My word for this year is: illuminate. Just two months into 2016, my understanding of this word is becoming grander and bolder than I ever imagined. I’m beginning to see the Body of Christ in a whole new light. It’s like my heavenly Father is cutting away cataracts that have covered my eyes and allowing the light to broaden my faith. I am falling in love with the Church with new eyes as I allow my story to be re-written. It’s a breathtaking and beautiful thing to be undone by mercy, compassion, grace, and love.
Raised in a non-denominational church, I had no idea how much we were defined by our non-definition. Our non-member, Bible-believing, charismatic-style worship, faith-filled lifestyles, traditionally housed in non-traditional buildings, being independently autonomous, while holding strong nationalist values churches have matured to create a relatively new denomination officially called non-denominational. Whether we can admit it or not, the non-denominational faith finds identity in a unique set of beliefs and presuppositions. (Don’t look now non-denom friends, but you may be a formalizing denomination when “non-denominational” appears on a drop-down menu option of identified church types.)
It’s not the formalizing process that’s the problem, but denominations do tend to create walls of separation within the Church at large by perpetuating an “I’ve got my beliefs, you’ve got yours” mentality. The Church comfortably retreats into these walls and then over time, unwillingly and (often) unknowingly, becomes suspicious of those who worship differently. Left unchallenged, walls of denomination and religion can be impassable fortresses.
From my perspective, the Church and its leaders understand this dilemma and have been working hard for a few decades to fix this gap in unity. Pastors come together in communities across the country through ministerial associations; churches join together for ecumenical services over the holidays and laypeople join the call for citywide prayer services or ministry projects. But after the meetings and events are over, we all return back within our walls and safely defined beliefs silently defending why mine is better than yours.
At least that’s what I (unknowingly) did.
For the past 6 months, I’ve been working with pastors of many Christian denominations in Southwest Florida to solve a foster care crisis in our community. Through my work, I’ve discovered that so many, many, many people love Jesus with their whole heart! I’ve come to know a variety of ways in which people selflessly lay their lives down to serve a need and it’s blown me away. My presumptions were tested and came up flat. Turns out you can love Jesus and touch the world just by singing hymns. Turns out that serving the orphan and widow and the voiceless and the oppressed is something very close to the heart of many denominational churches. Turns out that love, grace, compassion, and mercy flow from many fountainheads of truth.
As a mom, I love and appreciate the talents and giftings in each of my children. These kids of mine are all so different –some came to me biologically and some of them came through adoption – yet I love them equally. Lydia brings an expression to our family that Rebekah will never be able to bring and it doesn’t bother me in the least, and it doesn’t bother them any either! While they all have to learn about our family’s values and beliefs, I don’t demand that they all be clones of each other.
Maybe this is too simplistic view of the Christian faith, but I’ve wondered if maybe, just maybe, this is how God views us? Maybe it is the variety and bounty of the expressions that make us whole, not separate? Ephesians 4 acknowledges that are each given unique gifts, and these gifts work in cooperation with each other for completeness! Not identical expressions, but all moving in the same direction in unity, to be the light and agents of redemption in the earth. If there is room enough in the body of Christ for every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 7:9), I think the Church is probably wide enough for a few different styles of liturgy.
I’m not trying to infer that doctrine doesn’t matter. Denominations are historically created because of the continuing unveiling of God’s truths in history. But, I am wondering if we make too big of a deal out of all of the differences. Kind of like the stereotypical Hatfield-McCoy feud; generations later most people don’t even remember why the feud started in the first place! The reasons that my grandparents had for leaving this church or that one might not ring true anymore.
I’m also not talking about a dead, ritualistic faith that doesn’t allow for a personal relationship with our Creator. Man doesn’t need a mediator to approach the throne. Thankfully, Jesus opened that pathway for us and attrition can be made directly between our heart and the Father – without any other type of father involved in the process.
Yesterday I experienced rich worship with hundreds of Baptist women, many of whom had arms lifted high in praise. These passionate ladies came together for the sole purpose of re-writing the stories of at-risk children by planting seeds of hope. Last night I worshipped in a room of 500 Presbyterians who came out for a Friday night service to learn more about a vision that included deep elements of community transformation and social justice. In both environments and with both denominations, I discovered passionate and dedicated followers of Christ. Tears of gratitude for a newfound clarity, unity, and freedom streamed down my non-denominational cheeks as this illumination dawned over on me twice in a single day.
My Presbyterian brothers and sisters closed out last night’s service with a firework display. As the fireworks boom overhead, I realized that I’d found another source of illumination! Fireworks are showy and temporary, but each and every burst showered the sky as dazzling chandeliers of light illuminating the night. In these brief moments, I was able to see the faces of those who stood next to me in the dark. Again, the silent tears streamed down my face, like rain that was washing away the debris of my shattering beliefs.
Today I am so grateful that God cares enough to re-write our lives and broaden our perspective! He helps us to see in the dark to let mercy and compassion and love arise in the places we didn’t even know to look.