Every now and then, I am struck by the wonder and breadth of the Christian church. The Church worships God and that worship comes from many places in many languages and in many forms. Whether it is a formal, liturgical English service or a relaxed, informal Kikamba service, God is worshipped and it is still the church. While some lament the fragmentation of the church into denominations, I actually rejoice in the diversity of the church–since we are all different as humans, it makes sense that God would allow the Church to develop structures and forms that allow everyone to have a place to comfortably worship God.
That aspect of our diversity excites and encourages me. It says that God speaks our language; that God accepts our worship in all its diversity; that God cares about who we are and what has meaning for us. We may struggle with human diversity but God seems to celebrate and encourage it. I appreciate the ability to worship in different styles and languages with different approaches to music and liturgy and preaching.
But there is a dark side to our diversity. The dark side begins when we become aware of our differences and begin to think that different automatically means that we are right and they are wrong. It occurs when we begin to think that Jesus must have done things the way we do things and that he must somehow have put his stamp of approval on our ways. When we begin to claim that Jesus is on our side, we have moved into the darkness.
While I would like to think that Jesus was a Baptist, the reality is that Jesus was non-denominational. He wasn’t Baptist or Catholic or Pentecostal or Anglican–but at the same time, he is all of these and more. And so, while I read the New Testament with my Baptist bias and find support for believers’ baptism by full immersion, I need to realize that there is also support for other forms of baptism. Would Jesus practise immersion or pouring or sprinkling? Well, since there is no record of Jesus actually baptizing anyone, we can’t say for sure what he would have done.
And if we can’t say for sure what he would have done, we probably need to have a more open mind on baptism that we generally do. That reality generalizes to most of church life. We don’t have a clear and definitive model of the church in the New Testament. Sometimes, it acts congregational, as it did in Acts 15 when the church was dealing with the issue of how to deal with the influx of Gentile believers coming from Paul’s ministry. At other times, it acts as a hierarchy, with the apostles exercising considerable authority, as we see in other places in the book of Acts and in some of Paul’s writings.
I am not sure that Jesus had any particular denominational approach in mind when he set up the church. He wanted the church to be the gathering of the faithful, a place where believers could help each other and reach into the world. He wanted the church to be known for its love to God and its members. He wanted the church to show the world a better way–but whether we should have a congregational or hierarchical system of government didn’t enter the picture.
He wanted the church to be his agent in the world–but didn’t tell us how we should structure our worship, what language we should worship in, what type of music we should use, who should preach, what style of preaching we should use, how long the worship should be and so on. Most of the things that we look at and consider important in the church don’t even rate a mention in the New Testament, which should tell us a lot.
Rather than try to make the whole church the same or waste time fighting over our differences, we in the church need to remember to worship God, love each other and show the light to the world. Beyond that, we can enjoy our particular spot in the diversity that is the church while appreciating and maybe even borrowing from the rest of the church.
May the peace of God be with you.