merge them all together. If Christianity is really about spreading the incredibly peaceful and tolerant teachings of Jesus rather than control, power and suppression than this just seems to be the logical and correct way for Christianity to go but I'm only human :)!

Alayne

Lisa said...

beth you called me last night when i was fully asleep - i thought you were work telling me i was late! i was asleep at 11 coz i had a 4:30am shift, but you waking me up wasn't bad coz it was only 11 and i still had 5 hours to sleep and i was stoked, aha. i can't believe i even remember that conversation. i will call you tomorrow.

Jordan said...

I think that the less we (Christians) model ourselves after right wing politics, the better. Well, politics in general I suppose.

Anonymous said...

• Samuel Clear, a 28 year old from Australia, is attracting the attention of Christians worldwide, as he independently walks an 18 month pilgrimage across the planet inviting people to join him in praying for the unity of all Christians.
Naming the pilgrimage, Walk4One, Sam left Australia on December 14, 2006 to begin his 29,000km, 564 day, worldwide journey, which includes 18,000kms traveled on foot. To read about Sam’s mission, see www.ymt.com.au/walk4one

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