I am fascinated by the church. It is probably why I do this. We are the body of Christ, the living embodiment of the Son of God. How remarkable is that? We declare that we are his very hands and feet in the world. We preach his word. We worship him. We reach out to the rest of his people and gather them in together. We go out together to take care of God’s people hurting and alone in the world. We sit around tables together, either in the formality of the Lord’s Supper or the informality of a Sunday meal, and we get a taste of heavenly banquet in the Kingdom of God to come. I am amazed by that. Martin Luther took this activity so seriously that he wanted to move away from calling this thing we do together “the church” and instead favored “congregation”. He thought it better described our work together: congregating. I like that.
At the same time, the church is divided into an infinite amount of subdivisions – denominations, associations, conferences, para-church organizations, non-profit corporate entities, confessions, individual congregations and the like. And within these divisions, even more disunion according to theology, worship style, tradition, music, race, class, creed, ecclesiology, missiology, and on and on. The greatest witness that we are not fully one in Christ is how much the church is not one in anything we do or believe. In part, we reflect the great sorting that is taking place in the society in general. We self-identify and are classified into a million minute categories. And often, those categories exist over and against all the other categories. We are at odds with one another either in theory or practice.
A few years ago, I was at a worship conference and the conversation turned, as it often did, to diversity in the service – diversity of style, prayer types, music, people, technology, and more. How do we handle the dissatisfaction or grumbling that naturally ensues when people do not get what they like or want? The leader of the talk gave the example of multiple generations living under one roof as a model. Sometimes the kids will not like what a parent fixes for dinner. Sometimes grandpa might not like pizza night. Mom hates when grandma takes the children for ice cream before dinner on the way home from school. And yet, what unites them is greater than their differences. The unity of the family trumps all the ways in which they are pulled apart.
I think this is the great challenge of the church today. There is an ever-present tension between our unity in Christ and the reality that there are thousands of churches out there that may be closer to our personal preferences and theologies. Nevertheless, we work and worship together in the church as an affirmation that we are one in the body Christ. We are Southminster Presbyterian Church. That we have new and old hymns and hymns from halfway around the world in worship is by design, but it is also a statement about the community we envision for ourselves. We are welcoming and inclusive of all. We hear sermons about pressing social issues alongside prayers of comfort and support for those down the pew from us. We gather around the bible for personal study and we go out to volunteer. At Southminster, it is a philosophy of both/and rather than either/or. If nothing else, it follows in the model of the Jesus Christ calling women and men, tax collectors and fisherman, thinkers and zealots, and so many others.
I do this work because I believe without a doubt we are one in Christ. Let us work to make that a little more real every day.
Rev. Tim Blodgett