One of the greatest obstacles to our faith and theology is the idea of plurality - of things being more than one thing. This is an idea that actually started to form in my mind several years ago when I was writing my second book, Unfolded Hands, and as has simply come to the forefront again. So I thought I'd take a few days here to talk about exactly what this means.
And it starts with the church.
I talked a little bit about the church last Friday, about the idea that the church used to simply call itself the church. Today, we call ourselves Christians, and we have not the church, but the churches. Hence, the plurality.
It's an easy trap to fall into. From where I am sitting, if you go about five miles in any direction, you'll run into: First Presbyterian, Second Presbyterian, Pilgrim Holiness, Victory, Friendship Baptist, other Baptist, United Methodist, Apostolic, Church of Christ, movie theater, public school auditorium, Assembly of God, Mormon, and several non-denominational building. And if you were a visitor to the town, someone might say you have your pick of the churches.
But what about the church?
See, this is the problem. We have come to believe this idea that the church is the building, the denomination, even the congregation. People might ask about the churches in a particular location, but few, if any, are asking about the church in that location. They may inquire about attendance numbers, worship style, manner of preaching, doctrinal beliefs, community outreach programs, or any of number of things, but they're not inquiring about the movement of the Spirit of Christ in the community at large.
It's because we've gone and made the one church into many churches - the one thing into many things - and thereby set up a system where there is comparison, where there is contrast, where there are differences to be considered.
For all our consideration of our differences, there seems to be much less consideration of our one mutual love: Christ Himself.
It's hard for some of us to think about there being just one church, about our communities being just one community. We think about all that seems to separate us, and we can't imagine what fellowship might look like across our denominational or doctrinal boundaries. But the truth is that if we're doing church "right," if we're coming together in our communities for the sake of the One who calls us together, we're already fellowshiping across those boundaries. We're already one community. In many voices, maybe, but if you can walk into any of the church buildings in a given location and find God exalted, then welcome. Welcome to the one church.
It's not so hard as we make it out to be.
I would like to see us be more like the Israelites approaching Jericho. God has already declared these to be our communities; we just have to break down the walls. And even though we all belong to our own tribes, even though we all go home to our own houses (so to speak), we are one nation. So let us join together and march around our cities as one people of God until the walls that separate us from penetrating into the heart of our community for the sake of God crumble, until all fall down.
Because there's only one church.
And we are it.