Facing up to the things which divide churches
Divisions and disagreements among Christian denominations must be faced up to, believes Norwich Quaker and magistrate John Myhill, who has been continuing his journey around many Norfolk churches.
Each Sunday I have been visiting a different church in Norfolk. There are two negatives to be faced:
Christians appear divided, like other consumers, by their taste in music, venue and ambience.
Christians appear divided by disagreements over doctrine and power between their leaders.
Music is probably the most noticeable difference between one worshipping community and another. If you like Abba songs and dislike rock music, you may prefer this church rather than that one. If you prefer jazz to folk, or chant to renaissance, or revival songs of the 1890s to those of the 1980s, or even silence; there is a church in Norfolk to suit your taste.
Some prefer large gatherings, others an intimate group. Some like hugs or long conversations, others want to keep their own thoughts and leave as soon as the service is over. Some want laughter, some solemnity; some prefer incense to coffee. Christian worship can accommodate all this.
So why not praise God before a football match, or fun-run for Jesus; why not painting before the Lord, or hymns in the office?
We can and should praise God everywhere, pray whilst we walk, rest and play; and listen to others as carefully as if they were preaching the sermon on Sunday. If we cannot do these things in our work, in our shopping, in our relaxation; then there is no point doing it on Sunday.
Sunday worship is just a practice run for the rest of our week; like learning to drive, or to play the piano. Once you have learnt how to worship in one church, try another, which is less to your taste. When you have worshipped in a few, you will be ready to worship everyday, everywhere that God leads you.
Christian leaders have been falling out with each other since Jesus died. (See the letters of Saint Paul. In fact Jesus had to put them in their place when he was teaching them.) But that is not the real problem.
On the contrary, church leaders tend on the whole to avoid discussing the ideas which divide them. Each denomination and sect has its own key ideas, yet when they come together they are too polite, too middle class, to talk about adult baptism or the Trinity or Communion as a symbolic act, or the nature of repentance, confession and Pentecost. These are important differences. People have died for these beliefs and we need to consider and discern their significance in our lives.
But, we also need to repent of our pride. For we are all part of one body: the Body of Christ; and we must be humble and gentle one with another: apologising each to each for the divisions, the hurt and in the past, the deaths, of those who believed differently. We must state our beliefs as clearly and fully as we are able, but then we must listen, and be prepared to admit we were mistaken. For we must all seek the leadership of the Spirit, not the leadership of men.
Without division we would have learnt very little and our numbers would have remained small. Without repentance and practical working together, we will forget that the only real choice is between God and Mammon.
John Myhill is a Norwich Quaker and magistrate and former chair of Norwich Central Churches Together.
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