Have you ever sat through one of those really awkward family dinners? You know, where the relatives who don’t talk to each other are forced to sit together and act like a loving family.
If you haven’t, congratulations. But, if you have — and let’s face it, that’s most of us — you have a good sense of what the church feels like to outsiders. And by “the church” I’m referring to all of us who call ourselves Christian — the Body of Christ.
I love that phrase — the Body of Christ — because it connotes unity. The feet, the hands, etc., all perform different functions, but they’re all part of the same body, all working for the same task.
Beautiful, right? Except it hasn’t worked quite that way. For the past millennium or so the body has been breaking its own bones, rending its flesh, with individual parts casting themselves as the only part that really acts and speaks for the whole.
Don’t get me wrong. Denominations per se aren’t bad. I have one I love. Others have something different. And that’s OK. There are many different and equally beautiful expressions for our love of God, each other and the Gospel.
But we don’t always act out of love and unity. We divide ourselves over doctrine, theological reasoning, social issues and interpretation of Scripture. Heck, we divide ourselves over worship music. And, here’s the rub: we deride anyone who doesn’t share all our views.
To the unchurched we look more like a deeply dysfunctional family dragging bystanders into our uncomfortable dinner party, than a cohesive, loving family working together in the cause of Christ.
But there is hope. We are seeing hands reach across denominational lines, working to heal centuries of pain and separation.
Pope Francis has opened dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, and more recently offered communion to a group of Finnish Lutherans and hosted the Anglican Church in evening prayer at St. Peter’s Basilica.
These are small steps, but the first steps often are the most important. Imagine your estranged uncle calling your equally estranged grandfather for the first time in 20 years. Except, it’s more like a thousand years.
Closer to home, the Episcopal and United Methodist churches unveiled this week a proposal for full, shared communion. That would go a long way to healing a rift that dates back to the 18th century.
Here in Enid we recently had Open Heaven — one of the most unlikely conglomerations of churches gathered into one night of joyous worship.
But, if you missed that, there are other opportunities to put aside denominational differences in the cause of Christ. On May 25 churches of all denominations across the globe will join in Thy Kingdom Come, 10 days of prayer to increase the Kingdom of God.
It’s not an Episcopalian thing. It’s not an Anglican thing. It’s a Christian thing. All are invited to set aside any differences, and join together in the much greater and much more important common cause: healing, restoring and increasing the Body of Christ.
None of these events on their own will heal Christ’s church. It will take concerted effort, and likely a lot of time. But we are seeing cracks in the old walls that have divided us. With effort and prayer, those walls will come down. And then, with the Body of Christ healed, anything will be possible.
Note: This post originally was published as a column in the Enid News & Eagle on May 19, 2017 under the title ‘Many different and equally beautiful expressions for our love of God.’