You may have heard me mention it before but something that matters to me a lot is unity in the Church. In 1 Corinthians Paul says:
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
I think that it would be amazing if the church could be one body and there were no divisions at all. I believe, however, that the way the church has developed over time where I think it has gone in the wrong direction and had movements to bring it back and the smaller, less vital splits have meant that’s not possible. Fortunately I don’t think that’s what Paul was really thinking of either. What we need is churches looking for ways to understand each other, how their views are formed from the same book (i.e. the Bible) and that when someone is seeking to follow Christ in action, deed and word there should be unity with them. Some Christians I talk to find it strange that I defend the views of other Christians I (and usually they) don’t agree with. I then do my best to explain why that view is held with a kind of “so you can see where they’re coming from” conclusion. I think that it is vitally important that we understand the sources of each other’s convictions to enable us to see that they are very rarely incompatible with being a Jesus-loving Christian who believes the core values of our faith.
Last week I was talking to a couple of my fellow CU freshers and I don’t remember how it came up but one of them said that one of her flatmates had mentioned that she was a Catholic, something that she had no evidence of up until then. My friend didn’t know how to react as she knows that being christened doesn’t make you a Christian, and certainly just growing up in Catholic (or for that matter any Christian) family doesn’t either. Her reaction to hearing this wanted to be to challenge her and tell her she isn’t a Christian. I remember her saying that hearing someone saying that they’re a Christian through these means makes her angry. I talked about my Catholic family and how I feel they have been model Christians to me in my life even if I don’t agree with quite a few of their views. I suggest to anyone who feels similarly to her not to respond with irritation but to lovingly ask how their relationship with God is, what church they go to or what their faith means to them. Find out what they believe; understand why. At this point you can present your views and explain why you hold them. Do all of this lovingly and be interested! It’s okay to challenge their views in this way as long as you can back up your own, don’t expect to change their ideas and be ready for yours to be challenged. This doesn’t only apply Catholics but any other Christians who have differing views from you. How can we expect to interact with and challenge (and be challenged by) non-Christians’ views and values when we can’t do it with each other?
Once we can learn to understand and love each other despite our differences we can look towards unity. Like I said before I don’t mean a single church but I do mean Christians working across the divides to make Christ and his love known in this world. Since coming to university I have found that the Christian Union is incredible example to the church in this respect. I hope that other CUs are like mine and I’m lead to believe that many are but I’ve only got mine to draw examples from. There’s 200 of us from many different denominations. We go to different churches. We hold different views on the role of women, predestination, the best way to worship, how the Spirit moves, how communion should be taken and many, many more. And yet we are a united student mission team on campus.
We recently ran an events week where everyday we put on events which all included a talk, mostly on Christian apologetics. Our intention is to allow as many people on campus as possible to hear about Jesus. If we bring along our friends, we can follow-up with them ourselves and take them to our church. Some responded independently and were assigned people to follow-up with. We weren’t told which church to take them to – no one will say that we’re leading them the wrong way because new Christians should be in this denomination or the other. Sometimes we will informally discuss the differences we have but it is always loving and with interest and not a way to pick holes in each others’ ideas. We are centred around the cross and the redemption it has given us. Centred around the belief that God so loved us He was willing to die so that we could enjoy life with Him. We think that that fact is so amazing it has to be told to as many as people as possible and our differences come second.
UCCF is an organisation which helps the CUs in the UK do this. A few ideas for this blog came from Dave Bish, the UCCF regional team leader for the South West, in his blog, although I had intentions to write this before I had read that. He talks about how CUs need to keep working in this way and how to do this. I’ve said a lot of this already so I won’t repeat myself, take a look at his blog for another angle. He draws attention to how the biggest point of contention in a CU is how the weekly meeting is run. This is hard because it does actually resemble a stripped down church service (it is not intended to be instead of a church service; a lot of emphasis is put on being part of a church as well as CU), which means there are a few points which could cause problems. At our CU I think we avoid at least some of these problems by not doing some things. There’s no opportunity for prophecy or for the Spirit to work and we don’t take communion. These things are left up to churches to “provide” if you like.
Something that I know is not consistent among CUs is that we don’t have women come in to do talks. Every week a guest speaker gives a talk which is either equipping us for evangelism or strengthening us. Every week a man gives this talk. When I first realised this was a rule (rather than coincidence with the speakers I had seen so far) there was a short time I was really disappointed. I am very supportive of women becoming preachers and being leaders in the church and that comes from a biblically based belief. Last week I talked about this in relation to the women bishops vote. I also talk about how I’ve come to recognise that other Christians completely value women’s contribution to the church and believe it is vital but their role is different from men and doesn’t include preaching. This view is also biblically based and isn’t sexist or misogynistic (check out this article on Threads). So if we accept that some Christians hold a valid view opposing women preachers, in a group of united Christians, not allowing women to preach makes sense. These people will feel that their view is respected and those in favour of them can’t actually have a problem seeing as their view isn’t that women have to preach. Of course the CU mustn’t actually make this policy a part of their stated beliefs; they must be broad and really only define core beliefs and values. (For all UCCF-affiliated CUs this is their Doctrinal Basis.)
This is one example of a possible problem and how it was avoided; out of love and respect for each other. Funnily enough churches working together generally wouldn’t come into nearly as many problems as they don’t need a weekly meeting where problems could arise, and yet we can still be terrible at interacting. There are great examples of times we do, however. Street pastors, foodbanks, Hope, inter-denominational conferences (Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest, etc), Alpha and many more. And yet we still like to argue and let our differences get in the way of personal relationships.
So if you’re a Christian and often find yourself wanting to argue with one of your brother or sisters in Christ, change it into a loving conversation and discuss. Challenge their ideas and allow them to challenge yours; if nothing else it’s good practice for when talking to non-Christians!
As usual this is much longer than originally intended – sorry about that! Please don’t let it stop you challenging me, asking questions and giving me your comments!