Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Christian unity…

When I first encountered the Disciples of Christ in seminary, I knew nothing about the denomination. I’d ask, “What church do you attend?” My Disciples friends said, “Disciples.” I’d respond, “Never heard of them. What are y’all about?” And, inevitably, folk would quote one of several slogans, phrases used to communicate the faith tradition’s values since its earliest days. “We’re not the only Christians, but Christians only”; “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”; “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but Love.” But my favorite was this gem of early Disciples lore: “Unity is our polar star,” reflecting our founders’ core conviction.

Recall that Disciples emerged on the American frontier not long after the American Revolution. Inspired by that unique experiment in human liberty, many Christian communities subsequently experienced remarkable growth. New sects proliferated, offshoots and splinter movements multiplied. They were free, after all! Thus, these liberated Christians sloughed off old dogmas and certainties. In favor of, well, new dogmas and certainties.

For example: some Presbyterians split into Old Lights, New Lights, Reformed, etc.. New Baptist brands abounded into an impressive array of titles. Yet many Christians, specifically the Disciples Movement founders, found this abundance troubling. Yes, they celebrated freedom too, but lamented the explosion of divisions. “Can’t we all just be Christians,” these people thought. “Can’t we be different and still one?” So they launched out to eliminate the human-made distinctions that divided folk, and profoundly proclaimed that at Christ’s Table, all, indeed, are welcome.

Hence- “Unity is our polar star,” the point in the night sky that orients every traveler. In the centuries since, thankfully, we’ve learned that not every Christian division results from failure. Precisely because all God’s children are created equal, and different, various groups have various desires, needs, instincts and gifts. So after Jesus prayed on his final night in John’s Gospel, referring to all who’d come to believe- “May they be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me”- he’d probably okay different denominations developing to share diverse gifts. Still, the dream of unity, of God’s unified Reign of Love on earth, ought remain a guiding light. Especially for us Disciples, who called that our polar star.

Of course, how we pursue unity in our small, wonderful church includes partnering with local faith communities for worship and study, caring for God’s Creation together, serving people in need. But at the denominational level, we need leaders who make Christian Unity a primary focus. And, fortunately, we have someone in the person of Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, President of our denomination’s Council on Christian Unity. Basically, his job involves promoting unity in our churches, and sharing our church’s witness to national and international gatherings of faith communions. For example, when the most recent Pope was commissioned in Rome, most denominations sent someone to bring greetings. For Disciples, I believe that person was Rev. Welsh, who also represents us at the National and World Councils of Churches, among other things.

And the reason I share this is that Plymouth Creek will have the privilege to receive Rev. Welsh’s ministry this month. Specifically, on Sunday, August 26, this national church leader will ascend our humble pulpit to preach about Christian Unity. As you can tell, I’m rather excited, and not just because it means one less sermon for me! Rather, the number one reason I became a Disciple was because of our church’s commitment to unity. Having spent my youth in multiple different churches, I’d grown sick of hearing folk focus on what divides us. In seminary, I longed for a church who was content with being, “just Christian.” Hence, when I discovered a denomination that prized Unity as “its polar star,” I was hooked. And the rest, as they say, was history!

So I hope you’ll make a point of joining me for worship Sunday, August 26. It’s quite the honor, I must say, that Rev. Welsh would stop by. And who knows? Maybe we’ll find ourselves reenergized to work for greater unity in our community. Worse things could happen than Christians living as one.

Grace and Peace,

No comments:

Post a Comment