Today sees the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011. I’m not sure why it starts on a Tuesday. Why does it start on a Tuesday?
Anyway (such a useful word).
This is an issue I have long been interested in and even passionate about – although I confess I find words like ‘ecumenism’ heavy in today’s world (I believe the Greek word from which it comes means ‘the whole known world’ – I’ll have to investigate more on that.). I like talking about co-operation, discussion, sharing ideas and sharing resources.
At our church on Sunday evening we had a cafe style discussion evening talking about ‘Christians United’. Most of the time was spent in group discussion, with no shortage of things to say. Many of us had backgrounds which were denominationally diverse, and the overall feeling of the evening was positive, recognising that we are all made in God’s likeness and that working together in the name of Christ was a good thing.
Of course there are always things that baffle one group about another. What is highly symbolic in one tradition seems a nonsense to another – the associations simply aren’t there. Once explained, we still may not agree, but at least a level of understanding has been reached.
What I believe is so important is a willingness to talk, and keep talking, and to do so in a way that is genuinely loving and constructive. Unfortunately the phrase ‘speak the truth in love’ has become so well known that sometimes it is used as a get out clause for any behaviour – ‘may I speak the truth in love?’ You may, but will you? Really?
Of course, blogs are great vehicles for such communication – as long as love, respect and humility still apply.
Sometimes there are areas of such firm disagreement that a kind of stalemate is reached and recognised. Then it’s a matter of looking at areas of commonality and finding that tiny chink where you can work together. You may not feel able to worship together in a church context, but what’s stopping you picking up litter and demonstrating a united concern for your community? It’s just one part of our witness to those around us.
Unfortunately sometimes the stalemates lead to visible enmity within Christ’s church. This, I find heartbreaking. By this I mean actual nastiness, which is totally contrary to our imitating Christ. There will be frustration and exasperation, as there is in any disagreement – particularly when it comes to interpreting what God wants of us. Sometimes this will mean walking away from each other and taking a breath. Sometimes we will feel genuine grief over another’s point of view. We may feel a surge of deep disappointment when we discover their opinion – on something terribly important to us – is the complete opposite to ours.
By no means is it easy, and a willingness to talk openly and lovingly, recognising a mutual desire to do what is pleasing in God’s eyes, is essential. It’s also an individual choice, which is where things can get mucky, because for a genuine debate to occur in a healthy framework, there needs to be some mutual agreement as to how we will treat each other when we disagree, what attitude we will choose to embody in those moments.
Perhaps I’ll look at some of these aspects in further detail at some point, as I realise I’m skipping about as I introduce the topic.
Some of these are thoughts that arose out of our discussion, some are my own. But they don’t truly explain my interest in the issue. For that, I’ll have to tell you a little about my personal journey within the Christian church…watch this space for more thoughts on Christian unity this week.
Image: original source unknown