You’ve perhaps heard the jokes that compare seminary to cemetery, but that has not at all been my experience. I confess that there were many unanswered questions that I had about the Christian faith before seminary. Questions about scripture, questions about missions, about God, and even questions about what a pastor is supposed to be. So many of these questions have been answered that my mind reels thinking of it. The end result is that not my spiritual foundation is shaken, but that the foundations of my faith have been dug down deeper than they ever were. This is a wonderful praise to God, and the work that God has been doing in my life for the last several years. What I have gained, in addition to wonderful growth and understanding of my personal faith, has been an expanding of horizons when it comes to the practice of the Christian faith.
In the past few years I have had the blessed privilege to worship and interact with conservative Baptists, moderate Baptists (there is a difference), Methodists (both traditional and liturgical), Catholic monks, charismatics, Mennonites, Anabaptists, and non/other denominational Christians of all types. All have something wonderful to offer the Christian faith as a whole. All have taught me something about the different threads of worship and tradition that weave together the tapestry of our Faith. Richard Foster uses the analogy of streams of living water, from his book of the same name. He describes each stream of tradition as part of the same faith that flows together from Christ. Each stream has the same source, but takes a different course.
The Celebration of Togetherness
It has been a great joy to worship in so many different ways, for there is very little in common with the form of worship of remote Catholic monks, and the huge charismatic church in Central Texas. However, the God being worshiped is the same. The Lord of each body of believers is the same. There are countless differences in the ways that all of us worship and understand God. But we agree on so many things. For the most part, regardless of the stream of Christianity, we all agree on the basic tenants of our faith. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the differences in theology, church practice and organization (many of these differences are quite significant), but at the end of the day, all of us sleep with an anticipation of the same sunrise, and a celebration of the some risen Son: Jesus.
The bonds of the Christian faith are deep bonds. They go beyond the church we attend, the denomination we are a part of, or any other superficial matters. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he dwelt on this matter of equality in the most revolutionary way. To a world that was rife with classism and filled with all manner of dividing lines over wealth, race, occupation, religion, and even gender, Paul wrote a wonderful few sentences that bring to the forefront the equality that is Christianity. For with the radical salvation offered by Jesus to all believers, we are all included in the same family as equals. The Gospel breaks down barriers, it does not create them. This is what Jesus showed us time and time again in his life on earth, and what Paul wanted us to recognize. ALL of God’s children are equal and in need of the same salvation, and all of Christ’s followers will receive the same inheritance – that of God’s only Son. We are united now and for eternity.
In the Kingdom of God there are no elites or rejects. God has given the gift of life to everyone who gives Him their lives. Whatever barriers that exist within the body of the Church, in the worldwide sense, are there because of us. The walls between denominations, between congregations, races, genders, countries, or anything else – they are there because we have trouble living up to the true nature of the Kingdom of God. So let us focus on the bonds that tie us together instead of looking for reasons to be apart.