This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a week when we, the Church, remember the prayer that Jesus had that we might all be one.
For years I thought that this meant the end of different kinds of churches — what we call denominations. Yes, denominations as in different kinds of currency. So, in my head, when the Church was one we would all be Benjamins– you know, $100 bills! This seemed to be the best option… after all, why would God want us all to be $1 bills!
Of course, this begged the question: which denomination is the $100 bill? Which one will we all need to become so that we can all be one? The joke when I was in seminary (that’s pastor-school) was that eventually everyone would figure out that the best option was Lutheran. I can only imagine that each seminary did a similar thing.
So, of course, because we (whoever your “we” is) are the $100, we can’t figure out why people are flocking to that $10 bill over there or how we can compete with the $50 bill down the street. We want to know how best to proclaim to the world our $100 status. We find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves to others at best; or at worst, putting other denominations down.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.1 Corinthians 12:17-20
After all these years, I have come to see that one-ness and same-ness are not the same thing. In fact, I have become convinced that God intends for there to be diversity even within the Church! Listen, not everyone appreciates the liturgy of the Lutheran or Episcopal or Catholic churches; so they find a home in a Baptist or Methodist tradition. Not everyone is able to see God in the social movements of the United Church of Christ or Disciples of Christ; so they find God moving in the bible-driven non-denominational movement. The Evangelical traditions of the United States have proclaimed the Gospel in many and various ways. Each of these different versions of God’s church have called people into the light of Christ.
I have now come to believe that Jesus was not asking us to be the same, just to be one. Jesus prayed that we might be one, just as the Father and he were one. God the Father and God the Son are one, but distinct; one, but not the same. The idea, it seems, is that Jesus wants us to be about the same thing – proclaiming the loving reign of God.
What a great witness we could be if we, the Church, were able to see that we are all members of the same Body. Yes, different parts of the body have different functions; but all about life. So, too, the Church: each of the different denominations calls to different people at different times in their lives, but each of the denominations is about Life – the life of Jesus Christ. You see, Christ has called to people through each of our traditions. Instead of tearing each other down, what if we found ways to build each other up. Instead of competing with one another, what if we came together as one (but not the same) to proclaim, each in our own voice, that Jesus is Lord. I wonder what God might do through us when we are one like that.