Last Sunday I talked about nurturing charity toward Christians in other denominations and traditions based on the saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I don’t think many of us assume that our stripe of Anglicanism has the corner on good theology and faithful practice but we are a part of Restoration because we have a preference for this community. It can be challenging when we spend time with other Christians who approach our common faith in a different way or who are a part of tradition with which we hold disagreements. And yet Jesus calls us to unity and love. What can we do to genuinely cultivate love for each other?
You may not spend much time considering the theological distinctives of different branches of Christianity but you experience differences in practice all of the time. Even as I sat down at a cafe to finish this blog post I found a flyer inviting Christians to participate in a public march waving banners with Jesus’ name on them and praying for our community. I am all for lifting high the name of Jesus and praying for our city, though I tend to take the verse about Jesus being lifted up and drawing all men to himself as something less about Jesus banners and more about the public nature of his crucifixion and our proclamation of the Gospel. But in general, I support the concept and I have been blessed on many occasions by praying with Christians from other traditions.
But I also wouldn’t want to attend this march because they are inviting people to wear patriotic colors and wave Texan and U.S. flags as well. Many of us are wrestling with the way the nationalism has been woven into American Christianity with destructive results. So while I do pray for the the United States and for Texas, I would not want to take part in an event that asked me to lift up the name of Jesus AND a symbol of the United States. Jesus has no equal in his power and authority or in my affections and allegiance. It’s okay to recognize that this march is organized by Christians who believe in Jesus but is not something I could join in good conscience.
But it isn’t that Anglicans simply don’t march. Many Anglican churches leave the church building on Palm Sunday to walk around their neighborhood waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” We’ve never marched around the Slate parking lot on Palm Sunday but maybe this is the year! If we did, I could imagine another Christian questioning if this is a good witness to the neighborhood and not wanting to jump in with us on this unusual tradition. The Body of Christ is full of particular and peculiar practices!
It’s okay to ask questions about the beliefs and practices of other Christians. Before you join with a group of Christians it is good to ask who is responsible for establishing right doctrine and practice and providing correction when it is needed (e. g., Anglicans have bishops who are tasked with correcting pastors and congregations). It’s even good to determine that something seems incongruent with scripture and the practices of orthodox Christians but we never get to cut ourselves off for tear down others who also share a commitment to the creeds of the Church. And we are almost never called to publicly critique denominations that we are not a part of or correct Christians with whom we do not have personal relationships.
When I have an uncomfortable interaction with another Christian or hear painful news about another branch of the Christian family I have to remind myself to pray. God is able to speak to his people and correct them when they are in error. He’s able to call prophets to correct them and stir up revival among those who have drifted from the faith. And I am hopeful that we can watch and learn from the mistakes of others and respond with humility, knowing that we too follow Jesus imperfectly and desperately need his guidance.
Jesus is not surprised by our weaknesses or the difficulty of navigating the tension of division and unity in the church. In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Until he brings us into complete unity let us love the whole Church in the same way that we have been loved by God.