Are we heading toward a global church, a pluralistic church, a uniform church with little diversity? Denominational exclusives are disappearing fast. What traits are found in our particular denomination that others don’t have? With fuzzy edges surrounding most denominations, they find themselves more and more homogeneously bundled. Without need for adjustment in belief and worship, church-goers are feeling a freedom of religious mobility — casually changing denominations due to personal reasons such as the preacher, the Sunday school, friends or convenience of location.
However, the catholic-protestant distinction, though greatly eroded, is still identifiable. This erosion might be summarized: many Catholics no longer feel eternally damned by going protestant; protestants no longer feel eternally condemned and ostracized by family and friends when becoming Catholic.
For nearly four years, my wife and I have had no church home, yet we have experienced “the church.” We have spent many Sundays visiting Christian churches of different denominations. Our eyes have been opened to see Jesus, his people and his church. Though the worship format varies, the preached message and profession of faith are virtually identical. The sincerity and devotion of the people in churches identifies them as the Church of Jesus Christ.
As it is with most all Christian pastors and church-goers, I was isolated by my dedication to my particular church family and denomination for more than 50 years. It is now at this late date (80 years old and retired) that I have been able to see the church and God’s people — though so separate, yet so similar. The work and duty of us believers is to claim the one and same Savior. We are called to be fervent in our particular denomination, at the same time sharing love and unity with the people of all denominations. Further, although we Christians have a serious breech in faith with 2/3 of the world’s non-Christian population, our love and unity must be extended to them; as so clearly directed by the Savior of the World.
The downside of this obligation to be united and loving toward all people, could possibly deliver a false message — that it does not matter what we believe; that God has not revealed or spoken; that there is no religious truth; that religion is nothing more than the opinion of the one in the pulpit; that even we Christians do not know the will of God.
I am here to proclaim that every Christian church and denomination my wife and I have visited are fervently professing the same basic Gospel message of Jesus Christ — spurring us to be united servants to each other.
“See how these Christians love one another,” [Tertullian, 3rd century theologian] is how we must be identified — embracing a unity without the necessity of uniformity.
The Rev. John Burkhart Ph.D, is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology.