A version of the following article was used in the July 4, 2008 edition of the Abbotsford Times.
The number of churches in Abbotsford clocks in at a staggering 92 which, most likely, also corresponds to the number of street corners we have! Abbotsford churches seem to be everywhere—meeting in schools, pubs, theaters, homes, and parks, as well as in the traditional pew and steeple buildings and the mega-church multiplexes complete with bookstores, gymnasiums, and shuttle services. With so many people in so many different venues, under a vast array of leadership, it would seem, at first glance, that the Church in Abbotsford is widely divided. This, in part, is true as people needlessly squabble over paint colors, taste in music (even though everyone knows that boy-bands and country music are bad), and other non-essential issues that get elevated to essential. The question that I think must be asked of ourselves then is; why the division?
Perhaps a more accurate description of the Church in Abbotsford is not division but rather diversity, which is what Jesus prayed for in John 17. Jesus, knowing that the Church would be widely diverse, both prayed for its unity and demonstrated how it could be unified in its acceptance of one another. Thus, tattooed, chandelier-swinging Charismatics and churches with tag-team pastors can worship alongside good Bible-expounding church planters, and emo-kids with comb-overs and black eye shadow can worship alongside grandma with her permed hair and blue eye shadow.
Sadly, many people mistake unity with sameness which, in all honesty, would be a horrible way to live. For example, if unity did mean sameness, should we all, in the interest of church unity, be required to wear brown, tweed suit jackets, part our hair on the side, and clap along to the Gaither Gospel Hour? Or maybe, in the interest of church unity, we are all obligated to read the Left Behind series, vote Kurt Cameron for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and play leap-frog with our buddies because it doesn’t involve cards or dice? Thank-you, Jesus, the answer is “no”. Sameness is not unity, in fact, unity is impossible without diversity.
Following is a brief outline asking how your church can affirm its diversity, work towards resolution of its divisions, and grow in unity for the glory of God.
There are many theological issues that must be examined and applied to church and culture. Some of these issues are primary and therefore essential to Christian orthodoxy and fellowship while others are secondary and non-essential. Primarily, a church must come together around the true teachings of Scripture and the centrality of the person, work, and divinity of Jesus. Secondary issues where we allow for diversity include things such as use of alcohol, charismatic signs and wonders, the millennium, and the precise natures of heaven and hell. As Rupert Meldenius said, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”
2. Relational Unity
Relational unity is likely the easiest to observe and the hardest to develop primarily because people are bent towards self-seeking rather then other-seeking, my rights over others rights, and my own comfort and good over the comfort and good of others. Every Christian should be characterized by a selfless loving attitude and action which extends out far broader then his own narrow circle of like-minded people. This is why the church can gather to worship Jesus as a multi-generational/multi-cultural group of kids wearing skinny emo jeans, their parents who listen to Elton John, and their grandparents who came from ‘the old country.’ Is your church characterized by a loving attitude that extends to both friend and stranger?
3. Methodological Unity
Here the question is, “How do we do church?” Do we do a high form of liturgy? Do we wear suits and tuck in our shirts? Do we form a choir? Do we use electric guitar, lights, and cool video? Do we use mac or pc? What is our style? How do we feel? Each local church must come together unified around a common way and understanding of its particular style and method of ‘doing’ church.
Each church is meant to be shepherded by a group of leaders who will pray and then make decisions on the direction and feel of their particular church. This requires faithful and godly leadership who will hear from Jesus and direct the church. This also requires faithful serving church members who trust their leadership and engage in the ‘how’ of that particular church. Additionally, just because another church operates differently then your church, this doesn’t mean that there is disunity but rather that there is diversity. Why must there be unity around a churches method and vision? How do your own preferences music, style, or conscience get in the way of unity?
4. Missiological Unity
Missiological unity asks the question, “Are we a unified group of missionaries?” Is your church working together in the hard and trying task of local and global missions? Do you understand that your missionary mandate is to both Abbotsford and the world at large? Are you working side-by-side in proclaiming Jesus in Abbotsford? Is your church unified around a common missionary cause, sending missionaries to far away strange and exotic places like
5. Doxological Unity
The pinnacle on all this is that we are unified around our ‘doxology’ which is a ten-dollar word for worship. ‘Doxa’ means ‘glory’ which is what we give when we come together in unity as the church worshipping Jesus with one voice, one heart, and one mind. This is the crux and highpoint of unity because our theological-relational-methodological-missiological unity allows us to gather as the church, regardless of the many diverse opinions, perspectives, and preferences, to worship and give glory to the one true God who exists in three persons as the perfect example of unity. God is great!
Finally, knowing that unity takes so long to build and very little time to destroy, my hope is that you would join with your churches leadership in praying for continued and deepening unity as together, the church in Abbotsford, we endeavor to glorify God in worship and faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus in our own unique and specific ways.
Grace and Peace,