Church is a community of people…a community of diverse people…and this diversity is celebrated….because GOD so obviously celebrates this diversity! Look at us…we’re all different and special. (ecumenical)
This is so hard for some people to wrap their thoughts around. It is a part of our human and fallen condition to want to be around people that think like us and are like us. While, to some degree, I agree that we should be around people that we share attributes with…it is SOOOOOO important to understand and celebrate the diversity of God’s people.
My friend from the UK, James Pettigrew once told me, “Where did denominations come from? MAN. Where does religion come from? MAN. The TRUTH is not a denomination or a religion. Obviously as followers of Jesus we believe he is the only WAY. But only by living the WAY he taught us to do, will we ever influence the beliefs of others.”
Spiritually, some people are more pious than others, some are really “rough around the edges”, some are loud, some are meek, some are struggling, some have overcome struggle, some are teachers, all are students. I often sit in amazement when I hear one denomination bash another (and yes, I have been guilty of it! Though I am usually bashing close mindedness not the beliefs)…or one group of people pass judgment on another (as in racism), or one group of believers that sit in judgment of other believers….we are all God’s children. What part of that do we not understand?
What we call churches, small communities of followers and believers in Christ……are simply communities of people with some shared threads in life. I believe that it is not until we can respect the diversity of other communities of followers that we can truly be the the “Church” that God wants us to be.
My friend Jim Smallish pointed out to me that it was Paul who said in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Jim went on to say, “We are given practical instruction in leading with respect; even when another may be in error:”
2 Timothy 2:23-26 (TNIV)
23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
In essential beliefs – UNITY.
“There is one Body and one Spirit…there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all….” ~ Ephesians 4:4-6
In non-essential beliefs – FREEDOM.
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters…Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls…So then each of us will give an account of himself to God…So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” ~ Romans 14:1, 4, 12, 22
In all things – LOVE.
“…If I hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but also the very secrets of God, and if I have faith that can move mountains – but have no love, I amount to nothing at all.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:2
On a more personal level, I would like to take this a step further: Why can I not allow my Jewish friend or Muslim friend ownership of his/her beliefs? Why MUST he/she believe as I believe? Is this relativism? No….it is simply loving my neighbor as myself. Am I “condoning” their beliefs by not hating them or adamantly rebuking them? No, I am man enough to take ownership of my beliefs.
Many will disagree with me here. That is okay. I would like to offer additionally:
It takes strength, not weakness to take ownership of your beliefs and thoughts while humbly listening to others
It takes strength, not weakness to not NEED to be self affirmed by only being around those who agree with you.
I believe that some folks are, deep inside, unsure of themselves (and may not even know it) and so they have to present this “sure” front. I also believe that some folks need to save the world, blindly not realizing that God is in control and that HE is the only one that can save the world.