Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pick a Church, Any Church? Or is there really one Lord and one Faith?

In the mid-1990s, my father took a new pastorate in Illinois. The Presbyterian congregation had suffered great loss in membership when a new, independent, charismatic church opened its doors for business and began recruiting members from the rosters of local parishes (from all denominations and even the local Catholic parish). Dad had a challenge on his hands. How does one keep parishioners excited about remaining Presbyterian when there was so much excitement about what was happening just down the street at the no-affiliation-congregation?

One day, I asked Dad a question that I'd been thinking about for quite awhile. I wondered how Dad would answer the question.

"Dad, what would you do if you had a parishioner who was marrying someone from another faith community? How would you counsel them - if the future bride and groom had completely different opinions on where to worship?"

Dad responded so swiftly and directly that I knew he had faced this question many times. "I would urge them strongly to decide on one church."

"Even if their choice was not your parish?" I asked, knowing that this was the question I really wanted answered.

"Yes. Even then."

I've thought about his answer many times in the last ten years. And I understand the guiding principle of his position. Unity matters. Where faith and marriage intersect, unity matters.

The microcosm is seen clearly in the marital bond. A man takes a bride and they need to be one. This becoming one is good, but sometimes it is very difficult, too.

If we take this lesson (at the micro-level) and expand it to the macrocosm, we learn another lesson. A very important lesson that is good, even if it is sometimes very difficult.

Marriage between a husband and a wife is the pale imitation of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Bride (the Church).

St. Paul delights in making comparisons between marriage (and the love between husbands and wives) and the approaching Wedding Day between Christ and His Bride (the Church).

Dad's wisdom, when taken from the microcosm and applied to the macrocosm is very powerful - and potentially life changing.

If it is important for a husband and a wife to be one, how much more important is it for the Bride to be one with her Bridegroom?

We must stop acting like a Bride who thinks it doesn't really matter. You get to do your own thing. Go where you want. Think what you want. Act how you want. Agree to disagree.

The "children" are going to get mixed messages and then the lack of unity becomes greater and more tragic. Who are the children? The little ones who want to come to Christ. But where do they go? What church? What denomination? What is the right teaching to embrace?

Bride of Christ, you are scattered into more than 30,000 denominations. Some researchers say the number of denominations is closer to 50,000. You have different opinions on everything. Whether or not baptism matters. How to get saved. Whether or not salvation can be lost. What it means to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Whether or not you must have the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. What the Trinity is. What verses in the Bible really mean. Which verses are more important and should be memorized. The definition of a Sacrament - or whether or not there even is such a thing as a Sacrament. Whether the Creed is important or worthless. Whether going to church on Sunday matters. If the songs sung in church should be old hymns, only from the Psalms, or only new songs that have been written in the last five years and flashed on a big screen. Whether or not one should clap in church. Or say amen. Or whether or not women should only wear dresses and never cut their hair short.

You disagree on everything.

And you don't think it matters. But, it does matter.

If it is important for a husband and wife to be one - if unity is of paramount importance in marriage - how much more important is unity to the Life and Love shared between The Bridegroom who is Jesus and His Bride who is the Church?

The Bridegroom has shared His deepest Heart with you, His Bride. When He prays for you, He asks God to make you one -- with a unity that is perfect -- a unity that is as perfect as the unity between God the Father and God the Son (John 17). Why? So that the world may know Him. Jesus Christ loves His Bride. And He wants you to be so united to Him that your unity draws more and more to come.

True unity is difficult. Husbands and wives know it. Sometimes, it means sitting down and talking and talking and talking. Sometimes it means opening your heart and really listening to your husband (or wife). Sometimes, it means dying to self.

Bride of Christ, it will not be easy, but unity is worth it.

Re-consider the 2000 year-old Church. Deep inside you, you know there is no other Christian faith community that could draw all believers. You know that there is only one Home that can accommodate charismatics and evangelicals and holiness&sanctification Christians and those who hunger for a sacramental faith and those who are quiet contemplatives like the early Quakers. Ask the Bridegroom to show you if She is the seat of unity. Show me where we can all truly be one (Ephesians 4:3-6 preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.)

And if you are on the journey home, may God continue to bless you. The Bridegroom is waiting for you in the Eucharist. Open your heart to the possibility that unity is possible -- and that there is a place where it can happen.

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