Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ecumenism

I have a dream that I'm almost certain will never come to pass. I would love to pastor in a small community for many years, establish close friendships with the other pastors in the area, and decide together to merge. It is my conviction that until the church visibly unifies, she will not be able to adequately accomplish her mission.

But cross-denominational unity is a pipe-dream, isn't it? What would it even look like? Most Christians, today, would say we already have unity (we consider the congregation down the street 'brothers and sisters' in the Lord). But is that true unity? Would true unity necessarily involve meeting in one building? Getting rid of denominational titles? Spending more time together?

Do you feel unified with the other Christians in your town? Do you want to feel unified? What would unity look like to you?

12 comments:

regan said...

To be unified would mean to throw away the doctrine that Baptists have died for. I couldn't do that.

I have no problem if they want to accept our doctrine and join us.

matthew said...

Hey Regan :) Thanks for responding. I have a few questions I'd be glad to get your feedback on...

Do you really think unifying means throwing away doctrines emphasized in your tradition? What would stop you from continuing to emphasize baptist convictions in a broader christian context?

Do you think non-Baptists can be genuine Christians? And if so, isn't it necessary for genuine Christians to be unified? In one sense, I think your point is a great one IF baptists alone represent true Christianity. But I don't think they do.

What particular doctrines do you have in mind when you speak of not being willing to unite with Christians who disagree? Because I'd certainly have some standards too (God's existence, Jesus' life, death & resurrection).

Thanks :)

shallowfrozenwater said...

Ecumenism is a great thing and there are few absolutes to get hung up about, certainly little that could prevent relating together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
my church community is in Winnipeg Canada and we call ourselves Grain of Wheat Church Community. we have a full boat of folks from across the Christian canvas and they regularly touch my life and force me to adjust things so that i'm heading a direction that i want to be heading.
i appreciate your blog very much and i'll be back if i can find my way back again.

Lindy said...

Individual Churches have trouble maintaining unity over stupid little arguments (drum-set wars anyone?), I couldn't imagine multiple Churches in a town coming together and merging- there would be people in every group that would have their pet docterine/tradition/style to defend.

That being said, I think that your post was beautiful and inspiring. It should happen, but I don't think that Christianity in America/Canada is in a healthy enough place to succeed.

Anonymous said...

i think that one of the obstacles of true unity is not a denominational, or even a spiritual one. it is one of tolerance. not tolerance of sinfulness, but tolerance of tradition. we need to embrace the importance of the roles that traditions have played in creating the strengths of different denominations. we can still be united under God's grace and Christ's salvation while maintaining, and honoring our unique heritage.

i know these things are temporal, but it is a roadblock to true unity. mike

matthew said...

shallowfrozenwater,

thanks for stopping by. sounds like you're part of a great church community with an ecumenical feel to it. I would agree that the number of 'essentials' is a lot smaller than many denominations make it out to be.

Lindy,

I tend to agree it won't happen. What I am interested in is doing the right things NOW that will make it feel more possible in the future. I think you're right to point out we've gotta learn how to do unity in the context we're in before we try to do unity in the broader context

mike,

I agree with that too. We should be able to embrace our unique heritages and traditions while ALSO embracing other heritages and traditions. In fact, we should be excited about learning from others!

regan said...

Since entire books have been written on the topic, it's hard to summarize in a short post, but I'll try.

Baptists have several important doctrines that we cling to. These include baptism of believers only (no babies), the Bible as the basis of faith and practice, salvation by grace through faith without works, restriction of communion to members of the local church, autonomy of the local church, and the perpetual nature of churches that believe these doctrines since the time of Christ. There are probably more that I've forgotten.

I believe that non-Baptists can be Christians (and indeed, it's not the name, but the belief that matters). I also believe that a person can NOT believe these things and still know the Lord (dependent on faith in His redemption alone). However, Baptists don't believe the other churches are true churches, and thus do not recognize their baptism or church membership.

It goes back to whether you believe the church is invisible and universal or if it is local and visible.

How can two walk together except they be agreed?

The AJ Thomas said...

I think that denominations are essential to church unity. What most people refer to as unity is actually homogeny. The true beauty is not when we all think, worship, and structure the same way but when we choose to love, help, respect, and serve with each other despite our differences. I think the way we work together for the good of our communities give each other permission to be whatever church looks like for us is a way bigger testimony to the world than meeting in the same place (they don't go) and agreeing on theology (they don't know) and following one structure (they don't care).

matthew said...

Regan,

No two people agree on everything, but we're still able to walk together. I agree that there must be unity among the 'essentials.' But I think non-essentials can be held passionately without being cause for division.

For instance, I personally agree with you that baptism is for believers. But, like you, I wouldn't say someone who believes in infant baptist CANNOT be a Christian. Nor would I refuse fellowship b/c of that issue.

Some of the other things on your list I'd just word slightly differently, but am in general agreement. And I believe the church is BOTH universal and invisible AND local and visible.


AJ,

Part of me likes that point. I've made it myself (though 'essential' is hard to swallow!). My dream isn't about everyone being the same at all, but about unity amidst diversity for true believers.

I'm actually fine with the separate buildings SO LONG AS there is actual mutual participation in kingdom work. Perhaps in your context that happens to a degree worth noting. In mine it doesn't. To be honest I'd say there's more a spirit of competition, at times, than unity.

Nor do I demand that we all agree on theology (frankly, I'd RATHER we disagree on the non-essentials since disagreement is in my opinion the best way to find the truth). Of course, we should be able to agree on some core essentials.

And I'd certainly not argue for 1 structure.

The thing I'm wanting is more interaction b/w congregations. The community needs to visible see & hear that we think of each other as family. Because from their point of view, we don't.

Katie said...

I think the best target for working on this is in youth groups, since that is the upcoming generation that would be making those types of unifying changes (where they work together, even if it is in separate church buildings)

In the past, we have had some youth pastors that are unwilling to participate with other churches, and even go so far as to make fun of the other groups to discourage teens from attending more than one (which happened to one of my teens who visits a couple different youth groups a week... he was pretty upset about it). It's that type of attitude that is very sad.

There have been a couple events we have managed to get local youth groups together on, but usually only when as youth leaders we have a connection with one other that's actually outside of "church" (another sad thing).. but when it happens, the results are amazing!!

For many, at least in our area, I believe that adult members from different churches accept that there are Christians in other churches, but they don't have any interest in building relationships with them or working together.

You can see that even at the Houghton Family Camp we attend each year; Except for a few people who somehow manage to break those boundaries, people stay within their own circle of friends from their own church.

Anonymous said...

the 'youth' aspect that Katie mentioned is SO relevant. my dad's generation does not seem to be open to these ideas. my generation (40s) is mixed but stubborn. we came up in the 80s and think we are 'enlightened'.

my kids, on the other hand (8,14,19) seem to be open to these ideas.i am not talking about the naivete and innocence of youth. i am talking about a genuine and simple understanding that the beliefs and practices of other Christians are important and correct.denomination is just "the name of another church" to them.

i know it is hard for my children to hear Christians in position of authority deride others on the basis of denomination.

it is confusing to them.
it is heartache to me.
it is one of the reasons my parent's generation will NOT take part in the unified Church. mike

matthew said...

those are great points. I do feel youth ministry has the opportunity to demonstrate what many of the previous generation refuse to see and practice.